On this day in music history: August 18, 1956 – “Don’t Be Cruel” / “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 11 weeks. Written by Otis Blackwell / Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it is third chart topping single for Presley. Penned by songwriter Otis Blackwell (“Great Balls Of Fire”, “All Shook Up”, “Return To Sender”), “Cruel” is recorded at RCA Studios in New York on July 2, 1956, with the master version being the twenty eighth take. The flip side “Hound Dog”, written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952 for R&B legend Big Mama Thornton, is recorded by Presley during the same session. A big fan of Big Mama’s version as well as the answer record “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas, Presley decides to record “Hound Dog” after an ill fated performance engagement in Las Vegas. While playing an two week stint in Las Vegas during the Spring of 1956, Elvis sees the lounge act Freddie Bell And The Bellboys performing a comedy burlesque cover of “Hound Dog” in their show. Liking their arrangement, Presley decides to record himself. Elvis and his band along with vocal group The Jordanaires record thirty one takes of the song before finally capturing the master take. The single is released eleven days later on July 13, 1956, and is an immediate smash. Technically the B-side of the single, it is listed along with “Hound Dog” beginning the week of August 11, 1956 when the it reaches #2, then topping the chart the following week. The double A-sided singles run at the top of the charts is unprecedented in the rock era. The record remains unbroken until 1992 when “End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men holds the number one spot for 13 weeks beginning on August 15, 1992, thirty six years to the week that Presley hits number one. “Cruel” returns to the Billboard top ten thirty two years later, when Cheap Trick’s cover version peaks at #4 on October 8, 1988. “Don’t Be Cruel” is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, and is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2002.
On this day in music history: August 5, 1957 – “American Bandstand” makes its national television debut on the ABC television network. Hosted by former radio DJ and music entrepreneur Dick Clark, the show is originally broadcast on local Philadelphia, PA channel WFIL-TV Channel 6 in 1952 with original host Bob Horn (1952 – 1956), co-host Lee Stewart (1952 – 1955) and Tony Mammarella (1956 only). Clark becomes the shows permanent host from 1956 to 1989 (returning briefly in 2002). The show moves from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1964, beginning color broadcasts in September of 1967. 3,000 episodes (though only 883 episodes still survive) of the show are taped over its fifty year history.
On this day in music history: August 4, 1958 – “Poor Little Fool” by Ricky Nelson hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. Written by Sharon Sheeley, it is the first chart topping single for the teenaged star of the hit television series “The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet”. Barely a year into his recording career, eighteen year old Ricky Nelson has already scored nine top 40 chart entries since making his debut with the double sided hit “A Teenage Romance” (#2 Pop) and “I’m Walkin’” (#4 Pop). Songwriter Sharon Sheeley (girlfriend of musician Eddie Cochran) writes “Fool” after the break up of her relationship with Don Everly of The Everly Brothers. The track is initially released as part of a four song 7" EP, when it begins to receive airplay. Imperial Records head Lew Chudd has the song rush released as a single in June of 1958, against Nelson’s wishes. Since the singer has the right to approve of artwork used on his records, he does not grant permission for the single to be packaged with a picture sleeve (his only Imperial single released without a picture sleeve) to show his disapproval. The song is also the first number one single on the newly dubbed “Hot 100” chart, previously known as the Best Sellers chart. “Poor Little Fool” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: July 31, 1969 – Elvis Presley begins a successful run of shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. Still riding high off of the momentum generated by the “‘68 Comeback Special” and having scored major hits with “In The Ghetto” (#3 Pop) and the album “From Elvis In Memphis”, Presley and his manager Colonel Tom Parker receives an offer from the newly opened International Hotel (later renamed the Las Vegas Hilton) to play a one month long residency. Initially, Presley is hesitant to accept the offer, having played Vegas in 1956 and was met by a tepid response from audiences, also nervous that he has not performed live concerts in nearly a decade. A deal is reached with the venue and Elvis begins the first of fifty seven performances at the hotel beginning on July 31, 1969. Backed by a crack band that features guitarist James Burton, bassist Jerry Scheff and The Sweet Inspirations (background vocals), Elvis takes to the stage in front of a sold out crowd of 2,200 fans with numerous celebrities present including actor Cary Grant and rock & roll legend Fats Domino. The audience give him a standing ovation that lasts several minutes before he can sing a note. The residency is an overwhelming success, which leads to Elvis signing a five year contract with the hotel, appearing twice a year (beginning in February of 1970), and is guaranteed an annual salary of one million dollars.
On this day in music history: July 27, 1983 – “Everybody’s Rockin’”, the fifteenth studio album by Neil Young is released. Produced by Neil Young and Elliot Mazer, it is recorded at Modern Recorders in Redwood City, CA from April – May 1983. Following the successful and acclaimed live album “Rust Never Sleeps” in 1979, Neil Young moves away from the alternating acoustic country rock and harder rocking sound that has been the hallmark of much of his work in the past decade. Starting the 80’s with the new wave flavored “Reactor” with Crazy Horse, its poor critical and commercial reception ends Young’s contract with Reprise Records. In 1981, Young’s former manager (CSNY) David Geffen offers him lucrative contract and full creative control to sign to his label Geffen Records. Still following his creative muse, Neil’s first release for Geffen is the synth heavy Kraftwerk influenced “Trans” in 1982. Featuring Young singing through a vocoder on many tracks, it is greeted with confusion by many long time fans. Unhappy with its commercial performance, Geffen demands that the musician “make a rock & roll record” for his next release. Though never one to be dictated to or known to veer from his own musical vision, Young decides to comply with the request, but does it his way with a highly ironic twist and as a symbolic middle finger toward Geffen. Rather than making a contemporary and mainstream commercial rock album, he instead makes a 50’s style rockabilly record. Featuring original songs and covers of early rock & roll and rhythm & blues classics by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker and Slim Harpo, Neil Young titles the set “Everybody’s Rockin’”. Assembling an ad-hoc band dubbed “The Shocking Pinks” (Tim Drummond, Larry Byrom, Karl Himmel, Ben Keith, Rick Palombi and Anthony Crawford), the ten song album clocks in at just under twenty five minutes, making it the shortest album of his career. The first single “Wonderin’” is accompanied by a quirky music video directed by Tim Pope, best known for his work with The Cure. To give the footage an unusual look, Pope shoots it with the camera and music sync running at a slower than normal speed with abrupt jump cutting, looking unnaturally sped up upon playback. The album is largely savaged by critics and ignored by the public, though over time has developed a cult following among Neil Young fans. The poor sales of “Everybody’s Rockin’” leads to Geffen suing Young for $3.3 million, for making albums that were “not commercial” and “musically uncharacteristic”. Young counter sues for $21 million, sighting that the label had breached their promise of “no creative interference”. In spite of the lawsuits, Young fulfills his contract with Geffen, releasing two more albums before leaving and returning to Reprise Records by the end of the 80’s. “Everybody’s Rockin’” peaks at number forty six on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: July 24, 1987 – “La Bamba”, the biopic of Mexican-American Rock & Roll pioneer Ritchie Valens is released in US theaters. Directed by Luis Valdez (“Zoot Suit”) and produced by Taylor Hackford (“An Officer And A Gentleman”, “Against All Odds”, “Ray”) and Bill Borden, the film stars Lou Diamond Phillips (as Valens), Esai Morales, Rosana DeSoto, Joe Pantoliano, and Elizabeth Peña. The soundtrack is performed by Los Lobos (scored by Carlos Santana and Miles Goodman) who hit number one with both the title song and album. Released through Columbia Pictures and made for only $5.6 million, the modestly budgeted film is a huge success grossing over $52 million in domestic box office.
On this day in music history: July 18, 1966 – Singer and musician Bobby Fuller is found dead in his mother’s car outside his apartment in Hollywood, CA. Just four months after making his breakthrough with the rock & roll classic “I Fought The Law” (#9 Pop), the Texas born musician dies under mysterious circumstances. Fuller is found in the front seat of his mother’s car, reeking of gasoline and his upper body covered in petechial hemorrhages. In spite of an extensive investigation by the LAPD, the authorities are unable to determine if Bobby Fuller committed suicide or was murdered. More than thirty years later, Fuller’s life and death are profiled on the programs “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Mysteries And Scandals". Both programs draw the conclusion that Fuller’s death may have been mafia related (due to his association with a woman alleged to have mob ties), and was covered up by the Los Angeles Police Department.
On this day in music history: July 18, 1953 – An eighteen year old truck driver named Elvis Presley makes his first recordings at the Memphis Recording Service (aka Sun Records). The 78 acetate disc contains the songs “My Happiness” and "That’s When Your Heartaches Begin". The disc is recorded as a birthday gift for his mother Gladys. The receptionist Marion Keisker asks Presley what type of singer he is, which he replies “I sing all kinds”. Then after asking him what he sounds like , Elvis states “I don’t sound like nobody”. After the brief session, Keisker plays the recordings for her boss Sam Phillips, who calls Presley back to make more recordings in the following months. Phillips pairs Presley up with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, and the trio begin working together. The original acetate (the only surviving copy, since the tape was erased following the session) with Elvis’ first two recordings are officially released ten years after Presley’s death in 1987. For many years, the record has been in the possession of Presley’s high school friend Ed Leek. After numerous attempts to sell disc, it is finally purchased by rock musician Jack White in 2015 for $300,000. White then issues it on a limited basis on Record Store Day in April of 2015, as a 10 inch 78 RPM disc, even replicating the original typewritten labels on the original acetate.
On this day in music history: July 17, 1958 – “Hard Headed Woman" by Elvis Presley hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written by Claude Demetrius, it is the tenth chart topping single for Presley. The song is written for and included in his fourth film “King Creole”, directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”, “The Adventures Of Robin Hood”, “Angels With Dirty Faces”) and co-starring Carolyn Jones (“The Addams Family”) and Walter Matthau. Recorded on January 10, 1958, Presley records the soundtrack and stars in the film just prior to being inducted into the Army. He receives a deferment from the US Government from January to March, to allow him time to complete his work on the film. Presley receives his best reviews yet for his performance, and sites it as his personal favorite among the thirty one films he makes between 1956 and 1969. Entering the Best Sellers chart at #15 on June 26, 1958, it streaks to the top of the chart three weeks later. “Hard Headed Woman” is Elvis’ third single to be officially certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.