On the 19th September 1970 the first Glastonbury Festival took place at Worthy Farm in Somerset. Organised by dairy farmer Michael Eavis, the event was billed as the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival and attracted 1,500 people who paid a pound each to see a number of bands on a single stage and drink as much milk as they wanted.
The two-day festival was inspired by Eavis’ visit to the nearby Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music albeit on a much smaller scale. Described by performer Ian Anderson as ‘ramshackle’ the festival was a very laid-back affair. With a stage constructed of scaffolding and plywood, security provided by local Hell’s Angels, and with the Kinks pulling out from the headline spot, there was no indication from the first festival of the size and significance that the event would become.
It’s said that the Kinks’ Ray Davies had got a doctor’s note to say he had a throat infection and couldn’t sing after reading in Melody Maker that the event was only a ‘mini-festival’. However, Eavis struck lucky by securing T.Rex as replacement headliners just as Ride a White Swan was about to take the number 1 spot in the charts.
Despite the legends associated with Glastonbury, Marc Bolan’s experience of the first festival wasn’t entirely positive – his fancy car got covered in mud, and Eavis was only able to pay his fee in installments. Despite the great time had by everybody, the festival ultimately lost £1,500 and was only resurrected the next year thanks to money from its supporters.
American rock band Nirvana released the critically acclaimed single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.
Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic formed Nirvana in 1987. After a succession of drummers they recruited Dave Grohl in 1990, with whom they signed to DGC Records and soon began recording the album Nevermind. Cobain was initially reluctant to include “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as he was reportedly concerned that it sounded too similar to songs by the Pixies, a band whose music he had long admired and attempted to emulate. However, he was eventually persuaded by the other band members and producer Butch Vig.
The song title was inspired by graffiti scrawled on Cobain’s wall by Kathleen Hanna, singer with feminist punk band Bikini Kill. The message, ‘Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was a reference to how the Nirvana frontman had been marked by his girlfriend’s deodorant, the popular Teen Spirit brand produced by Mennen.
When Cobain shared the main guitar riff and chorus melody with the rest of the band, Novoselic is said to have described it as ‘ridiculous’. Despite such blunt criticism, the band played the riff repeatedly and, after an hour and a half of experimentation, they had agreed to slow down the tempo while Grohl added his iconic drum intro. A rough demo recording was sent to their producer, who immediately heard the song’s potential.
The single was released to radio on 27 August, and to the public on 10 September. Intended to consolidate and build Nirvana’s core following, neither DGC Records nor the band members themselves expected the single to take off in the way it did. The music video took MTV by storm and within weeks, it had catapulted alternative rock and the grunge genre into the mainstream.
On the 17th August 1982, the very first commercial compact disc was produced in the German town of Langenhagen. Although it was a number of months before the disc was actually available to purchase, the advent of the CD marked a seismic shift in the way people listened to music.
Having initially developed separate prototype digital audio discs, engineers at electronics giants Philips and Sony came together in 1979 to develop a standardised digital audio disc. Interestingly, this was happening while they sat on opposite sides of the VHS-Betamax war over home video formats.
In 1980 the engineers agreed on and published their ‘Red Book’ standard, which is still used – with some minor amendments – as the basis for all Compact Discs. Having agreed on the standard format, marketing could then begin. The first public demonstration was given on Tomorrow’s World, a BBC television program about new science and technology, in 1981 and saw presenter Kieran Prendiville smear strawberry jam on a CD of the Bee Gees’ album Living Eyes to demonstrate the supposedly indestructible nature of the new format.
A year later, the first CD was produced to be sold commercially. Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau’s recording of Chopin waltzes was pressed at Philips’ Polydor Pressing Operations plant, with the pianist himself starting the machine. Philips apparently believed that classical music fans were generally more affluent and therefore more likely to pay the hefty price tag for CDs and their players. However, the first ‘pop’ music CD to be produced was the The Visitors – the last album recorded by the Swedish super-group ABBA.
The Hollywood Bowl opened in Bolton Canyon near Los Angeles.
The natural amphitheatre that later became home to the Hollywood Bowl was originally a Cahuenga Indian ceremonial ground. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills, by 1919 it had become known as Daisy Dell and was a popular picnic spot with Los Angeles families. That year it was bought as part of a 59 acre purchase of land by the newly-formed Theatre Arts Alliance, who were keen to find a location to stage outdoor productions.
Alliance members William and H. Ellis Reed identified the natural amphitheatre and, on their advice, the Alliance purchased the site for $47,000. A female pianist, believed to be local woman Carrie Jacobs Bond, subsequently tested the acoustics by playing a piano placed on a barn door in approximately the same location as the venue’s iconic band shell.
Although the Alliance was restructured the following year, the site itself quickly became a popular venue for productions ranging from choral concerts to Shakespeare plays. The first Easter Sunrise Service was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in March 1921 without any formal structure in place, and even when the venue formally opened as the Hollywood Bowl on 11 July 1922 the stage was a simple wooden platform covered with a canvas awning while the audience sat on moveable wooden benches.
Within just four years, however, the Bowl had become so popular that permanent seating was installed along with a band shell that further helped to reflect sound towards the audience. It has since become one of the most iconic live music venues in the world, and continues to be the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
On the 6th July 1957, John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles met for the first time at the St. Peter’s Church garden fête in Woolton, Liverpool. Lennon was playing guitar with his skiffle band, The Quarrymen, who were performing on a bill beneath the Liverpool police dogs display team and the Band of the Cheshire Yeomanry.
McCartney arrived at the fair in the late afternoon, where the band had already begun playing. According to McCartney’s own recollection of the day they were halfway through the song Come Go With Me by American doo-wop group The Del-Vikings that had been released the previous year.
Following their afternoon performance, the Quarrymen went inside the church hall opposite the fête to set up for an evening ‘Grand Dance’ at which they had also been booked to play. It was here that the band’s sometime tea-chest bass player Ivan Vaughan introduced McCartney, with whom he was at school.
McCartney showed the band how to tune a guitar to standard tuning instead of the open G banjo tuning they used, and then sang some rock n roll including Twenty Flight Rock, Be-Bop-A-Lula and a medley of Little Richard songs. Lennon was apparently impressed with McCartney’s musicianship and later that night agreed with the Quarrymen’s washboard player, Pete Shotton, that they should invite him to join the band. After a Scout camp in the Derbyshire Peak District, he accepted.
Lennon and McCartney both stayed in touch with Ivan Vaughan. His wife – a languages teacher – later helped McCartney to write the French lyrics for the Rubber Soul song Michelle.
Authorities in the Californian city of Santa Cruz banned rock and roll music at public gatherings.
The previous evening had seen around 200 teenagers attend a concert at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium by the Los Angeles-based Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra. Higgins and an earlier band, the Mellotones, had scored a West Coast hit four years earlier with the saxophone instrumental “Pachuko Hop”. This jump blues single has since been described as one of the key releases that bridged the upbeat jazz styles of the 1940s to the frenetic rhythm and blues that was to emerge the following decade.
Shortly after midnight members of the Santa Cruz police, under the command of Lieutenant Richard Overton, entered the venue and shut down the concert. He later described the predominantly teenage crowd inside the auditorium as being ‘engaged in suggestive, stimulating and tantalizing motions induced by the provocative rhythms of an all-negro band.’
The next day the Santa Cruz authorities announced an outright ban on rock and roll music, with the justification that ‘rock and roll and other forms of frenzied music [were] detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.’
According to a report in a local newspaper from the time, the Chief of Police had said that, ‘we have nothing against rock and roll music…it’s just what some people do while listening to it.’ Within days, however, Santa Cruz’s teenagers had begun to protest against the ban. In response City Manager Robert Klein announced that the music, ‘along with other harmless types of swing music, enjoyable to young and old’ was welcome. Despite this, a scheduled concert by another rock and roll artist was cancelled by the auditorium manager.
On the 19th March 1962, American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan released his eponymous debut album.
Dylan had arrived in New York from Minnesota the previous year, but had quickly worked his way into the coffee houses and folk clubs of Greenwich Village. It was here that he became known to established folk singer Carolyn Hester who invited him to join her as a harmonica player. While rehearsing in her apartment in September, Dylan met Columbia Records’ talent scout John H. Hammond who stated he decided to sign Dylan “on the spot” although in reality the contract wasn’t finalised until the end of October.
The album was recorded over six hours of sessions on the 20th to the 22nd of November. Legend has it that the album cost $402 to produce, but this figure was only stated as a joke by John Hammond – the true cost is unknown. Although there were a couple of false starts, five of the final recordings were the first take as Dylan refused requests to do a second.
Only two tracks on Dylan’s debut album were his own compositions and it failed to hit the Billboard 100, selling less than 5,000 copies in its first year and earning Dylan the nickname “Hammond’s Folly” from record executives. Despite this set-back, however, he returned to the studio shortly after the release of his first album to begin work on his second, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which consisted almost entirely of original songs. Opening with the now-classic Blowin’ in the Wind, it was this album that established Dylan as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation.
Gold records were originally presented to artists by their own label, primarily as a form of self-congratulatory publicity. The very first framed gold record of this type was presented to the American bandleader Glenn Miller by RCA Victor in February 1942. This was in recognition of the sale of 1.2 million copies of his single “Chattanooga Choo Choo”. In 1956 Elvis Presley later received a gold record after selling 1 million copies of “Don’t Be Cruel”, but this was again a company award.
The Recording Industry Association of America was formed in 1952 to develop the burgeoning recording industry, and introduced its own industry-wide award program six years later. Issued to recognise any single that sold over a million copies (or an album that achieved one million dollars in sales), the first gold record was awarded to Perry Como for “Catch A Falling Star” that later won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal.
Como had previously awarded the McGuire Sisters with a company gold record on the Gisele MacKenzie Show for their million-selling song Sugartime. He was in turn presented with his RIAA gold record on live television by announcer Frank Gallop who erroneously referred to “Chase a Falling Star” before Como performed a comedy arrangement of the song.
Increasing record sales in the 1970s led to the introduction of the platinum award to recognise singles that sold more than two million units, but the number of required sales was halved in 1989 to its current level of 500,000 for gold and one million for platinum.
On the 17th February 1966 Brian Wilson, the co-founder of the Beach Boys, began the first recording session for the song Good Vibrations at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles. Part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, Good Vibrations arguably established the recording studio itself as an instrument and secured the Beach Boys their first million-selling single.
The Beach Boys were recording their eleventh studio album, Pet Sounds, when the instrumental parts for the first version of the song were recorded on the 17th February. Originally logged as part of the Pet Sounds sessions, recording of Good Vibrations was put on hold while the album was completed. However, following the release of Pet Sounds a reported further 90 hours of recordings were made that were gradually edited into the three minutes 35 seconds that make up the final song.
Referred to by Wilson as a “pocket symphony”, the modular process used for Good Vibrations involved the recording and re-recording of individual sections of the song using the Wall of Sound formula, that had originally been developed by record producer Phil Spector. The sporadic sessions for instrumental sections alone lasted until August, after which the vocal parts were recorded. The final mix was completed on the 21st September, after a final Electro-Theremin overdub was added.
Finally released on the 10th October 1966, Good Vibrations reached the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. It had cost up to $75,000 to produce, making it at that time the most expensive single ever recorded.
George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was performed for the first time at a concert by Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra called An Experiment in Modern Music.
Whiteman had previously worked with Gershwin when he conducted the original performance of Blue Monday, a one-act ‘jazz opera’ composed by Gershwin with lyrics by Buddy DeSylva. Although it was a Broadway flop, Whiteman was impressed by Blue Monday and had a conversation with Gershwin in which they discussed the idea of composer writing a jazz concerto.
According to legend Gershwin forgot about the conversation until early January 1924 when his brother, Ira, read an article in the New York Tribune that said Whiteman would perform a jazz concerto by Gershwin at a concert on 12 February. His musical Sweet Little Devil was due to open in Boston at the end of the month, yet Whiteman was able to persuade Gershwin to write the piece after promising he only needed to submit a piano score. Whiteman’s arranger Ferde Grofé orchestrated the piece, while the band added their own touches such as clarinettist Ross Gorman who turned the opening solo into an extended glissando that has since become the accepted way to open the piece.
Gershwin himself played piano when the piece was premiered at Aeolian Hall in New York City. He hadn’t scored the piano part and so performed from memory, improvising some parts. The audience, which included composers such as John Philip Sousa and Sergei Rachmaninoff, responded enthusiastically to the piece but critics were divided. It has since gone on to become one of Gershwin’s most famous pieces and a vital part of American musical history that proved how jazz elements could be used in so-called ‘serious’ music.