On this day in music history: October 16, 1976 – “Songs In The Key Of Life” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 14 weeks (non-consecutive), also topping the R&B album chart for 20 weeks (non-consecutive) on the same date. Produced by Stevie Wonder , it is recorded at Crystal Sound Studios, The Record Plant in Hollywood, CA, The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA, and The Hit Factory in New York City from Spring 1975 – Fall 1976. Recorded over a period of nearly two years, “Songs” becomes only the third album in US chart history to debut at #1 (Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy” and “Rock Of The Westies” are the first two.). It spins off four singles including “I Wish” (#1 Pop, #1 R&B), “Sir Duke” (#1 Pop, #1 R&B), “As” (#36 Pop and R&B) and “Another Star” (#32 Pop, #18 R&B). “Songs” wins four Grammy Awards including Album Of The Year, making Stevie Wonder one of only three artists in history to win the Album Of The Year prize three times (Frank Sinatra and Paul Simon are the others). The album is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002, and is also added to the National Recording Registry by the Library Of Congress in 2005, for its ongoing historic and cultural significance. “Songs In The Key Of Life” is certified 10x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, earning a Diamond Certification.
On this day in music history: October 16, 1976 – “Disco Duck Pt. 1” by Rick Dees & His Cast Of Idiots hits #1 on the Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #15 on the R&B singles chart on November 20, 1976. Written by Rick Dees, it is the debut single and biggest hit for the broadcasting legend born Rigdon Osmond Dees III. Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Rick Dees works days as a DJ at WMPS while spinning records at local night club called Chesterfield’s at night. With the Disco Era nearing its commercial peak in the mid 70’s, Dees is inspired to write a parody song. He’ll pitch the idea around town for a few months before attracting the interest of Stax Records co-founder Estelle Axton who is running a local record label called Fretone Records. Dees gets his friend Ken Pruitt to provide the signature “Donald Duck” vocals on the track. Released on Fretone in early 1976, the single begins getting major regional airplay throughout the south, but is not played by any Memphis radio stations, out of fear of promoting their competition. Rick Dees himself is prohibited by his own radio station from playing the record on the air. When he talks about it on the air one morning, the station manager abruptly fires him, on the grounds that it was a conflict of interest. After the firing, Dees is hired by rival station WHBQ-AM in Memphis. Shortly afterward, Dees goes to Los Angeles to shop the record around to major labels. Al Coury, the head of RSO Records buys the master from Fretone to release it nationally. Once the novelty hit takes hold on radio, it is a runaway smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #89 on August 14, 1976, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. “Disco Duck” is also featured in one scene in the film “Saturday Night Fever”, but is not included on the Grammy winning soundtrack album. His management unwisely decides not to grant permission to allow RSO to use it on the soundtrack. At the same time the record is a huge hit selling over six million copies worldwide (over two million in the US alone), a large groundswell of backlash against the song develops while it is on the charts. It is often been cited by critics as one of the “worst records of all time”. “Disco Duck Pt. 1” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 16, 1976 – “Johnny The Fox”, the seventh studio album by Thin Lizzy is released. Produced by John Alcock, it is recorded at Musicland Studios in Munich, Germany, Ramport Studios in Battersea, London, UK and Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, UK in August 1976. The band begin work on the album while lead singer and bassist Phil Lynott is recovering from a bout of hepatitis, causing the band to abort a tour of the US for the “Jailbreak” album. Lynott composes the songs while in the hospital with an acoustic guitar. Thin Lizzy decides to record in Germany rather than in the UK for tax purposes, but return home to the UK after only two weeks when the band members have disagreements over musical direction. The album spins off two singles including the title track that later becomes a staple in Hip Hop culture when its opening drum break becomes a favorite of DJ’s and B-Boys. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1996, with an expanded double CD deluxe edition released in Europe and Japan in 2011. The first CD contains the original ten track album, with the second disc featuring remixes, previously unreleased tracks and live performances recorded for the BBC in November of 1976. It is also reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP in 2011 on the Back On Black label, and by Mercury Records in 2014. “Johnny The Fox” peaks at number eleven on the UK album chart, and number fifty two on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: October 16, 1970 – “Jesus Christ Superstar – A Rock Opera” is released (US release is on October 30, 1970). Produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, it is recorded at Olympic Studios, Advision Studios, Island Studios and Sport Production Studios in London from October 10, 1969 and Early – Mid 1970. Meeting each other in 1965, Webber and Rice find they share an interest in musical theater, and begin writing songs. Their first works are “The Likes Of Us” and “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Having written “Joseph” as musical re-telling of the biblical prophet, they mount an even more ambitious project. The pair write a rock opera about the last week in the life of Jesus.The idea initially has no interest from producers. The inspiration for “Jesus Christ Superstar” comes from the Bob Dylan song “With God On Our Side”, mentioning the savior’s betrayal by Judas Iscariot. The melody for “Superstar” comes to Webber while sitting in a restaurant. Hearing of a singer and actor named Murray Head, they approach him about singing the role of Judas and he accepts. After several rejections, Decca/MCA Records gives them the money to record “Superstar” as a single. It features members of Joe Cocker’s group The Grease Band, (Henry McCullough, Neil Hubbard, Alan Spenner, and Bruce Rowland), with a full orchestra and the Trinidad Singers. The executives at MCA initially object to its release, but eventually give their approval. Released on November 21, 1969 (US on December 1, 1969), it peaks at #47 on the UK chart, and #74 on the US pop chart. However, it hits #1 in Holland and makes the top ten in other countries. It inspires Decca to green light the full album. Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan is cast as Jesus, along with Yvonne Elliman as Mary Madgalene, Barry Dennen as Pontius Pilate, Victor Brox as Caiaphas, The High Priest, and Manfred Mann lead singer Mike d’Abo as King Herod. Working on a very tight budget, they offer everyone a percentage of future royalties, rather than a flat session fee. Many accept the offer except Elliman, who is paid £100 (but is later given royalties by the composers). The double album is a huge success, in spite of some outcry that it is blasphemous. The original UK LP is issued with a sleeve, that unfolds into the shape of a star. The US LP is first released as a box set (revised to a gatefold), emblazoned with the now iconic “praying angels” logo, and packaged with a 28 page libretto. “Superstar” (#14 Pop) is reissued, followed by “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” (#28 Pop). The latter is out charted by a cover version by Helen Reddy. The album becomes the launch pad for the long running musical, and for a hit film in 1973, cementing its pop cultural status. “Jesus Christ Superstar” spends three weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1978 – “Toto”, the debut album by Toto is released. Produced by Toto, it is recorded at Studio 55, Sunset Sound in Hollywood, CA, and Davlen Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA from May – September 1978. Having previously established themselves as prominent LA studio musicians for the likes of Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Seals & Crofts and Sonny & Cher (to name a few), the band are signed to Columbia Records in early 1978. Rock critics react negatively to their first effort calling them “faceless” and “formulaic”, but does not affect public opinion, who love the record from the outset. It spins off three singles including their first top 10 hit “Hold The Line” (#5 Pop), with Toto also scoring a surprise reverse crossover hit with “Georgy Porgy” (#48 Pop, #18 R&B), when the single becomes an airplay favorite on black radio stations and in clubs due in part to it featuring background vocals by singer Cheryl Lynn (several members of Toto played on her debut album and was co-produced by David Paich). The album also earns Toto a Grammy Nomination for Best New Artist in 1979. In 1991, rapper MC Lyte samples the track for her hit single “Poor Georgie”. The album is remastered and reissued on CD by Culture Factory Records in 2014. It is also previously reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Music On Vinyl in 2011, and by Friday Music in 2012. “Toto” peaks at number nine on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 15, 1970 – “Jackson 5 Christmas Album”, the fourth album by The Jackson 5 is released. Produced by The Corporation, it is recorded at The Sound Factory and Hitsville USA West Studios in Hollywood, CA from July – September 1970. The groups first and only holiday album, it is The Jackson 5’s fourth full length LP release of the year, issued only five weeks after “Third Album”. The collection quickly becomes a perennial favorite during the Christmas holiday season with their versions of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” becoming two of the most requested Christmas songs played on radio. The album tops the annual Christmas albums chart published by Billboard Magazine in 1970, but not on the main Top 200 or R&B album charts due to Billboard’s then policy of not including seasonal holiday albums or singles on their main charts. The album returns to the top again in 1972, charting a total of six times over the years. Originally released on CD in the mid 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2001 under the title “The Best Of The Jackson 5 – 20th Century Masters The Christmas Collection”, with the previously unreleased “Little Christmas Tree” added as a bonus track. The “Jackson 5 Christmas Album” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard Christmas Albums chart, going Platinum in the US, and selling over three and a half million copies worldwide.
On this day in music history: October 14, 1977 – “Heroes”, the thirteenth album by David Bowie is released. Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti, it is recorded at Hansa Studios by the Wall in West Berlin, East Germany from July – August 1977. The second release in David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” (issued just nine months after “Low”), Bowie once again collaborates on several songs with Brian Eno. The pair come up with rough sketches of songs without melodies and lyrics, which are composed during the actual sessions. Bowie is heavily influenced by the atmosphere of Berlin while living in the city. This is reflected on several songs, particularly the albums epic title track, which tells the story of two lovers who meet at the Berlin Wall. Part of the lyrics to “Heroes” are inspired when Bowie asks producer Tony Visconti to leave him alone in the studio control room to write. While staring out the window of the studio, David sees Visconti embrace and kiss backing vocalist Antonia Maass (Visconti who was married to singer Mary Hopkin at the time, but having an affair with Maass) outside by the wall. King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp travels to Berlin from the US to play on the album, recording all of his lead guitar parts in one day. Bowie is also backed by his regular group of musicians including Carlos Alomar (guitar), Dennis Davis (drums) and George Murray (bass). It is the only album of the “Trilogy” to be entirely recorded in the city of Berlin, with the studio located only 500 yards from the Berlin Wall. The album is mixed at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland after the tracking sessions conclude. Upon its release and in the years following, it is regarded as one of the best albums of David Bowie’s career. Bowie’s 2013 album “The Next Day”, features an obscured version of photographer Masayoshi Sukita’s iconic cover photo from “Heroes” as its front cover. First released on CD in 1984, it is remastered and reissued in 1991 with two additional bonus tracks. It is also issued as a limited edition, numbered 24K gold CD by Rykodisc using the 20-bit SBM (Super Bit Mapping) process. “Heroes” is reissued again in 1999, when Bowie’s catalog is moved to Virgin/EMI, but without the added bonus tracks. The album is remastered and reissued on CD and vinyl in 2017 as part of the box set “A New Career In A New Town – 1977 – 1982”. “Heroes” peaks at number three on the UK album chart, and number thirty five on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: October 14, 1972 – “I’ll Be Around” by The Spinners hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on November 18, 1972. Written by Thom Bell and Phil Hurtt, it is the first chart topping single for the R&B vocal quintet from Detroit, MI. Best known for his work with The Delfonics and The Stylistics, producer and arranger Thom Bell adds another group to his credits when he begins working with The Spinners after they are signed to Atlantic Records in early 1972. The group records four sides with producer Jimmy Roach, but the tracks are shelved when Atlantic doesn’t hear any hits. Label VP Henry Allen asks Thom Bell if he wants to work with The Spinners, and he immediately agrees. Fans of the group since their days on Motown, Bell feels that The Spinners hadn’t reached their full hit making potential while at the label, and commits himself to making them a success. While coming up with song ideas for them, Bell’s regular songwriting partner, lyricist Linda Creed is unavailable since she is prepared to get married at the time. Bell calls on Phil Hurtt, a staff songwriter at his publishing company Mighty Three Music to collaborate. Hurtt comes up with a melody and writes the lyrics for “I’ll Be Around” by the next day. The track is recorded on June 14, 1972 at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia with members of MFSB, with the master take being cut in about forty minutes. The Spinners quickly record their vocals (with Bobbie Smith on lead vocals), and it is readied for release. When it is issued as a single in July of 1972, “I’ll Be Around” is regulated to the B-side of “How Could I Let You Get Away” (sung by Philippé Wynne). “How Could” receives solid airplay from R&B stations, but is largely ignored by top 40 pop stations. Believing firmly in the other songs hit potential, Bell takes it upon himself to visit radio stations and encourage them to flip the single and play “I’ll Be Around” instead. From there, the record takes off quickly, climbing the pop and R&B singles charts almost simultaneously. The breakthrough success of “I’ll Be Around” gives The Spinners the success that had largely eluded them while on Motown, and marks the beginning of a long and highly successful collaboration with producer Thom Bell. “I’ll Be Around” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 14, 1972 – “Ben” by Michael Jackson hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #5 on the R&B singles chart on October 21, 1972. Written by Don Black and Walter Scharf, it is the first solo chart topper for the young Motown superstar. Written as the title song to the sequel of the 1971 film “Willard”, Walter Scharf (“Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”, Spanky & Our Gang) is hired to write a theme song for the film. Scharf calls lyricist Don Black (“To Sir With Love”, “Born Free”) and asks him to write the lyrics. When the song is completed singer Donny Osmond is asked to sing the song, but is unavailable at the time to record it. Black suggests Michael Jackson, and Jackson (a lover of animals, also owning several pet rats at the time) enthusiastically agrees to record the song. The title track from his second solo album, “Ben” is released as a single in mid July of 1972, quickly becoming a smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #85 on August 5, 1972, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. Fourteen years old at the time, it makes Jackson the third youngest artist in history to reach number one on the US singles chart. “Ben” is also nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”. Jackson performs the song on the live Oscar telecast in March of 1973.