On this day in music history: March 19, 1962 – “Bob Dylan”, the debut album by Bob Dylan is released. Produced by John H. Hammond, it is recorded at Columbia Records 30th Street Studios in New York City from November 20 – 22, 1961. Signed to Columbia Records by legendary A&R man John Hammond, he sees the young folk singer and musician at the apartment of fellow musician Carolyn Hester and her husband Richard Farina. Hammond is so impressed with Dylan that he immediately offers him a record contract. Dylan records his debut album, made up of folk and blues standards and two original songs, in just three days. Upon its release, the album receives very little notice, selling only 2500 copies initially, leading Dylan to be referred to as “Hammond’s Folly” by other Columbia executives. Though in the years that follow it receives greater acclaim and gains sales. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 2005, also being reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP in 2010. Audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release the title as a double 180 gram vinyl LP mastered at 45 RPM, and hybrid SACD in 2014. “Bob Dylan” does not chart on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: March 10, 1970 – “Ladies Of The Canyon”, the third album by Joni Mitchell is released. Produced by Joni Mitchell, it is recorded at A&M Studios in Hollywood, CA from December 1969 – February 1970. After the success of her sophomore release “Clouds”, Joni Mitchell returns to the studio near the end of 1969 to begin work on her third album. With technical assistance from engineer Henry Lewy, who becomes a trusted and long time studio collaborator, Joni produces herself entirely on her own for the first time. The title refers to Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills area where Mitchell is living at the time, and one of the creative centers of L.A.’s thriving rock music scene. “Ladies” features mostly Joni accompanying herself on guitar or piano, singing nearly all of the vocals, with minor instrumental accompaniment from other musicians. The twelve tracks on the album are a combination of newly written material, and drawn from Mitchell’s already vast back log of songs that had not yet been recorded. The opening and closing songs “Morning Morgantown” and The Circle Game" date back to Mitchell’s days on the coffeehouse circuit in Toronto, Canada, Detroit and New York City. Others like “Woodstock” and “Willy” are more recent. The former being inspired by the legendary rock festival which Joni is originally scheduled to perform, but backs out at the last minute when her manager David Geffen is worried that she might miss making her national television debut on “The Dick Cavett Show” the day after. Instead, Mitchell stays in her hotel room, watching coverage of the festival on television, then sitting down at the piano and writing “Woodstock”. She debuts the song the next night on the Cavett show on August 19, 1969. “Willy” is written for singer and songwriter Graham Nash who is Mitchell’s boyfriend at the time, and becomes the inspiration for several songs she composes during this period. The album is an immediate critical and fan favorite, becoming Mitchell’s biggest seller to date. It spins off the classic single “Big Yellow Taxi” (#67 Pop), a commentary on the destruction of the environment, and the need to preserve nature. It is written while on a trip to Hawaii, when the musician looks out her hotel window and sees vast stretches of parking lots in the foreground,with lush green mountains behind them. In time, it becomes one her most popular and widely covered songs. The albums outer and inside gatefold cover art is also painted and illustrated by Mitchell. Originally issued on CD in 1990, it is remastered and reissued in 1998 as an HDCD encoded disc, restoring the original cover artwork, illustrations and handwritten lyrics included on the original LP release. The album is also reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Rhino Records in 2009. “Ladies Of The Canyon” peaks at number twenty seven on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: January 1, 1966 – “The Sounds Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks (non-consecutive). Written by Paul Simon, it is the first chart topping single for the Queens, NY folk/rock duo. Simon writes the song in early 1964, and is originally released on Simon & Garfunkel’s debut album “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM”. The acoustic based ballad, along with the album attracts little attention upon its initial release. Sometime later, a Boston area DJ begins playing “The Sound Of Silence” off the album and receives a positive reaction. Word of this gets back to executives at Columbia Records, who think the spare acoustic song could become a hit, if the song had more instrumentation on it. While in the studio recording Bob Dylan’s classic “Like A Rolling Stone” (on June 15, 1965), producer Tom Wilson asks some of Dylan’s musicians to stay behind and record one more track. Wilson overdubs electric guitar, bass and drums on to Simon & Garfunkel’s original multi-track of “Silence”. Released as a single in September of 1965, “Silence” begins making in roads on US radio. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on November 20, 1965, it quickly climbs to the top of the chart six weeks later. After one week at number one, it is pushed back to number two for two weeks by The Beatles “We Can Work It Out”, then regaining the top spot for one more week on January 22, 1966. The song is also prominently featured in Mike Nichols film “The Graduate” in 1967, along with several other Simon & Garfunkel songs. The single is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2004. In 1980, the band Rush make a sly reference to “Sounds” in their song “The Spirit Of Radio” with the lyric, “For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall, concert hall, and echoes with the sounds of salesmen”. “The Sounds Of Silence” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 27, 1967 – “John Wesley Harding”, the eighth studio album by Bob Dylan is released. Produced by Bob Johnston, it is recorded at Columbia Recording Studios in Nashville, TN from October 17 – November 29, 1967. The sparsely arranged songs come out a of prolific writing period while Dylan is recovering from a serious motorcycle accident more than a year before, with other life changing events occurring, such as the birth his second child and losses of his father and musical mentor, legendary folk musician Woody Guthrie. During the same period, Dylan also records a number of tracks with The Band (at Big Pink in upstate NY), though not included on the new album later surface on the album “The Basement Tapes” in 1975. The album includes several classics including his original version of “All Along The Watchtower” (covered by Jimi Hendrix the following year). Dylan asks Columbia to release the album with minimal promotion or fanfare (not even releasing a single from it) following widespread media speculation about his whereabouts during the year he virtually disappears from the public spotlight. It is also the final Dylan album to be issued with separate mono and stereo mixes, with the mono version being discontinued shortly after its release. The album is remastered and reissued in 2003 as as a hybrid SACD, that is eventually discontinued and issued as a standard redbook CD. Audiophile label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab also reissues the title as a hybrid SACD in and double vinyl set mastered at 45 RPM (stereo versions in 2015 and the mono versions in 2017). “John Wesley Harding” spends four weeks at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 23, 1977 – Musician Cat Stevens formally converts to the Islamic religion. Stevens’ interest in Islam begins while on vacation in Marrakech, Morocco when he hears Adhān, the Islamic call to prayer which a local describes to him as “music for God”. Long having had an interest in things of a spiritual nature, two further events during the following year are instrumental in the musicians’ spiritual awakening. In 1976, Stevens is staying at the home of A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss, when he decides to go for a swim in the Pacific Ocean. He gets caught in a rip current which takes him further and further away from shore. Frightened and fearing that he is about to drown, Stevens begins to pray, shouting out, “Oh God! If you save me I will work for you.”. With that exclamation, a wave pushes the musician back to shore. A short time later, Stevens’ brother David gives him a copy of the Qur’an as a birthday gift. The musician identifies strongly with the prophet Joseph (son of Jacob) and his trials of being sold into slavery before finally being liberated. Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, Cat Stevens legally changes his name to Yusuf (the Islamic name for “Joseph”) Islam in 1978. Following his religious conversion, the musician cease his pop music career after the release of his eleventh studio album “Back To Earth”, also selling off his guitars and other musical equipment. Stevens performs at UNICEF’s International Year of the Child Benefit Concert at Wembley Stadium in November 22, 1979, which is his final public performance for over twenty five years. Also in 1979, Islam marries Fauzia Mubarak Ali and the couple have five children. Two years later in 1981, the couple establish the Islamia Primary School in North London, opening several other Islamic schools, and dedicating their time to philanthropic and educational causes.
On this day in music history: December 20, 1969 – “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul And Mary hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 3 weeks on November 22, 1969. Written by John Denver, it is the biggest hit for the New York City based folk music trio. Written in 1966 and originally recorded by Denver’s group The Chad Mitchell Trio in 1967, the singer/songwriter also records it again on his debut solo album “Rhymes And Reasons” in 1969. “Jet Plane” is also recorded by Spanky & Our Gang in 1967 not long after the original Chad Mitchell Trio version. Producer Milt Okun convinces Denver to change the original title which is “Oh Babe I Hate To Go”. Peter, Paul And Mary then record the song for their album “Album 1700”. The song receives heavy airplay as an album cut, before Warner Bros Records releases it as a single in early October of 1969. Entering the Hot 100 at #76 on October 25, 1969, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. “Leaving On A Jet Plane” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 6, 1968 – “James Taylor”, the debut album by James Taylor is released in the UK (US release is on February 17, 1969). Produced by Peter Asher, it is recorded at Trident Studios in London from July – October 1968. Taylor is one of the first signings to The Beatles Apple label by Asher (one half of the pop duo Peter & Gordon and the brother of Paul McCartney’s former girlfriend Jane Asher) who is the head of A&R. Paul McCartney and George Harrison make an uncredited appearance on the first single “Carolina In My Mind” contributing background vocals. In spite of good reviews, the album sells poorly, due to Taylor’s hospitalization for heroin addiction, which prevents him from promoting it properly. Taylor re-records “Carolina” and “Something In The Way She Moves” for his 1976 greatest hits album when his label Warner Bros Records is unable to license the original versions from Apple. The original album is eventually reissued on CD in the mid 90’s and again in 2010. It is also briefly reissued on vinyl in Europe in 1991, but quickly goes out of print again. The vinyl LP release is remastered and reissued in 2017, making it available in that format, for the first time in over two decades. “James Taylor” peaks at number one hundred eighteen on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: December 4, 1965 – “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” by The Byrds hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks. Written by Pete Seeger, it is the second number one single for the Los Angeles, CA based folk/rock band. Legendary folk singer and songwriter Pete Seeger (The Weavers) writes “Turn! Turn! Turn! ” in 1959 and records his own version of it in 1962. The lyrics are adapted verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in The Bible, giving the song the unique distinction of holding the record for being the number one hit with the oldest lyrics. Produced by Terry Melcher (The Rip Chords, the son of actress Doris Day), The Byrds are insistent that the entire band be allowed to play on their own records, after being replaced with members of The Wrecking Crew (except McGuinn and Crosby) on “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Melcher agrees after realizing the band are competent enough to cut their own tracks in the studio. Though the recording process is relatively slow, with their version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” being recorded over five days in September 1965, and taking seventy eight takes to complete the final master. Released on October 1, 1965, it takes off quickly. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on October 23, 1965, it climbs to the top of the chart six weeks later. During its time on the charts and after, the song becomes an anthem of the peace and anti-war movements in the US and abroad. The song is later used on television shows like “The Wonder Years”, “The Simpsons” and “Cold Case”, as well as in the films “Forrest Gump”, “Heart Like A Wheel” and “In America”. “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2001.