On this day in music history: December 9, 1966 – “A Quick One”, the second album by The Who is released (US release is in May 1967 under the title “Happy Jack”). Produced by Kit Lambert, it is recorded at IBC Studios and Pye Studios in London from September – November 1966. Issued one year and one week after their debut release “My Generation”, The Who’s second full length is an important turning point in the band’s career, as it marks Pete Townshend’s first foray into composing a “rock opera” in the form of the title track. The nine minute long suite of songs at the end of the album’s second side tells a story about a wife’s infidelity while her husband is away. “A Quick One While He’s Away” is also semi autobiographical, as it is the first time that Pete Townshend writes about the periods of separation from his parents as a young boy (in the opening movement “Her Man’s Been Gone”), living with his maternal grandmother, and the sexual abuse he suffers at the hands of one of her male friends (“Ivor The Engine Driver”). The mini opera is the genesis for Townshend’s later works “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia”. The other three members of the band also contribute songs to the album including John Entwistle’s “Boris The Spider”. The band’s US label Decca Records retitles the album “Happy Jack”, after their then current single (#24 Pop) which is added to the track listing. The cover artwork is illustrated by British pop artist Alan Aldridge (The Beatles, Elton John). Released on CD in 1988 with its original mono mix, the US CD release is issued in stereo with five tracks in re-channeled stereo. It is remastered and reissued in 2005, with some tracks newly remixed into stereo. The track “Whiskey Man” is still in fake stereo with the majority of the remaining tracks in mono. The mono version of the album is reissued as 150 and 200 gram vinyl pressings by Classic Records in 2005, with another reissue in 2015. “A Quick One/Happy Jack” peaks at number four on the UK album chart and number sixty seven on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: November 18, 1985 – “Spies Like Us” by Paul McCartney is released. Written by Paul McCartney, it is the thirty fifth single release for the pop and rock music icon from Liverpool, UK. Receiving both praise and scorn for his work during the first half of the 80’s, Paul McCartney enjoys a solid run of hits. At the end of 1984, the musician fulfills his North American contract with Columbia Records. McCartney then re-signs with Capitol/EMI Records in that territory, in early 1985. He then begins recording the album “Press To Play”. While working on that album, Paul is commissioned by Warner Bros. to write the theme for the comedy “Spies Like Us”. Directed by John Landis, it stars Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd as two low level Pentagon employees, acting as “unwitting decoys” for another team of spies. With the film set to be released in early December, McCartney quickly gets to work. With veteran producer Phil Ramone behind the board, Paul writes and records “Spies Like Us” in only four days in September of 1985. It features McCartney playing most of the instruments himself (guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion), with Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner (synthesizers), Eric Stewart, Kate Robbins, Ruby James and Linda McCartney (backing vocals). A music video directed by John Landis is filmed at Abbey Road Studios in London on October 9, 1985, with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. Due to the BBC’s ban on non-musicians (though both had worked as musicians) performing in music videos, the footage of them miming the song with McCartney is cut from the video in that country. The clip ends with them parodying the “Abbey Road” album cover in the zebra crossing. The single is backed with the non-LP B-side “My Carnival”, recorded during the sessions for Wings’ “Venus And Mars album in February of 1975. Along with the standard 7”, “Spies Like Us” is also issued as an extended 12", remixed by John Potoker. Though the film does well at the box office, it receives mixed to negative reviews. Critics are also not kind to McCartney’s theme song. Years later, it’s looked upon as “a guilty pleasure”. It stalls outside the top ten in the UK (#13 UK), in spite of being released in numerous configurations. “Spies” does considerably better on the US charts. Entering the Hot 100 at #59 on November 23, 1985, it peaks at #7 eleven weeks later on February 8, 1986. “Spies” is his last US top ten hit for nearly thirty years, before “FourFiveSeconds” (w/ Kanye West & Rihanna) (#4 Pop, #1 R&B) in 2015. Originally released as a stand alone single, “Spies Like Us” is included as a bonus track on the reissued CD of “Press To Play” in 1993, with the 12" mix being released digitally on Apple iTunes. “My Carnival” resurfaces as a bonus track on the remastered CD release of “Venus And Mars” in 2018.
On this day in music history: August 10, 1993 – “River Of Dreams”, the twelfth album by Billy Joel is released. Produced by Billy Joel, Danny Kortchmar, Joe Nicolo and David Thoener, it is recorded at The Boathouse At The Island Boatyard in Shelter Island, NY, Cove City Sound Studios in Cove City, NY, and the Record Plant in New York City from Late 1992 – Early 1993. Issued nearly four years after his last studio album “Storm Front”, a number of the songs center around issues of trust and betrayal, inspired after Joel discovers that his former brother in law and business manager has embezzled millions of dollars from him over the years. The inspiration for the title track actually comes to the musician in a dream, which he initially disregards, believing that with its gospel overtones and biblical references, that he could not do it proper justice. It’s only when he cannot shake the catchy melody for several days afterward that he finishes writing it. To date, it is also the last full length pop album that Billy Joel has written and recorded, outside of a handful of songs (recorded for compilations) and his classical piano pieces set “Fantasies & Delusions” (written by Joel and performed by pianist Richard Joo) in 2001. The album cover for “Dreams” features a painting of Joel by his then wife, model Christie Brinkley (they divorce one year later in August of 1994). The album spins off three singles including “All About Soul” (#29 Pop) and the title track (#3 Pop, #1 AC). The album is a critical and commercial success upon its release, receiving four Grammy nominations including Record, Song, and Album Of The Year. Joel performs the song on the 36th Annual Grammy Awards in 1994, creating one of the evenings most memorable, and literally show stopping moments. Upset at the producers cutting off vocal legend Frank Sinatra’s speech while accepting the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Joel avenges his hero on live television. During the pause in “Dreams”, Joel does not begin singing again right away, instead stopping and looking at his watch and saying “valuable advertising time going by…” and “…dollars, dollars, dollars…” a number of times to the audiences amusement. The pause lasts so long that the director nearly cuts to a commercial when Billy abruptly picks up where he left off. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1998. Originally released in US on only CD and cassette, the title is finally reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Friday Music in 2014. “River Of Dreams” enters the Billboard Top 200 at number one(on August 28, 1993), spending three weeks at the top of chart, and is certified 5x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: April 21, 1973 – “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando & Dawn hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks. Written by Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown, it is the second chart topping single for the pop vocal trio fronted by singer Tony Orlando (born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis). The song is based on a true story about a man who goes to prison for writing bad checks, and in a letter to his wife asks her to tie yellow ribbon around an oak tree in their hometown of White Oak, GA as a sign that she still loves him and is waiting for him when he returns. Entering the Hot 100 at #80 on February 17, 1973, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” becomes the group’s third million selling single, and its huge success leads the CBS television network, to offering Orlando & Dawn their own variety series which runs from 1974 to 1976. “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
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On this day in music history: March 1, 1993 – “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?”, the debut album by The Cranberries is released. Produced by Stephen Street, it is recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin, Ireland and Surrey Sound Studios in Leatherhead, Surrey, UK from Mid 1992 – Early 1993. Originally formed in 1989 as The Cranberry Saw Us by brothers Noel (guitar) and Mike Hogan (bass) with their friends Fergal Lawler (drums) and Niall Quinn (vocals), the first line up lasts barely a year before Quinn leaves the band. Advertising in a local newspaper for a new singer, the ad is answered by an aspiring eighteen year old singer named Dolores O’Riordan. Immediately impressed with her voice, O’Riordan is asked to join the band. Changing their name to The Cranberries, with the help of Xeric Studios owner Pearse Gilmore, the band record a three track demo EP. Titled “Nothing Left At All” it is released on cassette, selling a mere 300 copies. The band record a second demo which includes early versions of “Linger” and “Dreams” is sent out to various UK record labels. The demo attracts attention from the UK music press and label executives, touching off a bidding war. The Cranberries are signed to Island Records by legendary A&R man and producer Denny Cordell (Joe Cocker, The Move, Procol Harum, Leon Russell, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) in 1992. After an abortive first start at recording their first album with Gilmore, he is fired and they start again. They are then paired with producer Stephen Street, best known for his work with The Smiths and Blur. The Cranberries unique sound, combining Celtic influenced melodies with pop, modern rock and topped by Dolores O’Riordan’s immediately distinctive voice, is not an immediate hit with the public. With “Dreams” being released in September of 1992, it nor the album itself garner much response. “Linger” is issued next, and it flops also. It’s only after touring as the opening act for Britpop band Suede that it gives The Cranberries the wide exposure they need. When their album is released in the US, it also gets off to a slow start with Island initially shipping only 18,000 copies. “Linger” (#8 Pop) is released a second time and takes off on modern rock, then mainstream pop radio. “Dreams” (#14 Pop Airplay, #42 Pop, #15 Modern Rock) is reissued also, helping propel the album to multi-platinum status and turning the shy young Irish band into unlikely pop stars. It is remastered and reissued in 2002 as “Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? (The Complete Sessions 1991-1993)”, featuring five additional bonus tracks including remixes and non album B-sides. It is also reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2017, on black and red vinyl. “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?” peaks at number eighteen on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 5x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: April 2, 1996 – “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite”, the debut album by Maxwell is released. Produced by MUSZE (Maxwell, P.M. and Stuart Matthewman), it is recorded at Electric Lady Studios, RPM Studios, Sorcerer Studios, Chung King Studios in New York City and Chicago Recording Company in Chicago, IL from Mid 1994 – Late 1995. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Maxwell (birth name Gerald Maxwell Rivera) grows up singing the Baptist church. Not simply content with singing, he also teaches himself to play several instruments, influenced by the 70’s and early 80’s R&B music he heard at home. By the time he’s seventeen, Maxwell is writing his own songs and begins recording demos. Making a name for himself playing small clubs in New York City, and with media buzz on him that he is “the next Prince”, he is signed by Columbia Records in 1994. Maxwell works with veteran R&B singer and songwriter Leon Ware (Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones) guitarist Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin, Sade guitarist and saxophonist Stuart Matthewman and Peter Mokran (R. Kelly) on the album. After spending over a year recording, the project is temporarily shelved by Sony during shifts in the labels upper management, and doubts over the albums commercial potential. Featuring mostly live instrumentation, with little in the way of the techniques of then current 90’s record production, the label expresses concern that the finished album is too out of step with the popular music of the time. The singer also clashes with the record label by refusing to put his face on the album cover, opting instead to put an illustration of pair of woman’s shoes, the artist name, title and track listing on the front. The singer compromises and his photo is placed on the back cover. “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” is a concept album following a relationship from a couple’s first meeting to its end. Though it receives solid reviews from critics, the album gets off to a slow start, though it gains momentum through word of mouth and when R&B radio begins playing the first single “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” (#8 R&B, #36 Pop). It also spins off the single “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” (#23 R&B), that also becomes a fan favorite. The album becomes one the cornerstones the “neo-soul movement” that also includes other prominent musicians like D’Angelo, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” peaks at number eight on the Billboard R&B album chart, number thirty seven on the Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 2, 1964 – The Beatles begin work on their first film “A Hard Day’s Night” with director Richard Lester at Marylebone Station in London (not Paddington Station as it is often misquoted). Produced by Walter Shenson and released through United Artists Pictures, the film is a semi-fictionalized day in the life of the band written by Alun Owen. Budgeted at a modest £200,000 ($500,000 in today’s currency), the film is shot in black & white and will break new ground in film making with its innovative cinematography, editing and use of music. During the six weeks of filming, other location shooting takes place in at the Thornbury Playing Fields in Isleworth, Middlesex (“Can’t Buy Me Love” sequence), Scala Theatre in Camden (theater performance scenes), West Ealing, London (“Ringo dropping his coat on puddles for a lady to step on” sequence") and the interiors are shot at Twickenham Studios in London. The film is a huge success, grossing over $6 million at the box office in its original theatrical run.