Musings On Music History: Singer & Songwriter, Beatle & Photographer, Pumpkin & Rock ‘N’ Roll

03.12: Who does the phrase “singer/songwriter” make you think of? Bards wandering the English countryside, singing tales of yore and adventure? Itinerant musicians going from dustbowl town to dustbowl town during the Great Depression, singing for their supper, spinning tales of despair and loneliness? Yeah, us neither. To us a singer-songwriter is someone like Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and our good friend James Taylor, who, coincidentally enough, is celebrating a birthday this week. Born in Boston on this day in 1948, Taylor went on to become the most sensitive of all the sensitive singer-songwriters, sensitively singing sensitive songs, such as Fire & Rain” and Carol King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” Taylor was to the ’70s singer/songwriter what Lil’ Wayne is to the ’00s rapper. That is, ubiquitous, über-talented and on top of his game (though not doing time for illegal gun possession). Happy Birthday, Sweet Baby James!

03.12: On this day in 1969 Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman at Marylebone Registry office in London. And so began one of the great rock ‘n’ roll marriages. She, the incredible photographer, and he, one of the biggest musicians on the planet, joined forces and became romantically, financially, and spiritually entwined. Bucking the rock ‘n’ roll trend, from then and now, of short marriages, spotted with ego problems and infidelity, Paul and Linda were one in the same for nearly three decades, until her death at the much-too-young age of 56 from breast cancer. A devastating end to one of the most enduring loves in rock. We like to look to the happy times, though. [more]

03.12: U2 scored their first #1 album in the UK on this day in 1983, with their first openly political set of songs, the phenomenal War. Since then, they’ve scored eight additional #1 albums in the UK. (Strangely, maybe it’s just us, they didn’t have a #1 album in their home country of Ireland until 2000’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Weird, right?) Highlighted by the iconic and amazing “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” and “Two Hearts Beat As One,” War heralded a new U2, moving them confidently toward a worldwide audience and the stardom that would soon be theirs. Indeed, almost 26 years to the day, U2 scored their latest #1 album with the release of No Line On The Horizon, their seventh #1 album in the U.S. and their ninth #1 album in the UK. Overall, they guys have sold over 145 million albums and won 22 GRAMMYs. Whoa! We love Bono, The Edge (what a great name), Larry Mullen, and Adam Clayton. The fact that they’ve been doing their thing for so long, together, evolving and morphing along the way to the times and to their whims, proves that they, like so few bands and performers then and now, have it. We hold U2 in the highest regard, almost as high as the true greats. You know, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and Spinal Tap. If any band deserves to be at the right hand of The Beatles, we say that band deserves to be U2. Great job, guys, all the way around.

03.15: Beware the Ides of March.

03.16: On this day in 1972 John Lennon and Yoko Ono were served with deportation papers. In February of that year, Senator Strom Thurmond wrote a memo urging for Lennon’s deportation. His previous drug arrest was cited as one of many reasons, but, really, his anti-war stance against the conflict in Vietnam and his support of Richard Nixon’s opponent in the ’72 election, George McGovern, are what really set the government’s sights on him. Lennon’s fight to stay in the U.S., and his beloved adopted home of NYC, took the better part of four years, but, finally, in 1975 his deportation was overturned and he was granted a green card in 1976.

03.17: On this day in 1967, the great pumpkin arrived. Billy Corgan was born in Chicago. What an enigma, this Billy Corgan. From the moment Smashing Pumpkins released their sonically drenched first album, 1991’s Gish, they became the darlings of alternative rock, despite Billy’s obvious love of ’70s prog-ish arena rock, glam rock, pop, and psychedelic experimentation. Over the course of five albums, Billy led the other original members of the band through a wonderland of music, from gorgeous pop to eerie electronic, from orchestral experimentation to straight-up, guitar-laden rock and roll. Billy wrote and played almost every lyric and instrument on every album, maintaining a Svengali-like control of everything Smashing Pumpkins. Maybe that’s why the other “members” of the band eventually took off, one by one, never looking back, following the release of Machina/The Machines of God, the second critical and popular disappointment in a row, after the underappreciated Adore. These days, Billy just ponders the meaning of life, wondering why the new world of rock ‘n’ roll hipsters has summarily rejected his alt-rock cred, but he seems really grounded, if not in reality, then in himself, which is more than some veteran rockers can say these days.  

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