Musings On Music History: Birthdays Galore, The Passing Of A Blues Legend, and Some Odds & Ends (Mostly Odds)

06.17: One of the rockinest rockers ever to rock the airwaves rocked his way into the world on this day in 1946. Take a guess. We’ll give you a couple of hints. He plays piano. His first name is a homonym for something you might find in a parfait. One of his biggest hits is a girl’s name. If you guessed Barry Manilow, you’re a winner! Yeah, we kinda threw you off with the whole “rockinest rocker” bit, but Mr. Manilow really is a one-of-a-kind talent. Maybe not rockinest, exactly, but talented nonetheless. Believe it or not, Barry got his start as the piano player for the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler, at Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in NYC, in the early ’70s (which, btw, had an incredible array of musicians grace its stage over the years). From there he took over adult contemporary radio with the #1 “Mandy” (the aforementioned biggest hit and first of thirteen #1s), from his second album, Barry Manilow II. Yeah, Barry gets the dirty end of the stick from a lot listeners and critics, but anyone who got their start alongside The Divine Miss M, who absolutely ruled his particular idiom, without whom Arista would not have existed, who is just a downright cool guy is cool with us. Happy B-Day, Barry. You rock in our book, always.

06.17: Madonna informed the television show 20/20, on this day in 2004, she was changing her name to Esther to “attach (her)self to the energy of a different name.” Sounds reasonable. How’d that work out for ya, Esther? We mean, since that day, all anyone can ever talk about is “Esther” this and “Esther” that and “I saw Esther in concert last night and she was amazing!” Right? [more]

06.19: It’s not always easy to help the children. On this day in 2006, The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft barged into a youth club demanding to work with children. His verbal application was denied for some reason. Odd. You mean you can’t barge into a youth center acting like a crazy person demanding to be with children? Weird. We thought that would be totally appropriate. Some people suspect alcohol and/or drugs may have been the impetus for Richard, others think he just wanted to give back to the world. We’re not sure what to think, but we might look to a few Verve song titles for clues: “The Drugs Don’t Work,” “Stormy Clouds,” and “Valium Skies” come to mind. Or not.

06.20: The births of many a musician occured on this day. First up is Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson (seriously, we know it’s de rigueur to shower praise on Pet Sounds, but Brian Wilson’s insanse work ethic brought out the amazing in the whole group), born in 1942. Next, Lionel Richie didn’t dance on the ceiling at first, but that didn’t come too long after his birth on this day in 1949. Next, the scrubbed-from-Van-Halen-history (for real, they tried to replace him on the album art for Van Halen with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang) bass player Michael Anthony took the stage for the first time on this day in 1954. Finally, Duran Duran’s bassist extraordinaire, John Taylor, slapped his way into this world and, eventually, onto the world stage on this day in 1960. “Girls On Film” just wouldn’t be the same without his slappy hands.

06.21: On this day in 2001, the incredible boogie and blues legend, John Lee Hooker, passed away. He was 80. From his early days singing spirituals in Mississippi to rocking Hastings Street in Detroit in the late 1940s, from influencing early British invasion bands like The Animals to The Yardbirds (who, themselves, became very influential) to his resurgence in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, Hooker’s monumental stature in both the blues and rock is something to behold. Pick up a collection of his early works or access his magic through one of the numerous recorded live sets, and you will not be dissapointed.

06.21: Pumpkin reunited? Billy Corgan sure hoped so on this day in 2005. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman took out full-page advertisements in two newspapers stating, “I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams.” Looks like they got the message. The band reunited in 2007. Well, Billy reunited with Jimmy Chamberlin, the drummer. Bass player D’arcy and lead guitar James Iha wanted nothing to do with the band anymore, which hadn’t had any kind of democratic input (and really not even then) since their first, and arguably greatest, album, Gish. Chamberlin lasted almost four years, until 2009, when he, again, split with Corgan, saying, “I can no longer commit all of my energy into something that I don’t fully possess.” Take that as you will. We love Smashing Pumpkins, but the band could just as easily be called The Billy Corgan Band or Billy’s Band or something like that because it’s never been anything more than a vehicle for Billy’s amazing, and narcissistic, musical tendencies.

06.22: Cyndi Lauper’s mom just wanted to have fun, but, instead, had a natural child birth on this day in 1953. Cyndi’s had fun since then, though.

06.22: On this day in 1981, Mark David Chapman plead guilty to murdering John Lennon. To this day, this is the one rock ‘n’ roll death we wholly wish we could go back in time to prevent. Lennon’s death, unlike those of so many of his overdosing ’60s compatriots, made no sense, whatsoever. Having just released, three weeks prior to his death, the monumental and breathtaking Double Fantasy, Lennon seemed ready to retake the rock world, to show everyone why his voice needed to be heard yet again. Mark David Chapman’s insanity saw to it that we would never have this. We sincerely hope he’s never released from Attica prison.