On this day in music history: December 15, 1969 – “See”, the sixth studio album by The Rascals is released. Produced by The Rascals and Arif Mardin, it is recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York City in Mid – Late 1969. Issued as the follow up to “Freedom Suite”, it marks a departure from their previous hit single driven formula, leaning more toward album oriented rock material, with keyboardist Felix Cavaliere moving more to the forefront of the band. It also is the last full album to include percussionist Eddie Brigati who leaves the band in the middle of sessions for their next release. This departure delays the release of the full album until the end of 1969, in the interim the first two singles “See” (#27 Pop) and “Carry Me Back” (#26 Pop) are released in May and August of that year. By the time the album arrives in stores in December, any momentum from the singles has long past. The end result is a muted commercial response from the public, in spite of receiving good reviews from music critics. Ironically, the single “I Believe” which is not included on “See” is released just before the album, but does not make its LP debut until 1971 on “Search And Nearness”, the final Rascals album released on Atlantic Records. To date, “See” has not been reissued in its entirety on CD or on vinyl, though a bootleg CD carrying the Collector’s Choice Records label surfaces in 2007, though is quickly withdrawn from the marketplace. “See” peaks at number forty five on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: December 15, 1967 – “The Who Sell Out”, the third studio album by The Who is released. Produced by Kit Lambert, it is recorded at Talentmasters Studios in New York City, IBC Studios, Pye Studios, De Lane Lea Studios, CBS Studios, Kingsway Studios in London and Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, CA from May – November 1967. The bands’ third release is a concept album that includes songs interspersed with fake commercials and public service announcements, mimicking the British pirate radio station Radio London. The band are sued by a number of companies whose real products are parodied on the album. It spins off the classic “I Can See For Miles” (#10 UK, #9 US Pop). The album cover art features individual photos of the band taken by photographer David Montgomery, pitching different products. Pete Townshend is shown with an oversized container of roll on deodorant, Keith Moon posing with a big tube of acne cream, John Entwistle dressed like Tarzan, standing next to a model (as Jane) and holding a teddy bear in a mock version of an ad for bodybuilder Charles Atlas, and Roger Daltrey sitting in a tub of Heinz Baked Beans. Daltrey later claims to have contracted pneumonia after the photo session, as the beans had been partial frozen before being put in the bathtub. Original pressings of the album include a short instrumental cut in the runout groove. The first 1,000 copies of the original stereo and first 500 mono copies of the UK LP come packaged with a psychedelic poster of a butterfly, painted by artist Adrian George, with the LP jackets affixed with a hype sticker noting the poster’s inclusion. The art had originally been intended as the albums’ cover art, but is rejected. The rarity of these initial pressings have resulted in copies selling in recent years for more than $1,000 each or more on the collector’s market. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1995 with ten additional bonus tracks including outtakes not included in the original release. It is reissued again in 2009 as a two CD Deluxe Edition featuring the original mono and stereo versions of the album, with twenty eight bonus tracks. The album is also reissued numerous times on vinyl, with the original mono mix being reissued in 2012, including the rare original poster. The stereo vinyl LP with the poster follows in 2015. “The Who Sell Out” peaks at number thirteen on the UK album chart, and number forty eight on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: December 14, 1999 – Paul McCartney performs at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, UK. Staged in part to promote his rock & roll covers album “Run Devil Run”, the intimate live show is McCartney’s first performance at the legendary venue since The Beatles last played there in 1963, and is his first public performance since the passing of his wife Linda in 1998. He is backed by a band that includes Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, guitarist Mick Green, Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, and keyboardist Pete Wingfield. The show is first broadcast on PBS, and is later released on video as “Paul McCartney Live At The Cavern Club” on June 19, 2001.
On this day in music history: December 14, 1980 – A ten minute worldwide silent vigil is held for John Lennon at 2 pm EST, at the request of Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono. More than 100,000 people attend the vigil in Central Park in New York City across the street from the Lennon’s apartment at The Dakota on Central Park West. Over 30,000 people attend the vigil in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool, UK. On October 9, 1985 (what would have been John Lennon’s 45th Birthday), a memorial is dedicated at the entrance to Central Park at Central Park West and 72nd Street, the same location where the 1980 silent vigil takes place. Named “Strawberry Fields”, the 2.5 acre site designed by Central Park’s chief landscape architect Bruce Kelly includes a circular mosaic with the word “IMAGINE” placed directly in the center. The memorial serves as a meeting place for annual tributes and remembrances of Lennon on his birthday and on the day of his passing.
On this day in music history: December 14, 1979 – “London Calling” the third album by The Clash is released in the UK (US release is in January 1980). Produced by Guy Stevens and Mick Jones, it is recorded at Wessex Sound Studios in London from August – September and November 1979. The album demonstrates the bands’ ever widening musical influences and touch on numerous social issues affecting the UK at the time including unemployment, racial conflict and class inequality. The albums’ iconic cover artwork features a photo (taken by photographer Pennie Smith) of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision bass on stage at The Palladium in New York City. The title graphics on the cover pay homage to Elvis Presley’s 1956 debut album which also features the same typography design. The remnants of Simonon’s smashed bass are on display at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland, OH. It spins off three singles including the classics “Train In Vain (Stand By Me)” (#23 Pop) and the title track. With “Train” being a last minute addition, initial pressings do not list the track on the back of the album or on the labels. Subsequent re-pressings correct this oversight. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1999, with original double LP being reissued on 180 gram vinyl in 2013. “London Calling” peaks at number nine on the UK album chart, number twenty seven on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 12, 1980 – “Sandinista!”, the fourth album by The Clash is released. Produced by Mikey Dread and The Clash, it is recorded at Pluto Studios in Manchester, UK in February 1980, The Power Station in New York City in March 1980, Electric Lady Studios in New York City from March – April 1980, Channel One Studios in Kingston, Jamaica in May 1980 and Wessex Studios in London in August 1980. The thirty-six track, triple LP set is one of the bands’ most musically diverse to date, exploring R&B, rap, reggae, dub, and rockabilly to name a few. CBS Records initially balks at releasing the sprawling package, so The Clash have to agree to take a cut in royalties for it to be released intact and at a low price. It includes some of their best known songs including their cover of The Equals’ “Police On My Back”, “Career Opportunities” and the band penned “The Magnificent Seven” (#34 UK, #21 US Club Play). The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 1999, including a limited UK only release of the LP. In 2013, it is reissued on vinyl in the US as a 180 gram three LP pressing, replicating the original packaging. “Sandinista!” peaks at number nineteen on the UK album chart, number twenty four on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 12, 1969 – “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum is released. Written by Norman Greenbaum, it is the fourth single release and biggest hit for the singer and songwriter from Malden, MA. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family in New England, Norman Greenbaum becomes interested in folk and blues music. He studies music at Boston University, before dropping out in 1965. He joins Dr. West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band, landing their lone hit with “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago” (#52 Pop) in December of 1966. The band’s tenure is short lived, and Greenbaum begins his solo career in 1968. He signs with Reprise Records and is paired with producer Erik Jacobsen, best known for his work with The Lovin’ Spoonful. Settling in Northern California in Santa Rosa, Greenbaum works on songs for his first album. The inspiration for what becomes his biggest hit comes from an unlikely source. A fan of country music star Porter Wagoner, Norman sees Wagoner on his TV show, singing a song “about a preacher”. Though born into the Jewish faith, Wagoner’s performance inspires Greenbaum to write a song with its main theme centering around Christianity. It takes him only fifteen minutes to write the lyrics, to what becomes “Spirit In The Sky”. The final arrangement comes together while recording at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco, CA. The other musicians include Russell DaShiell (guitar) and Doug Killmer (bass) from the band Crowfoot, and Sopwith Camel drummer Norman Mayell. The backing vocals on “Spirit” are sung by the Oakland, CA gospel trio The Stovall Sisters. Initially, Reprise is reluctant to release it as a single, due to its nearly four minute length and for its lyrics. Eventually, they release it, but the single isn’t an immediate hit, slowly gaining airplay in its first six weeks of release. Finally it hits the charts at end of February 1970. Entering the Hot 100 at #64 on February 28, 1970, it peaks at #3 seven weeks later on April 18, 1970. “Spirit” holds its peak position for three weeks, unable to move past The Jackson 5’s “ABC” or The Beatles’ “Let It Be”. “Spirit in The Sky” is also a huge hit internationally, hitting #1 in Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany and Australia. In spite of scoring a huge worldwide hit, Norman Greenbaum is dropped by Reprise in 1972. He leaves the music business to work in a restaurant, and as a dairy farmer. Greenbaum’s fortunes turn around in the mid 80’s, when the UK pop group Dr. And The Medics cover “Spirit In The Sky”, taking it to #1 on the UK singles chart. Greenbaum’s original recording also begins being used in numerous films including “Maid To Order”, “Oceans 11”, “Apollo 13” and “Guardians Of The Galaxy”. The song enjoys enduring popularity, and continues to be played regularly on oldies radio. “Spirit In The Sky” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 11, 1970 – “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band”, the debut solo album by John Lennon is released. Produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono & Phil Spector, it is recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and Ascot Sound Studios at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot, Berkshire, UK from September 26 – October 23, 1970. Much of the material on the album is influenced by the Primal Scream therapy sessions Lennon and Ono participate in with Dr. Arthur Janov (earlier in 1970), dealing with the emotional and childhood traumas both have suffered. The sessions result in some of the most deeply personal and affecting material Lennon has ever written. The album features Lennon, bassist Klaus Voorman and former Beatle band mate Ringo Starr on drums as the core rhythm section, with co-producer Spector and Billy Preston also playing keyboards on one track each. It receives rapturous critical praise upon its release and is considered a landmark recording in Lennon’s career. The album is remastered three times on CD, with the 2000 release featuring the album remixed from the original multi-track tapes adding “Power to the People”, and “Do the Oz” as bonus tracks. A 2003 CD and vinyl LP reissue by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab uses the remixed version of the album. Another remaster is issued in 2010 using the original stereo master mix down masters. It is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP in 2015, as part of EMI/UMe’s Back To Black reissue series. The reissue replicates the original album artwork, custom record labels and lyric sheet inner sleeve. “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” peaks at number six on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 10, 1976 – “A Day At The Races”, the fifth album by Queen is released (US release is on December 17, 1976). produced by Queen, it is recorded at The Manor Studios in Shipton-On-Cherwell, Oxfordshire, UK, Sarm East Studios, Wessex Studios and Advision Studios in London from July – September 1976. When the tour in support of “A Night At The Opera” ends in April of 1976, Queen return home to the UK to take a brief rest before beginning work on their next album. Having created their first true masterpiece with their previous release, the band look to craft a sequel to “Opera”. Also taking its title from another Marx Brothers comedy classic, “A Day At The Races” continues to embrace the musical excess and grandeur that trademarks of Queen’s sound. One major difference is the band take the opportunity to seize the production reigns rather than working with producer Roy Thomas Baker. Though all four members of the band contribute songs to the project, the album is largely dominated by Freddie Mercury and Brian May’s songs. Inspired by the use of the multi-tracked vocal harmonies that made “Bohemian Rhapsody” an instant classic, Mercury uses the technique to great effect on the tracks “You Take My Breath Away” and the album’s gospel flavored first single “Somebody To Love” (#2 UK, #13 US Pop). Inspired by R&B icon Aretha Franklin, Mercury, May and Taylor record layers of multi-tracked vocals to replicate the sound of a 100 voice choir. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is followed by the hard rocking “Tie Your Mother Down” (#31 UK, #49 US Pop) written by Brian May, becoming another highlight of Queen’s live performances over the years. Other highlights include “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy”, “White Man” and “The Millionaire Waltz”. Also in keeping with the idea of “Races” being a thematic sequel to “Opera”, it is packaged with similar cover artwork. It features matching typography, but with a black background rather than the stark white used on the previous album. Well received by the public upon its release, Queen immediately follow it with another extensive tour, kicking off with dates in US and Canada from January to March of 1977 before going to Europe in May and June. First issued on CD in 1986, it is remastered and reissued in 1991 with two bonus tracks. It is also reissued briefly on vinyl as part of EMI Records’ Millennium Vinyl Collection series. It is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2008, followed by new CD remaster in 2011 with five additional bonus tracks. The album is most recently reissued on vinyl in 2015. “A Day At The Races” spends one week at number one on the UK album chart, peaking at number five on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day music history: December 10, 1976 – “Wings Over America”, the sixth album by Wings is released. Produced by Paul McCartney, it is recorded in Various Locations from May – June 1976. The band’s only officially issued live album, the twenty-eight track triple LP set (issued in a gatefold sleeve with custom art labels and a double sided poster) is released in response to a three LP bootleg album titled “Wings From The Wings” taken from their performance at The Forum in Inglewood, CA on June 23, 1976. The set is originally conceived as a double album but is expanded to three to reflect the complete concert. The album is a critical and commercial success upon its release, but is the subject of some controversy among fans when it is later revealed that some post production overdubs were done to the otherwise fully live recordings. “Wings Over America” makes its CD debut in 1984 while McCartney is signed to Columbia Records. This edition only remains in print for a brief period before he re-signs with Capitol Records in 1985, taking his catalog with him. The Columbia CD pressing becomes a heavily sought after collector’s item among fans, due to its limited availability. In May of 2013, the album is reissued as a remastered two CD edition, three LP set, and three CD + DVD archival boxed edition (including an eight track CD featuring selections from a Wings concert recorded at The Cow Palace in San Francisco, CA). “Wings Over America” spends one week at number one on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.