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.”

November 3 – Eagles Ended Band And Decade

The Eagles hit #1 on Billboard with The Long Run this day in 1979 and stayed there on into 1980. Maybe that’s fitting. It ended up being the final #1 album of the ’70s in the U.S. and perhaps no other artist embodied the decade’s musical feel in America more than they had. However, by the end of the decade, it was also apparent a change was in the air and conventional acts like The Eagles would have some difficulty transitioning into the new music ’80s. Suddenly “big”, well-established bands like Fleetwood Mac and Wings were being met with a noticeable drop-off in sales and excitement while the airwaves began to fill with new, and new-sounding acts like Joe Jackson and Blondie. 

The Eagles sixth studio album was a tedious project for them to complete with various band members at each other’s throats and incredible pressure to follow up the smash Hotel California album. Randy Meisner had already quit and Timothy B. Scmit was brought in to replace him, which provided one of the album’s highlights, “I Can’t Tell You Why.” That track was co-written by him and the only single of theirs during their initial run to feature Timothy singing. The Long Run was decently received, earned them a Grammy Award for “Heartache Tonight”, and sold over 7 million copies in the U.S. alone..,a huge number for most acts, but only about half of what the previous one (Hotel California) had moved at that point. they wanted to call it a day.

A short tour followed with a live album to finish their contract to Elektra-Asylum Records and they went their separate ways by summer 1980- til 1994, when Hell froze over… and they were back together with a new tour and the Hell Freezes Over album which would hit #1 almost exactly 15 years after this one. They’re still at it, with a current lineup of Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh as well as Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, Glenn’s son. They have a couple of concerts this week in Seattle, and have announced plans for a 50th Anniversary tour starting next summer in England.

October 4 – Fans ‘Jump’ed For Joy One Last Time

If you were a Van Halen fan six years ago and you said, to borrow from one of their hits, “I’ll Wait” to see them next time, you’re out of luck. Because the California hard rock outfit played their very last concert on this day in 2015. Fittingly, it took place close to home for them, at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl.

It had been a long road for the foursome. They’d formed way back in 1972 – 19 years before their Wolfgang Van Halen was even born! – had put out a dozen studio albums and had played over a thousand shows since 1974, with various configurations of members but always featuring brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen; Alex on drums, Eddie, famously, on guitar. For the 2015 tour they had flamboyant singer David Lee Roth back after years of them being led by Sammy Hagar or Gary Cherone. As well, Eddie’s son Wolfgang was settling in as the band’s bassist, which he’d been doing for close to a decade by that point.

By 2015, a few health issues were creeping in for the guys and they hadn’t put out an album of new songs in three years, that being A Different Kind of Truth, an album that didn’t attract much attention given the fact that it featured Roth back with them for the first time since the album, and year, 1984. But they’d toured for that and put out a live album, Tokyo Dome Live In Concert. It had sold respectably, hit #20 in the U.S. and since their forte had always been on stage, they decided to go back out to play shows across the continent supporting that album. They put together a 41 show tour during the summer (and early fall) of ’15, concentrating on the west, but with a number of Eastern cities and two in Ontario, Canada worked in as well. The finale was a two night set at the 17 500-capacity Hollywood Bowl.

The last show seemingly wasn’t that different than most of theirs on the tour. The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band opened for them, and Van Halen took the stage triumphantly for a two hour show, with about 23 songs…it varied by a song or two from night to night, and also how fans counted (with some songs seguing into one another.) They kicked it off with “Light Up the Sky” and their old metal classic “”Runnin’ With The Devil” before rolling through a number of their hits – “I’ll Wait”, “Hot for Teacher,” several of their most popular album cuts – “Ice Cream Man”, “Little Guitars” – only one song from their most recent record, “She’s The Woman,” before finishing with a rousing “You Really Got Me”, “Panama” and “Jump.” They seemed in great form and spirits. At one point, Roth mocked Bon Jovi, who was rumored to be feuding with his guitarist (Richie Sambora) at the time. Roth said he and Eddie had their differences but would apologize every couple of years and get back to playing music. He then walked over, hugged Eddie and said “the best years of my life; the high points of all my life – on stage with you, ‘homeboy’”.

The show drew decent enough reviews and while not recorded officially, has ended up on Youtube more or less in its entirety.

Although at that time, Eddie had suggested they wanted to record a new album right after the tour, it didn’t happen and they went into an unofficial hiatus. In 2019, Roth said “I think Van Halen is finished,” and went out on tour by himself and ultimately, he was right. Eddie died of cancer in October 2020, and Wolfgang announced the band was ended within days. Just last week, Roth announced he was retiring from music altogether. Wolfgang, however, continues on, recently putting out a solo album, Mammoth WVH

September 26 – A Whole Lot Going On In ‘The End’

If we believe the song, by the summer of ’69, Bryan Adams was having a fine old time. But The Beatles were not. Tensions had been boiling over for a year or more between them and as they hunkered down to record Abbey Road, they must have assumed it was going to be the last thing they’d be making together. But if it was to be their swan song, they wanted to go out with a bang. They still had plenty of ideas and George Martin had procured them more advanced studios in London than they’d used in the past.

While the album was highlighted by the double-sided single “Something / Come Together”, the most ambitious and unusual work on it took up most of Side 2 of the LP, the odd “suite” (as Martin would refer to it as) of eight rather short songs blended together in a long, eclectic piece commonly referred to as the “Abbey Road Medley.” The basic idea seemed to be Paul McCartney’s with him spurred on to expand their frontiers and sound by Martin. So, since they still had a number of incomplete songs banging around, rather than working to add to and finish two or three and discard the rest, they made it into one long, rambling piece. It made for a unique 16-minute listening experience for the fans.

Although all of its components were credited as being written by Lennon & McCartney, all of them were basically the creation of one or the other. It kicks off with the longest component of the medley, “You Never Give Me Your Money,” perhaps the most straight-ahead and normal of the songs. Paul wrote it and sang it, ostensibly about Allen Klein, the man he disliked but who’d just been installed as the band’s new manager, filling the void left behind by the death of the beloved Brian Epstein. Paul, and many other musicians it seemed, didn’t trust Klein and felt he ripped them off, but his voice was outvoted by the other three, in an ultimately not great decision.

From there we drift into the laid-back “Sun King”, a pleasant John song featuring some nice harmonies by Paul, George and him. Harrison says the original sound of the song was inspired by the song “Albatross.” “It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac, but that was the point of origin.” From there, Ringo kicks in with the drums to ratchet it up a little for “Mean Mr. Mustard.” That was, in John’s words “a bit of crap I wrote in India” after seeing a story about a rich local who was excessively miserly while living surrounded by poverty. That led to “Polythene Pam,” polythene being the British term for polyethylene, Lennon said he did meet a girl in Jersey who dressed in that plastic (presumably wrapping herself in cling wrap) “but she didn’t wear Jack boots or a kilt. I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about.” Which led to a song about an encounter with a girl Paul almost had – “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window.” Turns out an ardent fan, Diane Ashley, and some of her friends stalked Paul’s house, and one day when he was out, Ashley found a ladder and did indeed go through his bathroom window, letting her friends in to look around and take some clothes and pictures as souvenirs.

After a hard day’s night of dealing with a groupie wrapped in Saran wrap or being burglarized by another, some shuteye might be in order. Thus there was “Golden Slumbers,” a McCartney song loosely based on the poem “Cradle Song” by Thomas Dekker. McC says “I remember trying to get a very strong vocal on it, because it was such a gentle theme.” He succeeded and was helped along by Martin’s production. They recorded it and the next bit, “Carry that Weight” as a single entity, mainly on July 2, 1969. The two songs were different both because Martin had assembled a 25-piece orchestra to fill out the sound, and because George was playing bass and Paul guitars. It wasn’t that Lennon hated the songs and refused to show up; rather he’d been in a car accident and was in hospital for several days while they plowed on with the album. Lennon did later add some over-dubbed vocals to “Carry that Weight”, which is probably unique in their catalog in having all four singing the chorus in unison. Many interpreted that as Paul’s acknowledgement that they would “carry the weight”, or burden, of their names and reputations with them after the Beatles. They knew the public would be quick to offer snide judgments if future solo work wasn’t upto the standards the Fab Four seemed to have set for themselves.

Appropriately, the song…and the band… came to a finale with a song entitled “The End.” That’s fitting (what isn’t is that the record company jammed another song, “Her Majesty” in after it on the record.) It was indeed the last thing they recorded together for Abbey Road, and in fact, the very last thing the four would work on together. The fact seemed not to be wasted on them; each of them plays a solo during the song and as engineer Geoff Emerick noted, “John, Paul and George looked like they had gone back in time, like they were kids again, playing together for the sheer enjoyment.” Also significantly, it finishes with as Paul put it, “a meaningful couplet” … one of their most quoted lyrics ever: “and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” As allmusic notice, “it’s hard not to interpret (the couplet) as a summation not only of Abbey Road, but perhaps the group’s entire career.” A rather great summation, and a rather great career as it would turn out.

September 9 – ‘The King’ Took TV Crown For ’50s

September 9th was a big day on Elvis Presley‘s calendar. It marked not only a big beginning but a type of ending for his career, spaced some 16 years apart. In 1956, he really entered the public’s consciousness in a big way. In 1972, he’d have a sort of last kick at the can.

In 1956, Elvis was still young – 21 at this point in the year – and had already built a following. But it really took off during that year, with him launching four-straight #1 hit singles : “Heartbreak Hotel”, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” (which would go on to inspire the Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf song “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”) , “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog.” His fame and popularity from the new sounds of “rock and roll” caused a symbiotic relationship with the also nearly-new medium of television. His first appearance on TV was in January, on the relatively low-profile CBS show Stage Show. That, and his increasing popularity on radio led to appearances on the more popular Milton Berle Show in springtime. At the time, the unconventional sound and the famous hip-twisting that so annoyed millions led the New York Daily News to refer to him as giving “an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar,” best suited for “bordellos.” The New York Times declared he had “no discernible singing ability.” And the King of television at the time, Ed Sullivan (whose show was the most popular variety or entertainment one on air in the mid-’50s) complained about Elvis’ crotch being too visible through his pants and his dancing, decreeing him “unfit for family viewing!”.

That would quickly change when Elvis played the Steve Allen Show in summer. A direct competitor to Ed, the week Elvis appeared, Steve topped him in the ratings for the first time. Sullivan did a quick about-face and signed Elvis on for three shows, at a then unprecedented $50 000 (about $750k today.) The host still declared Elvis vulgar, and apparently directed that he be shot from the waist up only. His camera crews disobeyed, but it was unclear how upset Ed was about it. Presley’s first appearance was this night in ’56. (And as it turned out, Sullivan wasn’t even there that night. He had been hurt in a car accident and there was a guest host filling in.) Presley played four songs – “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog”, a Little Richard tune called “Ready Teddy,” and a brand new one, “Love Me Tender.” The show foreshadowed the rise of the Beatles through Ed’s show about eight years on. The young crowd went absolutely wild for the man eventually nicknamed “The King” and ratings went through the roof. Nielsen reported over 60 million people tuned in, or about 82% of all the TVs on that night. It was four times his usual viewership, and the most-watched TV show of the 1950s. And the publicity helped record stores pre-order over a million copies of “Love Me Tender”, also a record at the time.

Fast forward 16 years, and the best days musically, and likely lifestyle-wise, were behind Presley. Although he’d had a bit of a career resurgence in the late-’60s, and had racked up 16 Billboard #1 singles, he was becoming a bit of a caricature of himself and no longer a major presence on hit radio. But he did have one left in him. “Burning Love” hit the top 40 this day in 1972, eventually to be his 34th and final American top 10 hit.

Burning Love” was written by then-young Nashville songwriter Dennis Linde, who actually played the guitar on the single. Linde would go on to write a number of country hits later, including Mark Chestnutt’s “Bubba Shot the Jukebox.” The song was recorded first by Arthur Alexander, but it wasn’t a hit, so Elvis made it his own. RCA put it out as a single, and rushed it onto a compilation of otherwise rather forgettable old movie songs called Burning Love & Hits From His Movies, 2. The 23-minute album went double-platinum eventually, doubtless fueled mostly by the popularity of the new single.

Burning Love” hit #7 over in the UK, and #2 in Canada. It also got to #2 in the States. In a weird twist, it was shutout of the top spot by another smash by an aging rock star having one last hurrah – Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-ling.”

August 9 – Freddie’s Fearless Finale

About 120 000 or so were on hand this day in 1986 in the east of England at the Knebworth (although not the actual Knebworth Festival) to see what would turn out to be a historic concert. Likely no one in the crowd knew it at the time, but possibly the band did. What they were seeing was the very last Queen concert with Freddie Mercury.

It was the tail end of their 26 date European “Kind of Magic” tour. At the time Queen were enjoying a renewed popularity, in no small part due to their great set at Live Aid the previous year. The band brought in Status Quo, Belouis Some and Big Country to open for them, with videos of Thin Lizzy played on the large video screen between sets.

The headliners arrived to great fanfare in their own helicopter and set into a show described as between “over and hour” and “a full two hours.” Sadly, the Knebworth staff note the show wasn’t recorded officially for posterity, though “there’s a Dutch bootleg going around.” Mercury looked noticeably thinner than before but was in fine form through the hour-plus set. They gave a fine performance that included a good chunk of their catalog of hits including “Under Pressure”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Hammer to Fall”, “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions,” “Another One Bites The Dust” and the sadly ironic “Who Wants to Live Forever?” At the end, “God save the Queen” played through the PA, Freddie hoisted a gold crown and waved to the fans and left for the last time after over 700 concerts with his bandmates. It seemed a good, but unremarkable concert to most. LMNR say “Mercury himself radiated energy, positivity and a willingness to create a quality show.”

There were one of two odd things however. Peter Hince said John Deacon smashed his bass during the show, uncharacteristic of the normally level-headed quiet guy. “John acted strangely on that tour. He was doing stuff that was out of character.” After the show, Mercury headed out and flew home almost as soon as the anthem shut down, but not before saying to his bandmates “Oh, I can’t f@@**n’ do this anymore! My whole body’s wracked with pain!” But Brian May says “he normally said things like that at the end of every tour”, so he didn’t think much of it. There were one or two odd things though.

Mercury was undoubtedly already in ill health at the time. Although he lived until late 1991, his longtime partner Jim Hutton said Mercury tested positive for AIDS only months after this concert and would only be seen with Queen one more time, looking very frail in 1990 when they picked up an award.

Except for a one-off tribute show in 1992 (in which greats like Elton John, George Michael and David Bowie took turns at the mic while the original trio played), Queen wouldn’t return to the stage for almost 20 years. In 2005, they toured with Paul Rodgers singing. Roger Taylor said of that, “we never thought we’d tour again. Paul came along by chance and we seemed to have a chemistry (but) he’s not trying to be Freddie.” Good thing that. Roger Daltrey of the Who echoes what many feel in saying Mercury was “the best virtuoso rock’n’roll singer of all-time. He could sing anything in any style.”

July 7 – Hammer Of The God’s Swan Song

Perhaps bands with members who aren’t in A-1 shape might want to avoid playing in Germany. Just a thought, since Germans got to see the last Nirvana show in 1994 about a month before Kurt Cobain passed away and 14 years prior, also got to unwittingly see a big finale. On this day in 1980, about 6000 or so fans in West Berlin got to see the last show for Led Zeppelin with their legendary drummer John Bonham pounding away behind that over-sized kit.

Zep were amidst a haphazard job of promoting their late-’79 album In Through the Out Door. they’d not had any major tours for about three years and although John Paul Jones remembers “morale was very high, we were in really good spirits” in the summer 40 years back, band historians seemed to see things a little differently. Robert Plant was apparently a bit reluctant to go out on the road again and Jimmy Page and Bonham were both dealing with significant substance abuse problems. The label wanted a major international tour, but Plant’s balking led them to schedule a smallish tour of Europe in the summer, with a North American tour slated to kick off in Montreal in the fall. The Euro tour was going to be 14 or 15 dates, primarily in West Germany (remember this was long before the fall of the Berlin Wall and USSR.) It kicked off in Dortmund, West Germany on June 17.

Led Zeppelin were a band known for excesses in every way, from their wild lives to the long, often orchestral pieces and lengthy elaborate concerts. This tour was rather a scaled-down version in most ways. The music was a little more sparse, the shows a bit shorter and the actual venues tinier than they’d played in years. The final show for instance was in the Eissporthalle, a 6000 seat arena. “We were stripped down a lot, “ Jones say. “Punk kind of woke us up again.”

For the most part the shows were 13-song sets, beginning with a ’50s blues number called “Train Kept A-rollin’” and going through a dozen of their own songs, mostly well-known like “Black Dog”, “Trampled Under Foot”, “Kashmir” and “Stairway to Heaven” (which closed the regular part of the show) as well as a couple from the new album, usually “Hot dog” and “All My Love.” They’d then come back for a two-song encore, which varied from city to city, but in their last show consisted of “Rock and Roll” and “Whole Lotta Love.”

Most of the concerts went fine but the June 27 one in Nurembourg was a red flag, or should have been. They had to stop it after just three songs when Bonham collapsed and was taken to hospital. The publicist and his bandmates blamed a bad stomach from a case of food poisoning but everyone else figured Bonham had passed out from over-drinking, perhaps with some drugs mixed in for fuller effect.

The July 7 show by all accounts went quite well. Although they didn’t record it, bootlegs of the show have been around for years. They played more or less their usual set list, except they missed “Achilles Last Stand” that had been performed most nights. They were slated to do another show the following night in Berlin, but whether due to band indifference or low ticket sales, that never took place. They headed back to Britain to rest and practice a bit more for the upcoming North American tour, but alas,

Bonham died from a night of massive over-drinking in September, and a few weeks later Led Zeppelin decided to call it quits. Bonham was only 32 and had already established himself as one of the greatest ever drummers.

April 27 – Laine Grounded Too ‘High’ Flying Wings 40 Years Back

Not quite like the breakup of the Beatles about a decade earlier, but still a blow to the fans…on this day in 1981, Denny Laine announced he was quitting Wings, effectively ending that band’s ten-year run. Multi-talented Laine (primarily a guitarist but at home on keyboards and bass as well) and Linda McCartney were the only two constant backing members of Paul McCartney through their run.

While nowhere near as hugely popular as the Beatles, McCartney’s ’70s band had a great run of hits and were the most consistent-sellers of any of the former Fab Four’s solo or subsequent works. They’d put out seven studio albums, all gold or platinum in the U.S., plus a million-selling live one and scored 15 top 10 singles there, 13 in their UK home. However, the writing seemed like it was on the wall for the breakup for a couple of years. While the band was the core trio all along, they often had other members, and in 1978 had brought in drummer Steve Holley and guitarist Laurence Juber to work on Back to the Egg. A largely experimental album on McCartney’s part, it did moderately well but was a major letdown compared to the mid-’70s success they’d known. By most accounts, Paul thought the problem was more the musicianship of his band than his odd songwriting on it.

The band had some downtime in 1979, and Paul began recording some of his own songs that he didn’t think fit Wings well. They’d end up being his 1980 album McCartney II. A major tour for Back to the Egg was planned for ’80, but upon landing in Tokyo early in the year, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and jailed for ten days. The Japanese leg – of importance because it was one large market they’d not yet had much success in – was canceled, his music was banned from Japanese radio and promoters went after the band for losses. Subsequent to him being freed and going back to England, they decided to cancel an American tour as well.

All of this didn’t sit well with Denny. He already felt that McCartney wasn’t sharing band royalties properly with him and he was furious he was out so much money from the 1980 tours because of what he viewed as simple stupidity on the ex-Beatle’s part. They were aware of Japan’s strict drug laws and yet McCartney tried to go through customs with half a pound in his luggage. So Laine started his own band later in the year (they quickly put out a song called “Japanese Tears”) while McCartney slowly began working on what began as the next Wings album. Laine (probably reluctantly) showed up to work on a couple of tracks but soon Paul began thinking he didn’t like the Wings lineup and began calling other musicians – famous and otherwise, including Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay and one Ringo Starr whom he knew from another band – to work on the songs which would become Tug of War. Apparently that was the last straw for Laine.

His quitting didn’t prompt McCartney to officially declare Wings dead, but he simply moved on entirely without them. A few months later he told a Canadian magazine “I felt limited working with this group, and I just didn’t fancy going in and making another group album,” adding as a parting shot “with the Beatles towards the end there was a bit of pressure, but I never really felt it…I just felt the position with Wings…it wasn’t so easy.” Thus they flew off in different directions.

A real reunion of the band has never happened, although Laine and some of his ex-bandmates from it have put on a few concerts here and there under the “Wings” moniker, but one might think “Wings” without a McCartney is no high-flying bird.

April 20 – A Send-off Fit For A King. Or Queen?

As website DW speculated, it would take some kind of special event for us to see “openly gay Elton John and allegedly homophobic Axl Rose hugged (and) David Bowie knelt down and prayed.” That type of event happened on this day in 1992 with the Freddie Mercury Memorial Concert in London.

Freddie as I’m sure you know, was the charismatic, powerful-voiced leader of Queen, and had died of AIDS a few months earlier. The remaining trio of band members – John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor – weren’t sure where they would be headed, or even if the band still existed, but they decided Freddie would’ve wanted one last big spectacle of a show. And they set out to give it.

May and Taylor announced the planned concert during the Brit Awards in February. The tickets for the 72 000 capacity show at Wembley Stadium sold out in three hours despite Queen being the only announced performers at the time. Around the same time, Mercury’s friends and estate established the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity to promote AIDS safety and awareness as well as medical research. Profits from the concert were given over to it.

A huge amount of work was needed to pull it off only two months after it was first conceptualized, but they did it. Not only did they get the stadium ready and sell it out, arrangements were made to televise it in over 70 countries. That Easter Monday, guitarist Brian May took to the stage and announced “Good evening Wembley, and the world! We are here tonight to celebrate the life and work and dreams of one Freddie Mercury! We’re gonna give him the biggest send-off in history!” And if that was hyperbole, it wasn’t by very much.

The four hour-plus concert was basically broken down into two parts, the first being sets by other artists, sometimes with members of Queen joining them, and the latter being basically a Queen concert but with guest singers taking Freddie’s place for the night. It kicked off with Metallica doing three hits off their then-hot self-titled album. They actually released the set as an EP for the diehard fans. Next up were Extreme who did a medley of about ten Queen songs before their own hit “More than Words.” Def Leppard followed, getting a little help from May; benefit concert superstar Bob Geldof did a number, as did one of the more curious acts to appear, Spinal Tap who played, fittingly, “The Majesty of Rock.” U2 weren’t there in person but did “Til The End of the World” via satellite from California while Guns’N’Roses set up for their set which included a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed.” Mango Groove a “township band” popular in their native South Africa played, Elizabeth Taylor read a speech and a video montage of Freddie was played, leading to part two.

Queen didn’t have their beloved friend and singer, but seemed in fine form as they kicked into “Tie Your Mother Down” with Slash helping out and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott singing, then did numbers like “Pinball Wizard” with the Who’s Roger Daltrey and “Las Palabras de Amor”, an obscure track off Hot Space with Italian singer Zucherro. James Hatfield of Metallica was back with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, doing “Stone Cold Crazy” before Robert Plant took the stage. A voice fitting of doing Mercury’s operatic parts, but his set was underwhelming by most reports, as he struggled to remember the lyrics to “Innuendo” before redeeming himself on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” complete with Zep-medley intro. Paul Young and Lisa Stansfield each did a number before one of the show’s highlights, David Bowie and Annie Lennox dueting for “Under Pressure.” Bowie stuck around to do “All the Young Dudes” with Ian Hunter and members of Def Leppard before saying the Lord’s Prayer to the surprise of some. That led to what Entertainment Weekly (and some others) called “the best performance of the evening,” George Michael taking the mic to do “These Are the Days of Our Lives” and “Somebody to Love.” A number of people at the time speculated Michael would take over Freddie’s spot permanently but as we would find through the years, the show was a one-time only appearance for him.

If George Micahel was considered the highlight, a close second was Elton John – a close friend of Freddie’s – joining Queen. They kicked off with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with Axl adding his voice to dubbed in backing vocals from Mercury. The show went on with “The Show Must Go On” and “We Will Rock You”, before Liza Minnelli finished that with “We Are The Champions.” The night was nothing if not an eclectic collection of musicians, but then again, Freddie Mercury was a rather eclectic sort of talent. The lights dimmed with a tape of Queen playing “God Save the Queen.”

The night was noteworthy on an addition level as it would mark John Deacon’s last full concert with the band. Unlike May and Taylor, he felt that the death of Freddie should also mean the death of Queen.

The concert was said to have raised about $35 million for the AIDS charity, though others have speculated that expenses ate up a lot of that and $8 million was more realistic. Either way, Brian May says the “emphasis was always made that this was not a fund-raising event. The accent was on awareness.” And sending one of rock’s great front men out in style. On that they succeeded.

The concert has been released at various times both on VHS and DVD, although some parts (typically including the Mango Groove and Robert Plant’s set) usually aren’t included. Queen, as you likely are aware, seemingly are still going (albeit inactive during this pandemic), with Adam Lambert being the current singer.

April 10 – Paul Put Stop Sign On Long & Winding Road

The ’60s were over, and perhaps nothing signaled that more than this day back in 1970. It is as good a day as any to pick as the End of The Beatles.

It was that day that Paul McCartney released an enigmatic press release, ostensibly for promoting his forthcoming solo album, McCartney, which hit stores one week later. Parts of the release were Paul interviewing Paul, if you will and while he didn’t officially say “the Beatles are finished”, it was hard to miss the underlying message. For instance, when he asked himself “is this album a rest away from the Beatles or the start of a solo career?” he replied “time will tell…it’s both” and that he wanted away from the other three because of “personal differences, business differences, musical differences…I have a better time with my family.” Of course, much like John included Yoko on his solo works, Paul got his wife Linda involved with his own records. The one thing that he was definite about was “do you foresee a time when Lennon-McCartney become an active songwriting partnership again?” to which he simply said an emphatic “NO!”.

Of course, none of this was surprising to insiders. As History put it, by then “little more than a tangled set of business relationships (were) keeping this group together.” Paul had a solo record ready to ship, Ringo had released his oft-overlooked debut, Sentimental Journey the previous month, George had previously done two experimental ones and was hard at work on his epic All Things Must Pass and John…well John was busy with his new Plastic Ono Band. McC’s statement irked him no small amount. He told Rolling Stone a few weeks later, “he can’t have his own way, so he’s causing chaos. I put out four (that actually seems like a bit of a mis-statement from him, it would seem more like three in about a year and a half) last year and I didn’t say a… thing about quitting!” The British press jumped on McCartney’s statements with headlines like “McCartney Breaks Off With The Beatles.” Legal confirmation came later in the year with a disolvement of the legal entity that was the business side of the decade’s greatest creative force.

Ironically, four weeks to the day after McCartney’s news release, the Beatles put out their final album, Let It Be. Some speculated it was Paul’s displeasure over Phil Spector’s heavy production of his song “The Long & Winding Road” that spurred on the breakup, but in reality, if that was anything at all, it was merely the final straw. the only surprise to those close to them was that they managed to hold it together long enough to finish that album and Abbey Road.