On this day in music history: March 12, 1967 – “The Velvet Underground & Nico”, the debut album by The Velvet Underground & Nico is released. Produced by Andy Warhol and Tom Wilson, it is recorded at Scepter Studios in New York, TTG Studios in Los Angeles, CA, and Mayfair Studios in New York City from April – May 1966 and November 1966. The New York based rock band form in 1965, playing small clubs until they meet artist Andy Warhol, who becomes their manager. The Velvets become a central part of Warhol’s media events, and cultivate a solid following on the New York avant-garde scene. They’re signed to MGM distributed Verve Records, and given full creative control. Warhol pairs them with German vocalist Nico, who sings on three tracks. After the initial sessions in April and May, some tracks are re-recorded. When it is finally released, it is to only minimal fanfare. Because of its raw production style and controversial subject matter, it is almost completely ignored by radio and is a commercial failure upon its release (selling only 30,000 copies initially). However, it goes on to become one of the most influential and acclaimed rock albums of all time, with its reputation spreading largely by word of mouth among fans and other musicians. The albums iconic artwork designed by Warhol, features a “peelable” yellow banana sticker on the front cover on the initial pressing, with the legend “peel slowly and see” next to it. Unpeeling the sticker reveals a pink banana underneath. The expensive and complicated manufacturing process delays its release by several months. This turns the album into a highly sought after collector’s item. In 2012, UMG releases an alternate version of the album titled “The Scepter Sessions”, consisting of what was the initial version “VU&N” featuring different mixes and alternate takes. This version is sourced from the only surviving acetate of the album cut on April 25, 1966 by engineer Norman Dolph. It is found in September of 2002 by a collector at a Chelsea flea market for 75 cents in December of 2006, it is sold in an eBay auction for $25,200. “The Scepter Sessions” is released as part of a 6 CD box set edition of “VU&N” and as a limited edition vinyl LP on Black Friday Record Store Day in November of 2012. The CD set featuring all of the previously mentioned items along with Nico’s “Chelsea Girl” album, rehearsal recordings, live performances and an eighty-eight page hardcover book annotated by Richie Unterberger is released. “The Velvet Underground & Nico” peaks at number one hundred seventy one on the Billboard Top 200. In 2006, “The Velvet Underground & Nico” is added to the National Recording Registry by The Library Of Congress, for its ongoing influence, historic and cultural significance. The album re-charts briefly, re-entering the Top 200 at number one hundred twenty nine the week after Lou Reed’s death in November of 2013.
On this day in music history: December 13, 1977 – “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”, the tenth album by Joni Mitchell is released. Produced by Joni Mitchell, it is recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood, CA, Columbia Recording Studios in New York City and Basing Street Studios in London from Mid – Late 1977. Ever evolving musically, and refusing to be creatively pigeonholed, Joni Mitchell follows the brilliant “Hejira” with another step forward. Mitchell utilizes the talents of several prominent jazz musicians including Jaco Pastorius (bass) (also featured on the previous album), Herbie Hancock (keyboards), Pastorius’ Weather Report band mates Wayne Shorter (soprano saxophone), Alejandro Acuña, Don Alias, and Manolo Badrena (percussion), as well as Larry Carlton (guitar), Michel Colombier (piano), Airto Moreira (percussion), and background vocal support from Chaka Khan, Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther. The album is more experimental in nature than her previous work, delving deeper into jazz and world music rhythms, pushing the boundaries of Joni’s pop and folk music roots, all set to her vivid stream of conscious lyrics. Though critical and fan response to the ten track double album is mixed upon its release, it performs well commercially, and in time is reassessed more favorably by the public. It spins off the single “Jericho” b/w “Dreamland”. The original vinyl LP release is packaged in a gatefold sleeve designed by graphic artist Glen Christensen (Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Carly Simon, The Eagles), features a montage of photos taken by photographers Norman Seeff and Keith Williamson. Photos on the front cover and inner gatefold feature Mitchell made up to look like a black hipster named “Art Nouveau”. The album cover and music attracts the attention of jazz bass icon Charles Mingus who invites Mitchell to collaborate on his final musical project, resulting in the album “Mingus”, the follow up to “Don Juan” released in June of 1979. “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” peaks at number twenty five on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 7, 1991 – “Achtung Baby”, the seventh studio album by U2 hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 1 week. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, it is recorded at Hansa Ton Studios in Berlin, Germany, STS Studios, Elsinore Studios and Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland from October 1990 – September 1991. the band re-invent their sound, experimenting with industrial, electronic dance rhythms and alternative rock. The result win the veteran Irish band a new generation of fans and regains critical favor lost on their previous album “Rattle And Hum”. It spins off five singles including “Mysterious Ways” (#9 Pop) and “One” (#10 Pop). “Baby” becomes U2’s second largest selling album after “The Joshua Tree” with worldwide sales of over eighteen million copies. It wins a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 1993, with producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno winning the Producer Of The Year Grammy (Non-Classical) (tied with L.A. Reid & Babyface) for their work on the album. “Achtung Baby” is reissued for its twentieth anniversary in 2011 in various editions including a mammoth ten disc box set containing six CD’s, four DVD’s, five 7" vinyl singles and other memorabilia connected with the album. "Achtung Baby" is certified 8x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 24, 1966 – The Beatles begin recording “Strawberry Fields Forever” at Abbey Road Studios in London. After a three month vacation, the band return to the studio to begin work on the follow up to “Revolver”. The first song recorded is a new composition of John Lennon’s titled “Strawberry Fields Forever”. Lennon writes the song in Almeria, Spain while filming “How I Won The War” with director Richard Lester in the early Fall of 1966. One take of the song is recorded that evening, though changes dramatically and grows more complex over the month that it takes to complete the track. The song marks the beginning of a new era in The Beatles creativity that changes the face of popular music yet again. Strawberry Fields is name of a Salvation Army orphanage around the corner from Lennon’s childhood home in Liverpool, where he would attend garden parties in the summer. Once in the studio, the song evolves from a gentle, sparsely arranged ballad to a heavily scored piece with horns and strings complimenting the basic track. The finished version of the song consists of two separate versions. Lennon likes the first half of the first remake and the second half of the other. He suggests to producer George Martin that the two be edited together, which at first seems to not be possible since they are recorded in different keys and tempos. Martin discovers that by increasing the speed of one and slowing down the other recording, that they match. Originally intended to be part of the bands’ next album (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), “Strawberry Fields Forever” is instead issued as one half of a double A-sided single in February 1967 (w/ “Penny Lane”). The band films a promotional clip for the song on January 30 – 31, 1967 in Sevenoaks, Kent, UK, directed by Swedish television director Peter Goldman. “Strawberry Fields Forever” peaks at #2 on the UK singles chart and #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1971 – “Live-Evil”, the thirty eighth album by Miles Davis is released. Produced by Teo Macero, it is recorded at The Cellar Door in Washington DC on December 19, 1970, and at Columbia Studio B from February – June 1970. The half live/half in studio recorded double LP set consists of eight extended electric based jams featuring Davis supported by musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Michael Henderson, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Airto Moreira, and Keith Jarrett. Originally conceived as a continuation of the landmark “Bitches Brew”, it differs greatly from its predecessor by incorporating more rock and funk elements. It is well received upon its release and is considered a pioneering jazz/funk recording, as well as one of the cornerstones of Davis’ “Electric Period”. The albums’ distinctive cover art was created by artist Mati Klarwein, best known for the cover art on Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and Santana’s “Abraxas”. Davis tells Klarwein that he wants something representing “life” on the front cover, and something representing “evil” on the back". The front features a painting of a pregnant African woman, while the back features a grotesque looking amphibian like creature in a powered wig clutching its belly. The latter painting is inspired by a picture that the artist sees of infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on the cover of Time Magazine. Originally released on CD in the early 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 1997, issued in a digipak, and eventually standard jewel case configuration. “Live-Evil” peaks at number one hundred twenty five on the Billboard Top 200, and number four on the Jazz chart.
On this day in music history: November 7, 1975 – “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns”, the eighth album by Joni Mitchell is released. Produced by Joni Mitchell, it is recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood, CA from Mid – Late 1975. Her first studio album after the artistic and commercial triumph of “Court And Spark” and the successful double live album “Miles Of Aisles”, Joni Mitchell continues to forge the musical path begun on the previous album. For the recording sessions, she assembles a group of top rock and jazz musicians including Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitars), Joe Sample (keyboards), Wilton Felder, Max Bennett (bass), Victor Feldman (keyboards, percussion), Bud Shank (flute) and John Guerin (drums). Graham Nash, David Crosby and James Taylor sing background vocals on the single, “In France They Kiss On Main Street” (#66 Pop,) and the Drummers Of Burundi are featured on the track “The Jungle Line”. The album also features a number of other songs that become among Mitchell’s best known and frequently covered material including “Edith And The Kingpin”, “The Boho Dance”, “Shadows And Light” and the title track. It receives a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female in 1977. The albums’ cover artwork painted and designed by Mitchell features a group of indigenous people carrying a giant anaconda with a cityscape in the background. Original LP pressings feature embossing on the gatefold jacket, that is discontinued on later re-printings. The inside gatefold features a photo of Mitchell in a bikini, floating in her swimming pool on her back taken by photographer Norman Seeff. At the time of its release, it receives highly mixed reviews from critics who are unsure what to make of Mitchell’s musical experimentation on the album. In time, regarded as one of Joni Mitchell’s best albums, with Prince frequently mentioning it as one of his personal favorites. The Mitchell tribute album “A Tribute to Joni Mitchell” released in 2007, features cover versions of “The Boho Dance” (Björk), “Dont Interrupt The Sorrow” (Brad Mehldau) and “Edith And The Kingpin” (Elvis Costello). “Edith” is also covered by George Michael, released on the EP “December Song (I Dreamed Of Christmas)” in 2009. First issued on CD in the late 80’s by Asylum Records, “Hissing” is remastered and reissued in late 90’s with high definition HDCD encoding, also restoring all of the original cover art work not replicated on the previous release. The album is also reissued on 180 gram vinyl by Rhino Records in 2010. “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns” peaks at number four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 1, 1974 – “Autobahn”, the fourth album by Kraftwerk is released. Produced by Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Conny Plank, it is recorded at Conny Plank’s Studio in Cologne, Germany and Klingklang Studio in Dusseldorf, Germany in Spring – Summer 1974. Releasing three albums between 1970 and 1973, by the mid 70’s Kraftwerk begin making the transition away from the free-form progressive rock sound of their earlier work, toward a new musical direction. Led by founding members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, by 1974 the band also includes Klaus Röder (violin, guitar) and Wolfgang Flür (percussion). Another key element to Kraftwerk’s sound is recording engineer Konrad “Conny” Plank, who offers valuable technical assistance and helps the band’s work to evolve in the studio. They use numerous synthesizers on the new album including the Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, EMS Synthi AKS, as well as their own custom built keyboards and drum machines. “Autobahn” is created as a concept album about traveling on the controlled-access highway system on the A 555 from Köln to Bonn in Germany. It is broken up into five separate “movements” including the twenty two minute plus side long title track (#22 Pop) subtitled “Motorway”. The album’s cover artwork is designed by Emil Schult, who also co-writes the lyrics to “Autobahn” and is an erstwhile member of the band. The international and US covers of the album differ, with the international version featuring the blue and white German road sign. The US version features a painting of a drivers side view of driving down the autobahn, with small photo of the four members of Kraftwerk placed on the car dashboard. The back cover features the band’s heads superimposed into a painting of them sitting in the backseat of the car. “Autobahn” proves to be Kraftwerk’s breakthrough album on worldwide basis, and becomes a surprise hit in the US. Released by Mercury/Philips subsidiary Vertigo Records, the title track pared down to a three and a half minute single for radio play, and it takes off. The album becomes a huge seller and brings the band a new audience beyond their original cult following. In time, “Autobahn” is regarded as a pioneering and influential electronic music album, paving the way for the even more groundbreaking and highly innovative work Kraftwerk creates throughout the rest of the 70’s and beyond. Originally released on CD in 1988, the album is remastered and reissued in 2009 as both a stand alone release, and as part of the box set “The Catalogue” (German language version “Der Katalog”). Out of print on vinyl for decades, it is finally remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2014. “Autobahn” peaks at number five on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: October 30, 1979 – “Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants”, the nineteenth studio album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, it is recorded at I.A.M. Studios in Irvine, CA, Crystal Recording Studios and Motown Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA, Lyon Recording Studio in Newport Beach, CA, Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, PA, and Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA from February – September 1979. Issued as the long awaited follow up to “Songs In The Key Of Life”, it also serves as the score and the soundtrack album to the documentary film “The Secret Life Of Plants”, based on the best selling book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. The film’s producer Michael Braun describes the visual images to Wonder in great detail, who then composes and scores the music to those descriptions. With Motown shipping over a million copies to record stores that Fall, the twenty track double LP set is panned by critics, and is confusing to many fans not prepared for the dramatically contrasting experimental and ambitious work. It initially performs well on the charts, but drops off quickly due to the public’s reaction to the album. As a result, it becomes a cut out bin staple for many years with Motown receiving large amounts of returns after the initial layout. Though in time it is re-evaluated, and comes to be regarded as one of Stevie Wonder’s finest works. It spins off three singles including “Send One Your Love” (#4 Pop, #5 R&B, #1 AC) and “Outside My Window” (#52 Pop, #56 R&B). The song “Overjoyed” is originally recorded during sessions for the album, but is left off of “Journey”, and is later revamped and included on the “In Square Circle” album in 1985. The original LP is packaged in a lavish three panel gatefold sleeve with embossed cover artwork and graphics, with the artist name and title also embossed in braille on the front. Out of print on vinyl since its original release, it is remastered and reissued in September of 2018. “Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants” peaks at number four on both the Billboard Top 200 and R&B album chart.
On this day in music history: October 28, 1968 – “Trans-Electronic Music Productions, Inc Presents: Switched-On Bach” by Wendy Carlos/Benjamin Folkman is released. Produced by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, it is recorded at Carlos Home Studio in New York City from Spring – Summer 1968. A childhood musical prodigy, Wendy Carlos, also excels at science and electronics. She studies music and physics at Brown University, and at Columbia University. While studying at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, that Carlos decides to pursue music full time. She meets Dr. Robert Moog in 1963, who is developing the synthesizer that bares his name. Through Moog, Carlos becomes acquainted with producer Rachel Elkind. Initially they do not get along, but form an alliance when Wendy realizes Rachel can provide valuable feedback and technical assistance. Experimenting with the Moog synthesizer, Carlos impresses Elkind with her rendition of Bach’s “Two-Part Invention in F Major”. It provides the inspiration for a groundbreaking album. Recording with the synthesizer is a painstaking process, since the keyboard is monophonic, capable of only play single notes. The complex classical pieces are painstakingly overdubbed on an eight-track tape machine. Carlos’ associate Benjamin Folkman also plays on various tracks. As sessions continue, Elkind contacts Columbia Records executive Ettore Stratta, who is bowled over by the work in progress. Playing the recordings for other execs at CBS including Paul Myers, Carlos is signed to the labels’ classical music division Columbia Masterworks. Given free reign to work on the project, the album titled “Switched-On Bach” is released in the Fall of 1968. It is initially met with a negative response from classical music purists. But younger, open minded music fans immediately recognize its musical and technical innovation. One major fan of the album is pianist and label mate Glenn Gould, who lavishes it with praise in the press. “Bach” makes history as one of the first classical based recordings to crossover to the pop chart, topping the Billboard classical album chart for three years, and selling over a million copies. The album wins three Grammy Awards in 1970, including Best Classical Album. “Switched On Bach” establishes Wendy Carlos as an electronic music pioneer, and a major influence on many other musicians. Spinning off various sequels, Carlos also composes the film scores for “A Clockwork Orange”, “The Shining” and “Tron”. Though very private and reclusive, Carlos (born Walter Carlos) also becomes a transgender pioneer after undergoing sexual reassignment surgery in the early 70’s. She talks about it publicly for the first time in an interview with Playboy Magazine in 1979. “Bach” is remastered and reissued on CD in 1993 and again in 2001. “Switched-On Bach” peaks at number ten on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 26, 1967 – “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”, the debut album by Pink Floyd is released. Produced by Norman Smith, it is recorded at EMI Abbey Road Studios in London from February 21 – May 21, 1967. Formed by Roger Waters (bass) and Nick Mason (drums) and Richard Wright (keyboards, guitar), they are joined by Syd Barrett (vocals, guitar) in mid 1965. It is Barrett that comes up with the name Pink Floyd, after blues musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Originally playing more R&B influenced music, their sound begins to evolve. They become the talk of London’s underground music scene, with record labels courting the band. They’re signed to EMI Records’ Columbia label by former Abbey Road engineer Norman Smith. They record their first single “Arnold Layne” b/w “Candy And A Currant Bun” (#20 UK) during January and February, and is issued in March of 1967. Prior to its release, the band record their debut album with Syd Barrett as the driving creative force. The tracks include “Interstellar Overdrive”, an early staple of Pink Floyd’s live shows along with “Astronomy Domine”. The now iconic “kaleidoscopic” cover photo is taken by photographer Vic Singh. Released in the UK first in early August of 1967 (mono mix, followed by the stereo version in September), “Piper” quickly establishes them as leaders of the British psychedelic rock movement. Soon after, Syd Barrett’s mental state deteriorates, fueled his increasing intake of LSD. Held back in the US until October to coincide with their first tour, it is released on Capitol’s Tower Records imprint. The US version contains nine songs instead of eleven, dropping “Domine”, “Bike” and “Flaming”, adding the single “See Emily Play”. Shortly after making their US debut at the Winterland Ballroom on November 4, 1967, the tour is aborted when Barrett’s condition worsens. Making a now infamous appearance on singer Pat Boone’s TV show, Syd stares blankly into the camera instead of lip synching to the song “Apples And Oranges”. The band return home, and guitarist David Gilmour is added as a back up for Barrett. It marks the beginning of the end of Syd Barrett’s tenure in the band, leaving in mid 1968. Reissued many times including a three CD set, it is most recently remastered and reissued on CD in 2011. A 180 gram vinyl LP (stereo mix) is released in 2016. The original mono mix, is reissued as a limited edition 180 gram LP for Record Store Day in April Of 2018. It comes housed in a psychedelic, gold embossed outer sleeve and is packaged with a poster. The LP sleeve replicates the original UK tab back cover. Other than a brief European reissue in 1997, it marks the first time the mono mix has been available since 1968. “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” peaks at number six on the UK album chart, number one hundred thirty one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.