History Lesson: Meet Your Destiny

August 1, 1971: George Harrison presents the Concert for Bangla Desh at Madison Square Garden in New York. Guests include Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, and Ravi Shankar. On the same day, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour premieres on CBS. You can look it up–in the 1970s, after a musical act got a network TV show, their ability to score hits largely disappeared. It happened to Sonny and Cher, to Tony Orlando and Dawn, to Roy Clark after signing to host Hee Haw, to the Captain and Tennille. It even happened to the Starland Vocal Band, who landed a short-lived TV show in the summer of 1977, although their hits had dried up already by then.

August 1, 1960: Aretha Franklin records her first sides for Columbia Records. The standard interpretation of her five Columbia years is that the label wasted Aretha’s talent by making her record show tunes with orchestra backing in an attempt to turn her into an entertainer in the Judy Garland mold. (One of the songs recorded on her first session was “Over the Rainbow.”) Here and there, however, flashes of her later style were audible–although she didn’t meet her destiny until she met producer Jerry Wexler at Muscle Shoals in 1966.

Birthdays Today:
Robert Cray is 52. Strong Persuader was his biggest hit in the United States, but he’s been turning out consistently good albums ever since. No need to shave before hearing him play–his licks are sharp enough to do it for you.

Tommy Bolin would be 54 today, had he not overdosed on heroin in 1976. Bolin was briefly a member of Deep Purple and the James Gang, and recorded a legendary solo album, Private Eyes, shortly before his death. The album features “Bustin’ Out for Rosey” and “Post Toastee,” both college-radio favorites back in my college-radio days. Bolin was a native of that noted rock-and-roll hotbed, Sioux City, Iowa.

Jerry Garcia would be 63 today, had he not died of being Jerry Garcia in 1995.

Number One Songs on This Date:
1988: “Roll With It”/Steve Winwood.
In one of the last spasms of good taste by American record buyers, this actually ended up as the Number One song for the entire year 1988. It’s easily the ass-kickin’est of Winwood’s solo hits.

1987: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”/U2. Even though I was playing elevator music on the radio in 1987, I went out and bought The Joshua Tree, more in an attempt to assure myself that I was still cool than for the music itself. This tune rewarded the investment.

1975: “The Hustle”/Van McCoy. You did it. Admit it.

1964: “A Hard Day’s Night”/Beatles. There’s lots to recommend this as their greatest single ever–the perfectly in-character wordplay of the title, for one thing, and that magnificent opening chord, which is the single most exciting moment in rock history, and so complex that musicologists actually argue over its structure.

1903: “Come Down, Ma Ev’ning Star”/Henry Burr. Burr was the top ballad singer of the pioneer era of recording (1890-1930), with 116 hits under his own name and dozens more with other singers and major groups of the era. “Come Down, Ma Ev’ning Star” was his first major hit, recorded when he was 18 years old. In all, he’s believed to have appeared on over 12,000 different recordings–more than any other performer in history.

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