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.
On the 7th February 1964, the Beatles visited the United States for the first time. Their welcome at New York’s Kennedy Airport by 3,000 screaming fans was unprecedented, even for a band that had already become accustomed to hordes of followers at home in Britain and in Europe. Within two days, their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show had put them in front of around 40% of the entire population of the country – an estimated 73 million people.
1963 had seen the release of the Beatles’ first two albums – Please Please Me and With the Beatles – as well as five number one singles including She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand. The latter, released in the UK on the 29th November was kept from the number one spot for two weeks due to a resurgence in the popularity of She Loves You amidst the media storm that kick-started Beatlemania. A few weeks later, on the 26th December, I Want To Hold Your Hand became the first Capitol Records Beatles release in the USA, selling a quarter of a million copies in the first three days and finally hitting the number 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on the 1st February.
The Beatles’ arrival in America six days later couldn’t have been any better timed, despite their Ed Sullivan Show appearance being booked before the single was even released. By the time they performed their first live concert to 20,000 fans at the Coliseum in Washington D.C. on the 11th February, Beatlemania had taken a firm grip on America.
The 3rd February 1959 was the Day The Music Died, when rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa. The disaster gained its name twelve years later as a result of Don McLean’s hit song American Pie.
On the 23rd January 1959, Buddy Holly began the headline Winter Dance Party Tour of 24 cities in the American Midwest with support from Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and Dion and the Belmonts. Touring was a very profitable activity for musicians and Holly – recently married and with a pregnant wife at home – was keen to pack in as many performances as possible.
However, the tour involved covering gruelling distances in a bus that soon developed a fault with its heating system. The situation was so bad that Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch was hospitalised with frostbitten feet. The bus was promptly replaced, but with less than half the dates already covered the musicians were frustrated and tired.
After playing a concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, on the 2nd February Holly opted to charter a plane to get him to the next venue. The plane, contrary to popular opinion, was not called American Pie and was only identified by the serial number N3794N. In addition to Holly and the pilot, 21 year-old Roger Peterson, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper took the remaining seats following some negotiation and a coin toss. They took off at 12:55am on the 3rd February, but flew only 6 miles before crashing amidst deteriorating weather.
The Damned had released what is recognised as the first ever punk single a month earlier. “New Rose” may have been the first single by a punk band, but numerous groups had already built a sizeable following through chaotic live shows that arguably culminated in the Sex Pistols’ own performance at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976.
The Sex Pistols were signed to the EMI record label on 8 October and soon entered the studio to record their debut single which they did less than two weeks later on 17 October. Chris Thomas, who had previously worked with such influential bands as The Beatles and Pink Floyd, agreed to produce the single, which sent shockwaves through the recording industry.
In sharp contrast to the traditional rock n roll lyrics of “New Rose”, “Anarchy in the UK” was rooted in the anger and nihilism of the early British punk movement from its opening line. It reached number 38 on the UK charts, but this fails to reflect the impact that the record had on the country.
Less than a week later the band appeared on the Today programme broadcast on Thames Television in London. The host, Bill Grundy, later claimed that he and the band were all drunk when he invited them to ‘say something outrageous’ in the closing seconds of the show. Guitarist Steve Jones responded by calling the host a range of names littered with profanities. The band’s appearance was splashed over the national newspapers the next day, bringing both the band and the punk movement to national attention. Within a few weeks EMI ended the band’s contract.
On the 21st November 1877, American inventor Thomas Edison announced his phonograph, the world’s first practical machine that could record and play sound using a cylinder. Although Frenchman Charles Cros presented plans for a sound recording and reproduction machine called a paleophone earlier that year, the machine was never actually built. Edison made the first demonstration of his phonograph on the 29th November and patented it the following February. Within two decades it had spawned an entire industry built around the recording, distribution and sale of sound recordings.
Edison’s original phonograph was developed as a result of experiments that aimed to record telegraph messages. He had worked with diaphragms during his work developing the carbon microphone for telephones, and was aware that if you could inscribe the movements of the diaphragm he could effectively ‘record’ sound.
His first recording medium was a grooved cylinder covered with tin foil. As the cylinder rotated, an arm attached to a diaphragm would make an indentation of the movement into the tin foil. The arm moved up and down the cylinder, embossing the recording. By adjusting the machine, the arm could then be used to play back the recorded sound through a horn. The first machine was hand-cranked, but it worked well enough to impress everyone who heard it. Within six months he had demonstrated it to scientists and representatives of the government in Washington DC.
Although heralded as a ‘genius’ by the Washington Post, Edison did very little with his invention. Within a few years, however, other inventors developed engraved wax cylinders and – later – flat disks to record sound.
German pop duo Milli Vanilli were stripped of the Grammy Award for Best New Artist after it emerged that they did not sing any of the vocals on their debut album.
Milli Vanilli was founded by German record producer and songwriter Frank Farian in 1988. He had previously created the disco-pop group Boney M., for whom he provided all the male recorded vocals. This was despite another man, Bobby Farrell, being the male ‘face’ of the band during live performances.
In the late 1980s Farian began to record a number of songs for a new album, using session musicians and vocalists. Having decided that the vocalists did not have a marketable image, Farian recruited two good-looking male dancers to lip-sync to the tracks. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan later claimed that they were “trapped” by the contract they had signed with Farian.
The group’s debut album, All or Nothing, was released in Europe in November 1988 and was followed by an American release, Girl You Know It’s True, four months later. Unlike the European release the American packaging explicitly stated that Morven and Pilatus were the vocalists. During a live performance for MTV that summer, however, the public witnessed a key sign of lip-syncing when the backing track began to skip and repeat part of a vocal line over and over again.
In December one of the vocalists on the recordings, Charles Shaw, revealed his involvement to a reporter. Despite a rumoured $150,000 payment by Farian to retract the claim, rumours about lip-syncing only continued. On 12 November 1990 Farian finally admitted that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing Milli Vanilli’s songs. Just four days later the group’s Grammy Award was withdrawn.
At 7am on the 30th September 1967, the words “… And, good morning everyone. Welcome to the exciting new sound of Radio 1” launched the BBC’s new popular music station. Created to compete with the successful offshore ‘pirate’ radio stations that had been outlawed by an Act of Parliament, Radio 1’s target demographic has continued to be the 15-29 year old age group, and so the music it broadcasts has continuously evolved throughout its history. While “Flowers in the Rain”, a song by The Move, was the first to be played on the new station you would never hear it on Radio 1 now!
The first voice on the station – that of DJ Tony Blackburn – had first been heard on the pirate stations Radio Caroline and Radio London. Having moved to the BBC earlier in 1967 his cheery presenting style made him the perfect person to host the breakfast show, which he did until 1973. However, his own dislike of heavier rock music made him unpopular with some listeners who were disappointed that the BBC had managed to get the pirate stations banned but then didn’t fill the hole in the airwaves with anything equivalent.
Adding to the complaints from listeners, the existence of so-called ‘needle time’ meant that Radio 1 featured more DJ talk than the pirate stations. This legally imposed limit on the amount of commercial music the station could play was initially a problem for the station, but it led to a large number of live broadcasts and recordings being made that have – over time – become prized in their own right.