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Music History Monday: May 21

Posted by Jeff Harris, May 21, 2012 05:40pm | Post a Comment
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On this day in music history: May 21, 1955 - "Maybellene," the debut single by Chuck Berry is recorded. Cut at Universal Recording Studios in Chicago, Berry bases the tune on the traditional country song "Ida Red." Chess Records co-founder Leonard Chess feels the name is "too rural" sounding and suggests changing the title to "Maybellene." The song's then unusual hybrid of country & western and rhythm & blues supported by a big back beat along with its lyrical themes of fast cars and love gone wrong is instantly appealing to black and white audiences alike. Released in July, the single will be a huge hit right out of the gate, spending 11 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart and peaking at #5 on the Pop Best Sellers chart. "Maybellene" will go on to become one of the most influential songs in the history of rock & roll, inspiring dozens of cover versions with Berry's original recording being inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1988.


On this day in music history: May 21, 1963Recorded Live: The 12-Year Old Genius, the third album by (Little) Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Berry Gordy, it is recorded at the Regal Theater in Chicago in June of 1962. Following the less than enthusiatic response to the young singer/musicians first two studio albums, Motown Records founder Gordy decides to capture Wonder in all of his excitement live on stage. One of the highlights of the performance is the song "Fingertips." Running at over six and a half minutes, it will be split into two parts for single release when it is issued in tandem with the album. DJ's will prefer Part II of the single, featuring the electrifying call and response between Stevie and the audience along with his virtuoso harmonica playing.  "Fingertips Pt. II" will hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks and six weeks on the R&B chart. The "Genius" album will hit #1 on the Top 200 on August 24th, making Wonder (at 13) the youngest artist in history to have a #1 album and single.


On this day in music history: May 21, 1964 - "Under The Boardwalk" by The Drifters is recorded. Written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, the song is written as a sequel to the groups' hit "Up On The Roof" (#5 Pop, #4 R&B in February 1963), making reference to the previous song in its lyrics. Rudy Lewis, The Drifters lead singer at the time, will die unexpectedly the night before the recording session (of a drug overdose) in his Harlem hotel room. Instead of rescheduling the session, producer Bert Berns will have group member Johnny Moore handle lead vocals on the song. Released by Atlantic Records as a single in June, the song will become an instant classic, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and selling over a million copies. Also noteworthy about the song is that the original mono 45 and stereo LP versions of "Under The Boardwalk" contain different vocal performances. The 45 version contains the vocal refrain "we'll be falling in love, under the boardwalk," while the stereo LP version contains the line "we'll be making love, under the boardwalk."  "Under The Boardwalk" will also be the last major hit for the pioneering R&B vocal group.


On this day in music history: May 21, 1966If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears, the debut album by The Mamas And The Papas hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for one week. Produced by Lou Adler (Carole King, Cheech & Chong), it is recorded at United/Western Recorders in Hollywood in Late 1965 - Early 1966. The first album by the pop vocal group contains a mixture of original songs written by group members John and Michelle Phillips and Denny Doherty, as well as covers of The Beatles' "I Call Your Name," Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance," Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem," and Dobie Gray's "The "In" Crowd." The album cover features a shot of the group sitting in a bathtub with a toilet situated to the right. Shortly after its release, copies of the album with this cover are pulled from record stores being deemed indecent. The reprinted LP jackets feature the same shot with a white scroll covering the toilet, listing the inclusion of the song "California Dreamin'." In addition, a third version of the album cover will be printed with the photo cropped showing only the group members faces. The original cover will become sought after collectors item years later. The album will spin off three singles including "Go Where You Wanna Go," "California Dreamin'" (#4 Pop), and "Monday, Monday" (#1 Pop).


On this day in music history: May 21, 1971 - "What's Going On," the 11th studio album by Marvin Gaye is released. Produced by Marvin Gaye, it is recorded at Motown Studio A, Golden World Studios (Motown Studio B), United Sound Studios in Detroit,and the Sound Factory in Hollywood from June 1970 -May 1971.  A concept album focusing on the subjects of poverty, drug abuse, and war, its messages will immediately resonate with the public. Following the huge success of the title track as a single, Motown will demand a full album to go with it ASAP. Recording with Motown's studio band The Funk Brothers, the basic tracks and vocals for the album will be recorded in ten days of studio time. The intial version of the album, now known as the Detroit Mix is mixed by Motown engineers while Gaye is off in California filming a movie. After hearing the initial mix, Gaye will order them shelved and send for the tapes while in California. He will add additional overdubs to several tracks, and completely remix and resequence the album with engineer Lawrence Miles. The album will be immediately recognized by critics and the public as an important artistic musical statement upon its release, as well as being a major commerical success. It will spin off three singles including "Mercy Mercy Me" (#1 R&B, #4 Pop), "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (#1 R&B, #9 Pop), and the title track (#1 R&B, #2 Pop).  What's Going On will spend nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B album chart and #6 on the Top 200.


On this day in music history: May 21, 1976Agents of Fortune, the fourth studio album by Blue Öyster Cult is released. Produced by Murray Krugman, Sandy Pearlman, and David Lucas, it is recorded at The Record Plant in New York City in late 1975 - early 1976. Issued as the follow-up to their first gold LP, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees,  it will become the bands' most successful album and yield their biggest hit "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (#12 Pop). Besides becoming an FM rock radio staple, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" will later become the subject of a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live spoofing the recording session that produces the song. Agents will peak at #29 on the Billboard Top 200 and be certified platinum by the RIAA.


On this day in music history: May 21, 1977 - "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for one week on May 28th. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder,  it is issued as the second single from the landmark Songs In The Key of Life album.  The song pays tribute to composer Duke Ellington, namechecking  many other jazz and swing music pioneers including Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. It is Wonder's fifth pop and 13th R&B chart topper.


On this day in music history: May 21, 1985Dream Of A Lifetime, the 18th studio album by Marvin Gaye is released. Produced by Marvin Gaye, Gordon Banks, and Harvey Fuqua, it is recorded at Studio Katy in Ohaine, Belgium, Marvin's Room, and Motown Recording Studio in Hollywood circa 1972 - 1984. Issued 13 months after Gaye's death, it includes material Gaye was working on as the follow up to his successful comeback album Midnight Love. It also includes unfinished tracks from those sessions (completed by Gaye's brother in law Gordon Banks and co-producer Harvey Fuqua), as well as songs dating as far back as the recording sessions for the Let's Get It On album in mid-1972. The first single, "Santicfied Lady," will hit #2 on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Dream Of A Lifetime will peak at #8 on the R&B album chart and #41 on the Top 200.

Relevant Tags

Chuck Berry (7), Stevie Wonder (19), Berry Gordy (3), The Drifters (1), The Mamas And The Papas (1), Marvin Gaye (9), Blue Oyster Cult (5), (don't Fear) The Reaper (1)