September 13 – It Would Have Been A ‘Crime’ If This One Didn’t Get Noticed

Third time was the charm for Supertramp. After a couple of difficult-to-digest albums that flopped commercially, they got it right with their third album, Crime of the Century, which came out this day in 1974.

Needless to say, they’d had time to work out the kinks in their musical vision between albums. This came over three years after their almost-forgotten second one, Indelibly Stamped, and in the meantime, they’d added a new bassist (Dougie Thompson), drummer (Bob Seibenberg) and perhaps most importantly a horn player, John Helliwell, who helped shape their sound and add color to their stage show from thereonin. That said, as always, the band was a shared concept of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, who collectively wrote dozens of songs in their downtime. The band ended up recording 42 tracks for the record, only eight of which made the final cut, although a few were later reworked and added to later albums. Although they tended to each write songs by themselves, the credit was shared equally just as the Beatles had done with the Lennon/McCartney partnership. Lead vocals were shared as well, with four songs each on Crime… being done by Hodgson and Davies.

With only eight used out of 42, there’s little wonder it was quite a strong collection. True to their prog rock labeling, the album still ran over 44 minutes, with three of the songs running well past six minutes.

Although they technically only issued one single from it, and it was only a modest seller, many of the tracks found a home on FM rock stations and remain “classic rock” staples to this day, among them “Bloody Well Right”, “School”, “Dreamer” and the “Hide In Your Shell.” They were fan faves too; no coincidence six of the eight songs made their way onto the band’s live album, Paris.

Although it wasn’t a concept album, it did look a lot at the loneliness of growing up and school life frequently. For instance, both “Bloody Well Right” (a Davies song) and “School” (by Hodgson) were rebukes of what they felt was a failing British educational system. It was probably still fresh in their memories; Roger’s at least. Hodgson was 24 at the time; Davies was already just turned 30. Hodgson said about “Hide in Your Shell”, “I wrote that when I was 23, confused about life…I’ve always been able to express my innermost feelings more openly in song.”

Rolling Stone graded it 3-stars while the Village Voice gave it a middling review, calling them “Queen without (the) preening, Yes without pianistics and meter shifts.” Later on, allmusic gave it 4-stars, calling it when they “came into their own” despite calling them “snarky collegiate elitists, an art rock variation of Steely Dan”.

They issued a two-sided single, so to speak, off it, “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right.” In the U.S., the latter was the A-side and gave them their first top 40 hit, in Europe, “Dreamer” got the radio love and made it to #13 at home and #6 in Germany. Overall, the album made it into the top 5 in Britain, Canada and Germany, going gold in the UK and U.S., platinum in New Zealand …but diamond status in Canada! They always had a curious special appeal in Canada, and although it took til after Breakfast In America also went diamond in 1979, it was one of the first records ever to hit that plateau in the Great White North. It also was a rarity in being an album, by a foreign act, that sold far more physical copies in Canada than the much larger U.S.

The album was of high sound quality too, needless to say, being co-produced by Ken Scott, an engineer for several Beatles albums under George Martin. Fittingly, A&M issued it as an enhanced “Audio Master Plus” version of CD in 1984.

September 11 – Shaw Was Styx’s Renegade

Happy 69th birthday to a “renegade” rocker – Tommy Shaw of Styx.

Shaw was born in Alabama (despite Styx being so closely associated with Chicago, Shaw’s been inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame) and picked up the guitar early. He used to sing with his grandpa on the front porch when a small child and by 13 was playing guitar in clubs. In fact he says he’s never had any other job – “I always just made money playing guitar.” He found opportunities limited in Montgomery so as soon as he finished high school he headed out in his van to Nashville, and soon after to Chicago where he came into luck. Styx needed a new guitarist just as he arrived in town and he was quickly hired, in 1975, just as the band was starting to make a name for itself (“Lorelai” had been a hit just prior.) He joined them for their 1976 Crystal Ball and after that went on to greater success with The Grand Illusion. His first gig with them was actually in Montreal and he says that city has been a longtime favorite of his and the first to really warm to Styx. He’s so fond of the city that his own website is bilingual with French for his Quebec fans! Shaw stayed with the band through their period of greatest success in the late-’70s and early-’80s. He was the main guitarist and vocalist on a few songs including “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Renegade”, one of the ones he wrote. He eventually fell out with singer Dennis DeYoung who favored a more AOR, less rock sound. Shaw clearly didn’t like their 1983 album Kilroy Was Here, calling it “a disappointment” that left him “not very pleased.”

He quit right after that, and put out three solo albums in the ’80s, then formed Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent in 1990 and wrote songs for Aerosmith, Cher and Ozzy Osbourne and backed Alice Cooper briefly before rejoining a DeYoung-less, reunited Styx in ’96. He’s still with them, writing a dozen of 15 songs on their most recent album, last year’s Crash of The Crown and sharing the lead vocal duties with Larry Gowan . However, perhaps his roots in the Deep South made more of an impact on young Tommy than he realized – in 2011, he put out an album of bluegrass music and performed at the Grand Ole Opry.

Needless to say, having a birthday on Sep. 11th took on a different tone in 2001 (even more so for Moby and the Grateful Dead’s Micky Hart, New Yorkers both who also share the birthday) and Shaw felt the need to do something to honor the first responders that year, so he organized two benefit concerts for the police and “with the help of scores of friends” presented a cheque for $500 000 to the benevolent fund for New York and Port Authority police before Christmas, 2001.

August 24 – Starts And Ends For The Stones

It’s an important date on the Rolling Stones calendar. Of course, when you’ve been around 60 years, there come to be a lot of those!

Of course, sadly enough, their drummer Charlie Watts passed away one year ago from cancer on this day. But 40 years to the day earlier, in 1981, was a much brighter moment for them. That marked the release of their 18th studio album (in North America, in Britain, with different track listings early on in their career it was merely their 16th), Tattoo You.

The album was something of a return to form, if one considers their “form” to be pretty much straight-ahead rock, compared to Emotional Rescue, which came out a year earlier, or Some Girls from ’78. What makes that surprising is that far from a unified album it was basically a reworking of outtakes they had from the past decade! The Stones had agreed to go on a massive world tour starting that fall, and hadn’t got anything much in the way of new songs to record. Associate producer Chris Kimsey explains it “really came about because Mick and Keith were going through a period of not getting on. There was a need to have an album out and I told everyone I could make an album from what I knew was still there…I spent three months going through (outtakes of) the last four, five albums.”

He succeeded surprisingly well, coming up with a solid collection of 11 songs, some dating back to 1972. So far back did he look in fact, that Mick Taylor is the guitarist on two songs…and he had left the band seven years earlier. That done, the band got back together briefly over the winter of ’80-81 in New York to finish off the tracks, in a few cases adding new vocals (the lead-off single “Start Me Up” for example had been “Never Stop” in the demo they worked from) and a few overdubbed instruments, like Sonny Collins sax on “Waiting on A Friend.” Looking back on it, Mick Jagger says “I think it’s excellent. But all the things I usually like, it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have any unity or purpose or place or time.”

Remarkably, fans and critics found it did have a sort of unity and took to it in a big way. The magazine that more or less shares its name with the band (Rolling Stone) rated it 5-stars, declaring “the Rolling Stones are back…(with a new record that) dances – not prances – and rocks – not jives – onto the scene.” The New York Times suggested “Tattoo You is something special”, liking how there were “no Chuck Berry retreads, none of (the songs) are disco, none of them are reggae. They are all rock’n’roll.” Later on, Udiscover Music summed it up as being a record which “consilidated the finest elements of the Stones music, demonstrating their willingness to change while never betraying their roots.”

That was pretty much the case, although they did separate the songs into a rock side of the record and a ballads one. The former generated two hit singles while the latter added one. The “ballad” was “Waiting on a Friend,” a song originally done for Goat’s Head Soup back in ’72; it got to #13 in the U.S. and #10 in Canada. The rockers were “Hang Fire”, a top 20 hit in the States, and memorably, “Start Me Up.” That one had originally been created during the Some Girls sessions (long before Microsoft existed let alone used it for software commercials) and was their first real, prototypical rock song to connect in years. It topped Aussie charts, and got to #2 in the States and Canada. It also was their very first “Mainstream Rock” #1 hit on Billboard. But that’s a bit misleading as the chart had only been begun about six months prior…had it been around in the ’60s there is little doubt they would have been scores of them.

All in all, Tattoo You reached #2 in their homeland, but #1 in a number of other lands including the U.S. (where it was their eighth-straight …but also their last one to date) ,Canada, France and Germany. Although it only hit gold status in the UK, it was 4X platinum in North America.

It helped them make the fall tour in North America the year’s biggest, taking in over $50 million and playing to crowds as big as 181 000 over two nights in Philadelphia, and 87 000 or so in New Orleans’ Superdome, which at the time was the largest-ever indoor crowd for a concert. Fans wanting to relive the experience got the chance in 2012, when they released a double-album called Hampton Coliseum, a recording of their December show in Virginia, which included six of the Tattoo You songs, including “Black Limousine” and “Little T&A” besides the better-known hits.

August 24 – Well, Jacksonville’s Not Too Far From Alabama

The unofficial anthem of Southern Rock, if not of the South in general, hit the top 40 this day in 1974. A band from Florida, recording in Georgia put Alabama on the musical map this day. Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Sweet Home Alabama” hit the top 40 and would go on to be their only top 10 hit and only gold single in the U.S.

Ironically, most of the band haled from northern Florida, although they did have members from Rhode Island (Leon Wilkeson), Texas (Billy Powell) and California (Ed King)…but no one from The Yellowhammer State. Likewise, they recorded much of the album out on the West Coast but this actual song at the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s Studio One. No matter what its origins, the single (which preceded their other arena rock classic, “Free Bird”) was from their Second Helping album, appropriately enough their second, which went double platinum at home.

The band’s origins stem from a pretty musical family, the Van Zants. At the time, Ronnie Van Zant was the lead singer – he, guitarist Steve Gaines and four others unfortunately died in a plane crash in ’77 and was then replaced by younger brother Johnny Van Zant. Meanwhile, another brother, Donnie, started the band 38 Special!

The song was inspired by some anger at Neil Young’s songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama” which portrayed the South as a racist, KKK-run backwoods – you hear them diss “Ol’ Neil” by name in the song. For all that, there’s no animosity between them, believe it or not. both say they’re fans of the other, have worn each other’s T-shirts on stage and played the same gigs. Young now says “I don’t like my words when I listen to them…I richly deserved the shot (they) gave me.”

Although the song only got to #8 on Billboard, it remains one of the most-played of the era on Classic Rock stations. Not to mention it loosely-inspired a Reese Witherspoon movie and has been used in advertising by the state itself. Wonder if Mississippi’s hoping Ol’ Neil will write something nasty about them?

August 20 – CBS Figured There Was Gold In Those Stones

The rich got richer! Rolling Stones signed a contract with Columbia/CBS Records this day in 1983 after spending years with Atlantic. The contract was worth at least $28 million (their biographer Murray Nelson says it was more like $50 million.) Whether 28 or 50 mil, it was the biggest contract any musician had signed to that point, topping Kenny Rogers’ previous record $20 million with RCA.

The contract was reportedly for four new albums and allowed them to keep using their own “Rolling Stones” label . Mick, Keith and the lads gave them two before jumping to Virgin Records in the ’90s. Both 1986’s Dirty Work and ’89’s Steel Wheels did fairly well- both were top 5 hits and platinum in the U.S., Steel Wheels hit #1 in Canada. However, it would seem unlikely Columbia got their money back on them alone. The real goldmine for them though was obtaining the rights to all the previous Stones’ work and being able to reissue them. Fans might not have noticed the change; even though signed to CBS the records and CDs had the Stones’ own “big lips” label on them. They were one of the few acts prominent enough to be on Columbia and not have their records sporting the traditional orange markings of that company.

In the ’90s they signed to Virgin Records but their last album, Blue and Lonesome in 2016 was on Polydor Records, distributed by Universal. That one by the way was their 11th #1 album in their homeland and won them a Grammy Award for Best Blues album… but with the state of music sales, is currently their only regular album not to have gone gold or better in the U.S. Will we see another new Stones album? Time will tell. Although there are no apparent immediate plans for one, the band recently wrapped up a European tour marking their 60th anniversary as a group.

August 19 – John The Yin To Freddie’s Yang

Happy birthday to the quiet piece of one of rock’s biggest and most flamboyant bands. John Deacon, the former bassist for Queen turns 71 today.

Deacon grew up in Leicester, England and was in his first band by age 14, playing guitars at first then bass. Unlike some rock stars though, his music never became his sole passion or purpose, and he went to college, getting a degree in electronics by 21. Around that time Freddie Mercury had his band together with Brian May and Roger Taylor, but lacked a regular bassist. Enter John Deacon.

Deacon wasn’t instantly overwhelmed with the idea. He grew up liking soul music and though he’d grown interested in prog rock and even some classical music by the early-’70s, he wasn’t sure Queen was his calling. The other three thought it was though and won him over.

We were so over the top,” Taylor says, “we thought because he was so quiet, he would fit in with us without too much upheaval.” Brian May had another reason to like him too; Deacon built him his own amp with his electronics knowledge.

Although mainly just a bass player in the shadow of the flamboyant singer and flashy guitarist, beginning in 1974, he began writing at least one song on every Queen album, including a couple of their best known ones – “Another One Bites The Dust” and one he wrote for his new wife, Veronica, “You’re my Best Friend.” He also played electric piano on that one; besides bass he could play keyboards and guitars and now and again did so with the band.

Curiously, his low-profile extended even towards the critics it seemed. Rolling Stone was lambasted by fans when they failed to include him in a list of rock’s great bassists. Journalist Troy Smith from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame put him at #16 on his own list, stating “had all John Deacon ever done was ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, he might still have made the list. It’s arguably the most iconic bassline in rock (but) his basslines were the key ingredient on Queen classics.”

Over time he and Freddie became very close so Deacon was especially hard-hit by Freddie’s death. After playing the Tribute concert for Mercury with the band, he said “as far as we are concerned, this is it. There is no point carrying on (the band.) It is impossible to replace Freddie.”

After a few years, Brian and Roger disagreed that Queen had to bite the dust and reformed the group (initially with Paul Rodgers) but Deacon retired. It’s not entirely clear what his opinion of Queen with Adam Lambert is, but Brian May says “John Deacon is still John Deacon. We don’t undertake anything financial without talking to him,” while Roger Taylor says less diplomatically “John’s a sociopath…he’s given us his blessing to do whatever Brian and I might do with the brand. And we’ve done rather a lot.” Tellingly, Deacon didn’t join Taylor and May when Queen got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Sociopath or just a musician who felt his band had done all it could do, Deacon lives a fairly quiet life with Veronica and some of his six kids in southern England these days. Brian May recently said he would like to see Deacon in a social setting but had no hope for ever working with him again.

August 15 – Collins Drummed Up A New Set Of Fans

It was a big day for what would become a huge song. Phil Collins‘ first solo single, “In the Air Tonight” peaked at #19 in the U.S. this day in 1981. That low position probably seems pretty hard to believe given that the song is now one of the most iconic of the whole decade and has been one of the most played on radio stations, from hard rock to easy listening, for the past 30 or more years.

The song with the drums was off Collins’ first solo album, Face Value, that he’d recorded the year before in London. Phil was going through a nasty divorce (his wife Andrea was living in Canada and thought Collins was out on the road far too much) and seemed to immerse himself in music to escape from that pressure. In considerably less than two years, he put out Face Value as well as two albums with Genesis. In fact, “In The Air tonight” was one of the first ones he’d written and done a home demo tape for and he offered it to Genesis to record with their ’80 album Duke, but the other pair (Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford) weren’t big on it and declined. Woops! Mistake there, boys.

The lyrically bleak tune fit the rest of the album, although the record itself was a mix of slow, quiet songs and more upbeat, up-tempo ones like the next single, “I Missed Again” which utilized the Earth, Wind and Fire Phenix Horns. As to the lyrics referencing drowning and so on, Collins says “I wrote the lyrics spontaneously…I’m not quite sure what the song is about, but there’s a lot of anger, a lot of despair, a lot of frustration.”

The anger and frustration thunder through with the famous drum break which wake the song up about three minutes in. It would have been an impressive little solo no matter what, but was made the trademark drum sound of the late-20th Century by producer Hugh Padgham. The pair had met while working on Peter Gabriel’s 1980 solo album and had discovered that some neat effects could be had using “talkback mics” on the drums, and Padgham refined the “gated reverb” sound to create the spooky, echoing sound we hear on the Collins’ record… and many since. The quick, five second explanation is approximately that they record the drums to have echo and a bit of feedback , they ramp up the echo then (either by physically stopping the tape or digitally doing so) stop the note dead in its tracks. Surprisingly, one person who wasn’t keen on it was Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun who wanted more drums all through the song with less of a sudden drumroll punctuating it.

The angry singer and thundering drums sounded quite unlike anything else on the radio in ’81 and was an instant smash … some places. It got to #2 in his UK and in Canada, and went to the top in New Zealand, Germany, France and a few other countries. But in the States it had a hard time breaking into the top 20.

Although as a vinyl record, it would go on to sell enough to get Phil a gold record in the U.S., it’s popularity rose steadily after its release to reach the now almost-legendary status it has. It’s been downloaded enough to give him a triple platinum single. Helping the song’s popularity were its use in the first episode of Miami Vice, Collins’ own increased profile with his next couple of albums and him playing it twice at Live Aid…once in London and once in Philadelphia. Amazingly, the song has hit #1 again in New Zealand in 2007, then entered the download charts here yet again in 2020 due to a Youtube video of a couple of teens listening to it for the first time.

Daryl Steurman, who played the guitar on the track remembers hearing it played for the first time. “Good song, Phil,” he told the singer, “you’ve got a nice little career ahead of you.” Yes he did.

August 8 – The Day A London Crosswalk Became A Tourist Attraction

If you happened to be in London 53 years ago this morning, you might have seen rock and roll history being made out on the street. One of rock’s most famous album covers was created on this day in 1969…just by having The Beatles walk across the street.

The Fab Four were close to wrapping up the recording of the last album they’d make, Abbey Road and of course Apple Records were anxious to strike while the iron was hot and get it done and out to the fans who were perhaps starting to wane just a wee bit that year. The recording was been done at the EMI Studios located on Abbey Road , not far from Grove End Road and Regent’s Park in London’s north end.

On this particular day, it’s said they were working on the John Lennon song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” , which he’d written about Yoko. The album was close to completion but lacked a name and image. They’d had a tentative idea of calling it Everest but when the label decided that the appropriate cover should be them in the Himalayas, the band changed its mind and opted for the simple one they used. Given Abbey Road to work with, creative designer John Koss came up with the idea of having them walk across the real Abbey Road. That was easy and didn’t require a lot of extra time spent together, so John, Paul, George and Ringo liked it.

That put the pressure on photographer Iain MacMillan, who was hired to do the shot. Since it was a real road through a busy city, and the band were at each other’s throats and wanted to be done with it, he had to be quick. City police gave him 10 minutes during which they’d shut down the road to stop traffic and let the cover take shape. He had them walk across several times, and after climbing up a small ladder to get the right angle, took just six photos. Paul looked at the contact sheet through a loupe and picked the one which would make history.

The now-iconic cover came out more or less just like Kosh had imagined, including the lack of info. It was unusual to say the least, in lacking the band name or title on the front. The record company was irate apparently, but Kosh insisted the band was so well known no title was necessary for fans to recognize it for what it was.

He was right of course. When the album came out about a month or so later, it was an instant success and well-liked for some of the standout tunes, including the single “Come Together” (lyrics of which had just been written by Lennon during the bed-in he and Ono had in Montreal) and George’s best contributions to the band catalog, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something.” He also recorded a demo for “All Things Must Pass” for the record, but it was turned down and was made into the title track of his mammoth post-Beatles solo debut.

Now, while some merely saw it as a cover photo, showing the band members and what they looked like in the here and now, others read into it much more deeply. There was already a conspiracy theory saying that Paul had died and been replaced by an impostor and the cover fueled the fire. The “Paul is Dead” lobby pointed to the VW Beetle in the background. The license plate had the number/letter combo “28IF” as a part of it… because Paul would have been “28 IF” he had lived they suggested!

More telling to them, the outfits the Beatles wore for it. To them, it suggested the imagery of a funeral. John led the way dressed in white… a priest or minister. Then came Ringo, in a black suit…like an undertaker. Trailing was George, dressed casually in jeans… ready to dig a grave. And then there was the third one, Paul (or the impostor Paul, they believed.) He was barefoot… like a corpse ready to be buried. And what’s more, he was holding a cigarette (note that if you have some of the newer copies of it, the smoke has been airbrushed out) …with his right hand! Since Paul was left, they theorized that the real Paul would always hold a cigarette with his writing hand. Wrong hand, wrong Paul. Simple.

Of course, to most it now seems “rubbish” as the Brits would say. MacMillan has shown some of the alternate shots taken which show Paul wearing sandals for other photos; he was apparently hot and found the footware too tight and kicked them off for a couple of photos. And when the Beatles played on the Apple roof months later, Paul was playing his bass left-handed as always which would be very difficult for a right-handed impostor the suspicious believed had taken over.

A fun story for a great album, and a photo which lives on almost as strongly as the music on it. Not only did the Red Hot Chili Peppers imitate it for a cover on one of their records, pop icons from The Simpsons to Lego characters have taken their own take on it, and the zebra-striped crosswalk is one of the most famous and popular tourist sites in Britain for music fans to this day.

Maybe it’s a good thing Ian wasn’t given the whole day to get the photo.

July 24 – Yo, Adrian, People Like My Song

Having a small number of fans doesn’t mean failure…particularly if one of those small number happen to be one of entertainment’s biggest names. That’s what Survivor found out 40 years ago when, seemingly out of nowhere they scored one of the biggest hits of the entire decade – “Eye of the Tiger.” It hit #1 in the U.S. on this day in 1982 and stayed there for six weeks. Good thing for them Sylvester Stallone had happened upon one of their early singles that nearly flopped, and loved it!

Survivor was a Chicago-based band which had been around for four years by then. They’d formed when Frankie Sullivan met Jim Peterik, who in turn had worked with Dave Bickler. Sullivan was an excellent guitarist who’d played in a few obscure bands; Peterik was an accomplished songwriter and had been the lead singer in the Ides of March, for whom he’d written the hit “Vehicle.” After that he’d written tunes for the likes of Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon and 38 Special’s hit “Hold on Loosely.” But for much of the ’70s, he worked in advertising, writing commercial jingles, which is how he met Bickler. He in turn had sung those jingles. They formed the band Survivor and got signed by Atlantic Records-owned Scotti Brothers.

However, their “metal lite” rock didn’t instantly catch on. Their first two albums were all but un-noticed, neither hitting the top 75. But they had managed to score one minor hit in 1981, “Poor Man’s Son.” And Sly Stallone liked it. He was putting together Rocky III, as the name suggests the third movie featuring his boxer Rocky character. He wanted a dramatic, punchy title theme for the movie. His first choice was Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”, but they refused to let it be used. So he phoned up Survivor. He asked them to make a song with the impact of the Queen hit; one a bit like “Poor Man’s Son.” Although the theme from the first Rocky movie, “Gonna Fly Now” had been a #1 hit itself, Peterik says Stallone “made it real clear he wanted to distance himself from that first song…he wanted something to get to the youth market.” A few years later he laughed “it’s hilarious to think I was once part of the cutting edge.”

They didn’t stray far from “Poor Man’s Son” to make the Stallone theme. Careful listeners will notice the same basic chord progressions and more than a passing resemblance between the two. Peterik wrote strong, punchy lyrics about tigers and surviving and they played the demo for the actor star. He loved it, but asked that the drums be “punchier, louder” in the mix, so they obliged. One doesn’t say “no” to Rocky…unless perhaps you’re Freddie Mercury and Brian May!

It was the thing that made their career. Rocky III was a smash, in fact the biggest box office hit of the year. So millions heard Survivor in the theatres, and seemed to love the song. It quickly scaled up the charts everywhere the movie played…but nowhere more than at home in the U.S. It ended up spending 15 weeks in the top 10, six of them at #1 before being displaced by Steve Miller Band’s “Abracabra.” the six week run on top actually wasn’t the best of the ’82. J.Geils had spent the same number of weeks at #1 with “Centerfold”, the McCartney/Wonder duet “Ebony & Ivory” had spent seven weeks and besting even that, Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” started the year in the midst of a 10-week run. But it was still mighty impressive for a previously-unknown act.

By the time all was said and done, it had gone to #1 in Canada, the UK, Ireland, South Africa and several other countries and even made the top 10 in Japan. It ended up being the second-biggest selling single of the year at home, moving well over two million copies of the vinyl 45; currently it’s an incredible 8X platinum. And it won Survivor the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a group or duo; they were nominated for an Academy Award for it but lost to “Up where We Belong.”

Survivor hastily recorded an album to fit around the smash single, and obviously enough called it Eye of the Tiger. Although allmusic pointed out the rather obvious, that “nothing here really scales the same heights as the title track,” the one song’s popularity pushed the album to #2 and platinum-status at home, in Canada and Australia.

The song not only has remained one of the most-played of the decade on oldies’ radio but has been used in an array of TV shows ranging from Big Bang Theory to Supernatural. Peterik says of that, “it’s still not a joke, although the Starbucks commercial kinda makes it a joke.” One place where it’s use hasn’t been welcomed is in Republican political rallies and ads…and we’re not joking. Survivor have put “cease and desist” orders on three different candidates who used the tune without permission. Of those, only Mitt Romney agreed to discontinue using it; Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee actually went to court before agreeing to an out-of-court-settlement.

The popularity didn’t quite last, but they did continue to do alright through the ’80s, scoring six more top 40 singles including “Burning Heart”, which got to #2. Probably not coincidentally, that was recorded for… you guessed it, Rocky IV.

Survivor carry on to this day but Sullivan is the only original member remaining.

July 21 – Those Legs Ran Up Texan Trio’s Biggest Hit

They’d hit the U.S. top 20 once before, singing about “Tush.” On this day in 1984, ZZ Top made the top 10 for the first time by setting their sights a little lower with “Legs.”

The fourth single off their massive Eliminator album was their breakout international hit and one of the first smash videos on MTV, which awarded “Best Group Video” at their first Video Awards in ’84. The band clearly knew they were onto something with the formula of good-looking women, a snazzy car and long beards to get them noticed on TV, this video added the “wait, there’s more!” to the formula – fuzzy, spinning guitars!

The pair of fuzzy guitars (a bass and a 6-string) were made by Dean Zelinsky, a well-known custom guitar maker. He’d known Billy Gibbons of the band for a few years and when Eliminator was nearly recorded, he recalls “one day I’m hanging in Los Angeles, and receive a call from Billy. In his southern drawl he says ‘I’m in the studio using the Dean ML (guitar) and it’s sounding incredible!’” He then flew Zelinsky to Houston so they could drive around and listen to the album, “not a final mix yet”, in Gibbons Mercedes. The guitar maker adds Gibbons “was really a soft-spoken, hospitable southern guy… when he dropped me off at the airport, he insisted on carrying my luggage.” No wonder he couldn’t say ‘no’ when Gibbons called him up at 3 AM one night, told him he’d just gotten Def Leppard to use Dean’s guitars… and “I’m sending you some sheepskins. I want you to put them on some guitars.” No word on how the spinning sheepskins came into play though.

Although all of ZZ Top appear in the video and on the record credits, the “band” recording it was in fact only singer/guitarist Billy Gibbons and studio tech Terry Manning who played synthesizers and did the mixing work. The surprising drum machine rhythm and synths (surprising in context of the band’s rep as a straight-ahead guitar rock band) was played up a bit in the 12″ single which became a hit on dance charts. It also hit the top 10 in Canada and Australia. Amazingly, the almost entirely new sound they created worked both on their traditional markets and new ones. It was hard enough, and “good ol’ boy” enough to fit comfortably on classic rock and metal stations but the synth-driven sound and dance beat put them in unfamiliar territory on dance or college rock stations.

Gibbons says he got the idea for the song when he saw a “real pretty girl” out in the rain one day when he was driving and “her legs were the first thing I noticed.” He turned around to offer her a ride, but she was gone – but the idea for a song was on!