This Week In History - Oct. 1-7

By: David Ball

This Week In History - Oct. 1-7
Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs' "Stay" entered the US charts on October 2, 1960. It went on to become the shortest song to go to #1, clocking in at 1:37. Written by Williams in 1952, when he was just 15, the doo-wop/R&B single has sold nearly 10 million copies since its release. It still sounds good today, but it feels shorter than 1:37, unlike murderously long 3-4 minute singles unleashed by that skanky talentless banshee Ke$ha. 

One of music's brightest lights, Janis Joplin, was found dead in her LA apartment on October 4, 1970. She was 27. Joplin was the second big rock star to die in 1970 at the tender age of 27 (her peer, Jimi Hendrix, passed away just three weeks earlier). Soon-to-be-found-prematurely-dead-in-a-bathtub, Jim Morrison, joined the pair less than a year later (methinks Morrison welcomed death as a way of permanently avoiding stalker Ray Manzarek and his creepy man crush). We all know the pointlessness of these deaths since the trio were noted substance abusers, but Janis's overdose still rocked the music world. In a relatively short period of time, Joplin established herself as the greatest female rock singer of the ‘60s and a talented blues singer in her own right. Joplin's soul-inflected, scratchy, wailing and emotionally-wrenching voice made average songs great and great songs transcendent. She "did much to redefine the role of women in rock with her assertive, sexually forthright persona and raunchy, electrifying on-stage presence" (All Music Guide). Joplin was also one of the few women in rock that could more than hold her own with the era's big boys.

Joplin first rose to fame fronting the San Francisco psychedelic rock outfit, Big Brother & the Holding Company. Little fanfare greeted the 1967 release of the quintet's first studio LP, but later in the year they were booked to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival. We all know what happened next: Their stunning performance, in particular that of their mesmerizing lead singer, made the band stars virtually overnight. A year later, Big Brother & the Holding Company released their second (and last) collaboration with Joplin, Cheap Thrills; it`s regarded as one of the greatest albums of the 1960s. Seeking more creative control (and stardom), Joplin went solo not long after Cheap Thrills reached the top of the charts. Her first post-Big Brother effort, I Got Dem Dem ‘Ol Kosmic Blues Again Mama!, garnered the hit, "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)", but was a creative letdown (recorded with her new support group, Kozmic Blues Band). Although the native Texan battled many demons during her short life, including heroin addiction and alcoholism, her solo career began to take-off shortly before her death. She put together another talented new backing outfit, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and recorded Pearl in September of 1970. Released posthumously in 1971, Pearl (her nickname) is Joplin's most mature work, a masterful blend of blues, rock, soul and folk; its best-known single, "Me and Bobby McGee", became a #1 hit and is regarded as one of her signature songs.

Most music acts inevitably "jump the shark" at some point during their career, but Van Halen are in the small class that have jumped on multiple occasions (some other notables include Santana and Eric Clapton). Happy Days was never the same after the Fonz water-skied over a trapped shark, and Van Halen should've been fed to school of sharks on October 4, 1996, when they recruited ex-Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone to replace Sammy Hagar (Hagar represented the band's first shark-jump when he replaced the irreplaceable David Lee Roth in 1985). Perhaps only a surprise to Eddie and/or his brother Alex, Cherone's tenure in VH was a failure of biblical proportions. Thankfully, the once-great rock band produced ONLY one album with Cherone: 1998's dreck-loaded Van Halen III. Unfortunately, Van Halen and their new singer (best known for Extreme's hit, the thinly-veiled piece of misogyny and one of the worst power-ballads of the ‘90s, "More Than Words") took their new look and sound on a worldwide tour, featuring punishingly bad renditions of old favourites along with wretched new material, which led to mass audience shock, disappointment and a fair bit of wishful deafness... But at least Eddie's guitar sounded cool as it reverbed off row upon row of empty seats. Cherone was booted in 1999 and Hagar came back for a few years in the early 2000s, but he left for good in 2006, taking bassist Mike Anthony with him. As of 2006, David Lee has rejoined his old band mates with Eddie's son, Wolfgang, assuming bass duties. But where I'm sitting, Van Halen ain't Van Halen without Mike Anthony, so count this as yet another shark jump.

The first feature-length film with a soundtrack, The Jazz Singer, premiered in New York City on October 6, 1927. The movie featured the era's greatest entertainer, Al Jolson, dancing and singing, often in his trademark—and offensive—blackface. The Jazz Singer heralded the beginning of "talkies" and ushered in the decline of silent film. The plot found Jolson's character turning his back on his strict Jewish tradition in order to explore his love of jazz, so he creates the persona Jack Robin, a cabaret singer and dancer. The picture was a massive success and rescued the then struggling Warner Brothers, turning the studio into a major Hollywood movie-maker.

Next week: Led Zeppelin and Saturday Night Live


Video: "Cry Baby" by performed Janis Joplin and the Full Tilt Boogie Band

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