Musings On Music History: A Bittersweet #1, A Van Halen Double Play, and “We Are The World”

01.23: On this day in 1953, Robin Zander, lead singer of the cheapest trick in all the land, Cheap Trick, was born. Actually, they’re not that cheap. They owned the airwaves in 1979, with their still very catchy, and somewhat pleading, song “I Want You To Want Me.” You’ve heard it, you know it, you love it. Admit it, you’ve actually tried to pick up someone with that song, singing it as you pass them in the hallway at school or the office, hoping they’d pick up on your awesomeness. No? Just us? Oh, well, that doesn’t diminish our love for Cheap Trick, for their late ’70s porn-stache, their wavy and pretty hair, and their general disregard, even for the times, of all things cool. We think that’s why we like them so much. Cuz they just don’t care. All they want is for you to want them. That’s what we all just want, though, isn’t it?

01.25: Mark Wahlberg felt the wrath of litigious action on this day in 1994. Why is Mark Wahlberg in the Musings, you might wonder? Well, before his days as a movie star, he lived the life of a pop star, as the remarkably untalented Marky Mark. Remember? Yeah, we try to forget, too, but those sounds and images are burned into our brains, stained on our retinas forever. He had the hit song “Come On, Come On, Feel It, Feel It” (or something like that) and the other hit song that was a cover/redux of a much, much, much better Lou Reed song. Why’d you let him do it, Lou? Being the younger brother of one of the New Kids On The Block didn’t hurt Marky Mark’s career, as he opened for said boy band on their 1991 tour, helping to rocket his debut record, featuring his group The Funky Bunch, to the top of the charts. Which brings us to this day in 1994, when a woman claimed that she suffered injuries after being trampled at one of his shows, right after Marky had pulled down his pants, showed off his Calvin Klein tighty whities, and incited the prepubescent and disturbingly not-so-prepubescent crowd to rush the stage. We’re really not sure whatever became of this lawsuit, but we don’t think we’ll ever forgive God or Lou Reed for unleashing (or this day for reminding us of) the “hip-hop” “stylings” of Marky Mark. Damn, now we can’t get that song out of our head. BTW, whatever happened to The Funky Bunch? Come on, come on, feel it, feel it, Good Vibrations… [more]

01.26: This day, 1957, saw the birth of one of the greatest guitar players ever to wander the planet, Kung Fu-style (man, we love that show), helping those in need, in their hour of rock ‘n’ roll desperation, ready to kick some audio-butt when the need arises, ready to rock at the drop of a mullet. We’ll give you a hint as to who this mystery guitarist is. His last name is also the name of his band. Take a guess. We’ll wait. Nelson? Wrong! Winger? Wrong! Toto? Awesome group, but, huh? Okay, in case you haven’t guessed it yet, Eddie Van Halen celebrates his 57th b-day today and we are totally, insanely in love with his finger work. Wait. That didn’t sound right. Eddie took guitar playing out of the ’70s and into the ’80s, playing his instrument in ways people didn’t even know possible, setting the bar higher than most people could even see. Yes, we love Eddie’s guitar playing, his contributions to rock, hard rock, specifically, and the legend that is Van Halen. From the eponymous Van Halen to the synthesizer-laden 1984 to the recent reunion tour, Van Halen has proven to be a powerhouse in the world of music again and again and again. And don’t forget Eddie’s solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” which stands the test of guitar-time and stands up to the best of the best, any way you look at it.

01.27: “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” became Otis Redding’s one and only #1 hit, entering the charts on this day in 1968, just a little over a month-and-a-half after he died in a plane crash at the age of 26 (which still blows our mind and makes us sad). Now, get ready for some learnin’, kids. Otis actually wrote the bulk of the song while he was staying on a houseboat – in a bay! Richardson Bay to be exact, in-between the beautiful California towns of Sausalito and Strawberry (sounds like a ’70s disco duo). The song departed from Otis’ deep soul style, flirting with more pop sensibilities, inspired and influenced by The Beatles, allowing his writing partner, Steve Cooper, to pen more personal lyrics. Before Otis’ death, they’d planned on recording the last verse, for which lyrics still needed to be written, but which is held now and forever in place with that insanely awesome whistle solo, and adding a horn section or backup vocals by The Staple Singers. These things, of course, never happened. Those plans ended in a cold lake in Wisconsin, two days after the song’s recording. This is one of those things that just make us sit up and reflect on not only the nature and frailty of life, but also the beauty of which life is capable, the amazing ability of people to produce lasting art and have that art affect generations. This is Otis. This is his legacy. If “Dock Of The Bay” is your in, then you should take it because to explore Otis’ catalog is to explore the history and vitality of not only soul music, but music itself.

01.28: Tying back in to Mr. Van Halen’s b-day two days prior, this day in 1984 saw Van Halen’s 1984 hit the album charts for an impressive run of rock popularity, churning out hits such as “Jump,” “Panama,” and “Hot For Teacher,” which itself spawned one of the best videos ever to impress impressionable young men everywhere (it doesn’t hurt that the song absolutely shreds). Quite a week for the then-recently-turned-27-Eddie and the rest of the guys. 1984 turned out to be one of their most popular albums, both critically and commercially, yet also turned out to be the last recorded with Diamond David Lee Roth. Every album after this one held the Van Halen moniker, but we consider them to be either slightly palatable (the Van Hagar years) or just complete crap (check out the Gary Cherone years, if you don’t believe us). Though they’ve redeemed themselves recently with the reunion tour, nothing can ever go back to the good ‘ol days, but that’s how it should be. There’s no going back, guys, but there will always be the fond memories and fuzzy feelings. And the “Hot For Teacher” video.

01.28: Before and after the American Music Awards on this day in 1985, a group of Super Friends gathered at the Hall of Justice to discuss what they needed to do to combat the evil Legion of Doom, and its evil influence upon third world countries. Ha! Fooled you! There’s no such thing as the American Music Awards. Alright, enough messing around. On this day in 1985, a heretofore unheard of supergroup got together for one night and one night only to record one of the schmaltziest songs ever to accomplish the contradictory task of melting our brains (not in a good way) and helping out starving children in Africa, specifically Ethiopia. “We Are The World” eventually hit #1 and raised, along with the adjoining Hands Across America (remember that? No? Ask your parents) event, over $100 million for people in need in Africa and in our own country. We remember very awkwardly slow-dancing to “We Are The World” at a dance in junior high, remember seeing it ad nauseum on MTV, and wish that its chorus weren’t burned into our brains until the day we die, but we are glad for the good it did and for the people it helped. One question to ask yourself, though, as you watch the video, is what the hell is Dan Aykroyd doing there? Yeah, we can’t figure it out, either. Come on, there’s Tina Tuner, Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Perry, and such a plethora of mid-’80s superstars that we do a triple double take when Aykroyd shows up (sandwiched in-between Lindsey Buckingham and Harry Belafonte). Yes, Ghostbusters was insanely popular at the time, but, by that logic, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson shoulda been there, too, singing for the kids. Come on, at least get Ray Parker, Jr. in there. Well, we guess Aykroyd was one of the Blues Brothers, but, really, all he did was provide a little baritone to John Belushi’s spastic stylings. We know that’s way off topic, but it’s one of those things that bounces through our head, so we just needed to release it. Thanks for listening and you should watch the “We Are The World” video right now (Aykroyd is at 4:18). You won’t regret it. Unless you don’t like having that chorus ring through your skull for the next week.

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