Musings On Music History: Def Leppard Goes Through Some Changes, We Lose A Music Giant, and The Sex Pistols Trek Across America

12.31: Okay, let’s go back in the Way Back Machine. We’re going back to the early ‘80s, a time before the fandangled interweb thingamajiggy, upon which you find yourself this very second, a time when, compared to now, the music business seemed small, almost quaint. It was before the rise of alternative rock, before the term “hip-hop” entered the lexicon and most people just called it “rap music,” before MySpace and YouTube, a time when you owned a record player, a boom box, or were still relegated to Super 8s (look it up). Michael Jackson made people take notice for his music not his life and Madonna struggled to get her nascent name on the tips of everyone’s mind. In 1983, a little band from Sheffield, England, came out with an album called Pyromania and the world exploded in awesomeness. Def Leppard blended the metal of the previous decade (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest) with the melodic sense of theater that came from glam rock (David Bowie, T.Rex). Def Leppard owned the term “hard rock” in the ‘80s. Pyromania launched them into the stratosphere of popularity, on the propulsion of songs like “Photograph” and “Die Hard The Hunter.” Def Leppard tied themselves to the mast of the then-new MTV, as it sailed the musical seas, and they never looked back. Okay, what does this have to do with this day in rock history? Well, kiddoes, on this day in 1984, Rick Allen, Leppard’s shirtless drummer extraordinaire, flipped his car going around a corner at very, very high speeds and, in the ensuing crash, lost his arm. Well, he didn’t actually lose it. It was found in the field by paramedics. Ewww. They even reattached it. Okay, that’s cool. Then they sawed it off again due to infection. Double ewwww. Man, way to mess with a guy, doctor dudes. Kinda like the ol’ “I got yer nose” trick people play with kids, except they were doing it with a guy’s arm, and they weren’t pretending. Anyhoo, Allen didn’t give up the drumming gig and went on to help Def Leppard close out the ‘80s by drumming (with a special kit, of course) on Hysteria, the equally popular follow-up to Pyromania, which featured the best stripper song ever, “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”Man, we love that song. Thanks for not giving up on music, Rick. [more]

01.01: Okay, we know this is Hard Rock, and we know all that name entails, but today is the anniversary of an immensely sad day in the history of music. This day in 1954, Hank Williams, Sr., one of the original outlaws of country music, overdosed in the back of a car on the way to his next gig. All of 29 (!?), it again hits home, to this day, that the candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. Like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding in the genre of soul or Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain in the genre of rock, Williams’ shadow falls long and hard over the genre of country and western. If you don’t know about him or are one of those people that say you like all music, “except country,” then you need to do some research, pick up one of Hank Williams’ albums or compilations, and listen. Listen to the lyrics, most of all. This was a man who lived a hard life, through the Great Depression and his own self-induced problems, who knew the pain that can encompass life, and came out of it with an amazing voice, an intense perspective, and something to say. His lyrics were dark and wouldn’t be out of place in a Trent Reznor song. Man, wouldn’t that be awesome. Nine Inch Nails covering “Cold Cold Heart.” That he died before his time doesn’t belie the fact that his straightforward, no bull way of singing and performing influenced many in country, rock, soul, and every genre (whether they know it or not). R.I.P., Hank. You died too soon, but we’re grateful for what you left behind.

01.02: On this day in 1978, Ozzy Osbourne rejoined Black Sabbath. Wait, what? When did Ozzy leave Black Sabbath? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? We’ve got the answer to that conundrum, kids, so fear not. You’ll be sleeping well tonight in the knowledge that Ozzy had left the band in fall of ’77, tired of the whole band thing, tired of the routine. He just wanted his own routine. You know, sleeping late, drinking all day, getting high on goofballs all night. Ah, the life of a rock star. So, Ozzy took off for a couple of months, leaving the other guys in the studio without a singer. Bummer. What to do? Well, they hired another singer and got to work writing an album. Of course, when Ozzy showed back up on their doorstep a few months later, they got rid of the interim singer they’d hired in his stead and let Ozzie back in the band. Over the next five months, they recorded their seventh album, Never Say Die!, which was fairly well received in the U.K. and pretty much landed with a thud in the U.S. The band officially fired Ozzy a year later, after the poor album performance, the escalation of Ozzy’s every-increasing addictions, and a lazy world tour, during which a new band of hard rocking kids opening for them, somebody called Van Halen, showed up Sabbath up at every stop. Don’t worry about Ozzy or the guys, though. Ozzy went on to amazing solo success (thanks to his new guitar player, the incredible Randy Rhoads), and Sabbath took a new singer and a new direction when the Hobbit of heavy metal, Ronnie James Dio, joined the band and they put out the phenomonal Heaven and Hell. Ah, we love a happy ending.

01.04: If you were in Decatur, Georgia, on this day in 1960, you could’ve been witness to the birth of, inarguably, as far as we’re concerned, the godfather of alternative rock, Michael Stipe, lead singer of the insanely influential and still amazing R.E.M. We know we make a lot of hyperbolic statements here, that we’re prone to hagiography sometimes, but this is for real, people. With the decline of punk’s initial outburst into the mainstream, and it’s redirection back underground, something new emerged, something which retained the emotion of said punks, yet delved much further into the psyche, plumbed more complex depths, and was versed enough in music to use more than three chords. Talking Heads and Patti Smith were both lumped into the punk category, but they weren’t. They were the beginnings, the first breaths of what would become alternative rock in the ‘80s. Michael Stipe and R.E.M. would take up what these bands started and bring it to the world, themselves influencing everyone from Nirvana to Sonic Youth, from Death Cab For Cutie to The Killers. Michael Stipe’s mumble-mouthed lyrics and the band’s amazingly multifaceted pop instrumentation propelled R.E.M. to the forefront of alternative rock and to the top of the charts. That they never sacrificed their beliefs or their music at the alter of popularity and mainstream success further cements their stature in our minds, puts them a little further up on that pedastal upon which we’ve place them. That they truly deserve all their success doesn’t surprise us in the least. Happy birthday, Michael. Come to Orlando!

01.05: On this day in 1998, Sonny Bono died from a freakin’ skiing accident. A skiing accident?! One of the biggest personalities of the ‘60s and ‘70s, a U.S. Senator, for heaven’s sake, taken out by a tree on his way down a hill! He was 62. His wife, Mary, claimed that Sonny’s addiction to painkillers directly led him to smooching a tree at thirty miles-an-hour, but the coroner only found trace amounts of Vicodin in his system, not nearly enough to impair judgment or motor functions. What’s our theory about his death? Ents.

01.05: The Sex Pistols began their one and only trek across the New World on this day in 1978. Their tour of America proved to be that proverbial straw, that nail in the coffin, the end of a seminal punk band. Fraught with in-fighting, Sid’s escalating antics (fights, drugs, midnight searches for drugs, more fights, emergency room visits, carving messages in his chest with a razor, etc.), Johnny’s horrid flu, their manager intentionally booking them into “redneck” bars to heighten the hostility between band and audience, and general antipathy toward the band and the tour by the members of the band, their American tour tore them apart, culminating in Johnny Rotten announcing the band’s ignominious end on Jan. 18, just 13 days after the start of the tour. Sid Vicious (whose myth has proven much larger than his talent ever was) would be dead a little over a year from then, Rotten would revert to his given name, John Lydon, and form Public Image Ltd. a month from then, and the other guys in the band, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, went on to various gigs of their own. The surviving members would come together again on different occasions, for reunion tours and such, but nothing, ever, could hold the power of those days in the late ’70s, those days crossing the States in search of something, in search of life, maybe, in search of redemption for all the hard work they’d put in. The Sex Pistol’s influence on the world of rock and punk and performance can never be overstated. They came and went with the quickness of a rabid monkey in the night, but they’ll never be forgotten, no matter (or maybe because of) how much Johnny Rotten rants and raves.