May 7 – The Hotel We Can Never Leave

The following year’s Grammy award winner for Record of the Year hit #1 this day in 1977. That was “Hotel California”, the title track of the Eagles massive hit album about “the dark underbelly of the American dream,” (according to Don Henley) which showed that radio will play a close-to-7-minute single if it’s good enough and from a known commodity.

The Eagles were certainly that; it marked the band’s fourth U.S. #1, following hot on the heels of “New Kid in Town”, the first single off the album. The last album of new material to chart a pair of #1’s was KC & the Sunshine Band’s self-titled album two years prior. Curiously, Leo Sayer duplicated the feat when his “When I Need You” bumped this one off the #1 spot, his second chart-topper from Endless Flight.

Don Felder remembered, “all of us kind of drove into L.A. at night. Nobody was from California, and if you drive into L.A. at night, you can just see this glow on the horizon…the images start running through your head of Hollywood and all the dreams.” Henley didn’t see it as brightly, saying that the album in general was “a concept album, but it’s not set in the Old West. It’s more an urban thing…using California as a microcosm for the whole United States…saying ‘we’ve been OK so far for 200 years, but we’re gonna have to change if we’re going to continue to be around.” The song itself might last 200 years. It hit #1 in Canada as well, earned them a platinum single at home and remains one of the ’70s most-played songs on radio and streaming devices. Guitarist magazine picked the guitar solo on it (by Don Felder and Joe Walsh in a sort of ‘dueling guitars’) as the best in rock history. And if you perhaps think you’re just a tiny bit tired of hearing it so frequently…well, the band might be too. They’ve played it over 1000 times in concert to date…and it’s the theme for their current concert tour!  Maybe they really can never leave the Hotel California!  

March 10 – You May Be Right… Joel Rocked A Little In 1980

Pink Floyd released one of rock’s biggest-ever albums to the American public this day in 1973. Another March 10th album release was this biggie, albeit not Dark Side.. big. And not as well-liked by Rolling Stone! Billy Joel released his seventh studio album, Glass Houses on this day in 1980.

It was his second-straight #1 in North America and ended up being 7X platinum in the U.S. largely on the strength of the four hit singles including “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” (his first #1 single) and “You May Be Right”  With songs like “Sometimes A Fantasy” the album was a bit more rock than his previous works, and inspired a little by the “new wave” acts like Blondie and the Cars which he said “I like it but it’s not particularly new.”

The (slightly ) different sound was an obvious attempt by Joel to keep up with the times. He said when he was recording the record, at the tail-end of the ’70s, “everything was being recategorized, because they needed to define it against something.” He said the punk acts of the Big Apple and post-punk acts starting to appear reminded him of ’60s garage rock and he didn’t care much for the term “punk.” “In my neighborhood, you didn’t call yourself a punk,” he recalls, “other people called you a punk.” Still, he saw the change in sounds as a good thing. “the music business needed an enema, and punk rock was that enema,” he says. While hardly “punk” or “new wave”, the album did sound a bit more contemporary than some of his ’70s work and allmusic give it a strong 4.5 star rating noting it is the “closest Joel ever got to a pure rock album” and the Grammys concurred awarding Billy the “Best Rock Vocal- Male”. Rolling Stone however panned it, comparing Joel to an “obnoxious frat boy whose hoisted one too many” and calling “Close to the Borderline” on it a “godawful Eagles-go-punk state of the union message.”

Godawful or not – and we’d vote “not” – Glass Houses has sold past nine million copies and remains one of the most popular in Joel’s catalog. It was one of several of his recently remastered in a new vinyl edition marketed exclusively by Walmart.

March 8 – Mellow Then, Physical Later

She’d be the video vixen in legwarmers a few years later, but she was already hot on the charts on this day in 1975. Olivia Newton-John hit #1 on Billboard 47 years ago today, with a song initially inspired by just one word. When Australian John Farrar, her long-time friend and frequent producer had been in California not long before that, he noticed a lot of the musicians there used the word “mellow” incessantly.

From that, “Have You Never Been Mellow?” came about, and that became her second #1 hit in both the U.S. and Canada, a few months after “I Honestly Love You” had been her first. It helped her sixth album, also named Have You Never Been Mellow? hit #1 in the States – at that point her newly adopted home country – and earn her a gold record, as well as a platinum one in Canada. Her appeal was very wide at the time. Not only was it the top-selling single in the land, it was the #1 song on adult contemporary radio and #3 on country charts. It would win her a nomination for a Grammy for Best Female Pop Performance, an award she’d won the previous year for her first #1 song.

She’d go on to have three more #1’s in the U.S., two of them written by Farrar – “You’re the One That I Want” and “Magic.”

Olivia is 73 now and has famously been battling cancer on and off for over a decade. In 2019 she auctioned off some of her memorabilia to raise funds for cancer research. It raised nearly $2.5 million. Among the hotly sought after items were the tight black pants she wore as “Sandy” in Grease. They fetched over $160 000, appropriately enough from the founder of Spanx.

February 27 – Five Years In, Eagles Still Felt Like The New Kids

The Eagles were flying high 45 years back…but were self-aware enough to know that they might not be forever. That was the approximate idea behind the lead single from their best-selling (studio) album, Hotel California. “New Kid In Town” became their third #1 single in the States this week in 1977.

It was the lead single from the epic album that had been released about two months earlier and which would go on to see an incredible 26 million copies in the U.S. alone. While Glenn Frey sang lead on it, it took him, Don Henley and J.D. Souther to collaborate and get it written. J.D. Souther thought of it rather as a gunslinger kind of reference – always a new gun coming to town trying to put the old champ out of the way for good. He also noted “as you approach 30, you begin to see that things don’t stay the same forever… there’s a lot of other guys that are coming up, they want their moment too… it’s as it should be.”

Henley concurred. He described it as being “about the fickle nature of love and romance. It’s also about the fleeting nature of fame, especially in the music business.”

Fame’s more fleeting for some than others, but “New Kid In Town” helped the Eagles hang onto theirs for some time longer. It became their third U.S. #1 (after “Best of My Love” and “One of These Nights”) and also topped Canadian charts. Meanwhile, it became their first top 10 hit in such far flung places as Norway and ended up winning them a Grammy for Best Vocal Arrangement, one of two the album would score them; the title track took home the prestigious Record of the Year. “New Kid In Town” became their first American gold single, and remains one of their most popular tunes to this day. Fitting, as like Rolling Stone says, it’s an “exquisite piece of south-of-the-border melancholia.”

An oddity about the recording. It featured both Randy Meisner and Don Felder on different guitars but renowned guitar-slinger Joe Walsh put his down and played electric piano on it instead.

February 23 – Monster Albums Made For Ratings Hit Show

Last week we took a look at the Brit Awards and noted that it’s getting to be “awards season.” The time of the year when it seems every field of entertainment is giving out the hardware for the previous year’s accomplishments. It also seems like every year there are more shows, and of late, less interest in them. But that wasn’t always the case, and today we look back to this day in 1978 when the Grammys were given out for the 1977 year in music.

Back then, a Grammy was a major statement in music, and the show, a major event for the public. So much so that the awards show from L.A., broadcast on CBS, was on over 26% of all TVs in the U.S. (and approximately 45% of all the ones which were actually being watched), the third-best ratings ever for it. Only the 1974 show (in which Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack were big winners) and the 1984 (at the height of Michael Jackson’s popularity) were more watched. And why not? Consider that in the previous year, between December, 1976 and November ’77, three of what would turn out to be the biggest records ever came out – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, which sold ten million in its first month and currently sits at 40 million-plus worldwide; the Eagles Hotel California, which has moved over 26 million in the States alone, and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which like Rumours has sold over 40 million and was the biggest-selling soundtrack ever for over a decade. Not to mention multi-platinum classics from the likes of Meat Loaf and Jackson Browne. And of course, on the big screen, a little sci-fi flick called Star Wars had shown, and it’s theme was pretty popular. Grease was a few months away, but Olivia Newton John gave a sneak preview by performing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” live.

The show was hosted by John Denver, looking uncharacteristically formal in a sparkly-lapeled tuxedo. Like we said, back then, it was an event. And fans weren’t disappointed. Even the comparatively minor categories seemed to be given to records that would live on to seem significant. For instance, Kenny Rogers “Lucille” took one for Best Country Male performance; Crystal Gayle won the female equivalent with the crossover hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”…and gave one of the most admirably short acceptance speeches ever! Even the comedy award went to a star for the ages, Steve Martin. Star Wars, and its musical creator John Williams, won trophies for Best Original Score and Best Pop Instrumental. Although the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack came out a few days too late to be included (it was eligible in 1979 and won Album of the Year), the Bee Gees still got a Grammy for Best Pop Group Performance for “How Deep Is Your Love”, the lead-off single from the soundtrack. The Eagles won awards for the two big singles off Hotel California; the title track winning the prestigious Record of the Year and “New Kid In Town” winning one for Best Vocal Arrangements. Rumours took home the Best Album.

Among the other notable awards were Steely Dan taking the Best Engineered Record for Aja, Thelma Houston and Lou Rawls winning ones for R&B and Barbra Streisand, who had already won five before this night, getting ones for Best Pop Female Performance and Best Song for “Evergreen.” Actually, the Best Song was a tie, an unusual occurrence, with it being shared by Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” Curiously, Streisand had also tied for an Oscar before, sharing Best Actress with Katherine Hepburn a decade earlier…just in case you’re ever in need of a trivia question sure to win you a drink at the bar! Speaking of Debby Boone, the Grammys proved once again that they didn’t have a crystal ball for the future. They awarded her the Best New Artist, beating out Foreigner and Andy Gibb among others (not to mention acts like The Clash and Tom Petty who appeared on the scene but didn’t get nominated. And while Gibson undeniably had a massive hit record that put her on the map, she’d turn out to be a one hit wonder…which was not unusual for winners of that award! The previous year they’d given the nod to the Starland Vocal Band, (ahead of Boston and the Brothers Johnson), and the following year, it would be a Taste of Honey winning, not the Cars, Elvis Costello or Toto.

This year’s Grammys will take place April 3.

January 18 – Bowie’s Star Shone Bright

On this day six years ago, the world was still mourning the unexpected death of the great David Bowie... and he was sitting on top of the British album charts.

Blackstar came out on Bowie’s 69th birthday, January 8, 2016, and preceded his death by a mere two days. No coincidence that; producer Tony Visconti ( a longtime friend of David’s and producer of many of his best albums, like Heroes and Scary Monsters) was with him as they recorded it in New York early in 2015 and says Bowie wanted it as a “parting gift” to his fans. By that time, the singer knew he had cancer and little time left but few others did. The backing band for instance, say he seemed healthy and worked a solid schedule every day, something one couldn’t always say about the 1970s version of the man!

At the time, Bowie was listening to a lot of electronica music as well as rap, and perhaps some jazz, which had been his favorite type of music when he was a youth. All those forms came into play on Blackstar. What didn’t was mainstream pop-rock. This was no “Let’s Dance…Again!” effort. Instead we got a mass of bleak lyrics and odd, varied sounds utilizing everything from harmonica to regular electric guitars to orchestral strings. If there was one “pop” inspiration involved it would almost assuredly be Radiohead, not Nile Rodgers or Iggy Pop. As The Independant would say, it was “as far as he’s strayed from pop” through his varied career of 50 years. The title track – all 10 minutes of it – and “Lazarus” , the singles from the album, both seem to deal with mortality and death. Many pointed to the line in “Lazarus” that went “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen” as the definitive statement about him and about the album’s relevance.

Reviews were excellent, although a cynic might debate how wonderful they would have been if Bowie had succumbed to his cancer a month or two later. The release date meant most publications were reviewing it right beside the unhappy obituary for him. Rolling Stone gave it 4-stars, Spin 7/10. Entertainment Weekly graded it “A-”, saying it was expected in its unexpectedness since “the man who fell to Earth has made an entire career of defying terrestrial categories and classification”. Pitchfork figured he was “adding to the myth while the myth is his to hold.”

The public agreed and were eager to revel in their sorrow. It hit #1 in Canada, Australia and many other countries, including the U.S. That was a surprise because he’d never had a chart-topping album before in the States; even Let’s Dance only made #4. The first week Blackstar sales there of 181 000 were the best single week sales on record for The Thin White Duke.

But it was his Britain that took to it the most. It knocked Adele from her seven-week run at #1, and spent three weeks on top, before a greatest hits compilation of his edged it out at #1. One week in January, Bowie notched seven of the 40 biggest-selling albums in the UK, a feat only Elvis Presley had done before.

The album has resonance and was remembered come year-end. Newsweek, Mojo and Q each picked it as the “album of the year” . As well it earned five Grammys including Best Alternative Album and Best Rock Song for the title track, and the Brit Awards Album of The Year… something Bowie had never done while alive.

Long may you shine on, “Black star.”

December 15 – Hornsby Record Was Good, That’s Just The Way It Is

Bruce Hornsby and the Range had the #1 song in the U.S. this day in 1986 with “The Way it Is.”

The title track of his debut album was a scathing but melodic look at indifference towards the homeless and needy as well as the ongoing problems of racism; perhaps a very fitting kind of song for the Christmas season. As he put it, “the need to resist complacency.” Since then it’s been sampled by Tupac Shakur and re-recorded as a banjo and fiddle heavy, bluegrass version with Hornsby joining country star Ricky Skaggs. That’s not surprising either, since Hornsby toured extensively with the Grateful Dead and in 1990 he won a Grammy for the Best Bluegrass Album. He says his music is fluid and always open to interpretation.

The original also hit #1 in Canada the following week and got to #15 in the UK, his best showing there. It helped the album of the same name go triple platinum in the States and won Bruce a Grammy for Best New Artist. It also got him noticed by Don Henley who’d use him on the title track of his album The End of The Innocence. That was a lot to live upto, and while subsequent albums haven’t matched the popularity, he seems quite alright with doing whatever he feels like musically, no matter what the public’s tastes might be at the time.In 2020, he put out his twelfth album overall, Non-secure Connection.

December 2 – Motown’s Darker Sound Tempted Listeners

One of Motown’s best records ever hit #1 in the U.S. this day in 1972: “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by the Temptations. The song was the fourth, and final, chart-topper for Detroit’s Temptations and was notable for taking their upbeat, pop harmonic sounds into darker territories and more socially-conscious lyrics (the label liked the term “psychedelic soul” with comparisons to Sly and the Family Stone and even Jimi Hendrix being made) , for being the last hit for Motown recorded in Detroit, and for its length.

In the full, album version, it is almost 4 minutes in before the vocals start and runs 11:50; the “Shortened” single is still 6:58 long, the third lengthiest Billboard #1 ever (curiously, the longest #1 single ever was also that year- “American Pie”). Although David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks are usually thought of when one thinks of the band, neither were in on this record which was sung by Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris and Mel Franklin in various places. That was the choice of producer Norman Whitfield, who also co-wrote it. Berry Gordy later said of that, “he’d utilize all five of those leads (from the Temptations). Just incredible! this guy was probably the most under-rated producer we had.” If you’re a musician, you best know B-flat minor if you want to play it…the whole song is in that !

David Hutcheon of London’s The Times describes its musical appeal thusly: “the song comes at you in layers. Bass and high hat, then strings and a guitar, with a trumpet soloing. Then they disappear and and electric piano fills the space for a bit, creating a foggy, trancelike mood. You would relax if it weren’t for that minatory bass, as ominous as a shark’s fin.” Which fit the story itself. It wasn’t as joyful as “My Girl”, but somehow an even more compelling aural picture to take in. Fitting for such an epic song, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” took home two Grammys for best R&B performance by a group or duo. The single’s A-side won the regular award, while the non-vocal B-side took the trophy for best R&B instrumental.

November 20 – Many Figure 25 Was Number 1

This week seems quite a bit like the same week six years back, at least in the entertainment world. Namely because of one name – Adele. Yesterday she released her fourth album, 30; on this day in 2015, her third, 25 came out. In case you haven’t noticed, the Brit lass names all of her studio albums numerically, for her age when she began working on them.

Like the last couple, a new Adele album is a big news item. Love her or hate her, she’s the most successful female singer around these days and a new record means both that easy-listening radio is going to sound different (yet oddly the same) for the next year, and that stores that still sell records or CDs are going to be busy. Very busy. The lead single off her latest one, “Easy on Me” is already a #1 hit in most countries and set a record for the most times streamed in one day for any song on Spotify.

Time recently pointed out she is an “anachronism”, “an album artist in an age of virality”. They point out as well she’s both a “throwback torch singer and a modern marketing genius.” And living her life so publicly, with setbacks like a recent divorce she’s managed to maintain the image of being an approachable, down to earth, everyday gal her fans could easily sit down and sip some wine with while offering each other a shoulder to cry on. That’s a feat Madonna hasn’t yet mastered. Anyway, when 25 came out, it was instantly adored by her fans…and some critics. Rolling Stone gave it a perfect 5-star rating calling her an artist “Who reaches back decades for her influence …(yet) feels utterly modern” while many publications in her native UK gave it less glowing, middling scores. The NME decry her “following a formula”, but fans seem to counter “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Adele herself says that despite some good things happening in her life at the time, like the birth of her child, she wrote it out of “melancholia” she was feeling.

The album sold 3.38 million copies in the first week in the U.S., a record since Nielsen started SoundScan data-collection in 1991, and went to #1 around the world , eventually going 11X platinum in the U.S., 12X in the UK and winning both the Grammy and the Brit Award for Album of the Year. All while inspiring one of SNL‘s more memorable bits in years. The single “Hello” was a worldwide #1 hit, and went 7X platinum in the States (yet wasn’t her biggest hit ever – “Rolling in the Deep”  off 21 takes that honor… so far) The follow-up “Send My Love To Your New Lover” was unusually chipper-sounding for her and another top 10 hit. Interestingly, the version sold in Target stores and in Japan had three extra tracks, including one, ”Can’t Let Go” co-written and produced by Linda Perry, formerly of 4 Non Blondes. When all was said and done it sold over 20 million copies worldwide, making it the second-biggest album of the decade – behind 21, her previous record. And making her the one and only artist left who could see their album sales drop by more than ten million from the previous one and still be the biggest thing going!

As for 30, the pre-released single and snippets of other songs made available suggest her fans will love it but she won’t be breaking much new ground or winning over the undecideds. It delivers more or what her fans adore, even down to the bonus three songs for those who venture into a Target to buy their copy.  However, Rolling Stone do call it her “toughest, most powerful album yet” and in her homeland The Independent calls it less “wearisome” than 25. we’re guessing Columbia Records won’t soon weary of tabulating the sales as they roll in.

November 15 – America Had A Homecoming In Different Ways

If you’re going to call yourself America and sing songs of the desert and California, you probably should live in America. That seemed the logical thinking of the soft rock band who released their second album, Homecoming this day in 1972.

Although their parents were American, the group had formed in England a year or two earlier and found great success with their debut album earlier that year. That one had put them on the charts with the prototypical sort of America song, “I Need You” and the oddball “A Horse With No Name” with its cryptic lyrics and Neil Young-sound-alike vocals. The platinum success of the album let them do what they aspired to – move to California and produce their next LP themselves.

Homecoming more or less picked up where America (the first album) left off, with lots of soft rock-cum-folk tunes, and vocals generally split between Dewey Bunnell (who’d sounded Neil-like on “A Horse With No Name”) and Gerry Buckley (who’d done “I Need You”) and the pair, as well as Dan Peek working on a variety of instruments. All three seemed capable on guitars and keyboards; they supplemented their sound with members of the legendary “Wrecking Crew” session musicians: Joe Osborn on bass and Hal Blaine’s drumming.

The album didn’t quite match the success of the first one, but it did fine in building up their name and reputation to the point where they won the Grammy for best new artist of ’72. Allmusic graded it 4-stars, tied with the predecessor for their best. It considers it “breezy” with a “tighter more forthright” approach to the songs than the previous one, and all things considered a “rewarding listen.”

Fans thought so too, with the song “Don’t Cross the River” being popular and “Ventura Highway” being their third top 10 single of the year both in the U.S. and Canada. That song introduced the world – and Prince – to the phrase “purple rain” and with its Southern California imagery would go on to become perhaps their signature piece. To whit, their band website is venturahighway.com .

The album got to #9 in the U.S., #21 over in their former home and got them their second straight platinum record in the States. Although the next album, Hat Trick wasn’t necessarily that when it came to giving them three hit records, they’d soon rebound and score three more top 5 hits in ’74-75 with “Tin Man”, “Lonely People” and “Sister Golden Hair.” While they had their last hit in the ’80s, Bunnell and Beckley still operate as America and remain popular on the retro touring scene, playing a number of shows this month in Florida.