Black Sabbath

Ozzy Osbourne – circa 1970

“Satan’s coming ‘round the bend / People running ‘cause they’re scared” – [the song titled] ’Black Sabbath’ (Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward)

It is known as ‘the devil’s interval’.  In music theory, it is an augmented 4th or flatted 5th.  It is a sound that makes listeners uncomfortable.  The makers of scary movies have made use of it many times to produce a sinister atmosphere in a scene.  The same sound is also present in classical music compositions such as Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ and Wagner’s ‘Gotterdammerung’.  Perhaps most significantly, ‘the devil’s interval’ is ‘used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath.’  It is this creeping unease that is the defining characteristic of Black Sabbath’s sound.  Other heavy metal acts may have equalled them in volume or aggression, but Black Sabbath compositions are noted for the sheer dread they evoke.  Just as ‘the devil’s interval’ is familiar from scary movies, this British heavy metal band takes their name from a scary movie: ‘Black Sabbath’ (1963), directed by Mario Bava, a collection of three spooky stories, one of which stars Boris Karloff.

Probably the best known member of the band Black Sabbath is their long-time vocalist Ozzy Osbourne.  Let’s begin their story with him…

John Michael Osbourne is born 3 December 1948 in Aston, Birmingham, England.  He is the son of John (Jack) Osbourne and his wife, Lillian.  Jack Osbourne is a toolmaker at the General Electric Company.  Lillian Osbourne works in a factory.  “My mother was an amateur singer, my father was an amateur drunk,” recalls Ozzy.  “She was a Catholic, my mum, but she wasn’t religious.”  John (Ozzy) is the fourth of six children in the Osbourne family.  His siblings are Jean, Iris, Gillian, Paul and Tony.  The family lives at 14 Lodge Road, Aston and is so poor that there is no running water in the house.

John Osbourne is given the nickname ‘Ozzy’ at primary school; it’s a tag obviously derived from his surname, Osbourne.  Ozzy has a hard time at school.  His reading is poor and he is written off as ‘dumb’.  It is only later, after he grows up, that Ozzy learns he is dyslexic, has attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities.  Despondent, Ozzy attempts suicide several times while he is a teenager.  The troubled youth leaves school when he is 15 and drifts through a series of jobs: construction site labourer, trainee plumber, apprentice toolmaker, car factory horn tuner and slaughterhouse worker.  In the late 1960s, Ozzy Osbourne serves a six week prison term in Winson Green Prison for attempted burglary.  During his brief incarceration, the youth tattoos the letters ‘O-Z-Z-Y’ across his left knuckles and happy faces on his knees.

The thing that seems to relieve Ozzy Osbourne’s teens from total darkness is music.  At school, he appears on stage in plays and musicals.  Towards the end of his school years, Ozzy hears British band The Beatles for the first time.  “As soon as I heard [The Beatles’ 1963 single] ‘She Loves You’ on the radio, I knew I wanted to be a rock star for the rest of my life,” he testifies.  “The biggest thing in my life were The Beatles.”  Although in most accounts Ozzy repeats the importance of The Beatles, on at least one occasion, he points to a different inspiration: “’You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks…[when I heard that] I knew what I wanted.”  This 1964 single by another British band is seen by some as the forerunner of heavy metal and so may seem a more likely inspiration for the future vocalist of Black Sabbath than The Beatles’ more pop-oriented sound.  The mid-1960s rock scene in Britain is quite vibrant and the public is hungry for more.  Jack Osbourne notes his son’s interest.  He is also aware of the lad’s ‘failures at school’ and his ‘menial jobs’.  Jack Osbourne buys his son a microphone and amplifier so Ozzy can pursue his goal of singing rock music.  In 1967 Ozzy Osbourne forms his own band, a group called Rare Breed.  One of the other members of the band is Geezer Butler.

Terence Michael Joseph Butler is born 17 July 1949 in Aston, Birmingham, England.  He receives the nickname ‘Geezer’ when he is 8 years old.  “It was just a [British] slang term for a man…[like] ‘guy’ [or] ‘bloke’,” Butler explains.  “I used to call everybody geezer…and then eventually everybody started calling me Geezer.”  As a teenager, Geezer Butler is fascinated by Aleister Crowley, probably Britain’s most notorious occultist.  Although Butler will become known as the bassist for Black Sabbath, in Rare Breed he plays rhythm guitar instead.  Of the band’s vocalist, Geezer observes, “Ozzy is the craziest person I’ve ever met”…though perhaps that perception is based more on later experience than early impressions.

Rare Breed breaks up in August 1968.  Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler go on to form a new band.  Two of those who join this new outfit are Tony Iommi and Bill Ward.

Anthony Frank Iommi is born 19 February 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.  The surname is pronounced like the three words ‘eye-oh-me’ run together.  Tony Iommi is the only child of Anthony Iommi and his wife, Sylvia Iommi (nee Valenti), a pair of Italian immigrants.  Tony Iommi, Sr. is a carpenter and Sylvia Iommi is a shopkeeper.  The family home is in the Park Lane area of Aston, Birmingham.  Young Tony Iommi attends Birchfield Road School, the same school as Ozzy Osbourne.  Ozzy is almost a year younger than Tony and is in a lower grade so, although the two meet in their school days, they are not friends at the time.  Tony Iommi has a nasty fall when he is 8 or 9 years old that leaves him with a prominent scar on his lip.  Other children tease him and call him ‘Scarface’.  The trademark moustache Tony Iommi sports through his adult life is used to cover this scar.  “I hated school,” Tony recalls.  “I did what everybody did – get a job.”  Tony Iommi works briefly as a plumber, spends time in a factory that makes rings, and also is employed in a music store.

Like Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi makes it through his difficult early years by taking an interest in music.  He learns to play guitar.  “I went to one guitar lesson and that was it.  I couldn’t stand any more.  I felt I was playing better than what they were showing me at the time,” says Iommi.  “I felt better in learning myself.”  He recalls, “My early influences were The Shadows, who were an English instrumental band…I liked [guitarist Eric] Clapton when he was with [bluesman] John Mayall [April 1965 – July 1966].  I really liked that period.”  Tony Iommi’s first band is The Rockin’ Chevrolets (1964-1965).  From there he moves on to The Rest (1966-1967), where he first works with Bill Ward.

William Thomas Ward is born 5 May 1948 in Aston, Birmingham, England.  Bill Ward learns to play drums as a child.  When he works with Tony Iommi in The Rest, Ward both sings and plays drums.

At the time when The Rest start playing gigs, Tony Iommi is employed in a sheet metal factory.  In 1966, when he is 17 years old, Tony Iommi suffers a major setback.  “I used to do sheet metal work,” he states.  “The day I was leaving…from the job to turn professional [as a musician]…I was pressing this piece of metal that they used to have to weld afterwards and the press just came down on me and pulled the ends of the [middle and ring] fingers off [the right hand].”  At the time, it looks like the end of Tony Iommi’s career.  As a guitarist he was always left-handed, so his right hand is used to fret the notes on the guitar neck.  Hospitals at first claim prosthetic fingertips are impossible.  Iommi crafts his own prosthetics from plastic with leather on them to help grip the strings.  After six to seven months, he starts playing guitar again.  “You get used to it,” Iommi shrugs.

The Rest folds in 1967.  In January 1968 Tony Iommi forms a new band, Mythology.  In February 1968, Bill Ward – his former colleague from The Rest – joins the group.  Mythology soldiers on until July 1968 when they disband.

In 1968 Tony Iommi marries Susan Snowden.

Rare Breed (the group with Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler) breaks up in August 1968.  With Mythology (the group with Tony Iommi and Bill Ward) having split in July 1968, the four musicians come together in a new outfit.  Actually, at first there are six members.  Also present is Jimmy Phillips (slide guitar) and Alan ‘Aker’ Clarke (saxophone).  The six-piece band is named The Polka Tulk Blues Band.  After just two gigs, Phillips and Clarke exit and the band name is shortened to Polka Tulk.  In December 1968 the band name is changed to Earth.  In the same month, Tony Iommi is briefly lured over to ‘prog rockers’ Jethro Tull – for just one gig.  He swiftly re-joins Earth.  After a while, it comes to the attention of the quartet that there is a small-time English band called Earth so Ozzy and his mates in August 1969 rechristen themselves Black Sabbath, a name inspired by a 1963 horror movie.  The founding – and definitive – line-up is: Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums).

“I never picked up a bass before Sabbath started,” says Geezer Butler.  He was rhythm guitarist in Rare Breed but moves to bass because Tony Iommi doesn’t want another guitarist in the band.  For his new instrument, Butler claims his inspiration is, “Jack Bruce.  As soon as I saw him it changed me.  I didn’t even know what bass players did until I saw Cream.”  [Cream {July 1966-November 1968) is a British trio that includes not only Jack Bruce (bass) but Eric Clapton (guitar), whose earlier work Tony Iommi cited as an influence.]

Black Sabbath – along with Deep Purple (formed March 1968) and Led Zeppelin (formed August 1968) – is one of the bands that basically creates the music known as heavy metal.  The five main characteristics of heavy metal are: extreme volume, the supernatural, a sexist attitude, lengthy instrumental solos, and long hair.

Tony Iommi says, “We became so fed up with people talking while we were playing that we said, ‘Screw it, let’s turn it up, so they won’t be able to chatter.’  The band just kept getting louder and louder.”  Geezer Butler offers this view: “To me, Sabbath was always just a really heavy blues band…We just wanted to be heavier than everybody else.”

The songwriting in Black Sabbath is officially credited to the foursome of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward.  “Most of the composing was done by Geezer and myself,” claims Tony Iommi.  “Geezer wrote all the lyrics – or at least ninety per cent of them – and I had done the music.  Ozzy would come up with more the vocal melody…We’d jam about with a riff…Ozzy would sing a melody to it…and Geezer would come up with the words.”  Iommi says of the band’s music, “I do vibrato on chords…which makes it more full…I just wanted to make it as heavy as a I can…Geezer and Bill were quite unique in what they’re playin’…That whole style made Black Sabbath.”  Geezer Butler says of his bass playing, “I want it really distorted.”  The end result is what Ozzy Osbourne describes as, “This heavy doom sound.”

Ozzy Osbourne points out that, “Tony [Iommi] was the one who said, ‘Why don’t we start writing scary music?’  And I was like, [amiably], ‘Yeah, whatever,’ y’know?”  However, since it is Geezer Butler who pens the bulk of the lyrics [at least, according to Tony Iommi’s claim], it makes sense that the themes are drawn from his interests in Aleister Crowley and the occult, horror movies and science-fiction.  This is where the supernatural element comes into Black Sabbath, particularly in repeated references to the devil, Satan, Lucifer, etc.  “I’m not a Satanist.  I don’t worship the devil,” insists Ozzy – and the same would be true of Geezer.  It is imagery, not a literal invocation to the Prince of Darkness.  Sabbath has ‘lyrics expressing mental anguish and macabre fantasies,’ but this is born as much from Ozzy’s tormented teens (poverty, attempted suicide) and ‘the devil’ can be seen as merely symbolic of the world’s ills.

Black Sabbath is less inclined to sexist attitudes or lengthy solo in their work than some other heavy metal acts.  Those things may crop up, but not as defining features.  They certainly sport the long hair common to heavy metal bands but, as Ozzy Osbourne puts it, “Sabbath were a hippie band.  We were into peace.”  As one of heavy metal’s founding acts, they are old enough to share some ground with the hippies in terms of fashion sense and social goals…but Black Sabbath are darker, the heralds of the less idealistic 1970s.

The first single by Black Sabbath is ‘Evil Woman’.  This piece of sturdy riff-mongering with a rubbery bass is a cover version of a song by the U.S. band Crow from that group’s album ‘Crow Music’ (1969).  Black Sabbath’s take on ‘Evil Woman’ is released in January 1970 on the Fontana label, a subsidiary of Phillips Records.  After this, the band relocates to Vertigo (another Phillips subsidiary), which releases almost all their catalogue to come.  In the United States, Warner Brothers is Black Sabbath’s record label.

The debut album, ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970) (UK no. 8, US no. 23), is released on the spooky date of Friday the 13th of February.  The band’s first three albums are all produced by Roger Bain.  “We recorded our first album in twelve hours on the way to the ferry to go and do a residency at The Star Club in Hamburg [in Germany],” recalls Ozzy Osbourne.  As well as ‘Evil Woman’, the disc includes Black Sabbath’s second single, ‘The Wizard’.  This crushing track features a huffing harmonica played by Osbourne.  The lyrics sketch out a fantasy scenario: “Without warning / A wizard walks by / Casting his shadow / Weaving his spell / Flowing clothes / Tinkling bell.”  A more ominous brand of fantasy is draped across the title track, ‘Black Sabbath’.  Opening to tolling bells and the sound of rain, the doom-laden lyrics ask, “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black which points at me.”  By ‘slowing the tempo [and] accentuating the bass,’ the band makes this genuinely disturbing.  Late in the song, the pace picks up as the narrator seems to be losing his mind, pursued by some satanic being.  The track ‘N.I.B.’ boasts a wonderfully chewy riff but the title is a puzzle.  Commonly it is thought to stand for ‘Nativity In Black’ or ‘Name In Blood’.  Chief lyricist Geezer Butler explains its true origins: “Originally it was ‘Nib’, which was [a name derived from the shape of drummer] Bill [Ward’s] beard [which was reminiscent of the nib of a fountain pen].  When I wrote ‘N.I.B.’ I couldn’t think of a name for the song, so I just called it ‘Nib’ after Bill’s beard.  To make it more intriguing, I put punctuation marks in there to make it ‘N.I.B.’  By the time it got to America, they translated it into ‘Nativity In Black’.”  With lyrics like, “My name is Lucifer / Please take my hand,” it’s not hard to see why such an interpretation becomes popular.  Including tracks like ‘Wicked World’, ‘this lumbering debut [album] conjures up a new, sludgy sound; the birth pains of heavy metal.’

Black Sabbath’s second album, ‘Paranoid’ (1970) (UK no. 1, US no. 12), follows in September – a mere seven months after their first album.  This is Black Sabbath’s best album.  Although the group are not really oriented towards hit singles, it is also home to their best single: The album’s title track, ‘Paranoid’ (UK no. 4, US no. 61).  Recorded quickly at the end of the album’s recording session, ‘Paranoid’ has a driving riff and a dynamic arrangement.  There is no supernatural imagery in this song, just mental suffering embodied in ‘Ozzy Osbourne’s agonised bray’: “Can you help me / Occupy my brain…I tell you to enjoy life / I wish I could but it’s too late.”  Heavy metal’s main audience has always been teens and, though this churning rocker may refer to mental illness, it just as successfully embodies the high drama of teenage angst.  This makes it a heavy metal anthem and Black Sabbath’s finest moment.  Tony Iommi says of the song ‘Paranoid’, “It wasn’t intended as a single.  It was just another one for the album.”  Ozzy Osbourne exults, “We didn’t expect [the song] to be as popular as it did.  We came to America and we were instantly a success.  It was like one incredible adventure.”  Although the album is also titled ‘Paranoid’, that was not its original title.  The disc was going to be called ‘War Pigs’ – hence the cover image of a man with a sword and shield – but the record company disallowed the name.  Big and sprawling, introduced with air raid sirens, the song ‘War Pigs’ exerts a downward pull: “Generals gathered in their masses / Just like witches at black masses / Evil minds that plot destruction / Sorcerer of death’s construction.”  Later in the song, a familiar diabolic entity enters the tale: “On their knees the war pigs crawling / Begging mercies for their sins / Satan laughing spreads his wings.”  In an interview, Ozzy Osbourne states, “I’ve never seen any intelligent military person, nor have I seen any sense in the stupid b****y wars!”  In 1970 (when the album is released), the death toll in the Vietnam War is frightening.  Sadly, ‘War Pigs’ remains relevant.  ‘Iron Man’ (US no. 52) is a more science-fiction oriented work.  The lyrics that emerge from its morass of ponderous sound seem to paint a portrait of a robot out for revenge: “Now the time is here / For iron man to spread fear / Vengeance from the grave / Kills the people he once saved.”  Bassist Geezer Butler notes that vocalist Ozzy Osbourne “came up with the line ‘Iron Man’, so I wrote the lyrics around that subject.”  ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ has an ambitious arrangement and Ozzy’s narrator plays witness to supernatural events.  Although there is little to separate the quality of ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Paranoid’, the latter has the edge because the band’s talents are more fully formed.  It also represents a commercial peak.

“You enjoy those first few years because you never recapture them again,” says Ozzy Osbourne.  Tony Iommi opines, “The first two Sabbath albums were great fun because it was all new.  And we had such a laugh, man.”  “At the beginning, we all had a purpose,” Osbourne observes, “but as it went along that inevitable thing stepped in called ‘ego’.”

In 1971 Ozzy Osbourne marries a school teacher named Thelma Riley.  (Note: Some accounts give Thelma’s surname as Mayfair, but it is evidently the same woman.)  Ozzy adopts Thelma’s son from a previous relationship, Elliot Kingsley (born 1966).  Ozzy and Thelma go on to have two children, Jessica (born 22 November 1972) and Louis (born 1975).

Geezer Butler and Bill Ward generally keep their personal lives out of public knowledge.  These are the known facts: Geezer marries a woman named Gloria.  Their son, Terence ‘Biff’ Butler, goes on to have his own heavy metal group, Apartment 26 (1999-2004).  Bill Ward has two sons, Nigel and Aaron, but his spouse is unrevealed.

Black Sabbath’s third album, ‘Master Of Reality’ (1971) (UK no. 5, US no. 8), is released in July.  ‘After Forever’ is released as a single, but doesn’t chart.  Perhaps better known is ‘Sweet Leaf’, ‘a droning love song to marijuana.’  ‘Children Of The Grave’ welds a galloping riff to a percussive undertow.  Like ‘War Pigs’, it is an anti-war song, specifically warning of “atomic fear.”  This is juxtaposed with Sabbath’s horror movie imagery: “You must be brave / Or you children of today are / Children of the grave, yeah.”  The album closes with the apt ‘Into The Void’.  Remarking on Black Sabbath’s growing technical ambitions, Tony Iommi compares the time taken to record each album: “’Black Sabbath’ was two days.  ‘Paranoid’ was five days to a week.  ‘Master’…was weeks!”

‘Volume 4’ (1972) (UK no. 8, US no. 13) represents another stage in Black Sabbath’s development.  “it was the first time we recorded in America,” says guitarist Tony Iommi.  He adds, “We went over to L.A. [Los Angeles, California].”  It is also the first time Black Sabbath is credited as record producers – in this instance, co-producers with Patrick Meehan.  Once again, the nominal single, ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’, goes by without troubling the charts.  The most significant track may be ‘Snowblind’.  Over a slow and trudging riff, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne intones, “Lying snowblind in the sun / Will my ice age ever come.”  It could be about cold weather or it may be an ‘overt drug reference’ to the snow-like white powder of cocaine.  The album was to be titled ‘Snowblind’, but as with ‘Paranoid’, the record company baulked at the projected title.  “I got the rep for being stoned and drunk all the time.  I wasn’t the only one, man,” protests Ozzy Osbourne – though he admits, “I didn’t give a s***.  I was full of cocaine and all the rest of the crap I used to do.”  ‘Changes’ is an interesting change of pace since it is a fragile ballad with delicate strings overlaid.  The careful piano work on ‘Changes’ is provided by Tony Iommi.  Other notable tracks on ‘Volume 4’ include ‘St Vitus’ Dance’ and ‘the blitzkrieg riffage’ of ‘Supernaut’.

‘Sabbath B****y Sabbath’ (1973) (UK no. 4, US no. 11) [the second word is spelled out in full in the original] is the next album by Black Sabbath.  Self-produced by the band, the recording sessions begin in Los Angeles but, according to Tony Iommi, “It didn’t work…We couldn’t write.”  As Ozzy Osbourne puts it, “We just got stoned all the time.”  Iommi continues, “So we end up coming back to England and wrote ‘SBS’ there…I thought that was our best album to date…a bit more musical.”  Evidence of this musicality includes an appearance by Rick Wakeman, a famed 1970s keyboard player known both for his solo work and his earlier contribution to British band Yes.  Although best known for his work with synthesisers, Wakeman plays boogie woogie piano on ‘Sabbra Cadabra’.  More representative is the grinding, pulsing title track, ‘Sabbath B****y Sabbath’: “Nothing more to do / Living just for dying / Dying just for you.”

‘Sabotage’ (1975) (UK no. 7, US no. 28), released in July, is co-produced by Black Sabbath and Mike Butcher.  It is home to the single ‘Am I Going Insane’.  Also present is ‘Symptom Of The Universe’, a track described as ‘one of the band’s most majestic pieces of music.’

December’s ‘We Sold Our Soul For Rock ‘N’ Roll’ (1975) (UK no. 35, US no. 48) is a compilation of some of Black Sabbath’s earlier hits and well known songs – but the title is a nice tie-in to their sinister image.

In 1976 Tony Iommi’s marriage to his first wife, Susan Snowden, comes to an end.

‘Technical Ecstasy’ (1976) (UK no. 13, US no. 51) is released in September.  This disc is produced by Black Sabbath.  As the album’s title implies, Black Sabbath’s pursuit of a more accomplished musical style reaches some kind of height here.  Guitarist Tony Iommi concedes it is “a bit too self-indulgent…a bit too over the top.”  As Geezer Butler describes it, “Instead of going in and knocking out what songs we did in rehearsal, we would polish them to death.”  The album includes such tracks as ‘Dirty Women’, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Back Street Kids’.

As the most instinctive and elemental member of Black Sabbath, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne has a particularly difficult time adapting to the more musically ambitious work.  Compounding his woes, Ozzy’s father dies in 1977 and this leads to the singer having ‘several hospitalisations due to depression.’  Osbourne actually leaves Black Sabbath in November 1977.  Dave Walker, from British blues/hard rock band Savoy Brown, fills in as lead vocalist for Black Sabbath in 1977-1978.  Walker doesn’t appear on any Black Sabbath recordings.  In January 1978, Ozzy Osbourne is back on board.

‘Never Say Die’ (1978) (UK no. 12, US no. 69) is released in September.  Again self-produced by the group, this set mixes in a more rough-hewn sound with the still present musically aspirational efforts.  The title track, ‘Never Say Die’ (UK no. 21), is a clattering propulsive boogie over which Ozzy Osbourne wails, “Don’t they ever have to worry? / Don’t you ever wonder why? / It’s a part of me that tells you / Oh, don’t you ever say die.”  ‘A Hard Road’ (UK no. 33) also hails from this album.

Conflict between Ozzy Osbourne and the rest of Black Sabbath continues.  Coupled with ‘the decline of his relationship with [guitarist] Tony Iommi’, this leads in 1979 to Osbourne ‘leaving/being fired.’  “What happened was I was getting musically frustrated…[so] I said to the band one day, ‘I want to do a solo album.’  Tony said, ‘Well, we’re a band.’”  Ozzy tries to pitch his ideas to the group but, “They didn’t like anything and so I left.  I thought, ‘This is crap!’, y’know?”  Tony Iommi suggests, “I think at that time he was going through a lot of problems himself.”  Ozzy later jokes, “I’m not in the band anymore because of musical differences.  They were musical.  I was different.”

As a solo act, Ozzy Osbourne releases the following albums: ‘Blizzard Of Oz’ (1980) (UK no. 7, US no. 21); ‘Diary Of A Madman’ (1981) (UK no. 14, US no. 16); the live album ‘Speak Of The Devil’ (1982) (UK no. 21, US no. 14); ‘Bark At The Moon’ (1983) (UK no. 24, US no. 19, AUS no. 94); ‘The Ultimate Sin’ (1986) (UK no. 8, US no. 6, AUS no. 36); ‘Tribute’ (1987) (UK no. 13, UK no. 6, AUS no. 46) – which is another live album and a salute to his late guitarist Randy Rhoads who died in a plane crash on 19 March 1982; ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ (1988) (UK no. 23, US no. 13, AUS no. 40); ‘No More Tears’ (1991) (UK no. 17, US no. 7, AUS no. 49); ‘Live & Loud’ (1993) (US no. 22, AUS no. 45) – another concert souvenir; and ‘Ozzmosis’ (1995) (UK no. 22, US no. 4, AUS no. 50).

Ozzy Osbourne’s behaviour continues to be colourful.  At a meeting with executives of the CBS record company in Los Angeles in 1981, the singer leaves his more sedate companions aghast when he bites the head off a dove.  Ozzy sinks his teeth into more flying critters when he bites the head off a bat on stage at a concert in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.A. on 20 January 1982.  In this instance, Ozzy claims he thought the furry mammal was a rubber toy.  He has to take a week of rabies shots after the incident.  Apparently remorseful, Osbourne donates twenty-five thousand dollars to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  The publicity and legend that grows from Ozzy’s conduct leads him to later mutter, “Sometimes I think my whole career and life has only been about a b****y bat!”

In July 1981 Ozzy Osbourne begins dating Sharon Arden, the daughter of U.K. music entrepreneur Don Arden.  Naturally, this presages the end of Osbourne’s marriage to Thelma Riley (or Thelma Mayfair).  The marriage ends in 1982.  Ozzy marries Sharon Arden on 4 July 1982.  The singer’s new wife also becomes something like his manager.  “She’s the love of my life, and she’s also, like, the controller,” Ozzy reports.  Ozzy and Sharon have three children, two girls and a boy: Aimee (born 2 September 1983), Kelly (born 27 October 1984) and Jack (born 8 November 1985).

During the 1980s, Ozzy Osbourne is ‘treated several times for alcoholism.’  He is arrested in September 1989 after attempting to strangle his wife Sharon while he is drunk.  After a round of drug rehabilitation, Ozzy reconciles with Sharon in October 1990.

After Ozzy Osbourne leaves Black Sabbath in 1979, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward continue on with a new vocalist.  His name is Ronnie James Dio (10 July 1942 – 16 May 2010).  He was born Ronald James Dadovna, but began using the surname ‘Dio’ in 1960.  He sang for a band called Elf from mid-1970 to April 1975.  Ritchie Blackmore, formerly the guitarist in Black Sabbath’s heavy metal peers Deep Purple, transformed Elf into his new band, Rainbow.  Dio worked with Blackmore and Rainbow from May 1975 to November 1978.  His next stop is Black Sabbath.  “All the Ozzy lovers when I joined that band became Dio-haters,” he remarks.  In purely technical terms, Dio may actually be a more accomplished singer than Osbourne.  He has his moments in terms of image too.  For example, it is Ronnie James Dio who is most associated with a hand gesture that heavy metal fans call ‘the sign of the horns’ (index finger and pinkie extended, middle finger and ring finger folded down).  Dio claims it came from his Italian grandmother and was used ‘to ward off the evil eye.’  Dio begins using it in 1979 – though Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler may have done it as far back as 1971.  “I doubt very much if I would be the first who ever did that,” Dio acknowledges.  “I think you’d have to say that I made it fashionable.”

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980) (UK no. 9, US no. 28) is the first Black Sabbath album to feature vocals by Ronnie James Dio.  Released in April, this disc is produced by Martin Birch.  “It was really exciting,” says Tony Iommi of working with the band’s new vocalist.  ‘Heaven And Hell’ also profits from changing times.  Although heavy metal never really goes away, the initial early push from bands like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath was fading by the mid-1970s.  Punk rock and new wave stole some of the spotlight for hard and loud rock in the late 1970s.  As the 1980s dawn, the music press heralds ‘the new wave of British heavy metal’ as exemplified by such acts as Def Leppard, Iron Maiden and Saxon.  The revitalised Black Sabbath perhaps gains some momentum from this change in atmosphere.  ‘Neon Knights’ (UK no. 22) and ‘Die Young’ (UK no. 41) both make the British singles charts and come from the album ‘Heaven And Hell’.  Geoff Nicholls (keyboards) begins working with Black Sabbath at this time.  He plays on ‘Heaven And Hell’, but is otherwise only an auxiliary touring member of the act.

In 1980 Tony Iommi marries U.S. model Melinda Diaz.  They have a daughter, Toni-Marie (born 1983), before divorcing in 1985.

In August 1980 Black Sabbath’s drummer, Bill Ward, leaves the group.  In his typically understated way, Ward phones vocalist Ronnie James Dio and says, “I’m off then, Ron.”  It is claimed that Bill Ward leaves due to ‘ill health.’

‘Mob Rules’ (1981) (UK no. 12, US no. 29) is recorded with new drummer Vinny Appice – whose elder brother, Carmine Appice, is an even better known drummer.  The title track, ‘Mob Rules’ (UK no. 46), and ‘Turn Up The Night’ (UK no.37) both attract some attention.  Black Sabbath follows this set with a concert recording, ‘Live Evil’ (1982) (UK no. 13, US no. 37).  Ronnie James Dio leaves Black Sabbath in 1982.  His replacement is former Deep Purple lead vocalist Ian Gillan (born 19 August 1945).  Vinny Appice departs in 1982 and former drummer Bill Ward returns to the fold.  With Gillan and Ward aboard, Black Sabbath justifiably title their next disc ‘Born Again’ (1983) (UK no. 4, US no. 39).  However, it is the only album by Black Sabbath to which Gillan lends his talents.  David Donato fills in as vocalist (1984-1985), but doesn’t record with the group.  Bill Ward exits again in 1983 and is replaced by Bev Bevan (born 25 November 1944), a drummer better known for working with more pop-oriented acts like The Move and The Electric Light Orchestra – though he does come from Black Sabbath’s native Birmingham.

In 1985 the four original members of Black Sabbath – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward – reunite for the all-star charity concert Live Aid.  They quickly part again.

Bassist Geezer Butler leaves Black Sabbath in 1985.  This leaves guitarist Tony Iommi as the only person to appear on every Black Sabbath album.

From 1985 to 1987 Tony Iommi is in a relationship with Lita Ford.  A U.S. hard rocker, Ford was previously a member of all girl group The Runaways.  Iommi and Ford get engaged, but Ford breaks off their engagement.

The next Black Sabbath album, ‘Seventh Star’ (1986) (UK no. 27, US no. 78), begins life as a Tony Iommi solo album.  There is some substance to the notion that the group is now ‘Iommi and his employees.’  The other members of Black Sabbath for this album are: Glenn Hughes (vocals, born 21 August 1952, formerly played with Deep Purple), Dave Spitz (bass) and Eric Singer (drums).  Hughes and Spitz both leave later in 1986.  Ray Gillen (no relation to Ian Gillan) provides lead vocals in 1986-1987, but does not appear on any Sabbath albums.

In 1986-1987 Tony Iommi meets an English woman named Valery.  They marry six years later.  Valery has a son, Jay, from an earlier relationship.  Tony and Valery eventually divorce in the late 1990s.

The Black Sabbath line-up for ‘The Eternal Idol’ (1987) (UK no. 66, US no. 168) is Tony Martin (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Bob Daisley (bass) and Eric Singer (drums), with Bev Bevan returning to contribute drums also.  Singer, Daisley and Bevan exit after this disc.  Jo Burt (who is male) plays bass with Sabbath for a while in 1987, but departs without recording with the group.  Similarly, former drummer for punk rock act The Clash, Terry Chimes (born 5 July 1956), plays with Sabbath in 1987, but is gone before the recording sessions for the next album.  Black Sabbath moves on to the I.R.S. record label for their next album, ‘Headless Cross’ (1989) (UK no. 31, US no. 115).  The latest incarnation of the group is: Tony Martin (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Neil Murray (bass) and Cozy Powell (drums).  The most famous of Iommi’s companions here is Cozy Powell (29 December 1947 – 5 April 1998), who may be best remembered for his work with notable U.K. guitarist Jeff Beck circa 1971-1972.  This album spawns the singles ‘Headless Cross’ (UK no. 62) and ‘Devil And Daughter’ (UK no. 81).  The same four musicians also record ‘Tyr’ (1990) (UK no. 24), from which comes ‘Feels Good To Me’ (UK no. 79).  [Note: Tyr is the name of the Viking god of war.]  Tony Iommi assembles a new line-up…that is actually made up of previous Sabbath members, each returning for another shot.  ‘Dehumanizer’ (1992) (UK no. 28, US no. 44) is released in June and is home to the single ‘TV Crimes’ (UK no. 33).  The version of Black Sabbath that records ‘Dehumanizer’ is: Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Vinny Appice (drums).  However, this grouping proves ephemeral.  (Ronnie James Dio dies in 2010 from stomach cancer.)

In November 1992 Ozzy Osbourne undertakes what is supposedly his final tour (it’s not).  The original Black Sabbath quartet reunites on stage on the last night of the tour.  The foursome plan to continue to work together…but this is put off for some time.

‘Cross Purposes’ (1994) (UK no. 41, US no. 122) is the next Black Sabbath album.  The musicians on this disc blend some old members with a familiar member and a new member: Tony Martin (vocals) is back, original members Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) are present, and rounding out the group is newcomer Bobby Rondinelli (drums).  This set is followed by ‘Forbidden’ (1995) (UK no. 71), for which Butler and Rondinelli are replaced by, respectively, Neil Murray and Cozy Powell, two more Black Sabbath alumni.  Vince Bordin (drums) works with Black Sabbath for a while in 1997.

The four original members of Black Sabbath – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward – finally reconvene in 1997 and record the live album ‘Reunion’ (1998) (UK no. 41, US no. 11).

In 1998 Tony Iommi meets Maria Sjoholm, a member of a Swedish heavy metal band called Drain STH.  They become a couple and eventually marry on 19 August 2005.  Iommi describes his fourth marriage as the “best thing I ever did.”

Ozzy Osbourne releases another solo album, ‘Down To Earth’ (2001) (UK no. 19, US no. 4, AUS no. 46).  His next move is the reality television program ‘The Osbournes’ (5 March 2002 – 21 March 2005).  The show features Ozzy, his wife Sharon and their children Kelly and Jack (older sister Aimee declined to be involved).  Ozzy is portrayed as somewhat comical and befuddled after his long years of hard living: “A life of booze, drugs and unprotected sex is only going to f*** you up!  I mean, look at me!”  Ozzy explains this way why ‘The Osbournes’ TV show ends: “I knew it was time to get off reality TV when someone asked me if I sang as well as acted.”  In May 2005 Ozzy Osbourne is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  He takes daily medication to combat involuntary shudders.

Ozzy Osbourne as a solo act issues the Japanese concert recording ‘Live At Budokan’ (2002) (UK no. 115, US no. 70) in April.  This is followed by the solo studio albums ‘Under Cover’ (2005) (UK no. 67, US no. 134) [a disc consisting purely of cover versions of other artists’ songs] and ‘Black Rain’ (2007) (UK no. 10, US no. 3, AUS no. 37).  The autobiography ‘I Am Ozzy’ (written with Chris Ayres) is released in February 2010.  Another solo album, ‘Scream’ (2010) (UK no. 12, US no. 4, AUS no. 11), follows in June.

Black Sabbath content themselves with ‘Past Lives’ (2002) (US no. 114) in August, another live album.  Black Sabbath does not exist at all in the period 2006 to 2012.  Only a concert recording from days gone by, ‘Live At The Hammersmith Odeon’ (2007), is issued during this time – and it does not chart.

The four original members reunite for ‘13’ (2013) (UK no. 1, US no. 1) in June.  Produced by Rick Rubin, this set features the single ‘God Is Dead?’ (UK no. 145)  Although drummer Bill Ward is purported to be involved in the band reunion, it is actually Brad Wilk who plays drums on ‘13’.  Ward absents himself ‘due to disputes over the recording contract’ with Vertigo/Universal.  A live album follows in November, ‘Live…Gathered In Their Masses’ (2013) – another non-charter.  Subsequently, Bill Ward is no longer considered to be an active member of Black Sabbath.  The other three founders continue without an official replacement on drums.

Ozzy Osbourne and his wife Sharon separate in May 2016.  However by July 2016, they appear to be reconciled.

“Sabbath, in my opinion, from 1968 until after I left, through the two Dio albums [‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980) and ‘Mob Rules’ (1981)], was one of the greatest bands I ever worked with,” said Ozzy Osbourne.  That’s a charitable assessment.  With no disrespect intended, Black Sabbath’s best days were over after ‘Never Say Die’ (1978) and Osbourne’s departure.  There is even a case for viewing Black Sabbath’s apex to be simply the group’s first two albums in 1970.  “The songs are sort of classics in their own right.  Everybody knows them,” said Geezer Butler, referring to – presumably – the band’s catalogue in general rather than any specific period.  A big part of what made those songs ‘classics’ was ‘the devil’s interval’, that deeply unsettling musical motif.  Other shock rockers played dress up with supernatural or occult trappings, but for Black Sabbath the ‘devil’ seemed a part of human nature, a facet of modern existential angst – as well as a malefic entity.  It is this humanising of evil that gives Black Sabbath such power in their finest moments.  ‘Black Sabbath can certainly lay claim to [having been] among [the] originators of heavy metal music..’  They ‘arrived on [the] national U.K. rock scene on a wave of mystical beliefs and associations with [the] occult, backed-up by a huge barrage of sound.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 9 March 2015
  2. ‘Black Sabbath – Greatest Hits’ – Sleeve notes by Jerry Ewing (Universal Music, 2009) p. 5, 7, 9, 10
  3. ‘The Devil’s Interval’ by Jimmy Veith (27 July 2011) – patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2011/07/the-devils-interval
  4. ‘Up Close and Personal – Black Sabbath documentary’ (2007) – Interviews by Steven Rosen
  5. Internet movie database – imdb.com – as at 8 March 2015
  6. wikipedia.org as at 4 March 2015
  7. ‘I Am Ozzy’ (2010) by Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres – via (6) above
  8. ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne’ (2011) documentary – via (6) above
  9. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 66
  10. brainyquote.com as at 9 March 2015
  11. yahoo.answers as at 8 March 2015
  12. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 58, 59, 141
  13. famousfix.com as at 6 March 2015
  14. allmusic.com, ‘Black Sabbath’ by William Ruhlmann as at 8 March 2015
  15. songfacts.com as at 9 March 2015
  16. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 51, 60, 63
  17. blacksabbath.com as at 18 March 2015
  18. allmusic.com, ‘Sabbath B****y Sabbath’ review by Eduardo Rivadavia as at 8 March 2015
  19. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 315, 338
  20. metalrules.com, 2001 interview with Ronnie James Dio, via (6) above
  21. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 28, 32
  22. allmusic.com, ‘13’ review by Fred Thomas as at 8 March 2015
  23. whosdatedwho.com as at 9 January 2017
  24. huffingtonpost.com.au – ‘Ozzy Osbourne says Separation from Sharon was just “a Bump in the Road”’ – by Julia Brucculieri (26 July 2016)

Song lyrics copyright Westminster Music Ltd with the exceptions of ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘The Wizard’, ‘Children Of The Grave’ and ‘Snowblind’ (all Onward Music Ltd.)

Last revised 11 January 2017

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Neil Young

 Neil Young

 Neil Young – circa 1971

“Bruce Berry was a working man / He used to load that Econoline van…Well late at night when the people were gone / He used to pick up my guitar…” – ’Tonight’s The Night’ (Neil Young)

Neil Young is ‘virtually destroying himself on stage.’  It is 1973 and the Canadian-born singer-songwriter is part way through his ‘Tonight’s The Night’ tour.  The song – and tour – is inspired by two recent deaths: Danny Whitten, the guitarist for Young’s backing band Crazy Horse, died on 18 November 1972; and Bruce Berry, a roadie for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, also passed away.  Both men were victims of heroin overdoses.  “I’ve never been a heroin addict, I’ve never experimented with heroin, but I’ve been close to heroin.  I’ve seen what it’s done to people’s lives,” Neil Young discloses.  Whitten and Berry “lived and died for rock ‘n’ roll.”  On stage, Young seems virtually possessed by the spirits of the dead men, trying to perform some sort of exorcism with his flailing guitar solos.  The performer’s anguish is painful to watch.  “This happened to me, I’ll write about it,” Young explains.  “Audio verite is what the concept was for ‘Tonight’s The Night’ compared to cinema verite,” he adds, referring to a very naturalistic, almost documentary, style of film-making.  The song ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is performed on stage twice or three times in each show, ‘each version a more chilling experience than the last.’  Tonight’s The Night’ is not released on record until 1975.  How does Neil Young justify putting himself – and his audience – through such harrowing experiences?  “I only care about the music,” he says in what may be the axiom of his career.

Neil Percival Young is born on 12 November 1945 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  He is the son of Scott Alexander Young and his wife Edna Blow Ragland ‘Rassy’ Young.  Scott Young is a journalist and sportswriter.  Rassy Young is an American of French ancestry.  The couple married in 1940, when both of them were 22.  Neil is their second child.  They already have another son, Robert ‘Bob’ (born 1942).

Shortly after Neil Young’s birth, the Young family moves to Omemee, Ontario, “a sleepy little place.”  Scott Young Public School in Omemee will later be named after Neil’s father.  As a child, Neil Young is diagnosed with type-one diabetes.  He is also an epileptic.  In 1951 Neil suffers a bout of polio.  After Neil’s recovery, in 1952 the family visits Florida, making this Neil Young’s first visit to the U.S.A.  They return to Canada, setting up house in Toronto, then they move to Pickering (just outside Toronto), before returning to Toronto again.  Neil Young starts to listen to pop music on the radio.

In 1958, when Neil Young is 12, his father and mother separate.  Scott Young leaves, taking his elder son, Bob, with him.  Neil Young remains with his mother and they move to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Neil receives a ukulele from his father as a Christmas gift in 1958 and this is the start of his journey to becoming a professional musician.  Living in Fort Rouge, Winnipeg, Neil Young attends Early Grey Junior High School.  Winnipeg is in the middle of Canada but also, in a way, in the middle of nowhere.  The winters last for six to seven months.  Sports like ice skating and hockey are popular, but Neil Young is more interested in practicing his guitar-playing.  “I wasn’t athletic,” he recalls.  “I just wanted to go and play in my band on the weekend and write songs.”  That band is called The Jades.  Neil Young moves on to Kelvin High School in Winnipeg and, in 1963, forms a new band called The Squires.  The group consists of Neil Young (guitar), Ken Smith (guitar), Kenny Coglan (bass) and Allan Bates (drums).  “We were mostly an instrumental band at first (I.e. without vocals),” says Neil.  Inspired by instrumental acts like The Shadows, The Ventures and The Fireballs, they cut a record of Neil Young’s instrumental composition, ‘The Sultan’.  Neil also professes an admiration for early rock guitarist Link Wray: “I always liked the primitive rock ‘n’ roll.”  The Squires struggle along, “but we’d just keep morphing and changing,” Neil says.  “People would join, we’d go and do a gig out of town and they’d quit [because they didn’t want to leave Winnipeg].”

In 1964 Neil Young has his first girlfriend, Pam Smith, but the youngsters’ relationship seems short-lived.

Neil Young drops out of high school and his musical tastes shift towards folk music.  “I used to go to a folk club in Winnipeg…and I used to check out the acts coming through town.  And that’s where I met [fellow Canadian singer-songwriter] Joni Mitchell, [bluesmen] Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and [visiting American singer-songwriter] Don McLean,” says Young.  In 1965 he meets another pair of Americans in Thunder Bay – Richie Furay and Stephen Stills (from New Orleans, Louisiana).  Neil Young is also playing his own music in these clubs.  Bass player Bruce Palmer is another fellow Young meets in this era.

In 1966 Neil Young forms a band in Toronto called The Mynah Birds.  Bruce Palmer plays bass in this group.  Another member of The Mynah Birds is a young African-American known as Rick Matthews.  He was born James Johnson and is fated to become famous in the late 1970s as punk-funk star Rick James.  Part of the reason for his multiple identities is that ‘Rick Matthews’ is A.W.O.L. (Absent Without Official Leave) from the U.S. Naval Reserves.  The Mynah Birds record a single, ‘It’s My Time’ (co-written by Neil Young and Rick James), for Motown Records’ V.I.P. label.  However Matthews/Johnson/James is arrested, extradited and jailed which effectively puts an end to The Mynah Birds career.

“I had a hearse then.  I always used a hearse to carry around our equipment because it was like a giant station-wagon,” claims Neil Young.  He and Bruce Palmer pile into this unusual conveyance and drive down to Los Angeles, California.  “I chose to go down where I could be new,” Young says of this venture into the U.S.A.  What he doesn’t mention is that he and Palmer are working illegally in the U.S. without the required permits.

While Neil Young’s distinctive hearse is in a Los Angeles traffic jam, it is spotted by his acquaintances Stephen Stills and Richie Furay.  They catch up with Young (and his front-seat passenger Bruce Palmer) and the quartet decides to form a band.  Dewey Martin, formerly with bluegrass act The Dillards, completes the line-up.  In March 1966 Buffalo Springfield is born with a line-up of Stephen Stills (vocals, guitar), Neil Young (vocals, guitar), Richie Furay (vocals, guitar), Bruce Palmer (bass) and Dewey Martin (drums).  Buffalo Springfield is a folk rock band.  Their name is taken from a steamroller.

Securing a recording contract with Atco, the debut album ‘Buffalo Springfield’ (1966) (US no. 80) is released in December.  The disc is produced by Charles Greene and Brian Stone.  The focus of the group is split between the three singer-songwriters, Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay.  It is Stephen Stills who creates the disc’s most famous song (and Buffalo Springfield’s biggest hit), ‘For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)’ (US no. 7).  Neil Young contributes five of the album’s twelve tracks, the most significant of which may be ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ (US no. 110).

During the sessions for Buffalo Springfield’s second album, the immigration authorities catch up with Bruce Palmer and he is deported to Canada.  Neil Young is either just lucky not to have been caught out or more diligent in getting his paperwork lodged.  If Young is not legally allowed to work in the U.S. during the Buffalo Springfield period, he puts things right soon after since he remains a U.S. resident from the mid-1960s onwards.  Yet he never takes out U.S. citizenship.

After Bruce Palmer’s departure in May 1967, Buffalo Springfield makes use of the services of Jim Fielder (bass) and Doug Hastings (guitar) before settling on Jim Messina (bass, vocals) as Palmer’s replacement.

Neil Young abruptly disappears before Buffalo Springfield’s appearance on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson’ in 1967.  David Crosby stands in for Young on the night and again when Buffalo Springfield plays at the Monterey Pop Festival held on 16-18 June 1967.

The errant Neil Young is back aboard for ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’ (1967) (US no. 44), released in October.  The production credit for this disc is shared amongst Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay and Jack Nitzsche.  Young provides three songs to this set – ‘Mr Soul’, ‘Expecting To Fly’ (US no. 98) and ‘Broken Arrow’.  ‘Mr Soul’ is surprisingly funky.  “Mr Soul I wrote in my little cabin in Laurel Canyon [in California] and I wrote it on a newspaper in marker [pen], I think,” Young recalls.  Yet Buffalo Springfield is ‘beginning to tear itself apart.’  There are ‘embittered personal squabbles between Stills and Young.’  The Canadian complains of the “groupies, drugs, s***.”  ‘Broken Arrow’ closes the album and its author describes it as “the end of something – and the beginning.”

Buffalo Springfield plays their final concert in Long Beach, California, on 5 May 1968 and then disbands.  Neil Young will work with Stephen Stills again.  This starts a pattern that continues through Young’s career: He will part with various musical comrades only to reunite with them further down the road, before parting again, reuniting again, and so on.  “My first job is to follow the musical course.  It’s always to the detriment of everything.  Relationships, projects…they get derailed,” says Young.

A third Buffalo Springfield album, ‘Last Time Around’ (1968) (US no. 42), is released in July after the band has ceased to exist.  Erstwhile bassist Jim Messina acts as producer.  The album contains three Neil Young songs – though one of them (‘It’s So Hard To Wait’) is co-written with Richie Furay.  The most notable of the bunch is ‘I Am A Child’, a startlingly clear-eyed examination of youth and innocence.  “I look back on the Buffalo Springfield period very fondly.  We were very young.  It was my first band that made a real dent…It wasn’t my band but I was in it,” says Young.

In 1968 Neil Young marries Susan Acevedo.

Neil Young obtains a contact with Reprise Records and starts work on his first solo album.

Neil Young’s music is stylistically divergent.  “I don’t like to be labelled, to be anything,” he grumbles.  Along the way, he touches on many musical genres but most of them are brief flirtations that he soon abandons.  The bulk of Neil Young’s career is divided between ‘gentle folk and country rock and crushingly loud electric guitar rock.’  It is almost schizophrenic.  His Dr Jekyll side is a weathered, acoustic troubadour at odds with his brutal Mr Hyde alter ego who unleashes squalls of guitar chaos at high volume.  Typically, a Neil Young album is either quiet or loud – but there are examples where the disc is as divided as its creator.  This duality exists in Young’s music from his earliest days.  He went from liking Link Wray’s distorted primeval rock to playing in folky coffee bars on a quiet set of nylon strings.  Quiet Neil and Loud Neil are inextricably linked; they are two sides of the same coin.

Irrespective of whether he is playing soft folk or hard rock, Neil Young’s singing voice remains a high, fragile, quavering thing.  This sound is quite at odds with his physical appearance as a rangy six foot fellow with a hulking gait.  Young’s speaking voice is also unsettlingly deep in comparison to his singing.  Yet such a contradictory dichotomy can be seen as representative of Neil Young’s whole divided career.

Nearly all of Neil Young’s recorded works are written by him.  As a songwriter, a general air of wistfulness surrounds his work.  In his hard rock mode, this translates into a sort of doomed anger.  Young’s ability as a guitarist is sometimes overlooked because he is (rightly) viewed primarily as a songwriter.  However he is capable of some remarkable dexterity and sonic noise sculpture.  Neil Young also co-produces nearly all his albums.  Yet it is his songwriting that remains his strongest suit.  “I really don’t know where that comes from,” he admits.  “Sometimes I just see the pictures in my eyes…It just comes gushing out.  It’s like having a mental orgasm.”  Neil Young never knows when inspiration will strike, so he tries to be prepared: “I had a guitar case near the bed – probably too near the bed in the opinion of most of the women I had relationships with.”  And who would Neil Young consider the greatest musician of all time?  “[Folk rock icon] Bob Dylan.  I’ll never be Bob Dylan.  He’s the master.”

‘Neil Young’ (1968), the Canadian singer-songwriter’s debut solo album, appears in November.  It is co-produced by Neil Young and David Briggs, who will become Young’s long-serving associate.  The best known track is ‘The Loner’, a resolute tribute to taking an individual path.  When it is released as a single, ‘Sugar Mountain’ – a lovely folk song by Young – is used as the B side.  ‘The Last Trip To Tulsa’ also comes from this early effort.

Neil Young begins working with a backing group in 1968.  He first jammed with them while he was still a member of Buffalo Springfield.  “When I first played with them they were called The Rockets and there were six of them and they were real primitive, but there were too many of them,” is Young’s assessment.  The singer enlists the services of only three of the members: Danny Whitten (guitar), Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums).  This aggregate is dubbed Crazy Horse after the Native American war leader (1840-1877) of the Oglala Lakota tribe.  Although, as is his wont, Neil Young will work with different musicians at different stages of his career, Crazy Horse are fated to be his most regular partners.  “They don’t really have anything other than soul,” says Neil Young, “and something happens when I play with them.  There’s a chemistry that frees me to go to places that I don’t go to with anybody else…It’s just a matter of choosing the ride.”

‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ (1969) (US no. 34), released in May, is credited to Neil Young with Crazy Horse.  “David Briggs and I made the first record and then we made the second record straight away and it was really different to the first record and I liked that,” says Young.  “Everything that was missing in the first record was in the second record, so one leads to the other.”  ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ is clearly a rock album characterised by seemingly improvised arrangements and gouging, distorted guitars.  It is home to three of Neil Young’s most revered works.  Although it has rough guitars, ‘Down By The River’ also has a lazy lilt imported from country music.  Its lyric marks it as a murder ballad: “Down by the river / I shot my baby / Down by the river / Dead, shot her dead.”  Although ‘Down By The River’ is lengthy (9:16), it is outdone by ‘Cowgirl In The Sand’ (10:05).  The corrosive guitars are leavened here by a harmonious vocal: “Hello cowgirl in the sand / Is this place at your command? / Can I stay here for a while? / Can I see your sweet, sweet smile?”  By comparison to these two songs, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ (US no. 55) is a pithy (2:59) piece.  Its descending guitar riff and percussive hand-claps adorn a melody that sounds almost Native American: “I wanna live with a cinnamon girl / I could be happy the rest of my life / With a cinnamon girl.”  When it is released as a single, ‘Cinnamon Girl’ – like ‘The Loner’ before it – is backed with ‘Sugar Mountain’.  The album also contains ‘Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)’, a nod to Crazy Horse’s previous incarnation.

Stephen Stills, Neil Young’s comrade from Buffalo Springfield, has a new project.  He has joined forces with David Crosby (who briefly filled in for Young in Buffalo Springfield) and Graham Nash as the folk rock harmony trio Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Their partnership started in December 1968 and their debut album was released in May 1969.  However, they wish to broaden their sound and invite Neil Young to join them.  The act becomes Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in June 1969.  They had not yet played any live dates so their concert debut at New York City’s Fillmore East on 25 July 1969 is not just their first gig with Young but their first collective show.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young play at Woodstock, the three-day hippie music festival held over 15-17 August 1969 at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York.

‘Déjà Vu’ (1970) (US no. 1, UK no. 5) by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is released in March on Atlantic Records.  The title is the French term for a feeling that you have been someplace before even though that is not the case.  Buffalo Springfield was a power-sharing arrangement between three singer-songwriters (Stills, Young and Richie Furay), but this band is a four-way split.  Accordingly, there is even less space for Neil Young here.  Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ is an aching country music song with a weeping pedal steel guitar.  The lyrics seem autobiographical: “There is a town in north Ontario / With dream comfort memory to spare / And in my mind I still need a place to go / All my changes were there.”  Young also supplies the sprawling medley that goes under the name ‘Country Girl’; and co-writes the closing track, ‘Everybody I Love You’ – a rocker – with Stills.  The album is produced by the quartet.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young dissolves in August 1970.  Neil Young says of his relationship with Stephen Stills, “We fought like brothers.”  In other words, there were a lot of squabbles but always with an underlying love.  “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were four different individuals playing together and it wasn’t like a band,” Young claims.  “The reaction to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was ridiculous.  It was like, so over the top, and we all got distracted by that.”

Neil Young returns to his solo career with ‘After The Goldrush’ (1970) (US no. 8, UK no. 7, AUS no. 13) in August.  Officially, this is a solo album, but the members of Crazy Horse are present, as is a new face.  Nils Lofgren is a young guitarist with a fast-growing reputation but, with typical perversity, Young has Lofgren play piano.  It is Neil Young himself who plays the skeletal piano on the baffling title track, ‘After The Goldrush’.  “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s,” bids the singer, envisioning “Silver spaceships in the yellow haze of the sun” that are “Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the sun.”  Most of the album’s notable tracks are semi-ballads such as ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (US no. 33), ‘Tell Me Why’ and ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’.  ‘When You Dance I Can Really Love’ (US no. 93) is also present on this set as is the fire-breathing ‘Southern Man’, an excoriation of racism that provokes the 1974 song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, a response from Florida band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Neil Young’s two year marriage to Susan Acevedo comes to an end in 1970.

Neil Young sees the movie ‘Diary of a Mad Housewife’ (1970) and is impressed with the actress in the film, Carrie Snodgress.  Young gives her a call and, in 1971, they begin a long-term relationship.  Neil Young and Carrie Snodgress never marry, but they have a son together, Zeke (born 8 September 1972), who suffers from mild cerebral palsy.

Crosby, Still, Nash & Young’s ‘Four Way Street’ (1971) (US no. 1, UK no. 5), in April, is a double album of live recordings made before the quartet split.  Although the bulk of the album rakes over the act’s most popular songs (as is common for live sets), it also includes a Neil Young song from the recording studio.  ‘Ohio’ (US no. 14) is based on the events that took place at Kent State University in Ohio on 4 May 1970.  Students protesting against President Nixon’s military campaign in Cambodia were shot at by the Ohio National Guard and four students were killed.  Hence the song’s chicken-scratch electric guitar rhythms are peppered with lyrics like, “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming…Four dead in Ohio.”

Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ (1972) (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) in February is assembled from three recording sessions.  ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ is recorded live at Royce Hall at the University of California in Los Angeles.  It is produced by Neil Young and Henry Lewy.  The song is given a spartan, acoustic treatment with Young observing, “Every junkie’s like a setting sun.”  Pianist Jack Nitzsche produces two heavily orchestrated pieces, ‘Words (Between The Lines Of Age)’ and ‘A Man Needs A Maid’ (the latter refers to Young’s partner Carrie Snodgress: “I fell in love with the actress / She was playing a part that I could understand”).  The bulk of ‘Harvest’ is produced by Neil Young and Elliot Mazer.  On these tracks Young employs a new backing band, The Stray Gators, consisting of: Jack Nitzsche (piano), Ben Keith (steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass) and Kenny Buttrey (drums).  The prevailing mood is a gentle mix of folk, country and acoustic singer-songwriter confessionals.  In truth, Neil Young is in considerable pain at the time.  A ‘chronic back ailment’ requires him to perform with a supportive brace.  After meeting them on an appearance on ‘The Johnny Cash Show’, Neil Young enlists both singer-songwriter James Taylor and country rocker Linda Ronstadt to provide backing vocals on the two best known songs from ‘Harvest’.  ‘Old Man’ (US no. 31) is a quiet reflection on aging with James Taylor also contributing banjo-guitar work.  However it is ‘Heart Of Gold’ (US no. 1, UK no. 10) that remains Neil Young’s all-time best song.  “I want to live / I want to give / I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold,” Young claims over a nagging acoustic guitar.  Young’s harmonica and Ben Keith’s melancholy pedal steel guitar flesh out a country/rock/folk arrangement.  The pining loneliness is typical of the singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970s.  Neil Young finds himself in tune with the general tone of the times.  This captures his acoustic side to perfection.  Young’s electric side gets a brief run in ‘Alabama’, which continues the critique of racism begun in ‘Southern Man’.  David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash all show up to provide backing vocals to various songs on ‘Harvest’.

‘Harvest’ proves to be a very commercially successful album for Neil Young.  However, his response is – typically – divided.  “I think ‘Harvest’ is probably the finest record I’ve made,” he tells one reporter.  “I can’t remember if I enjoyed it,” he later claims.  Young grunts, “How many sensitive songs can you write?”  He recalls thinking, “This is good…Everybody likes it.  I could probably make another one.  But I didn’t want to make another one.”  As Neil Young puts it on another occasion, “’Heart Of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road.  Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”

On 12 November 1972 Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten dies of a heroin overdose.  The incident weighs heavy on Neil Young and works its way into some of his later recordings.

‘Journey Through The Past’ (1972) (US no. 45, AUS no. 39) in December is a double album compiled as the soundtrack to Neil Young’s film of the same name – but the movie is not released until eighteen months later.

1973 begins what Neil Young describes as “a long dark period.”  Stories abound of ‘erratic behaviour’ and ‘shambolic gigs.’  On 4 October 1973 he retreats to the safety of an unofficial Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion – for one night at San Francisco’s Winterland ballroom.  ‘Time Fades Away’ (1973) (US no. 22, UK no. 20, AUS no. 29), released in October, is a live album – but of previously unreleased material.  The contents include ‘Time Fades Away’, ‘Don’t Be Denied’ and ‘The Bridge’.  “People thought I’d failed,” claims Neil Young, referring to the muted reception given this disc, “but I’d succeeded – in moving on.  I wasn’t dragged down by the success [of ‘Harvest’].”  Young is backed on ‘Time Fades Away’ by The Stray Gators, though Johnny Barbata (drums) deputises for Kenny Buttrey on some songs.  Young reunites with Crazy Horse for the rest of the year, embarking on the self-flagellating ‘Tonight’s The Night’ tour.  The singer struggles through these gigs, haunted by the drug overdose deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young roadie Bruce Berry.  Surviving Crazy Horse members Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums) are joined for these shows by Nils Lofgren (guitar), another associate of Young, who worked with Crazy Horse previously on their own album, ‘Crazy Horse’ (1971).  “We would just drink tequila until about one in the morning and then we’d start recording,” Young says of ‘Tonight’s The Night’.  The material from ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is set aside without being released at this time, perhaps because it is too confrontational and the wounds remain too raw.

Neil Young’s movie ‘Journey Through the Past’ (1974) is finally released in May, but it is described as ‘a jittery, barely watchable documentary.’  Neil Young goes on to ‘On The Beach’ (1974) (US no. 16, UK no. 42, AUS no. 34) in July which he calls a “sign of the times.”  A return to country rock is made with ‘Homegrown’ – but, in what is becoming a familiar pattern, this material is shelved.  Unlike ‘Tonight’s The Night’, ‘Homegrown’ is never released, but some of its songs (e.g. ‘Love Is A Rose’, ‘Little Wing’ and ‘The Old Homestead’) surface on later Neil Young albums.  The generally mournful tone is attributed to Young’s relationship with Carrie Snodgress unravelling.  The couple split up in 1975.

In the background to all this, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young undertake a reunion tour of the U.S.A. from May 1974 to February 1975 and their reunion ends with a show at Wembley Stadium in London, England.

‘Tonight’s The Night’ (1975) (US no. 25, UK no. 48, AUS no. 42) is finally released in June.  The harrowing title track, ‘Tonight’s The Night’, remains one of Neil Young’s most emotionally testing moments.  The album also contains ‘Tired Eyes’ and ‘Speakin’ Out’, songs where ‘Young sounds like he’s on the edge of a breakdown.’  Tim Mulligan co-produces ‘Tonight’s The Night’ with Neil Young and David Briggs.  He continues to act as a co-producer through to 1982.

Neil Young teams up with Stephen Stills for a 1975 tour by The Stills-Young Band.  This is cut short on 13 October 1975 when Neil Young has to have surgery on his vocal chords.

Neil Young’s ‘Zuma’ (1975) (US no. 25, UK no. 44, AUS no. 44) in November is the introduction of a revised version of Crazy Horse.  The new line-up is Frank Sampedro (guitar, keyboards), Billy Talbot (bass) and Ralph Molina (drums).  Although Crazy Horse played on ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (and less officially on ‘After The Gold Rush’), ‘Zuma’ is the first album since ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ on which they are co-credited with Neil Young.  ‘Zuma’ is best known for ‘Cortez The Killer’, a venomous historical report of the Spanish conquistador’s encounter with the Central American leader Montezuma.  Young regularly sides with the indigenous peoples.  Another song recorded by Neil Young in 1975, ‘Like A Hurricane’, is set aside for later.  His “long dark period” seems to be coming to a close.

‘Long May You Run’ (1976) (US no. 26, UK no. 12), an album credited to The Stills-Young Band, is released in September.  The title track from this set, Neil Young’s ‘Long May You Run’, draws some attention.

‘American Stars ‘N’ Bars’ (1977) (US no. 21, UK no. 17, AUS no. 21) is released in June.  It ‘attempts to reconcile opposites, folk roots and feedback fury.’  Falling into the latter category is ‘Like A Hurricane’ (UK no. 48), a track recorded in 1975 with Crazy Horse.  This is a blast of electric guitar over a throaty organ gust.  Despite the torrent, there is a grace to Neil Young’s lyric: “I saw your brown eyes turning once to fire / You are like a hurricane / There’s calm in your eye / And I’m getting’ blown away / To somewhere safer where the feeling stays / I want to love you but I’m getting blown away.”  Neil Young tries to sew up his bag of contradictions with the triple album retrospective ‘Decade’ (1977) (US no. 43, UK no. 46, AUS no. 21) in October.  It brings together such ‘lost’ material as ‘Sugar Mountain’ and ‘Love is A Rose’ as well as at least some of the singer’s better known works.

On 2 August 1978 Neil Young marries his second wife, Pegi Morton.  The couple have two children: a son named Ben (born 1978) and a daughter named Amber Jean (born 1984).  Ben has severe cerebral palsy.  He is quadriplegic and unable to speak.

‘Comes A Time’ (1978) (US no. 7, UK no. 42, AUS no. 6) in October is Neil Young’s most country music-oriented release since ‘Harvest’ (excluding the aborted ‘Homegrown’).  The album is co-produced by Ben Keith (the pedal steel guitar player from The Stray Gators), Neil Young, David Briggs and Tim Mulligan.  The title track, ‘Comes A Time’, is a country hoedown complete with Rufus Thibodeaux sawing on a fiddle: “Comes a time when you’re driftin’ / Comes a time when you settle down / Comes a light, feelin’s liftin’ / Lift that baby right up off the ground.”  Nicolette Larson provides backing vocals on most of the album and her own version of one of the tracks from ‘Comes A Time’, ‘Lotta Love’, is given a disco-pop polish to become a hit for her in 1978.  ‘Comes A Time’ includes a cover version of Ian Tyson’s folk song ‘Four Strong Winds’ (US no. 61, UK no. 57) from 1963.  It was originally a hit for Ian & Sylvia, i.e. Ian Tyson and Sylvia Fricker, whom Tyson went on to marry in 1964.  Other notable tracks on this disc include ‘Human Highway’ and the brooding ‘Look Out For My Love’.

In the mid-1970s the established rock aristocracy is challenged by the proletarian punk revolutionaries.  Because he shrugged off his own place amongst rock’s old guard after ‘Harvest’ and by virtue of his continuing involvement with Crazy Horse (“My rock ‘n’ roll band,” as Neil Young describes them), Neil Young feels less threatened than many of his peers.  “I’m behind them,” he says of the punks.  “It was a great time in music,” he later reflects.  As punk gives way to its quirkier successor, new wave, Neil Young jams with Devo, an American new wave act.  The jam sparks the next Neil Young album.

‘Rust Never Sleeps’ (1979) (US no. 8, UK no. 13, AUS no. 8) appears in July.  The album is divided between acoustic delicacy and hard rock brutalism.  The album title comes from an advertising slogan printed on t-shirts for Rustoleum, an anti-rust product made in Akron, Ohio.  Devo’s Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh came up with the tagline in their pre-rock days.  Young takes it as an admonition to beware complacency.  The acoustic ‘My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)’ is reincarnated as the electric ‘Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)’ (US no. 79).  Neil Young says of the latter, “Radio stations called back and said it was distorted” – which, of course, is the point.  “Rock and roll can never die,” Young’s quavering voice insists, but also suggests that, “It’s better to burn out / Than to fade away.”  Young explains that, “It’s a song about artistic survival.”  When he sings, “The King is gone but he’s not forgotten,” the immediate interpretation is that Young is referring to Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, who died in 1977.  But then the lyric asks, “Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?”, the lead vocalist of The Sex Pistols – the definitive punk band – who stepped down and ‘died’ in 1978.  “I never met John Lydon [Johnny Rotten’s real name],” admits Young, “but I like what he did to people.”  Johnny Rotten upset the status quo.  Elvis Presley also upset the status quo.  And, perhaps, to Neil Young’s way of thinking, that is the purpose of rock ‘n’ roll – to upset the status quo – and that is why it will “never die.”  ‘My My Hey Hey’ and its bookend partner are co-written by Neil Young and Jeff Blackburn.  ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ is another album co-credited to Neil Young And Crazy Horse (the first since ‘Zuma’) and they accompany him, thrashing through such tracks as ‘Welfare Mothers’ and ‘Sedan Delivery’ and the album’s other standout, ‘Powderfinger’, a historical account of doomed frontier life.

The motion picture ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ (1979) premieres at the Bruin Theater in Westwood, California, on 11 July 1979.  This is a documentary of Neil Young’s most recent U.S. concert tour.  It verges on fantasy with Young dwarfed by giant speakers and the roadies dressed as the hooded and robed Jawas from science-fiction film ‘Star Wars’ (1977).

Completing the multi-media extravaganza is ‘Live Rust’ (1979) (US no. 15, UK no. 55, AUS no. 21), released in November.  This is a double album of live recordings of Neil Young And Crazy Horse.  It also happens to be Neil Young’s best album.  This gives the most complete account of the man and his talents with songs taken from throughout his career (with the notable omissions of ‘Harvest’ songs like ‘Heart Of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’).  The whole thing is sequenced so that it flows from Young performing solo with the quietest, most intimate acoustic songs from the show to the full-blown Crazy Horse experience.  The songs seem to get progressively longer too as the album unfurls.  Beyond that, the songs are all well performed with Neil Young And Crazy Horse at the height of their powers.  If a single song must be nominated as a highlight, then perhaps it would be this album’s take on ‘Cortez The Killer’ (Side three, track two) which introduces a reggae section which, due to reggae’s Jamaican origins, suggest a whole new chapter of white imperialism in the Caribbean.

‘Hawks And Doves’ (1980) (US no. 30, UK no. 34, AUS no. 10) is, like ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, split into acoustic and electric halves.  ‘Little Wing’ (a Neil Young original, not a cover version of the Jimi Hendrix song of the same name) and ‘The Old Farmstead’ are salvaged from the lost ‘Homegrown’ album and sit alongside the spooky ‘Lost In Space’ and ‘Captain Kennedy’, songs whose stark acoustic guitar evokes emptiness.  Some pundits contend that ‘Hawks And Doves’ shows the ‘influence of conservative right-wing politics’, but this seems to misread or ignore country rock-outs such as ‘Union Man’ or ‘Comin’ Apart At Every Nail’.  The nearest culprit is the title track, ‘Hawks And Doves’, in which Young states, “I ain’t tongue-tied / Just don’t got nothin’ to say / I’m proud to be livin’ in the U.S.A.”

‘Re-ac-tor’ (1981) (US no. 27, UK no. 69, AUS no. 27) is credited to Neil Young And Crazy Horse.  This album is one of Young’s most aggressive rock records.  It is also his last for Reprise, concluding a long association with that record label.

There is another movie venture at this juncture, ‘Neil Young: Human Highway’ (1982), in September.

David Geffen founded the Asylum record label in the early 1970s and it became the home to country rock artists like The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt.  At the start of the 1980s, Asylum’s founder begins again with his own boutique label, Geffen Records.  Due to his power and influence, he assembles a superstar roster including John Lennon and Elton John.  When Neil Young is also signed to Geffen, it seems like another jewel in the crown.  They had no idea of what the future held.

‘Trans’ (1982) (US no. 19, UK no. 29, AUS no. 23) in December is Neil Young’s first album for Geffen Records.  It is an album of synth-pop inspired by the likes of A Flock Of Seagulls and The Human League.  “All that stuff with the drum computers and the synthetic things is what I like,” Neil Young claims.  His voice is turned into an electronic mask via a vocoder while synclaviers are used to allow the guitarist to effectively play keyboards instead.  Despite the modern technology, ‘Trans’ is produced by the familiar trio of Neil Young, David Briggs and Tim Mulligan.

“At that time people were judging me based on the style of music I was doing.  They were criticising me for not being genuine,” Neil Young recalls.  “They [Geffen Records] said, ‘Neil, you’ve gotta make a rock ‘n’ roll record.  You just have to’.”  This prompts Young to consider just what is rock ‘n’ roll.  “Originally, it was like rockabilly,” he decides.  ‘Eveybody’s Rockin’’ (1983) (US no. 46, UK no. 50, AUS no. 30) is, accordingly, a rockabilly album.  It is as though Neil Young has jumped in a time machine for a trip back to the mid-1950s.  Half of the album consists of cover versions of old songs of that era (e.g. Junior Parker’s ‘Mystery Train’, made famous by Elvis Presley), but intertwined with these are Neil Young originals (e.g. ‘Kinda Fonda Wanda’, co-written with bassist Tim Drummond) that are virtually indistinguishable from the authentic oldies, so accurate is the pastiche.  The disc is credited to Neil & The Shocking Pinks, a one-off band for this occasion.  “If you’re gonna tell me what to do,” smirks Neil Young, “you better tell me exactly what you ask for…”

The unamused executives at Geffen Records file a lawsuit against Neil Young for making ‘unrepresentative’ recordings.  Neil Young responds by submitting his most country-oriented disc since ‘Comes A Time’, an album titled ‘Old Ways’ (1985) (US no. 75, UK no. 39, AUS no. 30).  ‘Get Back To The Country’ urges one of the tracks.  Neil Young institutes another one-off band to promote the album.  His group is wittily called The International Harvesters, a gag that bridges a type of farm machinery and Young’s best known country-ish album of the past, ‘Harvest’.  “I think I’m going to be making country records for as long as I can see into the future,” says Young to the accompaniment of rising blood pressure in the boardrooms at Geffen.

Presumably, Geffen Records’ executives are somewhat placated by ‘Landing On Water’ (1986) (US no. 46, UK no. 52, AUS no. 43) and ‘Life’ (1987) (US no. 75, UK no. 71), two more conventional rock albums.  Crazy Horse accompanies their long-time comrade on ‘Life’.  Geffen and Neil Young part ways after ‘Life’.

‘This Note’s For You’ (1988) (US no. 61, UK no. 56, AUS no. 45) in April marks Neil Young’s return to Reprise Records.  The disc is co-produced by Niko Bolas who frequently co-produces with Neil Young for the next twenty years.  ‘This Note’s For You’ is another stylistic swerve as Young incorporates a greater blues influence into his sound.  Accordingly, he adopts another one-time backing group, The Bluenotes.  They are a large band as acknowledged by ‘Ten Men Workin’’.  The title track, ‘This Note’s For You’, sees Young taking a shot at rock musicians who have sold out to commercial interests and allowed their music to be used for advertising jingles.  “I work for the muse…I’m not here to sell things,” Young tells a reporter.

Since 1977 Neil Young’s old comrades Crosby, Stills & Nash have been working together fairly regularly as a trio.  However, Neil Young has resisted requests for him to join them…until now.  ‘American Dream’ (1988) (US no. 16) in November is the first new Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album since the early 1970s.  Neil Young composes a number of songs on this disc including the title track, ‘American Dream’ (UK no. 55).

‘El Dorado’ is a five-track EP released by Neil Young in May 1989.  The title is taken form a fabled city of gold supposedly located in Central America.  The EP is credited to Neil Young And The Restless, another backing band that is never heard from again.  ‘Freedom’ (1989) (US no. 35, UK no. 17) in October returns to the half-acoustic, half-electric formula that served Young well in the past.  ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ is a buffeting blast that mocks the political masters of the time: “Thousand points of light for the homeless man [and]…a kinder, gentler machine gun hand.”

The ‘loud, feedback-drenched’ ‘Ragged Glory’ (1990) (US no. 31, UK no. 15) reunites Neil Young with Crazy Horse.  They stick around for the live set, ‘Weld’ (1991) (US no. 154, UK no. 20) and the accompanying ‘Arc’ (1991).  The latter tests the patience of all but the most devoted Neil Young fans since it is thirty-five minutes of feedback noise mixed in with vocal fragments.

‘Harvest Moon’ (1992) (US no. 16, UK no. 9, AUS no. 40) returns Neil Young to country music.  The title is an obvious nod to ‘Harvest’, released twenty years earlier.  The title track, ‘Harvest Moon’, is a gently romantic country waltz.  The Stray Gators provide back-up with Spooner Oldham (piano) replacing Jack Nitzsche.

Neil Young’s hard rock proclivities endear him to the grunge rock bands of the early 1990s.  When Kurt Cobain, leader of Nirvana – the most famous grunge band – commits suicide on 5 April 1994 he quotes Young’s “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” line in his parting note.  “The fact that he left the lyrics to my song right there with him when he killed himself left a profound feeling on me,” says Young.  Although most of the disc was recorded before Cobain’s passing, ‘Sleeps With Angels’ (1994) (US no. 9, UK no. 2, AUS no. 23), released in August, is inspired by his death.  The album is ‘hailed as a masterpiece in some quarters.’  Crazy Horse play on ‘Sleeps With Angels’.

‘Mirror Ball’ (1995) (US no. 5, UK no. 4, AUS no. 4) is recorded with grunge band Pearl Jam providing backing for Neil Young.  David Briggs, who co-produced most of Young’s albums from 1968 to 1985, passes away in 1995.  ‘Dead Man – Soundtrack’ (1996) is Neil Young’s atmospheric music for director Jim Jarmusch’s weirdo western starring Johnny Depp released in April.  Neil Young returns to Crazy Horse for ‘Broken Arrow’ (1996) (US no. 31, UK no. 17, AUS no. 43), released in July, and Jim Jarmusch’s documentary film ‘Year of the Horse’ (1997) and the live album ‘Year Of The Horse’ (1997) (US no. 57, UK no. 36).  Then it is time for another Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album, ‘Looking Forward’ (1999) (US no. 26, UK no. 54).

Neil Young resumes his solo career with ‘Silver & Gold’ (2000) (US no. 22, UK no. 10, AUS no. 30).  This is followed by ‘Road Rock Vol. 1’ (2001) (US no. 169, UK no. 103), a souvenir of Neil Young’s 2000 concert tour.  ‘Are You Passionate?’ (2002) (US no. 10, UK no. 24, AUS no. 41) teams Neil Young with 1960s soul band Booker T. And The MG’s.  ‘Greendale’ (2003) (US no. 22, UK no. 24, AUS no. 48) in August is a concept album about small town life.  It is recorded with Crazy Horse.  There is an accompanying film, ‘Greendale’ (2003), released in September.

In 2005 Neil Young is diagnosed with a potentially deadly brain aneurysm.  However the condition is successfully treated and Young recovers.  Nevertheless, an air of mortality suffuses the acoustic ‘Prairie Wind’ (2005) (US no. 11, UK no. 22), released in September and co-produced by Ben Keith.  ‘Heart of Gold’ (2006), a documentary film of a Neil Young concert, is released in May.  It is directed by Jonathan Demme.  May also brings ‘Living With War’ (2006) (US no. 15, UK no. 14, AUS no. 41), a new Neil Young album.  This controversial work is critical of U.S. President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.  This is evident in songs like ‘Shock And Awe’.  ‘Living With War: “In The Beginning”’ (2006) follows in November and is a stripped-down version of the same album.  The heartland rock of ‘Chrome Dreams II’ (2007) (US no. 11, UK no. 14, AUS no. 33) is Neil Young’s next project.  Another movie follows: ‘Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Déjà Vu’ (2008).  Neil Young co-directs the film.  It follows the band’s ‘Freedom of Speech’ tour across the U.S. with the war in Iraq serving as a constant background.  ‘Fork In The Road’ (2009) (US no. 19, UK no. 22, AUS no. 37) is a Neil Young album built around the theme of cars.

In 2010 Buffalo Springfield reassembles for a U.S. tour.  The line-up is minus Bruce Palmer (bass) and Dewey Martin (drums) because they passed away in, respectively, 2004 and 2009.  No new Buffalo Springfield music is recorded.  Neil Young returns to his solo career with ‘Le Noise’ (2010) (US no. 14, UK no. 18, AUS no. 41), a rock album whose title is a bit of a pun on the fact that it is produced by Daniel Lanois.  The wheel has turned sufficiently for Neil Young to once again, join forces with Crazy Horse.  They are featured on both ‘Americana’ (2012) (US no. 4, UK no. 16, AUS no. 34) in June (a batch of folk songs and early rock tunes) and ‘Psychedelic Pill’ (2012) (US no. 8, UK no. 14, AUS no. 28) in October (a double album of original material).  Neil Young also pens his memoir, ‘Making Heavy Peace’ (2012).  ‘A Letter Home’ (2014), released in April, is an oddball gathering of cover versions of songs by other rock artists like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen – but it is recorded in a voice-o-graph booth and issued on the Third Man label instead of Reprise.

On 29 July 2014 Neil Young files for divorce from Pegi Morton, his wife for the last thirty-six years.

Beginning in 2014, Neil Young is in a romantic relationship with U.S. actress Daryl Hannah.

‘The Monsanto Years’ (2015) (US no. 21, UK no. 24, AUS no. 23) is ‘a concept album criticising agribusiness company Monsanto.’  Neil Young records the album with the sons of country music star Willie Nelson, Lukas and Micah.  The backing musicians are from Lukas’ band Promise Of The Real.

‘Peace Trail’ (2016) (US no. 76, UK no. 57, AUS no. 52) is co-produced by Neil Young and John Hanlon.  This is a primarily acoustic album.

During the ‘Tonight’s The Night’ tour in 1973, it seemed like Neil Young was destroying himself.  However, he survived.  The whole episode was symbolic of Neil Young’s dedication to his art above all else.  Sometimes that caused hurt and resentment amongst those around him, but it may not be something about which he had a choice.  The force of creativity can be very strong.  Neil Young’s most creative period was probably from 1969 to 1979.  Neil Young was ‘one of the most respected and prolific rock/folk guitarist of the late twentieth century.’  He ‘insisted upon the freedom to swing from one extreme to another [and] to create with disdain for careerist aspirations.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 13 September 2014
  2. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 45, 60, 67, 143, 251
  3. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 131, 144, 160, 204, 206, 219, 247, 300
  4. ‘Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied’ (U.K. television documentary, BBC Four Network) (3 December 2012?)
  5. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Neil Young’ by Don McLeese (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 330
  6. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 7 July 2014
  7. wikipedia.org as at 16 September 2014, 1 January 2016, 4 January 2017
  8. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 17 September 2014
  9. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 34, 53, 111, 237
  10. ‘The New York Times’ (New York, U.S.A., newspaper) – ‘Neil Young Comes Clean’ by David Carr (19 September 2012)
  11. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 46, 57, 58, 65, 66
  12. whosdatedwho.com as at 7 July 2014
  13. brainyquote.com as at 16 September 2014
  14. allmusic.com, ‘Neil Young’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 16 September 2014
  15. ‘Neil Young – Greatest Hits’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Reprise Records, 2004) p. 2, 3, 5
  16. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 138
  17. ‘Harvest’ –Anonymous sleeve notes (Reprise Records, 1972) p. 2, back cover
  18. ‘New Musical Express’ (U.K. rock newspaper) via (17) above
  19. ‘Decade’ (1977) – Sleeve notes by Neil Young via (5) above, p. 327
  20. songfacts.com as at 16 September 2014

Song lyrics copyright Broken Arrow Music Corp. (ASCAP) (1969-1971), Broken Fiddle Music (ASCAP) (1971-1975, 1989), Silver Fiddle Music (ASCAP) (1978), Broken Arrow Music Corp. / Broken Fiddle Music (ASCAP) (1979-1980

Last revised 12 January 2017

XTC

 XTC

 Andy Partridge – circa 1989

 “His body’s wriggling like an eel / They got no sense, no touch, no feel / Somebody better go and get a blanket” – ’Wake Up’ (Colin Moulding)

“It was in San Diego [California, U.S.A.] and I was onstage and couldn’t remember how to play the guitar properly.  I was in terrible pain and my nervous system was just going wild, like somebody had just run a car over me.”  These are the words of Andy Partridge, the leader of British new wave rock band XTC.  He is talking about an incident in April 1982.  What is wrong with him?  It could be described as a severe anxiety attack – but it may be a bit more complicated.  Whatever the cause, the show in San Diego in April 1982 is a dividing point in the career of XTC.  The band will never appear live on stage again or go on tour – at least not in the conventional ways associated with other rock bands.  XTC will continue to exist for a number of years, but only as a recording studio-bound project.

Andrew John Partridge is born 11 November 1953 in Mtarfa, Malta, to English parents.  He is the son of John and Vera Partridge.  John Partridge is a member of Britain’s Royal Navy.

When the Partridge family return to England, they settle in Swindon, Wiltshire.

Andy Partridge develops an interest in rock music.  “I was such a big Beatles fan,” he says, citing Britain’s biggest rock band of the 1960s.  The Kinks, another British rock band of the 1960s, and The Beach Boys, an American group of the same era, are also seen as influences.  Andy Partridge begins to think about becoming a rock musician.  “My parents, especially my mother, were no influence on me whatsoever,” he claims.  However, Andy allows that, “I suppose my father was more influential in my starting to play the guitar.”  Partridge explains that, “When I first started…it was copying the great stuff [like American guitar hero Jimi] Hendrix.”  A mixed grab-bag of influences include Jerry Garcia of U.S. hippie band The Grateful Dead, whose guitar licks Andy Partridge finds easy to copy, and Irish blues-rocker Rory Gallagher.  Once he masters some aspects of guitar-playing, Partridge’s focus changes more towards songwriting.  “I got much more into chords as the architecture over which your voice skips.”

As a teenager, Andy Partridge is prescribed Valium, an anti-anxiety medication.  He is never taken off the drug and grows dependent on it.

“Let me see,” muses Andy Partridge.  “Yes, ’72 I got together with Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers – Colin Moulding on bass, Terry Chambers on drums – and we called ourselves The Helium Kidz…which I thought was a fast, modern name…But the music wasn’t faster or modern.  It was very turgid.”

Colin Ivor Moulding is born 17 August 1955 in Swindon, Wiltshire, England.  He shares this birthplace with Terry Chambers, born 18 July 1955.

From 1972 to 1975 Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers work together.  The band tries out other names such as Star Park (which is Rats Krap spelled backwards).  Dave Cartner (guitar) brings the group up to a quartet for a while – before he quits.

“We weren’t getting anywhere at all,” Andy Partridge recalls.  In 1975 the band reaches a crossroads.  Partridge fumes, “We need a complete change of name…A complete music overhaul.  This is not how I’m hearing it going.”  The Dukes Of Stratosphear is floated as a possible new name, but it is another cognomen which is adopted.  “We chose XTC because we thought it would be a marvellously easy thing to see in print,” says Partridge.  “I thought [it] was much more modern…We were going to sing about modern things: radios and televisions and electric communication.  It’s all gonna be very modern.”  The name XTC has no connection to the recreational drug known as ecstasy (or MDMA as it also called).  Although that compound was invented around 1910, the name ‘ecstasy’ was not used for it until the mid-1980s, a decade after the christening of Andy Partridge’s band.

XTC goes through a few more membership fluctuations.  Steve Hutchins (guitar?) passes through the ranks and in 1976 Johnny Perkins (keyboards) does the same.  The band finally achieves a stable line-up in 1976 when Barry Andrews (keyboards) joins.  Barry Andrews is born 12 September 1956 in West Norwood, London, England.  So the new 1976 line-up of XTC is: Andy Partridge (vocals, guitar), Colin Moulding (vocals, bass), Barry Andrews (keyboards) and Terry Chambers (drums).

“We did a demo session at CBS studios in London and had some cassettes made up of this,” says Andy Partridge.  In search of a record contract, the tapes are sent to various record companies.  One cassette is posted to John Peel, an influential British radio disc-jockey with a reputation for spotting new talent.  Peel attends an XTC gig in London and invites the band to record a session to be broadcast on his radio show.  After this, an astounded Andy Partridge notes, “Record companies were literally fighting each other to sign us.”  The winner of this contest is Virgin Records.

XTC is usually characterised as a new wave band.  In the mid-1970s British popular music is shaped by punk rock.  This is a style that strips away built-up pretensions in favour of a back-to-basics approach.  By its nature, punk is not built to last.  It mutates into new wave in the latter part of the 1970s.  Where punk was angry, violent and political, new wave is just quirky.  The back-to-basics musical approach is retained but new wave emphasises a certain intentionally weird quality.  It is a celebration of individualism.  It is difficult to categorise XTC as punk, but they fit into new wave quite neatly.

Andy Partridge is the leader of XTC and their dominant songwriter.  “I like a lot of straight pop, [mid-1960s British bands] like Small Faces, [Rolling] Stones, Kinks; on the other hand, I like a lot of avant-garde things,” says Partridge.  It is precisely this mix of traditionalism and experimentalism that makes XTC a new wave band.  Their music is accurately described as ‘angular yet melodic pop.’  Although Andy Partridge may dominate, bassist Colin Moulding is the alternative voice of XTC.  His tunes tend to be sweeter than the more self-consciously acerbic Partridge.  To draw a comparison to one of their prime influences, The Beatles, Colin Moulding is the Paul McCartney to Andy Partridge’s John Lennon.

XTC’s first recording for Virgin Records is the EP ‘3-D’, released in October 1977.  In the same month, they issue their first single, the nervy and jittery ‘Science Friction’.  “The early gigs were pretty panicky,” reports Andy Partridge, adding that they were also “great, sweaty fun.”

‘White Music’ (1978) (UK no. 38), released in January, is the ‘sparkling debut’ album by XTC.  The disc is produced by John Leckie, who also produces the band’s second album.  Although ‘Science Friction’ is not on this set, ‘White Music’ is home to XTC’s second and third singles.  ‘Statue Of Liberty’ is a pervy paean to New York’s famous landmark.  The track is enlivened by Barry Andrews’ funhouse keyboards.  ‘This Is Pop’ is a vaguely subversive new wave anthem: “Someone leans in, in my direction / Quizzing on my jukebox selection / ‘What do you call that noise / That you put on?’ / This is pop! Yeah, yeah.”

‘Go 2’ (1978) (UK no. 21) comes out in October, nine months after XTC’s first album.  Although it is not on the first pressings, the single ‘Are You Receiving Me?’ (AUS no. 86) is added to later editions.  It is forceful and fractured: “Are you receiving me? / You are deceiving me, I know / See I know.”  ‘Go +’ is a six song EP released the same month that consists of dub remixes of some of the tracks from the album.  ‘Dub’ is a style associated with reggae music that mixes a track down to a skeletal backbone with echoing shadows of instruments passing through the song.

By 1978 XTC bassist Colin Moulding is married with two children.  One of his offspring is a son named Lee.

“There are a lot of arguments and petty jealousies in XTC,” Barry Andrews ominously tells a reporter in 1978.  After a brief U.S. tour by XTC in 1979, the keyboards player leaves the group because ‘Andrews and [Andy] Partridge clash too many times in the recording studio.’

Dave Gregory joins XTC in 1979.  David Gregory is born 21 September 1952 in Swindon, Wiltshire, England.  He is described as a ‘long-time friend of [XTC leader Andy] Partridge.’  Dave Gregory is primarily a guitarist but sometimes adds keyboard touches as well.

The one-off single ‘Life Begins At The Hop’ (UK no. 54, AUS no. 94) is the first XTC single written by bassist Colin Moulding.  It is also Dave Gregory’s debut with the band.  The song is a gentle parody of 1950s rock, but this frolic is infused with XTC’s trademark new wave sensibility.  “We’ll jive around, make fools of ourselves then stop / We’re back next week with another ridiculous tie knot,” runs part of the lyric to this single released in August 1979.

In August 1979 Andy Partridge marries Marianne Wybourne.  The couple go on to have two children, a daughter named Holly and a son named Harry.

‘Drums And Wires’ (1979) (UK no. 34, US no. 174) is the first of two XTC albums produced by Steve Lillywhite.  Released in August, this set is Dave Gregory’s first full album with XTC.  Colin Moulding’s ‘Making Plans For Nigel’ (UK no. 17, AUS no. 94) uses an off-kilter tempo to examine issues of career-planning and conformity: “We’re only making plans for Nigel / He has this future in British Steel.”  Moulding is also responsible for ‘Ten Feet Tall’, a euphoric, love-struck piece…or is it about a more sexual sense of arousal?  ‘Life Begins At The Hop’ is not part of this album in its original configuration but it is added (or substituted for another track) in some international editions of ‘Drums And Wires’ and later reissues.

Dave Gregory looks back over 1979 and comments, “By the end of the year, I’d recorded ‘Drums And Wires’, toured the U.K. three times, gone to Australia and Japan, been on [British television program] ‘Top of the Pops’ three times, and played on a Peter Gabriel record [Gabriel is a British art-rocker].  I thought, ‘I think I’ve grown to like it here’.”

Early in 1980 Andy Partridge releases a solo album, ‘The Lure Of Salvage’ (1980), credited to ‘Mr Partridge’.  Like the ‘Go +’ EP, this is a dub record, rearranging and reconstructing pieces of earlier songs by XTC.

‘Wait Till Your Boat Goes Down’ is a choppy sea (sick) shanty released by XTC as a stand-alone single in March 1980.

‘Black Sea’ (1980) (UK no. 16, US no. 41) is released in September.  By this time, new wave – the genre with which XTC is identified – is beginning to fade away.  XTC proceed to hew their own path through whimsical pop.  If there is a discernible difference, it is that their earlier new wave recordings were more aggressive and jagged.  From here, XTC’s songs are more often gentle and warm, albeit still pretty warped.  There is still plenty of vigour in the tracks from ‘Black Sea’.  The best of Andy Partridge’s songs on this album may be ‘Towers Of London’ (UK no. 31), an off-centre history lesson about the construction of the major city in England and the brutal toll it took on the workmen: “Towers of London / When they had built you / Victoria’s gem found in somebody’s hell.”  ‘Respectable Street’ documents the hammering pressure of suburbia.  ‘Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me)’ (UK no. 16) is full of witticisms.  It takes DC Comics’ war hero (who stood like a rock against the enemy) and turns him into a rock (music) figure.  Partridge’s narrator is given strategic advice by Sgt Rock in his campaign to win a girl.  ‘Burning With Optimism’s Flame’ is another Partridge piece.  He tells an interviewer that, “My own spirit of optimism is absolutely useless,” but it is rather endearing.  Colin Moulding continues to flex his melodic muscles with the twitchy, bulging pop of ‘Love At First Sight’.  Moulding’s best effort here is the revved-up anti-war tirade ‘Generals And Majors’ (UK no. 32, US no. 104, AUS no. 12): “Generals and majors always seem so unhappy / Unless they got a war.”

‘English Settlement’ (1982) (UK no. 5, US no. 48), released in February, is an ambitious double album co-produced by Hugh Padgham and XTC (though there is a cut-down single disc version made available for the U.S. market).  It contains XTC’s single best song, ‘Senses Working Overtime’ (UK no. 10, AUS no. 12).  The song alternates between quiet verses woven on ticklish acoustic guitars and a more expansive chorus.  Throughout, there is a sense of awestruck wonder about life: “And all the world is biscuit-shaped / It’s just for me to feed my face.”  This song sums up XTC’s main characteristics: Andy Partridge’s wit and good humour, a catchy and hummable pop melody, and a charmingly energetic band performance.  ‘No Thugs In Our House’ has Partridge playing the parents of a young menace who are living in denial of their youngster’s horrid behaviour.  Partridge’s rage is barely contained.  Colin Moulding chips in with ‘Ball And Chain’ (UK no. 58, AUS no. 97), a sing-along smack on the wrist to out of control urban development.

“Come ‘English Settlement’, I had it in my head that I didn’t want to tour,” says Andy Partridge.  “I felt pressured by constant touring…I don’t like touring and it seemed to be getting on top of me in a big way…I actually got really petrified by the thought of people seeing me.”  Compounding the problem, Partridge’s wife, Marianne, throws away his supply of Valium, the drug he had been taking since he was a teenager.  Partridge ‘needed the medication to cope with the grinding monotony of concert touring, which he had always disliked, but had endured for the good of the band.’  Without the Valium, XTC’s frontman suffers ‘memory loss and seizures’ as well as ‘anxiety attacks.’  Andy has a ‘mental breakdown’ on 18 March 1982 during one of the first concerts of an XTC tour of Paris.  He remembers it this way: “Anyway, I collapsed in France in the middle of a tour.  I hadn’t been eating properly, was getting very phobic about audiences, and I collapsed in pure fright.”  Andy Partridge and XTC are urged to return to the fray.  But when the singer suffers a similar, possibly even more debilitating episode a month later in San Diego, California, in April 1982, it is clear that things cannot go on this way.

XTC give up touring and become a studio-based band.  It is not an entirely unprecedented move.  In the 1970s, U.S. band Steely Dan gave up touring in 1974, devoting themselves to the recording studio.  However, they also gave up being a band, becoming instead a ‘project’ revolving around their two songwriters.  In the 1960s, Andy Partridge’s influence, The Beatles, stopped touring after 1966, but continued to record.  The difference in that case is that when The Beatles quit touring, they did so from a position of far greater wealth and popularity than XTC.

In November, XTC buy themselves some time with a complementary pair of compilation albums: ‘Waxworks: Some Singles 1977-1982’ (1982) (UK no. 54) and ‘Beeswax: Some B-Sides 1977-1982’ (1982).

In November 1982 XTC officially announce they will no longer be touring.  They also have to announce that, from November 1982, drummer Terry Chambers is leaving the band.  By this time Chambers is married to an Australian girl.  “Terry said he had this new kid and his wife didn’t want to live in England.  He wanted to tour.  He hated being in the studio,” says Andy Partridge.  Chambers immigrates to Australia in 1983 and serves a stint with a local band called Dragon (though they were originally from New Zealand).  XTC never replaces Terry Chambers; ‘A variety of session drummers [are used on their] studio recordings.’

‘Mummer’ (1983) (UK no. 51, US no. 145) in August is the first album in the second half of XTC’s career, the studio-bound years.  The disc is co-produced by Steve Nye, XTC and Bob Sargeant.  Terry Chambers appears on a couple of tracks recorded before the drummer’s departure, but Peter Phipps plays drums on most of the album.  One of the tracks to feature Chambers is Colin Moulding’s ‘Wonderland’ which conjures up a synthetic paradise.  Andy Partridge contributes the staccato ‘Great Fire’ which is notable for his gulping lead vocal.  His best offering though is ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’ (UK no. 50).  This is a warm, acoustic folk track that glows with romance.  But is it possible that the financial hardships experienced by the young swain in the song serve as a commentary on Partridge’s own concerns about his lower, non-touring income? “Shilling for the fellow who brings the sheep in / Shilling for the fellow who milks the herd / Shilling for the fellow with a wife for keeping / How can we feed love on a farmboy’s wages?” runs part of the lyric.

Using the pseudonym of The Three Wise Men, Andy Partridge, Colin Moulding and Dave Gregory issue a one-off holiday single, ‘Thanks For Christmas’, in time for the 1983 festive season.

‘The Big Express’ (1984) (UK no. 58, US no. 181) is the next XTC album.  It is co-produced by David Lord and XTC.  ‘All You Pretty Girls’ (UK no. 55, AUS no. 76) is an addictive sea shanty from Andy Partridge, but there is something weird about it – in a pleasant sort of way.  Partridge uses a pseudo-reggae rhythm to deliver ‘This World Over’ (UK no. 99), a sighing warning against nuclear war.  Colin Moulding’s best offering here, ‘Wake Up’ (UK no. 94), is also a warning, but this spiky alarm is more general in intent, an urging to come to your senses as much as to stop sleeping.

The Dukes Of Stratosphear, a name XTC considered using back in the mid-1970s, is resurrected.  This time it becomes an alter ego for XTC.  Using this alias, the group records a six song mini-album called ’25 O’Clock’ (1985).  This is psychedelic music, an almost forgotten, quaintly eccentric genre from the mid-1960s, just before the hippie culture became dominant.  XTC make the most of the gag, creating fictional identities for the members of The Dukes Of Stratosphear: Sir John Johns (Andy Partridge), The Red Curtain (Colin Moulding) and Lord Cornelius Plum (Dave Gregory).  The fourth member of the (imaginary) band is drummer E.I.E.I Owen (a.k.a. Ian Gregory, Dave’s brother).

Returning to the guise of XTC, the band issues ‘Skylarking’ (1986) (UK no. 90, US no. 70).  This set is produced by Todd Rundgren, an eccentric pop singer-songwriter of some repute.  Colin Moulding contributes both the woozy, slyly erotic, ‘Grass’ (UK no. 100) and ‘The Meeting Place’ (UK no. 10), a radiant some about young love.  Andy Partridge’s ‘Earn Enough For Us’ revisits the singer’s money worries hinted at on ‘Love On A Farmboy’s Wages’.  However, the track that garners the most attention is Partridge’s ‘Dear God’ (UK no. 99).  The child’s voice heard at the start and the end of the song is a 10 year old girl named Jasmine Veilette.  ‘Dear God’ is confronting because it struggles with religion.  “I won’t believe in heaven and hell, no saint, no sinners, no devil as will / No pearly gates, no thorny crown / You’re always letting us humans down / The wars you bring, the babes you drown / Those lost at sea and never found / And it’s the same the whole world ‘round / The hurt I see helps to compound / That father, son and holy ghost / Is just somebody’s unholy hoax / And if you’re up there you’d perceive / That my heart’s here upon my sleeve / If there is one thing I don’t believe in / It’s you / Dear God,” concludes the song.  The sentiment alienates some listeners and wins XTC some new fans.  Which group is larger is hard to tell.

The Dukes Of Stratosphear alter ego returns for a full-length album, ‘Psonic Psunspot’ (1987).

‘Oranges And Lemons’ (1989) (UK no. 28, US no. 44), released in February, is XTC’s best album.  It is a double album produced by Paul Fox.  Some of the psychedelic flavour of The Dukes Of Stratosphear washes into this project, but the sense of parody of that sideshow is absent.  ‘The Mayor Of Simpleton’ (UK no. 46, US no. 72) finds Andy Partridge feeling self-conscious about his lack of educational qualifications, despite his obvious intelligence.  His commercial struggles in the music industry also weigh on him: “Well I don’t know how to write a big hit song / And all crossword puzzles well I just shun / And I may be the Mayor of Simpleton but I know one thing / And that’s I love you.”  This is a fun song, despite its serious subject matter and it is delivered in a sharp and engaging manner.  Colin Moulding’s ‘King For A Day’ (UK no. 82) is chiming, shining and bright.  Andy Partridge’s ‘The Loving’ offers universal warmth in an oddball manner.  Other notable efforts from this album include ‘Chalkhills And Children’, ‘Across This Antheap’ and Andy Partridge’s eyebrow-raising tribute to his penis, ‘Pink Thing’.

To promote ‘Oranges And Lemons’, XTC perform live for a number of North American radio stations who broadcast these sessions.  This acoustic radio tour occurs in May 1989.  Their gig for a radio station in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on 31 May 1989 takes place in front of a studio audience of one hundred people, the biggest crowd XTC have faced since giving up touring.

‘Nonsuch’ (1992) (UK no. 28, US no. 97) is produced by Gus Dudgeon.  The best tracks on this album all come from Andy Partridge.  ‘The Disappointed’ (UK no. 33, AUS no. 32) is an anthem under which the lonely hearts of the world can unite.  The paean to individuality, ‘Wrapped In Grey’, is a piano-based piece that is very reminiscent of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson at the time of that band’s ‘Pet Sounds’ album.  The most interesting track here may be the harmonica-laden electric folk of ‘The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead’ (UK no. 71).  It reads like an attempted corrective to ‘Dear God’, but though it seems to praise Jesus Christ (“Peter Pumpkinhead was too good / Had him nailed to a chunk of wood”), the irreverent alias given to the subject probably turns off those who would otherwise most value Partridge’s goodwill gesture.

Around this time, Andy Partridge’s marriage to his wife, Marianne, ends in divorce.  In 1994 he meets Erica Wexler, the niece of Jerry Wexler, the American record producer long associated with Atlantic Records.  From 1998 Erica Wexler becomes Andy Partridge’s partner in a long-term relationship.

‘Nonsuch’ turns out to be XTC’s last album for Virgin Records.  They just aren’t selling well enough to retain their record contract.  One of the paradoxes of XTC’s career is that although they craft sublime, accessible, pop music they fail to reach the masses usually associated with pop and they remain favourites only with a discerning, smaller audience.  “We do this for the art, not the adulation,” says Andy Partridge defiantly.

After a long break, XTC returns with ‘Apple Venus, Volume 1’ (1999) (UK no. 42, US no. 106) on their own Idea Records label distributed by Cooking Vinyl.  This proves to be Dave Gregory’s last album with the group.  Reduced to the duo of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, XTC follows up with ‘Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Volume 2)’ (2000) (UK no. 40, US no. 108).

‘Fuzzy Warbles’ is ‘a collection of demos and sketches from Andy Partridge’s tape archives.’  No Colin Moulding material appears on these discs: ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 1’ (2002), ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 2’ (2002), ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 3’ (2003), ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 4’ (2003), ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 5’ (2004), ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 6’ (2004), ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 7’ (2006), and ‘Fuzzy Warbles, Volume 8’ (2006).

In 2008 Andy Partridge confirms, “Yes, I believe my musical partnership with Colin Moulding has come to an end, for reasons too personal and varied to go into here, but we had a good run as they say and produced some real good work.  No, I won’t be working with him in the future.”  It appears likely that any further recordings will be Andy Partridge solo albums rather than being credited to XTC.

Andy Partridge’s health problems came to a head in 1982 and broke the career of XTC in two.  From 1976 to 1982, they were a touring band that played (mostly) new wave music.  After 1982, they were a studio-bound entity that played an individualistically eccentric brand of pop.  Both eras had their charms; neither was clearly superior.  The strength of XTC was always in their songs and that quality existed fairly consistently throughout their career.  XTC were ‘better known for their long-standing critical acclaim rather than commercial success.’  They were ‘one of the smartest – and catchiest – British pop bands to emerge from the punk and new wave explosion of the late 1970s.’

Sources:

  1. brainyquote.com as at 10 September 2014
  2. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 11 September 2014
  3. wikipedia.org as at 7 July 2014
  4. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 7 July 2014
  5. allmusic.com, ‘XTC’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 12 November 2003
  6. guitardotcomvideos – ‘A Guitar Lesson with Andy Partridge, Pt. 1’ (20 March 2009?)
  7. ‘XTC’ – Eye Film and Television for the John Peel Centre for BBC Creative Arts (30 September 2013?)
  8. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 483
  9. ‘Fairfield County Advocate’ (U.K. newspaper) Andy Partridge interview conducted by Brett Milano via 10 below
  10. chalkhills.org by John Relph as at 11 September 2014
  11. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) ‘Is There a Place in Rock ‘n’ Roll for a Princess Anne Lookalike’ – A Classic Feature from the Vaults – 35 Years Ago this Month – a 1978 XTC interview conducted by Chas De Whalley (21 January 2013)
  12. ‘Fossil Fuel – The XTC Singles – 1977-1992’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Virgin Records Ltd, 1996) p. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13
  13. BBC Radio Wales (U.K. radio station) – Andy Partridge interview conducted by Alan Thompson (3 August 2014)
  14. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 253
  15. ‘Swindon Advertiser’ (U.K. newspaper) ‘Ask Andy’ column by Andy Partridge (30 July 2008) via 3 above
  16. lyricsfreak.com as at 16 September 2014

Song lyrics copyright EMI Music Publishing

Last revised 25 September 2014

Stevie Wonder

 Stevie Wonder

 Stevie Wonder – circa 1972

 “For once I can say, ‘This is mine you can’t take it’ / As long as I have love I know I can make it” – ’For Once In My Life’ (Ron Miller, Orlando Murden)

This is how African-American singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder loses one of his five senses: It is the result of a traffic accident.  Stevie Wonder is in the passenger seat of a 1948 Dodge flatbed truck.  He is sleeping, with headphones on.  The person at the wheel of the Dodge is momentarily distracted by something and fails to notice the truck in front of them until it is too late and the vehicles collide.  The truck into which they crash is carrying logs of timber.  The load slips and one log smashes through the windshield of the Dodge, striking Wonder full in the face.  Stevie Wonder is rushed to hospital.  He spends four days in a coma induced by a brain contusion.  Although he recovers, Stevie Wonder incurs permanent damage: He loses his sense of smell.  This fateful accident takes place on 6 August 1973 near Salisbury, North Carolina.  Stevie Wonder is already blind.  He lost his eyesight years earlier.  But that’s a different story…

Stevie Wonder is born 13 May 1950 in Saginaw, Michigan, U.S.A.  At birth, his name is Steveland Judkins – or perhaps Steveland Morris as that is what the singer claims was on the birth certificate.  He is the son of Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway Judkins.  Calvin Judkins is described as ‘an abusive lout’ while his spouse is viewed as a ‘hard-nosed, sometime hooker.’  Predictably, Stevie describes his mother more favourably: “Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness.”

Stevie Wonder is a premature baby.  The struggling newborn is hastily placed in an incubator.  However an excess of oxygen in the incubator leaves him blind within hours.  The condition is known as retinopathy of prematurity; the growth of the eyes is aborted and this causes the retinas to detach.  “I can barely remember if I did see [as a child],” Stevie Wonder says, but he has vague recollections (possibly imagined) of the faces of his mother and the attending (white) doctor.

In 1954, when her son is 4 years old, Lula Mae Hardaway Judkins leaves her husband (Stevie’s father) and relocates to Detroit, Michigan, with her boy.  She changes her name to Lula Hardaway and her son’s name to Steveland Morris (though, by Wonder’s account, that was always the name on his birth certificate).  There are conflicting versions of explanations for the Morris surname.  One version has it that Lula Hardaway changes her ‘son’s surname to Morris, partly because of relatives’ who, presumably, have that surname.  A second version puts it that the name is altered to Steveland Morris when his mother (re)marries.  A third version claims that Hardaway is the surname of Stevie’s stepfather.  Whatever the reason, Steveland Morris is now the child’s name.  In fact, for all his later fame as Stevie Wonder, Morris remains his legal surname.  “My father was not the dominant person who raised the family.  It was my mother who raised the family,” the singer points out.

“I never thought of being blind as a disadvantage, and I never thought of being black as a disadvantage,” insists Stevie Wonder.  Still, growing up is a difficult period.  “When I was a child, kids used to make fun of me because I was blind,” Stevie admits.  His rather solitary life is enlivened by books (“Of course I read Braille, yes”) and, perhaps more importantly, by music.  Not allowed out on his own, Stevie amuses himself with music on the radio.  Within a few years, he begins singing in the local church choir.  Stevie begins playing drums and harmonica when he is 5 and takes piano lessons soon after.  He also adds bongoes to his musical skillset and is proficient in all four instruments by the time he is 9.  A partnership with a young friend leads to the duo of Stevie And John performing on street corners, at dances and parties.

“My mother had a rule, obviously, that I couldn’t go across the street by myself,” recalls Stevie Wonder, “but I had to find a way of doing it.”  That desire grows when, one day, he hears music playing down the street.  The youngster investigates and finds another musical enthusiast.  “I was discovered by Ronnie White’s cousin…We were friends,” he says of this new acquaintance.  Although Stevie remembers it being Ronnie White’s cousin, other versions have it that it is Gerald White, Ronnie’s brother, who discovers Stevie.  In any case, in 1961 Stevie sings his own composition, ‘Lonely Boy’, to Ronnie White.  So who is Ronnie White?  He is a member of the Detroit-based vocal group The Miracles.  The Miracles are signed to a nascent local record label, Motown.  Ronnie White arranges an audition for Stevie Morris with the head of Motown, Berry Gordy.

Berry Gordy, Jr., is an African-American entrepreneur.  He starts out as a professional boxer.  Gordy then opens a record shop – which fails due to his stubborn insistence on only stocking records he likes.  In 1955 he goes to work on the assembly-line at the Ford automobile factory.  By 1957 Berry Gordy has left that job and is working as an independent songwriter and record producer.  He uses his earnings from this activity to create his own record label, Motown (a contraction of ‘motor town’, a nod to the automobile industry that is the main economic force in the label’s Detroit hometown).  Motown’s first record is released in 1958.  Motown is actually an umbrella title for three separate, interrelated labels: Motown, Gordy and Tamla.

What distinguishes Motown from virtually every other record label is that it is owned by an African-American (Berry Gordy) and its recording artists are also African-American.  The label purports to furnish ‘The Sound of Young America’ (not ‘The Sound of Black America’) and is aimed at all races, not just an African-American audience – though, naturally, that is its major fanbase.  Rhythm and blues is a virtual catch-all term for a recording by an African-American act.  Strictly speaking, it is a more danceable progression from blues, itself the offspring of the call-and-response worksongs of the plantation workers that, in turn, can be traced back to African tribal music.  Motown’s acts play rhythm and blues mixed with a generous dollop of pop in order to attract a wider (and whiter) audience.

Calling on his experience on the automobile production line, Berry Gordy organises Motown into different compartments.  Each of his acts is wheeled through and fitted with suitable songwriters, record producers, musicians, and even consultants on deportment, fashion and choreography.  The Motown musicians play on records by all the label’s acts.  These musicians include: Joe Messina (guitar), Robert White (guitar), Earl Van Dyke (keyboards), James Jamerson, Sr. (bass), Benny Benjamin (drums) and James Giddons (percussion).  Although they go unheralded at the time, this collective is later known as The Funk Brothers.

When Stevie Morris auditions for Berry Gordy he demonstrates his full multi-instrumental capability.  Legend has it that Gordy is unimpressed with the youngster’s singing, drumming and bongo-playing, but is ‘astounded’ by his harmonica skills.  Accordingly, when Stevie is signed to a recording contract, his mouth-organ playing is given a prominent place in his early works.  Producer Clarence Paul is assigned to Motown’s latest signing (Stevie is actually on the Tamla imprint) and, reportedly, it is Clarence Paul who dubs him ‘Little Stevie Wonder’.  When seeing the child prodigy at work, people call him ‘a little wonder’ so it is this term that is adapted into the stagename Little Stevie Wonder.

Although Stevie Wonder sang an original composition for Ronnie White of The Miracles, his own songwriting skills are put on the back burner for the first few years of his recording career.  He ‘starts out in the general Motown mould.’  “They would have the rhythm worked out and I would just come to the sessions and play the piano,” Wonder recalls.

The first single by Little Stevie Wonder is ‘I Call It Pretty Music, But The Old People Call It The Blues’ (US no. 101).  It is released in August 1962.  The song is co-written by Motown boss Berry Gordy and the producer assigned to Wonder, Clarence Paul.  The 12 year old singer vocalises in an endearingly high, schoolboy style, the song punctuated by his frantic harmonica riffs.

‘The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie’ (1962), the debut album for Little Stevie Wonder, is issued in September.  The title is an early indication that Wonder’s musical tastes are quite broad and not limited to rhythm and blues and/or pop.  The song ‘Fingertips’ first appears on this disc but since it plays a larger role later, it will be referred to further in due course.  Henry Cosby produces this debut album.

‘Tribute To Uncle Ray’ (1962), the second Little Stevie Wonder album, is released in October, only a month after his debut.  The ‘Uncle Ray’ of the title is a reference to 1950s rhythm and blues pioneer Ray Charles.  Like Wonder, Ray Charles is blind, African-American and a piano player with a wider musical agenda than may be first supposed.  Unlike Wonder, Ray Charles is a more tough-minded, ornery character.  On this disc, Little Stevie Wonder sings cover versions of Ray Charles songs with a sprinkling of added Motown material.  Clarence Paul produces this set.

Little Stevie Wonder notches up a couple of more singles in 1962: ‘Little Water Boy’ in October; and the doo wop-influenced ‘Contract On Love’ in December.

’12-Year Old Genius – Recorded Live’ (1963) (US no. 1) appears in May.  Ray Charles was frequently called a genius, so the use of the word here is, again, an attempt to draw a parallel between the two artists.  “No, I don’t think I’m a genius,” Wonder will later say, despite the tag following him through his career.  The material on this album is recorded live at the Regal Theater in Chicago in June 1962.  This means that Little Stevie Wonder was indeed 12 at the time of the recording, but he turns 13 eight days before this album is released.  Berry Gordy is credited as the producer of this album.  ‘Fingertips’ (US no. 1) (a track from Stevie’s debut album) is revisited here.  It is a wild rhythm and blues instrumental rave-up that pits Stevie’s harmonica against a horn section.  ‘Fingertips’ is co-written by Henry Cosby and Clarence Paul and is arranged and conducted by Clarence Paul.  ‘Fingertips’ tops the U.S. singles chart for three weeks beginning on 10 August 1963.  For one week (24 August 1963), Little Stevie Wonder has both the chart-topping album and single.

‘Workout Stevie, Workout’ (US no. 33) is the title of Little Stevie Wonder’s September 1963 single.  It is also what the backing vocalists shout as the youngster wails on his harmonica in this frantic piece that has only minimal lyrics.  The album ‘With A Song In My Heart’ (1963) in December closes out the year.

January 1964’s ‘Castles In The Sand’ (US no. 52) sets the tone for the next phase.  It is co-written by the foursome of Hal Davis, Frank Wilson, Marc Gordon and Mary O’Brien and is produced by Davis and Gordon.  The song is atmospheric, introduced by the sound of gulls and surf, and features a mellow string section.  ‘Castles In The Sand’ is the last release credited to Little Stevie Wonder.  From this point, he is simply Stevie Wonder.  The rapidly maturing youngster is not so ‘little’ anyway, eventually reaching a height of six feet.  The May single ‘Hey Harmonica Man’ (US no. 29) joins ‘Castles In The Sand’ on the June album, ‘Stevie At The Beach’ (1964).  (Note:  In the U.K., this album is renamed ‘Hey Harmonica Man’ (1964).)  Another song from this album, the gospel-flavoured ‘Happy Street’, is issued as single in September and is performed by Stevie Wonder in his motion picture debut ‘Muscle Beach Party’ (1964).  This is one of a series of beach movies featuring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.  Stevie also appears in their next film in the same year, ‘Bikini Beach’ (1964).  Stevie Wonder, the blind black kid, seems a bit out of place with the surfside antics of the fun-lovin’ white teens, but it shows Motown’s determination to reach a larger audience.  Around this time, Stevie Wonder’s voice begins to deepen considerably.  Clarence Paul’s songs are too high-pitched for the teenager’s comfort.  Stevie’s career is put on hiatus.  During this time out he studies classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind.

Stevie Wonder enters 1965 with ‘Kiss Me Baby’ in March.  It’s the first of his singles for which Wonder gets a writing credit, a co-credit in this case with producer Clarence Paul.  As it is almost completely an instrumental – aside from the spoken title – this harmonica-heavy track barely makes Wonder’s new, deeper voice heard.  A better showcase is August’s cover version of Tommy Tucker’s 1963 hit ‘High Heel Sneakers’ (US no. 59).  This is, in turn, upstaged by November’s ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ (US no. 3, UK no. 14).  The songwriting is credited to Stevie Wonder in partnership with Motown regulars Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby.  ‘Uptight’ is a bracingly urgent jolt of rhythm and blues pop, its deep spirit enhanced by some sophisticated horns.  The lyric outlines the tale of a poor boy (“The only shirt I own is here on my back”) that falls for a more upmarket gal.  It’s a simple enough storyline, but it also shows the possible beginnings of Wonder’s interest in social justice.

The album ‘Uptight’ (1966) (US no. 33) in May of course includes 1965’s namesake single.  It also scoops up some previously unaligned material such as the 1962 single ‘Contract On Love’ and 1965’s ‘Music Talk’ (the funky flipside to ‘High Heel Sneakers’).  Among the tracks on this set are 1966 singles ‘Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby’ (US no. 20) (a stompin’ song from March) and ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ (US no. 9, UK no. 36) (a cover version of Bob Dylan’s folk protest song from 1962 given a shrugging beat in this June makeover that, again, illustrates Wonder’s growing social conscience) along with its flipside, the pacey ‘Ain’t That Asking For Trouble’ (a Wonder original co-written with Clarence Paul and Sylvia Moy).  Another notable track on this album is the shimmering ‘Love A Go Go’.  The philosophical ‘A Place In The Sun’ (US no. 9, UK no. 20) is released in October and is included on the December album ‘Down To Earth’ (1966) (US no. 72).  This disc is host to the excitable ‘Be Cool, Be Calm (And Keep Yourself Together)’ and the semi-ballad ‘Thank You Love’, two high quality efforts Stevie Wonder co-writes with Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby.  Wonder ends the year with a seasonal single in November, ‘Someday At Christmas’ (US no. 24).

‘Travelin’ Man’ (US no. 32) in February 1967 has a country music-like lilt.  May’s ‘I Was Made To Love Her’ (US no. 2, UK no. 5) has a harder, rubbery twang.  Stevie Wonder shares a songwriting credit for this one with not only Sylvia Moy and producer Henry Cosby, but the singer’s mother, Lula Hardaway.  The album ‘I Was Made To Love Her’ (1967) (US no. 45), released in August, naturally includes the title track.  The disc is padded out a bit with Wonder’s renditions of songs by other famous contemporary black singers such as James Brown’s ‘Please Please Please’ and Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’.  This album is also noteworthy as the end of Clarence Paul’s involvement with his young charge (Paul co-produces this set with Henry Cosby).  ‘I’m Wondering’ (US no. 12, UK no. 22), the September 1967 single, could almost be Stevie’s theme tune.  Its marching beat is another collaboration from Wonder and Cosby.  The previous year’s holiday tune becomes the title track for November’s ‘Someday At Christmas’ (1967) which is filled out with Stevie’s take on various traditional yuletide songs.  (Note: Another Stevie Wonder song recorded in 1967 is the dreamy pop piece ‘Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’.  However this is not released by Wonder until the compilation album ‘Looking Back’ (1977).  In the meantime, Aretha Franklin releases her version of the song in 1973.)

One of Stevie Wonder’s more offbeat projects is ‘Eivets Rednow’ (1968) (US no. 64), an album of easy listening instrumentals released in November on the Gordy label and credited to the pseudonymous Eivets Rednow (which is Stevie Wonder spelled backwards).  The disc includes a version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s 1966 movie theme ‘Alfie’ (US no. 66) as well as an original instrumental from Henry Cosby and Wonder (or Rednow?), the utopian ‘More Than A Dream’.  Stevie Wonder’s more mainstream singles from 1968 are ‘Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day’ in March, ‘You Met Your Match’ in June and ‘For Once In My Life’ in October.  ‘Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day’ (US no. 9, UK no. 46) is written by Stevie Wonder, Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy.  It has a warm groove and is a warning from Stevie’s narrator to another fellow to start treating his woman right or Stevie/the narrator will steal her away.  ‘You Met Your Match’ (US no. 35) is co-written by Wonder, Don Hunter and Lula Hardaway (Wonder’s mother).  This is a hotter, funkier single than its predecessor and is a tale of two lovers trying to outdo each other in romantic cruelty.  ‘For Once In My Life’ (US no. 2, UK no. 3) is written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden.  It is an uplifting, optimistic song of emotional resolve.  All three of these singles are on the November album ‘For Once In My Life’ (1968) (US no. 50).  The disc is co-produced by Henry Cosby, Don Hunter and Stevie Wonder.

In 1968 Stevie Wonder meets Syreeta Wright.  She started working at Motown as a receptionist in 1965 and graduated to becoming secretary to producer William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson in 1966.  She gets a chance to record a single herself in January 1968 but it has little impact.  Although she is four years older than him, Syreeta Wright begins dating Stevie Wonder in 1969.  He encourages her to branch into songwriting.

The double A sided single ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’ (US no. 34, UK no. 14) backed with ‘My Cherie Amour’ (US no. 4, UK no. 4) is released by Stevie Wonder in January 1969.  Stevie co-writes both songs but his confederates are different on each track.  Paul Riser, Don Hunter and Lula Hardaway share credit with the vocalist on the brooding ‘I Don’t Know Why I Love You’; its agonised vocal is built on an electronic keyboard sound.  By contrast, ‘My Cherie Amour’ is feather-light pop, yet sweet and sublimely moving.  The romantic protagonist declares, “Pretty little one that I adore / You’re the only girl my heart beats for / How I wish that you were mine,” but, in reality, “I’ve been near you but you never notice me.”  Stevie Wonder co-writes ‘My Cherie Amour’ (loosely, the title is French for ‘My Dear Love’) with Henry Cosby and Sylvia Moy.  Both of these songs are on the album ‘My Cherie Amour’ (1969) (US no. 34, UK no. 17) issued in August.  Stevie Wonder is credited as the producer of this album.  It includes Wonder doing a cover version of edgy rock group The Doors’ 1967 hit ‘Light My Fire’.  This is an odd choice for a rhythm and blues/pop artist to cover, but it is evidence of Wonder’s eclectic tastes.  Among the other tracks on this disc is the sumptuous love song ‘Angie Girl’ (the B side to 1968’s ‘For Once In My Life’) and the big production number ‘Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday’ (US no. 7, UK no. 2) with becomes Stevie Wonder’s next single in September 1969.

A concert recording takes Stevie Wonder into the 1970s.  It is March’s ‘Stevie Wonder Live’ (1970) (US no. 81).  The studio album ‘Signed, Sealed & Delivered’ (1970) (US no. 25) comes in August and is home to four hit singles.  January’s ‘Never Had A Dream Come True’ (US no. 26, UK no. 6) has a fat, musical theatre sound.  The best of the bunch is the album’s title track, ‘Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours’ (US no. 3, UK no. 15) which is issued in June, two months before the parent album.  This song boasts a twanging guitar and a stridently soulful vocal from Stevie in which he admits, “I’ve done a lot of foolish things that I really didn’t mean,” and throws himself on the mercy of his love to whom he ‘delivers’ himself.  The idea for this song apparently comes from Stevie’s mother, Lula Hardaway, and she shares writing credit with her son, Syreeta Wright (Stevie’s girlfriend) and Lee Garrett.  September’s ‘Heaven Help Us All’ (US no. 9, UK no. 29) is a dramatic slice of gospel soul complete with choir.  The fourth single from the album is not issued until February 1971: The Beatles’ 1965 hit ‘We Can Work It Out’ (US no. 13, UK no. 27) is given a highly attractive funky makeover by Stevie Wonder.

On 14 September 1970 Stevie Wonder marries Syreeta Wright in Detroit.

October’s ‘Live At The Talk Of The Town’ (1970) – another concert recording – is released only in the U.K. (until 2005).

‘Where I’m Coming From’ (1971) (US no. 62) in April is the herald of a new phase in Stevie Wonder’s career.  The singer takes more control of his own career, pushing the Motown organisation support team into the background.  Stevie Wonder produces this album and co-writes most of the material with his wife, Syreeta Wright.  ‘If You Really Love Me’ (US no. 8, UK no. 20) alternates low, bluesy verses with a big and brassy, punchy pop chorus.  ‘Something Out Of The Blue’ is ornate with flutes and strings.  Perhaps the most significant track though is ‘Do Yourself A Favour’ whose streetwise lyrics and electronic keyboards are the clearest pointers towards the future.  Motown boss Berry Gordy is not fond of ‘Where I’m Coming From’ and this too is a portent of the future.

On 21 May 1971 Stevie Wonder turns 21.  This is significant because Motown has been holding a substantial portion of their young performer’s earnings in a trust fund for him until this time.  Wonder now gains access to these funds.  Additionally, after much wrangling, he secures a new, more lucrative contract with Motown that importantly also grants him far greater artistic freedom than before.  “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision,” says Stevie Wonder.  Motown has passed its peak now.  Certainly the production-line methods that served the label so well in its heyday are breaking down.  Of all Motown’s signings, probably none of them capitalise on this change as well as Stevie Wonder.  Although he was a successful performer in the 1960s, that decade seems to be only a prologue to the full flowering of his talents in the 1970s.

Stevie Wonder assumes almost total control of his work.  He produces the recording sessions.  He writes virtually all his own material – without any co-writers.  “I can’t say that I’m always writing in my head but I do spend a lot of time in my head writing or coming up with ideas,” Wonder advises.  Stylistically, his basic rhythm and blues and pop background takes on a variety of other tones as Stevie Wonder proves capable of assimilating such genres as funk and reggae.  Thematically, his lyrics move between romantic love and universal love, social justice and hard-nosed street smarts.  Stevie Wonder also starts his own publishing company, Black Bull Music (Stevie is born a Taurus, under the astrological sign of the bull).  He also studies music theory at the University of Southern California.  Advances in technology, especially in synthesisers and electronic keyboards, allow Stevie Wonder to play most of the instruments on his recordings with the aid of some judicious multi-tracked overdubs.  In live performance, such one-man band displays are less practical.  In the 1960s Wonder often toured as part of a Motown revue with a single band supporting each performer on the bill.  In the 1970s he creates Wonderlove, his own backing group.  The membership is rather amorphous but some of the names who serve time in Wonderlove over the years are: Ben Bridges (guitar), Nathan Watts (bass), Dennis Davis (drums), Minnie Riperton (backing vocals), Lynda Laurence (backing vocals).  Stevie Wonder also relies on the likes of Milton Hardaway (his brother) who acts as his ‘walker’, guiding him around.  Milton also administers Stevie’s fan club.  Greg Upshaw helps choose the singer’s apparel.

Stevie Wonder’s marriage to Syreeta Wright ends in divorce in 1972.  The couple were married for only eighteen months.  The two of them remain friends.  Stevie plays a key role in relaunching Syreeta’s recording career in 1974.

‘Music Of My Mind’ (1972) (US no. 21) is the first album from the mature phase of Stevie Wonder’s career.  It is released in March, around the same time that his marriage to Syreeta Wright ends.  This is the first of four consecutive albums on which Stevie Wonder works with Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil.  The duo recorded an album in 1971 as Tonto’s Expanding Head Band.  They are pioneers in electronic music, bringing their skills in synthesiser programming to their work with Stevie Wonder.  Synthesisers are popularised by Wonder.  The best known song from the album is ‘Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)’ (US no. 33).  As the title implies, this is a merger of two songs, the thoughtful, keyboard-based ‘Superwoman’ and the harder, more acidic ‘Where Were You When I Needed You’.  This album is also home to ‘Love Having You Around’.

On 3 June 1972 British rock band The Rolling Stones begin a tour of America with Stevie Wonder as their support act.  Although this may seem a bit beneath an artist of Wonder’s stature, it does expose his music to a rock audience who may not have taken much interest in a performer better known for rhythm and blues or pop.  It seems a successful strategy because Wonder’s record sales significantly increase.  “We had fun when I did The Stones’ tour.  It was cool,” Stevie Wonder recalls.

‘Talking Book’ (1972) (US no. 3, UK no. 16) is described as ‘a magnificently realised masterpiece’ and is the album that makes Stevie Wonder ‘a superstar.’  It is notable for the ‘gutsy, driving funk’ of ‘Superstition’ (US no. 1, UK no. 11).  The song was originally written for British guitar great Jeff Beck.  Although Beck records it, Motown rush releases Stevie Wonder’s version and it becomes his second no. 1 pop single on 27 January 1973.  The lyrics deliver a warning: “Very superstitious / Writing’s on the wall / Very superstitious / Ladders ‘bout to fall / 13 month old baby / Broke the looking glass / Seven years of bad luck / The good things in your past / When you believe in things that you don’t understand / Then you suffer / Superstition ain’t the way.”  The ‘guitar riff’ on ‘Superstition’ is actually played on a Hohner D6 Clavinet keyboard.  ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ (US no. 1, UK no. 7) is Stevie Wonder’s greatest individual song.  It has an utterly timeless classic melody and is a ‘mellow jazzy ballad [that goes on] to become a pop standard.’  In a disorienting move, the opening lines are sung by vocalists other than Stevie Wonder.  Jim Gilstrap begins, “You are the sunshine of my life / That’s why I’ll always be around.”  Lani Groves responds, “You are the apple of my eye / Forever you’ll stay in my heart.”  Stevie Wonder then sings the remainder of the song, seeming like a beneficent creator spirit beaming down on his Adam and Eve.  ‘You Are The Sunshine Of My Life’ follows the example of ‘Superstition’ and also ascends to the top of the singles chart, in this case on 19 May 1973.  ‘Talking Book’ also finds room for some social concern in the form of ‘Big Brother’ as well as such tracks as ‘You’ve Got It Bad, Girl’ and ‘I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)’.

‘Innervisions’ (1973) (US no. 4, UK no. 8), released in August, is Stevie Wonder’s best album.  The highlight of this set is ‘Living For The City’ (US no. 8, UK no. 15), a tough, no-nonsense portrait of (black) struggle.  “A boy is born in hard-time Mississippi” to parents who have it tough – “His father works some days for fifteen hours / And you can bet he barely makes a dollar / His mother goes to scrub the floors for many / And you’d best believe she hardly earns a penny.”  In short, they are, “Living just enough, just enough for the city.”  The song contains an extraordinary audio drama wherein an innocent youth, new to the city, is duped into holding drugs and is sentenced to prison. Harsh as that may be, ‘Higher Ground’ (US no. 4, UK no. 29) offers a more uplifting spiritual message, made palatable to the secular world by its squelchy, rubbery funk.  Other notable efforts are the anti-drug song ‘Too High’ and the hits ‘He’s Misstra Know It All’ (UK no. 10) and ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing’ (US no. 16).  ‘Innervisions’ is a consistent album from an artist at the height of his powers and is ‘the peak of his 1972-1973 run of albums.’

On 6 August 1973, three days after the release date of ‘Innervisions’, the vehicle in which Stevie Wonder is travelling collides with a truck bearing a load of timber.  A log strikes Wonder in the face, putting him in a coma for four days and destroying his sense of smell.

‘Fulfillingness’ First Finale’ (1974) (US no. 1, UK no. 5) sees Stevie Wonder return to action.  ‘Boogie On Reggae Woman’ (US no. 3, UK no. 12) is a slippery dance number in which Wonder successfully absorbs the loping beats of reggae, the musical style pioneered in Jamaica.  ‘You Haven’t Done Nothin’’ (US no. 1, UK no. 30) is a show of righteous anger towards the empty promises made to the African-American community by the administration of Richard Nixon, the U.S. President at the time.  It also tops the charts on 2 November 1974.

Around this time, Stevie Wonder becomes romantically involved with Yolanda Simmons, a secretary at his publishing company.  Although the couple never marry, Yolanda Simmons becomes the mother of Wonder’s first two children: a daughter named Aisha (born 2 February 1975) and a son named Keita (born 1977).  Both children have the surname Morris, as will all Stevie’s children since his name legally remains Steveland Morris.

In 1975 Stevie Wonder visits Jamaica and plays music with Bob Marley, the figurehead of the reggae movement.

‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (1976) (US no. 1, UK no. 2) is a bountiful double album with four extra tracks on a bonus EP for a grand total of twenty-one songs.  Stevie Wonder produces this set on his own, having parted company with his synthesiser gurus Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil.  There is no shortage of electronic keyboards though as the instruments are now much more commonplace in rock’s musical landscape.  ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ is home to a pair of no. 1 singles.  ‘I Wish’ (US no. 1, UK no. 5) tops the charts on 22 January 1977.  This is a nostalgic funky workout, “Looking back on when I was a little nappy-headed boy,” that finds the singer energetically proclaiming, “I wish those days could / Come back once more / I wish those days / Never had to go.”  More offbeat is ‘Sir Duke’ (US no. 1, UK no. 2), a tribute to Duke Ellington, the swing music big band leader from the 1940s.  The horn section dominates as a sunny Stevie Wonder points out that the beauty of this music, which he conveys convincingly, is that, “You can feel it all over.”  The big band leader provides a further example to Wonder, as Stevie reveals in an interview, “When people ask me…what is my most favourite song, I quote Duke Ellington…and I say, ‘I haven’t written it yet.’”  ‘Sir Duke’ is a U.S. no. 1 single for three weeks, 21 May 1977 to 4 June 1977.  ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ celebrates the birth of Aisha, Stevie Wonder’s first child, and includes audio of the baby girl herself.  Other notable tracks from ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ include ‘As’ (US no. 36), ‘Another Star’ (US no. 32, UK no. 29) and ‘Pastime Paradise’.

‘Looking Back’ (1977) (US no. 34) includes Stevie Wonder’s previously unreleased version of his 1967 song ‘Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)’ amongst his better known hits.

‘Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants’ (1979) (US no. 4, UK no. 8) is the double album soundtrack to the nature documentary ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ (1978).  It is mostly atmospheric instrumentals.  The album’s most cohesive moment is ‘Send One Your Love’ (US no. 4, UK no. 52), a well-constructed, classy pop song.

‘Hotter Than July’ (1980) (US no. 3, UK no. 2) is an album of strong songs that helps solidify Stevie Wonder’s stocks.  ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’ (US no. 5, UK no. 2) is a reggae song, a tribute to reggae superstar Bob Marley.  “Marley’s hot on the box,” advises the lyric.  This song also provides the album with its title: “Everyone’s feeling pretty / It’s hotter than July.”  The album includes another tribute song.  ‘Happy Birthday’ (UK no. 2) celebrates the African-American civil rights campaigner, the Reverend Martin Luther King.  It is part of a successful campaign to have King’s birthday declared a national holiday in the U.S.A.  ‘I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It’ (US no. 11, UK no. 10) is a tightly-wound riposte to a cheating woman.  ‘Lately’ (US no. 64, UK no. 3) is a sleek piano ballad.

‘Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium’ (1982) (US no. 4, UK no. 8) is a double album collecting the hits from the mature phase of the singer’s career.  The project includes four new songs: ‘Front Line’ (UK no. 94), ‘Ribbon In The Sky’ (US no. 54, UK no. 45), ‘Do I Do’ (US no. 13, UK no. 10) and, the best of them, the thudding ‘That Girl’ (US no. 4, UK no. 39).

Stevie Wonder duets with former Beatle Paul McCartney on the single ‘Ebony And Ivory’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1).  It becomes a British no. 1 single on 8 May 1982 but performs even better in the U.S. where it tops the chart for seven weeks (15 May 1982 – 26 June 1982) with its plea for racial harmony.  Wonder says of McCartney, “He’s nice.”  Note: ‘Ebony And Ivory’ is written by Paul McCartney and appears on his album ‘Tug Of War’ (1982).

By this time, Stevie Wonder’s relationship with Yolanda Simmons is over.  With new girlfriend Melody McCulley, he has a third child: a son named Mumtaz (born 1983).  Wonder’s relationship with Melody McCulley fades away.  Stevie Wonder goes on to father two more children: a son named Kwame (born 6 August 1988) and a daughter named Sophia.  However the mother(s) are not publicly revealed.

Another film soundtrack, ‘The Woman In Red’ (1984) (US no. 4, UK no. 2), provides Stevie Wonder with another chart-topper, the ballad ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1).  This song also wins an Oscar from the film community.

‘In Square Circle’ (1985) (US no. 5, UK no. 5) is best known for the bouncy ‘Part-Time Lover’ (US no. 1, UK no. 3).  This is Stevie Wonder’s last release on Tamla as he migrates to the main Motown label with his next album.

Stevie Wonder is involved with two charity singles in the mid-1980s.  1985’s ‘We Are The World’ (US no. 1, UK no. 1, AUS no. 1) is credited to USA For Africa and aims to alleviate famine in Africa.  Wonder rubs shoulders on this tune with an all-star cast including the song’s authors, African-American pop stars Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson.  1986’s ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ (US no. 1, UK no. 16) is a benefit recording to fight the disease known as AIDS.  A more intimate work, it combines Stevie Wonder with three other singers: Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Elton John.

‘Characters’ (1987) (US no. 1, UK no. 16) is Stevie Wonder’s next album.  It is home to the single ‘Skeletons’ (US no. 19, UK no. 54).  Wonder returns to film soundtracks for ‘Jungle Fever’ (1991) (US no. 24, UK no. 33).  March’s ‘Conversation Peace’ (1995) (US no. 16, UK no. 8) is followed in November by a live album, ‘Natural Wonder’ (1995).

In 2001 Stevie Wonder is sued for palimony by Angela McAfee, his former wardrobe assistant.  She also claims that during their five-year relationship Wonder gave her genital herpes.  Wonder countersues.  The judge urges them both to go away and settle out of court – which is presumably what happens.

On 1 September 2001 Stevie Wonder marries his second wife, Karen ‘Kai’ Millard.  She is a fashion designer whom Wonder met at a New York club/restaurant.  ‘Kai’ gives the singer two sons, his sixth and seventh children, Kailand (born 2001) and Mandla (born 13 May 2005).  The younger child is born on his father’s 55th birthday.

Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife, Syreeta Wright, dies on 6 July 2004 as a result of a heart attack brought on by her battle with breast cancer.

‘A Time To Love’ (2005) (US no. 5, UK no. 24) is Stevie Wonder’s first new studio album in a decade.

Stevie Wonder’s mother, Lula Hardaway, dies in 2006.

In 2008 Stevie Wonder, a lifelong Democrat, campaigns on behalf of the party’s candidate, Barack Obama, who goes on to become the first black President of the U.S.A.

Stevie Wonder and Kai Millard Morris separate in September 2009.

A traffic accident cost Stevie Wonder his sense of smell in 1973.  However, Stevie Wonder had been blind almost from birth.  While losing another of his senses was undoubtedly traumatic, he had already shown that he was made of stern stuff.  “I am not a normal man,” he rightly noted.  Stevie Wonder was part of Motown’s golden decade in the 1960s but went on to even greater works in the 1970s.  His subsequent efforts were more uneven, but his reputation was already secured.  Stevie Wonder overcame great adversity and displayed a positive spirit that was evident in his music.  Stevie Wonder was ‘an indisputable genius not only of rhythm and blues but popular music in general’ who ‘re-wrote the rules of the Motown hit factory.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 27 August 2014
  2. ‘Essential Stevie Wonder’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Motown Record Company, L.P., 1987) p. 3, 4, 5, 6
  3. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 3 September 2014
  4. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 36, 78, 79, 201, 210, 214, 217, 234, 341, 266, 269, 270, 340, 341
  5. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 23 June 2014
  6. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Motown’ by Joe McEwen, Jim Miller, ‘Stevie Wonder’ by John Rockwell (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 282, 290, 293, 296, 298
  7. brainyquote.com as at 3 September 2014
  8. wikipedia.org as at 23 June 2014
  9. ‘The Howard Stern Show’ (U.S. radio program, Sirius Satellite Radio) – Stevie Wonder interview conducted by Howard Stern (2006)
  10. allmusic.com, ‘Stevie Wonder’ by Steve Huey as at 3 September 2014
  11. ‘Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life’ by Zeth Lundy (Bloomsbury Publishing U.S.A., 2007) p. 7 via books.google.com
  12. answers.com as at 4 September 2014
  13. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 55, 148
  14. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 76
  15. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 246, 247
  16. ‘Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium 1, Volume 2’ (1982) – Anonymous sleeve notes (Motown Record Company, 1984 reissue) p. 3, 4
  17. tvguide.com/celebrities/stevie-wonder/bio/197115 as at 8 September 2014
  18. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 40, 44, 48, 62
  19. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 232
  20. edition.cnn.com 2013/06/07
  21. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 145

Song lyrics copyright Jobete Music / Black Bull Music with the exception of ‘For Once In My Life’ (Jobete Music)

Last revised 21 September 2014

Steve Winwood

 Steve Winwood

 Steve Winwood – circa 1980

 “Well my pad is very messy / And there’s whiskers on my chin / And I’m all hung up on music / And I always play to win” – ’I’m A Man’ (Steve Winwood, Jimmy Miller)

It’s the voice.  The first thing that draws attention to Steve Winwood is his voice.  With eyes closed, he sounds like a middle-aged African-American rhythm and blues singer.  In reality, the voice comes from a skinny white teenager from England.  Steve Winwood quickly demonstrates that he is not just a singer; he is a formidable keyboards player, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist.  He then goes on to notoriety as a songwriter and record producer as well.  It is Steve Winwood’s voice that first brings him to fame – but there is a lot more to him.

This is the story of Steve Winwood.  It includes his work with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith as well as his solo recordings.  It does not encompass the lives and other recordings of the musicians Winwood works with in these groups.

Stephen Lawrence Winwood is born 12 May 1948 in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.  He is the son of Lawrence Winwood and his wife, Lillian Winwood (nee Saunders).  Lawrence Winwood is a foundryman by trade but is also a semi-professional musician, playing saxophone and clarinet.  Steve has an elder brother, Mervyn ‘Muff’ Winwood (born 15 August 1943).

Steve Winwood becomes interested in swing music and Dixieland jazz as a boy.  When he is 8 he begins playing guitar alongside his brother, Muff, and their father in The Ron Atkinson Band.  Soon after, Steve masters the drums and piano as well.

There are other influences in Steve Winwood’s musical background.  He recalls, “I was brought up a Christian in the Church of England…As a young boy, I was a choir boy and server [at St John’s Church, Perry Bar], and in fact, many of my musical influences come from Hymnals, Psalters and organ music from the English church…In 1962, around the age of 14, I drifted away from the church, although I have always been interested in anything religious and spiritual.”

Steve Winwood’s family moves from Handsworth to the semi-rural suburb of Kingstanding while he is ‘still young’.  He attends Great Barr School in Birmingham.

Steve Winwood’s career in music takes off in 1961 when the 13 year old plays with a trombonist named Rico.  By this time, Steve’s elder brother has an eight-piece mainstream jazz group, The Muff Woody Jazz Band.  Steve sometimes sits in with them, supplying piano and vocals.  Steve’s interests are broader than jazz, though:  “I got thrown out of music school for listening to [1950s rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues pioneers] Fats Domino and Ray Charles.”

Spencer Davis, a lecturer at Birmingham University, also has a traditional jazz band.  He and Muff Winwood occasionally appear with each other’s groups.  However, Spencer Davis also plays blues in local clubs.  In August 1963, Davis invites the Winwood brothers to join him in a new enterprise.  Steve Winwood is 15 years old now.  “I went straight from boy scouts to rock ‘n’ roll, fancy that!” he exclaims.  The Spencer Davis Rhythm ‘N’ Blues Quartet consists of: Spencer Davis (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Steve Winwood (usually referred to as ‘Stevie’ because of his youth) (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Muff Winwood (bass) and Pete York (drums).  The act quickly changes its name to The Spencer Davis Group.  “When I started playing in a blues band,” Steve Winwood says, “I just wanted to bring [blues music] to a wider public [in Britain] who hadn’t really heard it [since it is an American music]…I really love the Americans and American musical roots.  It could be my British need for discipline that makes me admire the American appetite for freedom and passion…There was an emotion and power in that music [i.e. blues] that [British] teenagers identified with.”  The Spencer Davis Group scores a residency at a Birmingham pub, the Golden Eagle.  Although they may start out as a purist blues act, The Spencer Davis Group swiftly adopts a wider view, taking in not only the blues of John Lee Hooker, but the music of rhythm and blues-flavoured pop singers like Betty Everett.

A turning point comes when Chris Blackwell catches a gig by The Spencer Davis Group.  ‘Blackwell is astonished to find a young English singer who sounds a little like Ray Charles.’  Blackwell is a white Jamaican.  In June 1962 Chris Blackwell founded Island Records to popularise acts from his Jamaican homeland.  Rather than sign The Spencer Davis Group to his own, more ethnically focussed label, Blackwell arranges a record contract for them with the Fontana label.

Steve Winwood claims that, in the Spencer Davis Group, “We used to play the blues, play our own version of the blues.”  That’s true enough in the beginning, but they are more accurately seen as ‘one of the British invasion’s most convincing rhythm and blues-based combos.’  The ‘British invasion’ is a term applied to acts from the U.K. who follows the famous Beatles’ example of scoring hits in America as well as their homeland.  Other U.K. groups like The Animals and The Rolling Stones had already reinvented blues and rhythm and blues music and sold it back to the country of origin of those types of music.  The Spencer Davis Group represents the next step in that evolution.

Despite having his name in the title, Spencer Davis is fairly comprehensively overshadowed by Steve Winwood in The Spencer Davis Group.  Compared to the quartet’s resident wunderkind, Davis appears distinctly paternal.

The Spencer Davis Group opens their account with the 1964 single ‘Dimples’, a cover of a song by bluesman John Lee Hooker.  This is followed in 1965 with ‘I Can’t Stand It’ (UK no. 47) and ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ (UK no. 41).  The latter is a cover of the Ed Cobb song first performed by Brenda Holloway in 1964 and Steve Winwood’s vocal wrings all the pathos from the slow, piano-based ballad.  The three singles that start the career of The Spencer Davis Group are all present on ‘Their First Album’ (1965) (UK no. 6), released by Fontana in July.

Steve Winwood takes a break to cut a solo single, ‘Incense’, in 1965.  The recording is credited to The Anglos with the incognito Winwood masquerading as Stevie Anglo.

The 1965 singles by The Spencer Davis Group continue with ‘Strong Love’ (UK no. 44).  However, their next single is a major breakthrough.  Producer Chris Blackwell supplies the group with ‘Keep On Running’ (UK no. 1, US no. 76), a song written by Jamaican singer Jackie Edwards.  “Keep on running, keep on hiding / One fine day I’m gonna be the one to make you understand / Oh yeah, I’m gonna be your man,” sings Steve Winwood in a voice that’s thick with excitement.  Musically, the band’s performance is perfectly matched to this breathless exhilaration.  The pulsing rhythm is broken only by Steve Winwood’s remarkable bursts of fuzz guitar, brimming with dirt and distortion.  ‘Strong Love’ and ‘Keep On Running’ both appear on ‘The Second Album’ (1966) (UK no. 3), released in January.  The disc is co-produced by Chris Blackwell and Jimmy Miller.

In March 1966 Steve Winwood undertakes another extracurricular excursion.  He participates in a group called Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse.  At the time, Clapton is famed as the guitarist in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.  The line-up of Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse is: Eric Clapton (guitar), Stevie Winwood (vocals), Paul Jones (harmonica), Ben Palmer (piano), Jack Bruce (bass) and Pete York (drums).  Originally, Ginger Baker was to be the band’s drummer but when that plan fell through Winwood enlisted York, his colleague from The Spencer Davis Group.  Jones and Bruce both hail from British pop group Manfred Mann.  Ben Palmer played in The Roosters (March 1963 – October 1963) with Clapton – and Paul Jones also occasionally played with that act.  Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse never play live but they record three songs with producer Joe Boyd for the Elektra Records sampler ‘What’s Shakin’’ (1966).  Those songs are two blues covers (Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’ and Memphis Slim’s ‘Steppin’ Out’) and one original song (‘I Want To Know’).  The last-named piece is said to be written by S. McLeod, but this is thought to be Paul Jones using a pseudonym derived from his wife’s name, Sheila McLeod.  Winwood too uses a pseudonym, resurrecting the Stevie Anglo identity to avoid legal complications.  Eric Clapton And The Powerhouse is very short-lived.  Clapton goes on to form Cream instead with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker (July 1966 – November 1968).

Jackie Edwards is again prevailed upon to supply a song for the next single by The Spencer Davis Group.  ‘Somebody Help Me’ (UK no. 1, US no. 47) doesn’t disappoint.  The tune is again limned by Steve Winwood’s distorted guitarwork.  Unlucky in love – “When I was just a little boy of 17,” sings the 17 year old Winwood – the narrator is left to howl, “I need someone in my life / I need a girl to hold me tight / Someone to make me feel, yeah, make me feel all right.”  ‘Somebody Help Me’ is followed by ‘When I Come Home’ (UK no. 12) and both are included on the Chris Blackwell produced ‘Autumn ‘66’ (1966) (UK no. 4), issued in September.

The Spencer Davis Group records one more single in 1966 – but it is the all-time best single to feature Steve Winwood.  ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ (UK no. 2, US no. 7) is a brilliant evocation of swinging London in the mid-1960s.  Steve Winwood’s vocal, ‘one of the most excited and exciting vocals ever recorded by a white man’, seems to ‘yank him out of his body.’  Such is the level of excitement that the words are somewhat garbled, but the lyric advises, “Been a hard day / And I don’t know what to do / Wait a minute, baby, it could happen to you.”  The song contains a couple of major surprises.  Instead of a fuzz guitar, Steve Winwood plays a surging Hammond organ on ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, in the process creating one of rock’s most recognisable keyboard tones.  “Being a keyboard player and a guitar player, I didn’t always do myself any favours like that,” Winwood notes ruefully, “because people didn’t know whether to see me as a guitar player or a keyboard player or a singer so perhaps I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.”  Additionally, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ is the first major hit Steve Winwood has a hand in writing, co-writing with his brother, Muff Winwood, in this case.  ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ sums up Steve Winwood’s talent and versatility as well as capturing the spirit of the era.  “Those were exciting times,” he says of the mid-1960s.

Heading into 1967, The Spencer Davis Group issues the single ‘I’m A Man’ (UK no. 9, US no. 10).  This track is co-written by Steve Winwood and producer Jimmy Miller.  With its blaring organ, the song adopts an emergency siren tempo.  It also seems to presage the onset of psychedelia as the rhythm and blues style begins to be supplanted.  “I ain’t got no time for lovin’ / Cause my time is all used up / Just to sit around creating / All that groovy kind of stuff,” insists the lyric, before adding, “I’m a man / Yes I am / And I can’t help but love you so.”

The material issued by The Spencer Davis Group in Great Britain is reformatted in the U.S.A. for the United Artists’ albums ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ (1967) (US no. 54) and ‘I’m A Man’ (1967) (US no. 83).

On 11 March 1967 it is announced that Steve Winwood and Muff Winwood will both leave The Spencer Davis Group after their show on 2 April.  “A band is not a marriage,” Steve Winwood sagely observes.  Muff Winwood becomes a record producer.

“I wanted to explore music a bit more, to bring in more elements of music: folk, classical music and even elements of ethnic music…I feel I wanted to reinvent myself at 19,” Steve Winwood explains.  On 18 March 1967, before he has even played his last gig with The Spencer Davis Group, Winwood announces his new band.  The line-up is: Steve Winwood (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dave Mason (guitar), Chris Wood (saxophone, flute) and Jim Capaldi (drums).  The band’s lack of a bass player is usually compensated for by Winwood playing a bass pedal on the keyboards.  Although initially unnamed, this act will come to be called Traffic.

“[Traffic] was a bit of a quirky, unusual band,” Steve Winwood admits.  “It was never really mainstream.”  They mix ‘eclectic pop singles’ and ‘improvising in a jazz-like manner.’  The most common songwriting configuration has Steve Winwood co-writing with drummer Jim Capaldi.  It seems like the lyrics are primarily Capaldi’s work so they should not be seen as providing much insight to Winwood’s thoughts.

The four members of Traffic retreat to a cottage in Aston Tirrold in Berkshire for the next six months.  In the argot of the times, they are ‘getting it together in the country.’  The group is intended to be a cooperative with the members living together in the same residence.  Actually, there is a more practical reason for their rural idyll: “The main reason for doing it…was so that we could play music very loud any time of the day or night without getting complaints from the neighbours,” Steve Winwood admits.

Traffic emerge with their debut single, ‘Paper Sun’ (UK no. 5, US no. 94), in the summer of 1967.  Unlike The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic is signed directly to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records, which is now adopting a more cosmopolitan approach.  Jimmy Miller acts as the band’s producer through the 1960s.  ‘Paper Sun’ captures the times as adroitly as ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ – but the times have changed.  This is the era of psychedelia, flower power and mind-expanding drugs.  On ‘Paper Sun’ Dave Mason plays the sitar, an Indian instrument similar to a long-necked guitar.  Its wiry twang has earlier been exploited by George Harrison of The Beatles and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones.  The sitar is a symbol of the whole ‘far out’ age.  “But if you look around and see / A shadow on the run / Don’t be too surprised if it’s just a paper sun,” sings Steve Winwood in the nursery rhyme fashion common to psychedelia.  Winwood is the co-author of the song with drummer Jim Capaldi.

Traffic’s second single for 1967 is ‘Hole In My Shoe’ (UK no. 2) (written by guitarist Dave Mason) backed with ‘Smiling Phases’ (co-written by the other three members of Traffic).  ‘Hole In My Shoe’ has ‘dream-like imagery.’

Traffic’s third 1967 single is ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’ (UK no. 8).  This group composition is like a child’s rhyme turned into a fusion of soul and psychedelia.  It is created for the British film, ‘Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush’ (1968).

The debut album for Traffic is ‘Mr Fantasy’ (1967) (UK no. 8, US no. 88), released in December.  None of the songs from the band’s first three singles are included on the album.  The agonised, lovelorn acoustic guitar track ‘No Face, No Name, No Number’ (UK no. 40) from this album is released as a single in spring 1968.  It is written by Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi.  They are joined by Chris Wood to write ‘Heaven Is In Your Mind’, a song that is perhaps more representative of Traffic.  The song’s precise and measured instrumentation is joined to a bit of hippie philosophy: “Guiding your visions to heaven / And heaven is in your mind.”  The same songwriting trio contributes the similarly psychedelic ‘Coloured Rain’.

On 29 December 1967 guitarist Dave Mason leaves Traffic.  Steve Winwood explains, “[Traffic] had some attempts at being mainstream.  There was a song [‘Hole In My Shoe’] that was written by a member of Traffic, who was a member for a short while, called Dave Mason.  He wrote a kind of pop song for us that became a hit in England but he soon left because we didn’t like the idea of having pop songs.  We didn’t want really to be a pop band…so that all ended.”

On 2 May 1968 Steve Winwood plays organ on ‘Voodoo Chile’ by famed guitarist Jimi Hendrix.  It is included on Hendrix’s album ‘Electric Ladyland’ (1968), released in September.  The longer jam ‘Voodoo Chile’ (on which Winwood plays) should not be confused with the shorter, tighter ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ (on which Winwood does not play) that later becomes a hit single for Hendrix.

On 1 June 1968 Dave Mason rejoins Traffic, six months after leaving.  The group’s second album, ‘Traffic’ (1968) (UK no. 9, US no. 17), is issued in October.  It is highlighted by Mason’s soulful groove, ‘Feelin’ Alright’ (US no. 123).  The guitarist contributes three more songs to the disc, but the gulf between Dave Mason and the rest of the group feels wide.  In October 1968 Mason departs once more.

Traffic splits up in January 1969.  ‘Last Exit’ (1969) (US no. 19) in May closes the book on Traffic.  Some tracks on this set were recorded live, others in the studio.

Steve Winwood’s talents make him much in demand.  He is invited to join David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash around the turn of 1968-1969 in what becomes Crosby, Stills And Nash, a folk rock vocal harmony act.  Winwood declines because he is already committed to another project.

On 8 January 1969 the formation of Blind Faith is announced, but auditions for a bassist are still being held.  The eventual line-up of this act is: Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar), Rick Grech (bass) and Ginger Baker (drums).  Winwood and Clapton previously worked together in 1966 in the short-lived Powerhouse.  Clapton and Baker then worked together from 1966 to 1968 in Cream.  Rick Grech is recruited from a British group called Family.  Blind Faith is arguably the first ‘supergroup’ – though Cream or even Crosby, Stills And Nash could also be considered to fit the definition.  Most bands come from young friends starting out as complete unknowns.  A ‘supergroup’ is a more artificial construct, a gathering of musicians who are individually famous already from their work in other bands.  Even the name, Blind Faith, is chosen as an acknowledgement of the high expectations placed on the unit by the collective fans of the four musicians.

Blind Faith debuts amid much fanfare with a free concert in London’s Hyde Park on 7 June 1969.  One hundred and twenty thousand fans attend.  Blind Faith goes on to tour Europe in June 1969 and the United States from 12 July to 24 August 1969.

It is difficult to characterise the sound of Blind Faith given the paucity of their recordings.  They are probably closer to Cream’s heavy blues sound than Traffic’s psychedelic jazz tones.

‘Blind Faith’ (1969) (UK no. 1, US no. 1) is released in August on Polydor in the U.K. and Atco in the U.S.  The album’s best known track is Blind Faith’s cover version of Buddy Holly’s 1958 song ‘Well All Right’ (it was the B side to the early rock ‘n’ roller’s single ‘Heartbeat’).  Blind Faith’s rendition of ‘Well All Right’ is marked by Eric Clapton’s serpentine guitar, though the track is sung by Steve Winwood.  ‘Well All Right’ was also the first song Blind Faith played at their Hyde Park debut performance.  ‘Blind Faith’ contains only six songs: ‘Well All Right’; one song each from guitarist Eric Clapton (‘Presence Of The Lord’) and drummer Ginger Baker; with the remaining three songs being Steve Winwood compositions.  ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ is the most significant of the Winwood songs.  The cover image for the album ‘Blind Faith’ causes some controversy.  It is a topless teenage girl holding a small metal aircraft.  In America, this shot is replaced by a more innocuous picture of the four musicians.

Blind Faith’s U.S. tour is described as ‘traumatic’ with ‘major rows’ between the musicians.  Blind Faith break up in October 1969 after less than seven months together.  Their brief existence is an object lesson in the inherent instability of supergroups.

While Steve Winwood was working with Blind Faith, his former comrades from Traffic had a new act of their own.  Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi joined with Wynder K. Frog (a.k.a. Mick Weaver) (vocals, keyboards) as Wooden Frog (January 1969 to March 1969).  This short-lived group never recorded.

After Blind Faith folds, Steve Winwood loiters with that group’s drummer in Ginger Baker’s Air Force (January 1970 to June 1970).  Other familiar names in this rather amorphous crew include Blind Faith’s Rick Grech (bass) and Traffic’s Chris Wood (saxophone).  The act releases two albums, ‘Air Force 1’ (1970) and a live recording ‘Air Force 2’ (1970), before falling apart.

Steve Winwood plans to record a solo album to be titled ‘Mad Shadows’.  Work begins in 1970 with producer Guy Stevens.  During the recording sessions, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi are enlisted to help out.  Consequently, Traffic is reactivated as a trio in February 1970 and Winwood’s solo album becomes a new release by Traffic instead.  Production duties are shared by Guy Stevens, Chris Blackwell and Steve Winwood.  The title of the album, released in July, is ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ (1970) (UK no. 11, US no. 5).  The title track, arranged by Winwood, is a sixteenth century folk song.  Actually, the origins of ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ are more complicated.  It is estimated that between one hundred and one hundred and forty variations of it exist, the oldest known example dating back to 1465.  Versions of this traditional song hail from Oxfordshire, Sussex, Hampshire, Surrey and Somerset.  As to the subject of ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’, ‘the popular interpretation is the effort of the people to give up alcohol distilled from barley…but there are many interpretations.’  Over a simple acoustic guitar, Steve Winwood sings the tale of “three men [who] came out of the west…and…made a solemn vow / John Barleycorn must die.”  The crop is harvested (“They’ve hired men with their sharp pitchforks who’ve pricked him to the heart”) but, in the end, “Little Sir John and the nut brown bowl proved the strongest man at last” as the pervasiveness of alcohol is greater than any person.  Chris Wood’s flute lends a sinister tone to this remarkable and unusual folk song.  ‘Empty Pages’ (US no. 74), a poised and polished example of studio craft that survives from the original ‘Mad Shadows’ sessions, is actually the nominal single: “Staring at empty pages / Centred ‘round the same old plot.”  Jim Capaldi co-writes ‘Empty Pages’ with Steve Winwood.  ‘Freedom Rider’ also belongs to this set, ‘one of the finest Traffic albums.’

Although multi-tracking allows Steve Winwood to play multiple instruments, the trio format is not practical for Traffic’s live shows.  Over the next few months the group’s membership expands dramatically.  Bassist Rick Grech, who worked with Steve Winwood in Blind Faith, is the first new addition to Traffic in August 1970.  In May 1971 the four-piece Traffic grows into a seven-piece outfit with the introduction of Jim Gordon (drums) and Reebop Kwaku-Baah (percussion) as well as the return of Dave Mason (guitar).  This line-up plays only six gigs in the summer of 1971, but during that time a live album, ‘Welcome To The Canteen’ (1971) (US no. 26), is recorded.  It is issued in September.

Minus Dave Mason, Traffic cuts ‘The Low Spark Of The High Heeled Boys’ (1971) (US no. 7), released in November.  Produced by Steve Winwood, this album sets the pattern for the next few Traffic discs: a small number of tracks (six in this case) with one or more lengthy improvisatory works.  Winwood ponders his years in Traffic and says, “I suppose I should say we had no eye or ear for commerciality.  That was something that wasn’t of any interest to us.  We wanted to particularly create something that we thought was unique or peculiar to ourselves.”

A U.S. tour to promote ‘The Low Spark Of The High Heeled Boys’ proves costly.  Bassist Rick Grech and drummer Jim Gordon both bid farewell to Traffic.  Steve Winwood is laid low by a life-threatening bout of peritonitis (an inflammation of the peritoneum, the thin tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers most of the abdominal organs.  It may be caused by a rupture of the appendix.).

By the time Steve Winwood recovers and Traffic reconvenes for ‘Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory’ (1973) (US no. 6) in February, the band’s line-up has been amended again.  Replacing Rick Grech and Jim Gordon are, respectively, David Hood and Roger Hawkins.  Hood and Hawkins are veterans of the Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama, U.S.A.  Their presence is testimony to the musically challenging work Traffic is doing and the respect the band engenders amongst professional musicians.

Steve Winwood takes time out for ‘Aiye-Keta’ (1973) in July.  This set finds Winwood working with African musicians Remi Kabaka and Abdul Lasisi Amao.

Traffic undertakes a world tour in 1975 with Barry Beckett (another Muscle Shoals musician) joining them on keyboards.  ‘On The Road’ (1973) (UK no. 40, US no. 29), released in October, is recorded in Germany.  It captures the sound of these shows.

The three Muscle Shoals musicians exit Traffic and return to their recording studio work in autumn 1973.  Reebop Kwaku-Baah also decides to become a session musician and the percussionist leaves Traffic.

Bassist Rosko Gee joins Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi in a new four-piece version of Traffic from November 1973.  This incarnation of Traffic records the album ‘When The Eagle Flies’ (1974) (UK no. 31, US no. 9), produced by Chris Blackwell.  The Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi composition ‘Something New’ from this set seems to presage the end of Traffic.  Indeed, the band winds down in December 1974 to go on to new individual works.

Over the next three years, Steve Winwood builds Netherturkdonic, his own home recording studio in Gloucestershire.

‘Go’ (1976) is Steve Winwood’s next project.  It’s a one-off unlikely collaboration with Stomu Yamash’ta, Klaus Shulze, Michael Shrieve and Al DiMeola.

Steve Winwood proceeds to his first real solo album.  ‘Steve Winwood’ (1977) (UK no. 12, US no. 22) is released in June on Island Records, continuing Winwood’s relationship with Traffic’s old label.  The album is co-produced by Steve Winwood, Chris Blackwell and Mark Miller Mundy.  Jim Capaldi from Traffic plays drums on the album and co-writes most of the material with Winwood.  One of the exceptions is ‘Vacant Chair’, co-written with Viv Stanshall (formerly of British rock humourists The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band but who works with Winwood in a serious, straight-faced mode).  The disc is also host to the dark and creamy soul of ‘Hold On’, the crackling urgency of ‘Time Is Running Out’ and the meditative ‘Midlands Maniac’.

Nicole Tacot Weir provides backing vocals to some of Steve Winwood’s earliest solo work.  She marries Steve Winwood on 31 August 1977 at Cheltenham Register Office.

In the late 1970s Steve Winwood seems to retreat from the music business.  He makes his home on a fifty acre farm in Oxfordshire and devotes himself to clay pigeon-shooting, dog training and horse-riding.

Steve Winwood finally emerges from self-imposed exile with ‘Arc Of A Diver’ (1980) (UK no. 13, US no. 3) in December.  This is Winwood’s best album.  “My goal has always been to make classic records, classic albums,” he claims and this may be the closest realisation of that goal.  It is a ‘majestic’ album that ‘exudes upbeat exuberance [and] a rapturous feeling of recovery.’  This is perhaps best exemplified by the album’s hit single, ‘While You See A Chance’ (UK no. 45, US no. 7, AUS no. 16).  In this ode to the triumph of optimism, Winwood urges, “While you see a chance, take it / Find romance, fake it / Because it’s all on you.”  Two factors distinguish this song – and the album as a whole.  ‘While You See A Chance’ is co-written by Will Jennings, who becomes the primary lyricist on Steve Winwood’s songs.  Secondly, keyboard technology has advanced to a point that Winwood can use his instrumental skills to become a true one-man band, multi-tracking synthesisers.  More, ‘Winwood doesn’t just master the synthesiser, he humanises it.’  Synths often sound cold and robotic, but Winwood makes them seem more lively and warm.  ‘Spanish Dancer’ takes a different tack, sounding delicate, yet steely.  Viv Stanshall co-writes the title track, ‘Arc Of A Diver’ (US no. 48), and the album also encompasses ‘Night Train’ (US no. 104).  This album is rightly considered ‘a landmark record’ in Steve Winwood’s career.

Steve Winwood considers going on tour after ‘Arc Of A Diver’, but instead throws himself into another solo album.  The artist again plays all the instruments on the self-produced ‘Talking Back To The Night’ (1982) (UK no. 6, US no. 28).  The tracks on the album include the brash title tune, ‘Talking Back To The Night’, and the plaintive ‘Help Me Angel’.  Although it goes comparatively unnoticed at the time, ‘Valerie’ (UK no. 51, US no. 70, AUS no. 98) is first heard on this album.  There will be more about this song later when it enjoys a second life.

The delayed tour of Britain and Europe is undertaken by Steve Winwood in 1983.  Although his recent recordings have been made with Winwood as the sole musician, in taking on a tour he is accompanied by session musicians.

Another period of retreat follows for Steve Winwood.  His marriage to Nicole Tacot Weir breaks down, ending in divorce in December 1986.  In 1985 Steve Winwood begins dating Eugenia Crafton.  “I had actually been thinking about giving up music altogether and doing something else around that time in the Eighties,” Winwood reveals.  The singer also nourishes his spiritual side.  “It wasn’t until I met [Eugenia] in 1985 and began to think about a family that I became again interested in Christianity.”

‘Back In The High Life’ (1986) (UK no. 8, US no. 3) is Steve Winwood’s bold declaration of return.  Instead of recording alone in the British countryside, he travels to New York in the U.S.A. and records with session musicians and some well-known rock stars (e.g. Joe Walsh from The Eagles, Nile Rogers from Chic, James Taylor).  Russ Titelman co-produces the set with Steve Winwood.  The acoustic-based title track, ‘Back In The High Life’ (UK no. 53, US no. 13, AUS no. 87), seems filled with resolve and self-assurance.  ‘My Love’s Leavin’’ comes from this album as does the horn-infused neo-soul of ‘Freedom Overspill’ (UK no. 69, US no. 20) (co-written with George Fleming and James Hooker).  However, the most important track is ‘Higher Love’ (UK no. 13, US no. 1, AUS no. 8).  Bolstered by backing vocals from funk diva Chaka Khan, this is a prayer of soulful aspiration: “Think about it, there must be a higher love / Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above / Without it, life is a wasted time.”  Lyricist Will Jennings seems to be tapping into Steve Winwood’s own renewed Christian faith.  ‘Wake Me Up On Judgement Day’ could also be interpreted as having a spiritual overtone.  ‘Back In The High Life’ is Steve Winwood’s last album for Island Records, concluding a long association with that label.

Steve Winwood marries Eugenia Crafton on 18 January 1987.  They go on to become the parents of four children: Mary Claire (born 20 May 1987), Elizabeth Dawn (born 1 December 1988), Stephen Calhoun (born 23 February 1993) and Lillian Eugenia (born 25 September 1995).

‘Chronicles’ (1987) (UK no. 12, US no. 26) collects together material from Steve Winwood’s first four solo albums.  ‘Valerie’ (UK no. 19, US no. 9, AUS no. 19), from ‘Talking Back To The Night’, is remixed for this set and becomes a hit single.  Co-written by Winwood and Will Jennings, this is a neat piece of pure pop: “Valerie, call on me / Call on me, Valerie / Come and see me / I’m the same boy I used to be.”

‘Roll With It’ (1988) (UK no. 4, US no. 1) is Steve Winwood’s first album for Virgin Records.  It is co-produced by Winwood and Tom Lord Alge.  The title track, ‘Roll With It’ (UK no. 53, US no. 1, AUS no. 36), finds Steve Winwood collaborating on the songwriting with not only Will Jennings but 1960s Motown Records hit-makers Holland/Dozier/Holland.  “When life is too much, roll with it, baby,” is the sage advice of this warm, rhythm and blues-inflected song.  The album is also home to ‘Holding On’ (US no. 11) and ‘Don’t You Know What The Night Can Do’ (UK no. 84, US no. 6), a ‘smoky ballad.’

‘Refugees Of The Heart’ (1990) (UK no. 26, US no. 27) is most notable for the rattling synths of ‘One And Only Man’ (UK no. 87, US no. 18, AUS no. 100), a track Steve Winwood co-writes with his long-time Traffic associate Jim Capaldi.

The appearance of Jim Capaldi foreshadows a new Traffic album, ‘Far From Home’ (1994) (UK no. 29, US no. 33).  Actually, it is only a reunion of Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi (Chris Wood died of liver failure in 1983).  The duo also undertakes a tour as Traffic. (Capaldi dies in 2005.)

‘Junction Seven’ (1997) (UK no. 32, US no. 123) is Steve Winwood’s last album for Virgin.  ‘About Time’ (2003) (UK no. 97, US no. 126) is issued on Wincraft Music and ‘Nine Lives’ (2008) (UK no. 31, US no. 12) comes out on Columbia.

“One of my problems is I’m not really sure if I slot into rock or not,” said Steve Winwood.  “I’ve always tried to combine world music, folk, jazz, blues and rock.”  Yet it was this dizzying diversity that was part of Winwood’s appeal.  His life and times spanned The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, a solo career and various other combinations.  He seemed equally at home burning up a rhythm and blues number in a club or playing organ in his local church in the Cotswolds.  Maybe it’s because so many African-American rhythm and blues singers learned their craft with gospel numbers in the church that the vocal tones have a kinship.  In the end, perhaps it all came back to Steve Winwood’s voice.  Steve Winwood was ‘a former teenage rhythm and blues shouter who moved through jazz, psychedelia, blues, rock, and progressive pop.’  He was ‘generally acclaimed as one of Britain’s greatest white rhythm and blues vocalists.’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 19 August 2014
  2. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 23 June 2014
  3. answers.com as at 25 August 2014
  4. wikipedia.org as at 23 June 2014
  5. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 477
  6. stribble.com/shortarticle via wellsofsalvation.com (21 January 2008)
  7. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 25, 53, 141, 214, 229, 230, 231, 255
  8. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 18, 33, 216, 233, 234
  9. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 24 August 2014
  10. brainyquote.com as at 24 August 2014
  11. ‘Manchester Evening News’ (U.K. newspaper) – Steve Winwood: Music Has Been My Life’, interview conducted by Paul Taylor (27 April 2013) (reproduced on manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
  12. ‘Keep On Running’ – Sleeve notes by Rob Partridge (Island Records Ltd., 1991) p. 2, 4 ,6, 8, 9
  13. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 70, 128, 137, 145, 155, 159
  14. WNYC (New York Public Radio, U.S.A.) – Steve Winwood interview conducted by Leonard Lopate (2008)
  15. allmusic.com, ‘The Spencer Davis Group’ by Bill Dahl as at 24 August 2014
  16. allmusic.com, ‘Steve Winwood’ by Steve Huey as at 24 August 2014
  17. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Britain: The Second Wave’ by Ken Emerson (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 424, 425
  18. allmusic.com, ‘Traffic’ by William Ruhlmann as at 24 August 2014
  19. ‘Sunday Express’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Growing Up In Public – An Interview with Steve Winwood’ by Jonathan Wingate (22 February 2011) (reproduced on express.co.uk)
  20. allmusic.com, ‘Blind Faith’ by Bruce Eder as at 24 August 2014
  21. ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’ (1970) – Sleeve notes via songfacts.com as at 24 August 2014
  22. whosdatedwho.com as at 23 August 2014

Song lyrics copyright Festival Music P/L / Warner/Chappell Music with the exceptions of ‘Keep On Running’ and ‘Somebody Help Me’ (both PolyGram Music Publ.); ‘While You See A Chance’, ‘Higher Love’, ‘Valerie’ and ‘Roll With It’ (all Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

Last revised 16 September 2014

The Who

 The Who

 Pete Townshend – circa 1978

 “My fingers kill me as I play my guitar / ‘Cause I’ve been chewing down at my nails” – ’New Song’ (Pete Townshend)

He’s broken it.  Pete Townshend, guitarist and chief songwriter for British rock band The Who, looks at his damaged instrument.  It is September 1964 and The Who is playing a gig at the Railway Hotel.  A temporary stage extension has caused Townshend to misjudge the height of the ceiling and the lanky six feet tall musician has accidentally cracked the neck of his guitar against the roof of the venue.  A moment of shock turns into anger and frustration.  Pete Townshend grabs the damaged guitar and repeatedly smashes it against the stage, reducing the instrument to shattered pieces.  Wild man drummer Keith Moon, requiring little invitation to chaos, kicks over his drumkit in an act of auto-destructive sympathy.  The crowd goes wild.  The legend of The Who grows…

Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend is born on 19 May 1945 in Chiswick, London, England, ten days after the surrender of German forces in World War Two.  His parents are Cliff Townshend and Betty Townshend (nee Dennis).  Cliff and Betty are both working in the music industry.  Cliff Townshend plays alto saxophone in the Royal Air Force band, The Squadronnaires.  Betty sings with the Sydney Torch and Les Douglas Orchestras.  Although Pete is brought up in a ‘typical middle-class home’, all is not well.  His parents split up when he is a toddler and the little boy is left with his maternal grandmother who is alleged to be ‘clinically insane.’  Mercifully, after two years, Cliff and Betty Townshend reunite.  With musical parents, it is not surprising that Pete Townshend also takes an interest in music.  “Chromatic harmonica was actually my first instrument,” he recalls.  When Pete is 12, his grandmother gives him his first guitar, an inexpensive Spanish model.  Pete gains two younger brothers, Paul (born 1957) and Simon (born 1960), but his home life is still turbulent.  Cliff and Betty Townshend ‘both drink heavily and possess fiery tempers.’  Dishes and kitchenware are regularly tossed at each other by the bickering couple.  Betty is ‘quite promiscuous’ and insists that Pete address the men she brings home as ‘uncle.’  Pete Townshend attends Acton Grammar School in West London.  Two of his fellow students at that school are Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle.

Roger Harry Daltrey is born 1 March 1944 in Hammersmith, London, England.  “I was two years older than the other guys [who would make up The Who],” Roger points out, “[and] my family was a lot poorer than they were.”  His parents are Harry and Irene Daltrey.  “[As a kid] I was little with bow legs and rickets,” says Roger.  Although he will only ever reach a height of five feet, seven inches, Roger Daltrey does become more physically robust.  “You know, I was a school rebel…I was a right b*****d, a right hard nut,” he admits.  “Rock ‘n’ roll was the only thing I wanted to get into.”  Ultimately, Roger Daltrey is expelled from Acton Grammar School.  He takes a job as a sheet metal worker while forming a skiffle group (skiffle is a British style of music popular at the time.  It is a sort of mix of rock ‘n’ roll and folk.).

John Alec Entwistle (9 October 1944 – 27 June 2002) is born in Chiswick, London, England.  He is the only child of Herbert Entwistle and his wife, Queenie Entwistle (nee Johns).  Like Pete Townshend, John Entwistle comes from a musical parentage.  Herbert Entwistle plays trumpet and Queenie Entwistle plays piano.  Their marriage fails soon after John is born and he is raised by his grandparents in South Acton.  John Entwistle displays an aptitude for music.  He learns to play piano, trumpet and French horn as well as being able to read sheet music.

In their early teens, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle join the same traditional jazz band, The Confederates.  Pete Townshend having – in his words – been “b*ggerring about on guitar for years getting nowhere,” plays banjo instead in this outfit.  John Entwistle plays trumpet in The Confederates.  After getting into a fight with the rest of the group, Pete Townshend switches back to guitar.  He and John Entwistle abandon The Confederates to start a rock ‘n’ roll band instead.  Entwistle takes up bass.  “By the time I taught myself the bass guitar at age 14, my hands were already pretty nimble,” Entwistle declares.

In 1961 Pete Townshend begins attending Ealing Art College.  “I didn’t start to collect records and listen to guitar players properly until I went to art school,” he notes.

While Pete Townshend is at art school, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle work ‘odd jobs’ to support themselves.

In 1962 John Entwistle begins dating Alison Wise.

Roger Daltrey forms a new band, The Detours, in 1962.  He plays lead guitar and trombone with The Detours.  John Entwistle joins The Detours as bassist in 1962.  Another member of the group is drummer Doug Sandom (born 26 February 1930) who joins in mid-1962.  Pete Townshend has ‘several stints in local semi-professional bands.’  Roger Daltrey, with the encouragement of Townshend’s former bandmate John Entwistle, invites Pete to join The Detours in late 1962.  “If I hadn’t been bullied into the band, I would have been happier as an art student,” Townshend surprisingly claims.  The Detours membership fluctuates.  Lead vocalist Colin Dawson gives way to another singer known only as ‘Gabby’.  Then, in 1963, Roger Daltrey sets aside his guitar to take up the job of lead singer.  The Detours’ line-up solidifies as the quartet of Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar), John Entwistle (bass) and Doug Sandom (drums).

Pete Townshend continues to attend Ealing Art College through 1963.  In that year, he begins dating Karen Astley, a fellow art student.  Finally, in 1964, Pete Townshend drops out of art school to commit himself full-time to music.

In February 1964, after seeing another group called The Detours on television, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Doug Sandom realise their band needs a new name.  They choose The Who.  It’s a pun on people’s reactions to hearing about an unfamiliar band: “The Who?”  Also, the short and simple name looks good in large letters on posters.

On 28 March 1964 Roger Daltrey marries Jacqueline Rickman.  Roger and Jackie have a son, Simon (born 1964).

In April 1964 Doug Sandom leaves The Who.  He is older and married and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the group.  The Who struggle along for the next few months with a substitute drummer.

The Who come into the orbit of two would-be managers.  Helmut Gordon is a doorknob manufacturer and Pete Meaden is ‘a fast-talking, pill-popping freelance publicist enamoured with the world of “mods”.’  In 1964 British youth is divided into two tribes, the rockers and the mods.  The rockers favour leather jackets, greasy quiffs, motorcycles and 1950s recording artists.  The mods (short for moderns) wear sharp suits and shorter hair; they ride Vespa motor-scooters and their chosen music is American rhythm and blues (R & B).  “When The Who first started, we were playing blues,” Pete Townshend recalls, but this older style gives way under Meaden to ‘maximum R & B’.  Pete Meaden renames the group The High Numbers, ‘after the t-shirts with numbers favoured by mods.’  In July 1964 The High Numbers release a single, ‘I’m The Face’ backed with ‘Zoot Suit’, on Fontana Records.  Pete Meaden acts as record producer as well as composing those songs – even if ‘I’m The Face’ is a bit too derivative of Slim Harpo’s ‘Got Love If You Want It’.  The single ‘flops.’

When The High Numbers play a gig at the Royal Oxford Hotel, a young man in the audience boasts he can do a better job than the group’s substitute drummer.  Talking his way onstage, this interloper proceeds to ‘demolish the drum set’ and ‘break the drum pedal.’  Impressed, the group adopts Keith Moon as their new drummer.

Keith John Moon (22 August 1946 – 7 September 1978) is born in Wembley, London, England.  He is the child of ‘working class parents’, Alfred ‘Alf’ Charles Moon and Kathleen ‘Kit’ Winifred Moon.  Alf Moon nicknames his offspring ‘Nobby.’  When he is 12, Keith Moon joins the Sea Cadet Corps who provide him with his first music lesson – on the bugle.  Keith Moon learns to play drums when he is 14, taking instruction from Carlo Little.  Keith does not like school and is not a good student.  He leaves school when he is 15.  While working as an apprentice electrician, Keith Moon joins his first band, The Beachcombers, in summer 1963.  Keith is a fan of surf music and American acts such as The Beach Boys and Jan And Dean.  The Beachcombers release one ‘obscure’ single, ‘Mad Goose’ b/w ‘You Can’t Sit Down’, in 1963.  From there, Keith Moon goes on to join The High Numbers (The Who) in 1964.  “The first night that Keith Moon played with us…he smashed up the drum kit,” says Roger Daltrey.

In September 1964 comes the gig at the Railway Hotel where Pete Townshend accidentally damages his guitar and then goes on to utterly destroy it in a fit of fury.

Around this time The High Numbers change managers, reclaiming their previous cognomen, The Who, in the process.  (Pete Meaden commits suicide on 12 August 1978 with an overdose of barbiturates.  He was 35.)  The new managers of The Who are Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, a pair of aspiring film-makers.  Pete Townshend says, “Kit Lambert…he became our manager because what he was really interested in doing was making rock films and we were just his subject matter.  He just found us in this club…then he became fascinated with us.”  In late 1964, the acts of auto-destruction become a regular part of The Who’s stage show…though such expensive antics delay the band turning a profit.  With the definitive line-up of Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (guitar, vocals, occasional keyboards), John Entwistle (bass, vocals, occasional horns) and Keith Moon (drums), The Who are set to begin their career in earnest.

The Who start out as a pop band then become a rock band.  Because these descriptions are so common, the distinction between the two may not be apparent.  “I always thought The Who would be very brief,” claims Pete Townshend.  The band’s early output supports that theory.  They create disposable pop singles – albeit very good disposable pop singles.  Putting together a whole album is a bit more challenging.  Then, after a few years, the pendulum swings the other way and The Who become an album-oriented act that finds a hit single harder to come by.  The change in polarity pretty much coincides with the group changing from a pop act to a rock act.  The emphasis switches to a harsher, louder sound that could be called hard rock, if not quite heavy metal.  “We were too rough at the edges to be a pop group,” suggest Roger Daltrey.

The four personalities within The Who create an indelible image.  Roger Daltrey is the handsome rock god, twirling his microphone about.  Pete Townshend windmills his arm in a circle, crashing through power chords on his guitar.  He leaps, he smashes his guitar, he is outrageously physical…in part to distract from his own self-consciousness about the size of his nose.  There is a secondary reason for his showmanship: “I used to try and make up visually for what I couldn’t play as a musician.”  If there is any truth in that statement from Townshend, it is only in the earliest days.  He quickly becomes a distinctive – if sometimes underrated – guitarist, playing a sort of rough, chord-based rhythm as lead guitar.  Keith Moon is an equally notable musician.  His style of attacking drums is quite different to most of his peers.  Moon doesn’t have much interest in just being the time-keeping bedrock of the band.  He flails about as though his drums are the lead instrument.  Townshend and Moon develop an almost telepathic rapport, instinctively knowing when to make space for each other.  The sound is chaotic and, at times, ugly, but it is always interesting and exhilarating.  Bassist John Entwistle stands stock still, looking utterly bored with the prancing antics of the rest of The Who.

Pete Townshend is the ‘group’s mastermind and main songwriter.’  John Entwistle provides blackly humorous songs as the band’s alternative composer.  Roger Daltrey and Keith Moon pen the odd tune here and there.  All songs referred to here are written by Pete Townshend unless otherwise indicated.

Although the four members of The Who are colourful individuals, the group’s interaction with their audience creates another voice.  In a way, The Who is shaped by the hopes and expectations of their fans as much as the band influences a generation of rock music listeners.  “We’re not a four-piece band,” Roger Daltrey testifies, “We’re a four-million piece band.”

The first single by The Who (‘I’m The Face’ b/w ‘Zoot Suit’ was credited to The High Numbers) is ‘I Can’t Explain’ (UK no. 8, US no. 93), released in early 1965.  It is produced by Shel Talmy, who has been working with The Kinks, another British group.  Over a surprisingly funky, choppy rhythm, Roger Daltrey barks, “Got a feeling inside (can’t explain) / A certain kind (can’t explain) / I feel hot and cold (can’t explain) / Yeah, down in my soul, yeah.”

On 28 January 1965 The Who make their first appearance on ‘Ready Steady Go’, a British television show.  This program plays a role in building The Who’s early popularity.

The second single from The Who, ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ (UK no. 10) in May 1965, is a rather different proposition to their first.  Co-written by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, this is an ode to freedom: “Nothing gets in my way / Not even locked doors / Don’t follow the lines / That been laid before.”  More notable is Townshend’s guitar solo – if such a description can be applied to a discordant mass of echoing electrical feedback.  It’s great stuff but very unfamiliar to the wider public.  The record company even sends it back to the group, convinced that the strange noises must be a mistake.  The Who performs ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ on ‘Ready Steady Go’ on 21 May 1965.

In 1965 Keith Moon begins dating Kim Kerrigan (born Maryse Elizabeth Patricia Kerrigan).

On 22 September 1965 The Who begins a short tour of Scandinavia in Copenhagen.  On this excursion, Roger Daltrey punches out Keith Moon and is, consequently, almost fired from the group.  The Who becomes notorious for their internal fights and fisticuffs.  Despite their fractious façade, Pete Townshend gruffly insists, “We get along all right.”

The Who makes their U.S. television debut on ‘Shindig’ on 2 October 1965.  They perform ‘I Can’t Explain’.

On 5 November 1965 The Who release their greatest single.  ‘My Generation’ (UK no. 2, US no. 74) is born from anger.  Pete Townshend uses his first songwriting royalty cheque to buy a second-hand car.  It is a pretty ugly old vehicle.  He leaves it parked on the side of the road regularly travelled by the Queen Mother of the British Royal Family.  She objects to the eyesore and has it removed.  The young songwriter can’t afford to pay the cost to have his impounded car retrieved.  In a fit of venom, Townshend pens ‘My Generation’.  “Why don’t you all f-f-f-fade away?” stammers Roger Daltrey to the old guard in the lyric to ‘My Generation’.  Such vocal impediments are a side effect for the ‘pilled-up mods’ The Who represented, though there is no indication that Daltrey (or Townshend) had a drug-induced stutter.  Besides, the ‘f-f-f’ tension suggests a certain other four letter word beginning with ‘f’ is about to be uttered…though it isn’t forthcoming.  The song also contains the grim claim, “I hope I die before I get old.”  This jittery anthem captures the zeitgeist of 1960s youth, the ‘don’t trust anyone over 30’ attitude.  Musically, it also represents The Who well, showcasing not only the customary Pete Townshend / Keith Moon fireworks, but a spectacular dive-bombing bass solo from John Entwistle.

‘My Generation’ becomes the title track of The Who’s debut album.  ‘My Generation’ (1965) (UK no. 5) is released in December on Brunswick Records.  It is produced by Shel Talmy.  The album naturally includes the song ‘My Generation’.  It also includes cover versions of 1950s rocker Bo Diddley’s ‘’I’m A Man’ from 1955 and a pair of rhythm and blues songs first recorded by James Brown: ‘Please Please Please’ from 1956 and ‘I Don’t Mind’ from 1961.  More interesting are The Who’s original compositions.  The best of them is ‘The Kids Are Alright’ (UK no. 41, US no. 106), an almost nostalgic attempt at staying in touch with the youthful audience The Who has attracted.  It will be released as a single in 1966, backed with the group composition ‘The Ox’.  Bassist John Entwistle is nicknamed ‘The Ox’.  Although at six feet tall, Entwistle is the same height as Pete Townshend his bearish physique makes him seem bigger than the skinny guitarist.  Yet Entwistle is called ‘The Ox’ not for his size, but for the constitution that enables him to withstand heavy-duty partying.  Entwistle is also sometimes called ‘The Quiet One’ for his unassuming stage persona.  The lightly stepping ‘La-La-Lies’ is paired with the brooding ‘The Good’s Gone’ as another 1966 single and ‘A Legal Matter’ (UK no. 32) is given a similar outing.

‘Substitute’ (UK no. 5), released in March 1966, is the next single for The Who.  This song is produced by Pete Townshend as the group seeks to break away from producer Shel Talmy.  Townshend contributes a classic guitar riff and the band manages the unlikely feat of turning ‘Substitute’ into a song that is both rumbling and bouncy.  “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth,” boasts the lyric, mocking the wealthy who are said to be born with a silver spoon in their mouths.  “I’m a substitute for another guy / I look pretty tall but my heels are high,” is the self-effacing admission.  The flipside is the hypnotic ‘Circles’.

On 17 March 1966 drummer Keith Moon marries Kim Kerrigan.  They have a daughter, Amanda (born 12 July 1966) – perhaps more commonly referred to as Mandy.

The Who’s rowdy reputation is underlined at a gig at the Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, England, on 20 May 1966.  John Entwistle and Keith Moon are late, so Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend begin the show with the rhythm section from the local band that is supporting The Who that night.  The tardy bassist and drummer show up part way through the performance and ‘Townshend hits Moon on the head with his guitar.’  Keith Moon quits – for a week, before returning to the fold.

Although Pete Townshend has been churning out hit singles for The Who, he has loftier ambitions.  In 1966 he begins work on a show, a ‘rock opera’, to be titled ‘Quads’.  ‘Set in the future, it concerns parents who want girls, so when one of their four children turns out to be a boy, they insist on raising him as a girl.’  The need for a new single results in Townshend condensing all this into ‘I’m A Boy’ (UK no. 2).  A lashing song of sexual confusion, the narrator proclaims, “I’m a boy / But my Ma won’t admit it” and is told, “Put this dress on little boy.”  Breaking out of his gender restriction, the boy babbles, “I want to play cricket on the green / Ride my bike across the stream / Cut myself and see my blood / I want to come home all covered in mud.”

In November 1966, The Who release an EP, ‘Ready Steady Who’, whose title pays tribute to ‘Ready Steady Go’, the British television program that helped the band find an audience.  The contents of the EP are a mixed bag.  There are two Pete Townshend originals (‘Circles’, the B side of ‘Substitute’, and the woozy ‘Disguises’) and three cover versions: The Regents’ ‘Barbara Ann’, Ronny And The Daytonas’ ‘Bucket T’ and Neal Hefti’s ‘Batman Theme’ from the 1966 television series starring the caped crusader.

The Who’s second album, ‘A Quick One’ (1966) (UK no. 4, US no. 67), is released in December.  It is the first of three consecutive Who albums produced by the band’s manager, Kit Lambert.  Having left Brunswick, The Who issues this disc through Polydor.  Pete Townshend’s ‘Run Run Run’ has an insistent groove and his ‘So Sad About Us’ is one of his most beautiful (and overlooked) ballads.  Roger Daltrey authors the surging ‘See My Way’.  John Entwistle writes (and sings – as he does most of his own compositions) ‘Boris The Spider’.  This is perhaps Entwistle’s best song, a growling and funny account of killing a household pest: “He’s come to a sticky end / Don’t think he will ever mend / Never more will he crawl ‘round / He’s embedded in the ground.”  The Who find themselves short of material for the album.  Manager/producer Kit Lambert advises Pete Townshend to write one long song to complete the album instead of trying to write two or three standard-length pieces.  Somewhat confounded, since he envisions pop songs as three minutes long, Townshend cobbles together bits and pieces into a mosaic, a ‘mini-opera’, that he jokingly calls ‘A Quick One (While He’s Away)’.  The song’s female protagonist pines for her absent man, but “Here comes Ivor, the dirty old sooty engine-driver to make you feel all right.”  After working through various changes in tone, tempo and musical style, by the conclusion, the original couple are reunited: “I missed you and I must admit / I’ve kissed a few and once did sit / On Ivor the engine driver’s lap / And later with him had a nap.”  It’s witty, sexy and an omen of things to come.

The Who closes out 1966 with the December single ‘Happy Jack’ (UK no. 3, US no. 24).  The tune alternates between a sinister creeping sound and an exuberant release.  Lyrically, it’s a tribute to individuality: “They couldn’t prevent Jack from feeling happy.”

Moving into 1967, The Who issues ‘Pictures Of Lilly’ (UK no. 4, US no. 51), a ‘seemingly innocent song about masturbation.’  The song’s young narrator has problems sleeping so his father provides him with saucy pictures of a pin-up girl from yesteryear.  “Pictures of Lilly / Made my life so wonderful / Pictures of Lilly / Help me sleep at night,” sings Roger Daltrey angelically while The Who demonstrates a punchy power in the music, assisted by some brass colouration from John Entwistle.

Although they appeared on U.S. television in 1965, The Who makes their live debut in the U.S. on 25 March 1967.  However it is their set at the Monterey Pop Festival, held on 16-18 June 1967, which really introduces The Who to a larger American audience.

Roger Daltrey’s marriage to Jacqueline Rickman comes unstuck in 1967, leading to their divorce on 29 January 1968.  Roger Daltrey has a son, Mathias (born 1967), as a result of a liaison with Swedish model, Elisabeth Aaronson.  Daltrey starts dating Heather Taylor, a model, in 1967.

On 23 June 1967 Who bassist John Entwistle marries Alison Wise.  The couple have been dating since 1962.  John and Alison go on to have a son together, Christopher.

On 14 July 1967 The Who begins their first full-scale American tour.  Incongruously, they are the support act to Herman’s Hermits, a much lighter British pop group.

During The Who’s U.S. tour, Keith Moon celebrates his 21st birthday.  He drives a Lincoln Continental into a hotel swimming pool in Flint, Michigan, knocking out one of his teeth in the process.  The ruckus he causes is enough to get him banned for life by the Holiday Inn chain of hotels and motels.  The reputation of ‘Moon the Loon’ grows ever larger from this point.  He becomes famed for smashing television sets.  On one occasion, Keith Moon is ejected from a hotel suite after nailing and strapping the furniture to the ceiling.  “I love to see people laugh and I love it if I can make them laugh,” he says.  Moon describes himself as “quite out of control…amazingly drunk.”

On 25 September 1967 The Who performs on U.S. television program ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’.  The band close with their familiar fit of destruction.  However smoke powder planted in Keith Moon’s drum-kit that is supposed to billow out in clouds instead explodes.  Pete Townshend gets the worst of it, damaging his hearing, in an injury that will continue to plague him in times to come.

‘The Who Sell Out’ (1967) (UK no. 13, US no. 48, AUS no. 8) is released in December and is the first of the band’s albums on The Who’s own label, Track Records, distributed by Polydor.  This is, loosely, a concept album.  The project is made to resemble a radio broadcast and the songs are played amidst faux advertisements for such products as Heinz baked beans and Coca-Cola.  Some of the songs play into this conceit (e.g. Pete Townshend’s deodorant ‘Odorono’ and John Entwistle’s pimple cream ‘Medac’).  The disc’s best known song is ‘I Can See For Miles’ (UK no. 10, US no. 9).  “I know you’ve deceived me, now here’s a surprise / I know that you have ‘cos there’s magic in my eyes,” boasts Roger Daltrey in the lyrics to this song.  ‘I Can See For Miles’ becomes The Who’s biggest U.S. hit so far but its success in their native England is comparatively modest after their previous hits.  Pete Townshend grumbles, “To me it was the ultimate Who record yet it didn’t sell.  I spat on the British record buyer.”  Among the album’s other highlights is the sordid dance of ‘Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand’, the oddly crooned ‘Tattoo’ and the two-part medieval mini-opera ‘Rael’.

From 20 to 27 January 1968 The Who tours Australia in the company of fellow British mod band The Small Faces.  Following an incident on the flight between Adelaide and Melbourne, the ‘rowdy rockers’ are hounded back to England by the Australia media.  Pete Townshend vows never to return to Australia.

Early in 1968 one of Pete Townshend’s old art school friends, Mike McInnerney, turns the guitarist on to Meher Baba.  The Indian ‘perfect master’ utilises elements of Vedantic, Sufi and mystic schools in his preachings.  By April 1968 Pete Townshend has become a disciple of the spiritual guru.  It doesn’t mean he has deserted rock ‘n’ roll though.  “I can talk for hours about Meher Baba the God Man who describes creation,” the guitarist later says. “But ultimately, I realise that I see it all through these two little slits labelled R & R.”

On 20 May 1968 Pete Townshend marries his long-time girlfriend, Karen Astley.  Pete and Karen go on to have three children: Emma (born 1969), a daughter named Aminta (born 1971) whose name is sometimes shortened to ‘Minta’, and Joseph (born 1990).

The Who is relatively quiet in 1968, releasing only the singles ‘Call Me Lightning’ (US no. 40), ‘Dogs’ (UK no. 25) and ‘Magic Bus’ (UK no. 26, US no. 25).  The most famous of these is ‘Magic Bus’, issued in September.  A heavily percussive number with an oddly skeletal guitar part, ‘Magic Bus’ is as psychedelic as ‘I Can See For Miles’.  Playing the part of a passenger on the mystical conveyance, Roger Daltrey sings, “I don’t want to cause no fuss / But can I buy your Magic Bus?”  The response is, “No-ooo.”

Up to this point, The Who’s albums, EPs and singles have been combined into slightly different albums issued by U.S. Decca / MCA for the American market.  Those albums are: ‘The Who Sings My Generation’ (1966); ‘Happy Jack’ (1967) (US no. 67); ‘The Who Sell Out’ (1968) (US no. 48); and ‘Magic Bus – The Who On Tour’ (1968) (US no. 39).  From here, the content of the albums is the same in the U.K. and U.S.

On 12 December 1968 The Who is filmed for ‘The Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus’.  The footage is shelved for years, only being released in full in 1996.  Apparently, ‘The Stones feel their performance leaves much to be desired – especially after the show The Who puts on.’

‘Tommy’ (1969) (UK no. 2, US no. 4, AUS no. 8), released in May, is The Who’s best album.  The Who has toyed with the concept of a ‘rock-opera’ from ‘I’m A Boy’ through ‘A Quick One’ and ‘Rael’, but ‘Tommy’ is the full realisation of the idea as a double album.  The basic plotline is as follows: When Tommy Walker is a little boy he discovers his mother becoming intimate with another man while Tommy’s father is missing.  The lad is afflicted with a hysterical state of being deaf, mute and blind as a consequence.  After years of isolation and mistreatment, radical therapies – including playing pinball – restore Tommy to awareness.  He becomes a guru with a vast following…until they turn against Tommy and abandon him.  ‘Tommy’ is full of contradictions.  It is profoundly silly, yet also profoundly moving.  It has many lengthy instrumental passages, but it also has many ‘songs’ that are little more than jingles that last only for a few seconds and serve only to achieve a transition in scenes.  To novices who know only of The Who’s fearsome reputation for noise and brutishness, it is surprisingly subdued and well-mannered.  Such contrasts may turn some away from ‘Tommy’, but if they are accepted as being wholly in keeping with The Who’s own wilful behaviour, they can be embraced as part and parcel of their definitive work.  The best track on the album is the dynamic ‘Pinball Wizard’ (UK no. 4, US no. 19).  Pete Townshend overlays power chords on a bed of tickling acoustic guitar while Roger Daltrey, playing the part of a ‘local lad’, observes of Tommy, “That deaf, dumb and blind kid / Sure plays a mean pinball.”  ‘I’m Free’ (US no. 37) is Tommy’s boast as he gains followers.  ‘See Me, Feel Me’ (US no. 12) (“Touch Me, heal me,” adds Tommy) is the new messiah’s request and it carries great emotional weight.  (Note: Although ‘See Me, Feel Me’ is the name of the single, there is no track by that name on the ‘Tommy’ album.  The refrain is heard in ‘Christmas’, ‘Go To The Mirror’ and, most fully, in the closing song of the ‘opera’, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’.)  Pete Townshend says of ‘Tommy’, his masterwork, “We worked out the sociological implications, the religious implications, the rock implications…When we’d done that, we went into the studio, got smashed out of our brains and made it.”

The Who performs selections from ‘Tommy’ at the Woodstock Festival held at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York over 15-17 August 1969.  Woodstock is the high point of the 1960s hippie counterculture and The Who’s inclusion is very symbolic of their role in the era.  However, according to Roger Daltrey, “It was the worst gig we ever played.”  During their set, an angry Pete Townshend kicks Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman offstage while Hoffman is making a speech about imprisoned radical, John Sinclair.

On 4 January 1970 Keith Moon accidentally runs over and kills his driver, Neil Boland.

The Who’s first post-‘Tommy’ outing is the one-off single ‘The Seeker’ (UK no. 19, US no. 44).  Over Pete Townshend’s volleys of strummed guitar, Roger Daltrey assumes the role of “A truly desperate man” on a spiritual quest.  He turns to rock idols (Bob Dylan, The Beatles) and drug gurus (Timothy Leary) before informing all that, “I’ve been searching low and high / I don’t get to get what I’m after until the day I die.”

‘Live At Leeds’ (1970) (UK no. 3, US no. 4, AUS no. 6) in May attempts to get past ‘Tommy’ by emphasising The Who’s musical muscularity in a bruising concert recording.  One of the highlights of the set is The Who’s rendition of ‘Summertime Blues’ (UK no. 38, US no. 27), originally a hit for rockabilly singer Eddie Cochran in 1958.

Finally, Pete Townshend gives in to the idea of crafting another rock opera in the style of ‘Tommy’.  The ambitious project is named ‘Lifehouse’.  Townshend explains it this way: “It was a portentous science-fiction film with utopian spiritual messages into which were to be grafted uplifting scenes from a real Who concert.  I was selling a simple credo: whatever happens in the future rock and roll will save the world.”  ‘The “Lifehouse” is the place where the music is played and the young people collect to discover rock music as a powerful, almost religious cult.’  The agonising work on the project results in The Who splitting away from producer / manager Kit Lambert.  Finally, the whole mess collapses.  Some fine songs (‘Mary’, ‘Join Together’, ‘The Relay’ and ‘Pure And Easy’) are lost in the fallout.

Roger Daltrey marries his girlfriend, Heather Taylor, on 19 July 1971.  Roger and Heather go on to have three daughters: Rosie (born 1972), Willow (born 1975) and Jamie (born 1981).

‘Who’s Next’ (1971) (UK no. 1, US no. 4, AUS no. 3), in August, is salvaged from the aborted ‘Lifehouse’ project.  The album is co-produced by The Who and Glynn Johns.  The cover image, showing the band walking away from a ‘monolith’ at a slag heap outside Sheffield after having apparently urinated on the ‘monolith’ is a jibe at Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968).  In the movie a monolith appears to mankind at moments of cosmic significance.  The Who’s irreverent act of micturition seems to be intended to deflate Kubrick’s posturings…and perhaps their own similarly overblown ‘Lifehouse’ science-fiction concept.  In many ways ‘Who’s Next’ is probably a better album than ‘Lifehouse’ would have been and, in its full-on hard rock, is more representative of the band than ‘Tommy’‘Who’s Next’ is also notable for Pete Townshend’s pioneering use of synthesisers and sequencers, some of the first such uses of programmed electronic keyboards in rock music.  The opening track, ‘Baba O’Riley’ (UK no. 55), is one of the main beneficiaries of the sequencers.  This evocation of a “Teenage wasteland” takes its name from Pete Townshend’s guru, Meher Baba, avant-garde composer Terry Riley, and perhaps the song’s Irish jig conclusion (with Dave Arbus playing violin).  Bracketing the album from the other end is ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (UK no. 9, US no. 15) which weds its sequencers to Pete Townshend’s thunderbolt power chords and Roger Daltrey’s throaty yell.  The song points out that the youth revolution has not been as successful as hoped (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”), what change has been effected is largely cosmetic (“The parting on the left is now a parting on the right”), and there is nothing to be done aside from this: “I get on my knees and I pray / We don’t get fooled again.”  Amongst the highlights between those two poles are the pulverising passion of ‘Bargain’, John Entwistle’s humorous ode to the intimidating ‘My Wife’, and the sad/angry acoustic/electric minor masterpiece ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ (US no. 34).

Pete Townshend curates the ‘greatest hits’ album ‘Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy’ (1971) (UK no. 9, US no. 11), released in October, whose title neatly represents, respectively, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.

Some of the ‘lost’ songs from ‘Lifehouse’ surface as one-off singles during 1971-1972.  First, there is 1971’s ‘Let’s See Action’ (UK no. 16).  ‘Join Together’ (UK no. 4, US no. 17) is released in June 1972 and is an anthem to crowd power.  Then comes ‘Relay’ (UK no. 21, US no. 39), whose electronic garble gives way to a song about questing forth.  Pete Townshend will later claim, “We’re idealists.  We believe that rock ‘n’ roll is not just some music for kids.  We believe it’s something greater…To face up to problems, to sort of dance all over them, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll’s about.”

John Entwistle is the first member of The Who to release a solo album, ‘Smash Your Head Against The Wall’ (1971).  He follows this effort with ‘Whistle Rhymes’ (1972).  Pete Townshend also issues a solo album, ‘Who Came First’ (1972) (UK no. 30, US no. 69).  This set includes ‘Pure And Easy’ from the failed ‘Lifehouse’ as well as Townshend’s version of ‘Let’s See Action’, the recent Who single.  Roger Daltrey joins the move to solo albums with ‘Daltrey’ (1973) (US no. 45).  Not being as inclined to songwriting as Entwistle and Townshend, Roger Daltrey makes use of outside compositions.  The recording career of Leo Sayer is given a boost when his compositions ‘Giving It All Away’ (UK no. 5) and ‘One Man Band’ are used on this disc.  John Entwistle notches up a third solo album, ‘Rigor Mortis Sets In’ (1973).

Pete Townshend works on another rock opera to be titled ‘Rock Is Dead…Long Live Rock’ but gives up on it in favour of another concept…which becomes the next album by The Who.

‘Quadrophenia’ (1973) (UK no. 2, US no. 2, AUS no. 35) is released in October.  Production duties are shared by The Who, Kit Lambert and Glynn Johns.  ‘Quadrophenia’ is a double album, a shot of ‘double schizophrenia’ that documents a day in the life of a mod in 1960s Britain.  The project’s nostalgic theme is consistent with Pete Townshend’s view that, “One of the things which has impressed me most in life was the mod movement in England, which was an incredible youthful thing.”  The album’s most successful single is ‘5:15’ (UK no. 20) which finds the central character, “Inside, outside…Out of my brain on the train.”  Also notable is Keith Moon’s twisted ‘Bell Boy’ and the grandiose Pete Townshend ballad ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ (US no. 76).

On 20 November 1973 Keith Moon collapses twice onstage at a Who show in San Francisco.  The drummer’s condition is ‘allegedly due to jet lag’ but is later attributed to him having taken ‘a huge amount of horse tranquiliser.’  Keith Moon’s wife, Kim, leaves him in 1973 because he had become ‘a very aggressive man to live around’ and takes up with keyboardist Ian McLagan, best known for his work with The Small Faces (the mod band with whom The Who toured Australia in 1968).  The divorce becomes official in 1975.  Kim Moon McLagan is killed in a car accident in Texas in August 2006.

‘Odds And Sods’ (1974) (UK no. 10, US no. 15) in September is a compilation of Who rarities assembled by John Entwistle.  ‘Glow Girl’ dates back to January 1968 and was partially reworked to become ‘It’s A Boy’ from ‘Tommy’.  There is a clutch of songs from ‘Lifehouse’ bundled into this album: ‘Pure And Easy’, ‘Naked Eye’ and ‘Too Much Of Anything’.  The pick of the bunch may be ‘Long Live Rock’ which hails from the aborted ‘Rock Is Dead…Long Live Rock’ project.  ‘Long Live Rock’ is a rambunctious account of a band (The Who?) blasting out their music in a pub.

In September 1974 Keith Moon moves to Los Angeles, California.  He leads a rather dissipated life with his famous rock star drinking buddies John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr.  Along the way, Keith Moon records his one and only solo album, ‘Two Sides Of The Moon’ (1975).  In 1975 Moon begins a relationship with Swedish model Annette Walter-Lax.  The drummer says, “The Keith Moon the public know is a myth, even if I have created him.  The real me is the person who sits at home having a cup of tea with his old lady Annette.  The hotel smashing is one way I get relief from the public image.”

Solo albums are issued by other members of The Who as well.  John Entwistle releases ‘Mad Dog’ (1975) while Roger Daltrey puts out ‘Ride A Rock Horse’ (1975) (UK no. 14, US no. 28).  The latter includes Daltrey’s rendition of the Russ Ballard composition ‘Come And Get Your Love’ (US no. 68).  Roger Daltrey also has a parallel career as an actor.  He stars in the title role of ‘Tommy’ (1975), Ken Russell’s adaptation of The Who’s concept album as a movie.  It comes with its own soundtrack album, ‘Tommy – Soundtrack’ (1975) (UK no. 21, US no. 2).  ‘Lisztomania’ (1975), another Ken Russell film, stars Daltrey as classical composer Franz Liszt.

The Who reconvenes for ‘The Who By Numbers’ (1975) (UK no. 7, US no. 8, AUS no. 29) in October.  The group left Track Records in 1974 so this and subsequent albums are issued directly by Polydor, Track’s parent company.  Bill Curbishly, who becomes The Who’s manager in 1976, co-produces this album with Chris Charlesworth, Glynn Johns and Robert Rosenberg.  The album cover is a ‘join-the-dots’ caricature of The Who drawn by John Entwistle.  The album’s most famous piece is ‘Squeeze Box’ (UK no. 10, US no. 16), a song about an accordion…or is it?  “Momma’s got a squeeze box she wears on her chest / And when Daddy gets home he doesn’t get no rest,” winks Roger Daltrey, adding, “She goes in and out and in and out…”  Pete Townshend contributes a banjo solo to the song.

On 31 May 1976 a Who concert at Charlton Athletic Grounds (a football field) makes it into the Guinness Book of World Records.  Seventy thousand fans are present as the band uses seventy-six thousand watts to generate one hundred and twenty decibels of sound as ‘the loudest rock band ever.’

The Pete Townshend solo album, ‘With Love’ (1976), is a spiritual work devoted to his guru, Meher Baba.  Townshend goes on to cut ‘Rough Mix’ (1977) (UK no. 44, US no. 45), an album co-credited to Ronnie Lane, formerly of The Small Faces.  Roger Daltrey also issues a solo album, ‘One Of The Boys’ (1977).

‘Who Are You’ (1978) (UK no. 6, US no. 2, AUS no. 9) is released in August.  The album is co-produced by The Who, John Astley and Glynn Johns.  In the cover shot of the band, Keith Moon sits astride a chair turned backwards.  Across the back of the chair are stencilled the words ‘Not to be taken away.’  The chair was turned around to conceal Moon’s bulging belly.  Much of the album (‘New Song’, ‘Music Must Change’ and ‘Guitar And Pen’) consists of Pete Townshend songs that grapple with ennui and trying to find a way forward.  ‘Sister Disco’ gives a slap to disco music, representing the anti-disco sentiment common in rock music at the time.  John Entwistle pens three of the album’s nine songs (‘Had Enough’, ‘905’ and ‘Trick Of The Light’ (US no. 107)), though Entwistle sings only ‘905’, handing the rest to vocalist Roger Daltrey.  The disc’s best song is the title track, ‘Who Are You’ (UK no. 18, US no. 14).  “I woke up in a Soho doorway / The police man knew my name / He said, ‘You can go sleep at home tonight / If you can get up and walk away,” barks Roger Daltrey.  The inebriated character at the centre of the song stumbles along bawling, “Who the f*** are you?”  The well-orchestrated musical tension in this song is generated by the contrasting musical contributions of vocal harmonies, pulsing synthesisers and Townshend’s bee-in-a-bottle guitarwork.

John Entwistle’s marriage to Alison Wise starts to fail in 1978, though they do not divorce until 1981.  In 1978 Entwistle becomes romantically involved with Maxine Harlow.

Keith Moon dies on 7 September 1978.  The Who’s drummer was again living in England.  He had been out at a party held by former member of The Beatles, Paul McCartney, to celebrate the screening of the movie ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ about the 1950s rocker who died at a tragically young age.  Returning to his apartment in Wembley, London, Keith Moon passed away after taking an overdose of a prescription drug that was supposed to help with the symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol.  Keith Moon was 32.  The apartment where he expired was also the place where Cass Elliot of the U.S. group The Mamas And The Papas died in 1974.  Pete Townshend later says of Keith Moon, “For him, life was a constant party and a constant act…He’s dead because of drugs.  He’s dead partly from trying to enjoy himself too much.  He probably took the last handful of pills as a joke because he thought someone would find it funny.”

Without Keith Moon, the future of The Who seems uncertain.  However, in November 1978, they announce the name of their new drummer: Kenny Jones (born 16 September 1948 in Stepney, London, England).  Kenny Jones was a member of The Small Faces, The Who’s fellow mod group in 1960s Britain.

On 2 May 1979 the movie ‘Quadrophenia’ (1979) premieres in London.  This is based on The Who’s 1973 album of the same name.  The Who appear on the soundtrack (‘Quadrophenia – Soundtrack’ (1979) (UK no. 23, US no. 46)), but not in the film.  Phil Daniels is the actor in the lead role, but Sting (of British new wave band The Police) also plays a pivotal part in the movie.

Also on 2 May 1979 (the same date that ‘Quadrophenia’ premieres) The Who plays their first gig with new drummer, Kenny Jones.  The venue is London’s Rainbow Theatre.

On 23 May 1979 ‘The Kids Are Alright’ (1979), a documentary film by Jeff Stein about The Who, has its debut at a screening in New York.  The movie is assembled from film clips, television appearances and some live footage recorded especially for the film in 1977 and 1978.  Naturally, there is a double album soundtrack as well, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ (1979) (UK no. 26, US no. 8), released in June.

When The Who tour the United States with their new line-up, beginning on 11 September 1979, the experience is marred by tragedy on 3 December 1979.  Eleven fans are trampled to death at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum in a crush to obtain unreserved seats.

Roger Daltrey stars in the title role of the film, ‘McVicar’ (1980).  The movie premieres in London on 30 April 1980.  This is the true story of John McVicar, a British criminal, detailing his bank robberies, prison time and eventual rehabilitation.  There is an accompanying Roger Daltrey solo album, ‘McVicar’ (1980).

Pete Townhshend’s ‘Empty Glass’ (1980) (US no. 5) is probably the best of the solo projects by members of The Who.  It is a well-considered work of passion and depth, the equal of just about any Who album.  The singles taken from ‘Empty Glass’ are: ‘Rough Boys’ (US no. 89), ‘Let My Love Open the Door’ (US no. 9) and ‘A Little Is Enough’ (US no 72).

‘Face Dances’ (1980) (UK no. 2, US no. 4, AUS no. 16) in March is the first album by The Who to feature new drummer, Kenny Jones.  The album is produced by Bill Szymczyk.  The pick of the album is ‘You Better You Bet’ (UK no. 9, US no. 18): “When I say I love you, you say you better / You better, you better, you bet / You better bet your life,” sings Roger Daltrey.  It’s a little disorienting to hear The Who in the 1980s, as a group that first had hits in the 1960s, waxing nostalgic in this song about T-Rex, a British pop group of the early 1970s: “The sound of old T-Rex,” to which Daltrey slyly adds, “Oh, and ‘Who’s Next’,” citing their own early 1970s hit album.  When ‘You Better You Bet’ is issued as a single, one of the verses is excised, probably to avoid any broadcast problems that might arise from the risqué line, “You work on me with open arms and open legs.”  ‘Face Dances’ also includes John Entwistle’s personal anthem ‘The Quiet One’ which, naturally, is a buffeting hard rocker; the tempo-changing ‘Cache Cache’; and ‘Don’t Let Go The Coat’ (UK no. 47, US no. 84).

Kit Lambert, the former manager of The Who, dies on 7 April 1981 due to a cerebral haemorrhage after falling downstairs in his mother’s house.

John Entwistle releases a solo album, ‘Too Late The Hero’ (1981).  Pete Townshend issues ‘All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes’ (1982) (US no. 26).  The guitarist also confesses to drug and alcohol problems, but straightens himself out.  However, from this point, Townshend becomes less vocal about his devotion to Meher Baba.  Although he still believes the guru’s teachings, Townshend feels his difficulties with booze and drugs make him a poor spokesman for the cause.

The Who reassemble for ‘It’s Hard’ (1982) (UK no. 11, US no. 8, AUS no. 55) in September.  The disc is produced by Glynn Johns.  The barnstorming ‘Athena’ (UK no. 40, US no. 28) is the single from this album.

On 12 October 1982 The Who begins a ‘farewell tour’ winding up in Toronto, Canada, on 17 December 1982.  Early indications are that, though the band is calling it quits as a touring entity, they will continue to record together as The Who.

‘Scoop’ (1983), released in February, is a fascinating Pete Townshend solo album, a two-disc assemblage of demos for Who songs and discarded material from the breadth of his career with the band and as a solo act.  Among the treasures are ‘Mary’ (from ‘Lifehouse’) and ‘Popular’ (a piece rewritten to become ‘It’s Hard’, the title track of the last Who album).

By May 1983 Pete Townshend is telling the rest of The Who that he is quitting The Who and the group officially announces they are disbanding on 16 December 1983.

Roger Daltrey continues his solo career with ‘Parting Should Be Painless’ (1984) and ‘Under A Raging Moon’ (1985).  The Pete Townshend solo album ‘White City: A Novel’ (1985) (US no. 26) includes the pounding dance-oriented single ‘Face The Face’ (US no. 26) which includes backing vocals from Townshend’s 16 year old daughter, Emma.

The Who reunites to perform four songs at the all-star charity benefit concert Live-Aid on 13 July 1985.

Roger Daltrey issues ‘Can’t Wait To See The Movie’ (1987).  His former colleague unveils ‘The Iron Giant: The Musical By Pete Townshend’ (1989), based on the 1968 Ted Hughes children’s story ‘The Iron Giant’.

Statements made by Pete Townshend in 1989 seem to acknowledge his rumoured bisexuality, but he goes on to refute that theory, insisting, “I’m heterosexual but I’ve never made a big deal out of it.”  Also in 1989 the guitarist publicly admits he is having problems with his ears: “I have terrible hearing trouble.”

In summer 1989 The Who reunites.  Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle had been keen on the idea for some time but Pete Townshend had remained reluctant.  The 1989 tour has an expanded line-up that includes a second guitarist to assist the beleaguered Townshend who continues to struggle with hearing loss.  Kenny Jones is absent from the reunion; Simon Phillips plays drums on this tour.  After this, The Who does not officially disband again but rather maintain a semi-inactive state, getting together for occasional shows or tours.

John Entwistle marries his long-time partner Maxine Harlow on 11 September 1991.

Roger Daltrey releases a solo album, ‘Rocks In The Head’ (1992).  Pete Townshend’s ‘Psychoderelict’ (1993) reworks some of the elements of the long lost ‘Lifehouse’ project.

Pete Townshend separates from his wife, Karen, in 1994.  The divorce becomes final in 2009.

John Entwistle issues the albums ‘The Rock’ (1996) and ‘Music From Van Pires’ (1997).  Entwistle divorces his second wife, Maxine, in 1997.  He goes on to a relationship with Lisa Pritchett-Johnston.

In 2000 Pete Townshend begins a relationship with musician Rachel Fuller who becomes his long-term companion.

John Entwistle is found dead in a Las Vegas hotel room on 27 June 2002.  The cause of death is a heart attack induced by cocaine.  John Entwistle was 57.

Despite the loss of another founding member, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend continue to work together sporadically – with various other hired musicians – as The Who.

In 2003 Pete Townshend is cautioned by police and placed on a sex offenders register for five years after he admits having accessed child pornography on the internet.

‘Endless Wire’ (2006) (UK no. 9, US no. 7, AUS no. 63) is the first new album of studio recordings by The Who in twenty-four years.  It includes a ‘mini-opera’ entitled ‘Wire & Glass’.

Pete Townshend’s hearing problems continue in 2011 as he develops tinnitus (a ringing in the ears).  Although his hearing is not perfect, he insists it is okay.

The Who’s early notoriety was connected with Pete Townshend’s guitar-smashing.  Their explosive stage act – and explosive personalities – made them unlikely candidates for a lengthy career.  Yet The Who carved out a place for themselves in rock history.  In retrospect, it seems it may have been wiser for them to disband for good following the death of Keith Moon.  Their subsequent work was patchy.  Whatever their mistakes and missteps, The Who recorded a number of albums and singles that are deservedly considered classics.  They popularised the concept of the ‘rock opera.’  The Who was ‘a dynamic and undeniably powerful sonic force.’  ‘Their sound was anarchy, chaos, pure noise…’

Sources:

  1. lyricsfreak.com as at 12 August 2014
  2. wikipedia.org as at 9 June 2014
  3. allmusic.com, ‘The Who’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 14 August 2014
  4. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 14 August 2014
  5. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 55, 77, 149, 226, 227
  6. brainyquote.com as at 14 August 2014
  7. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 150, 151
  8. ‘Who’s Better, Who’s Best’ – Sleeve notes by Richard Barnes (Polydor Limited, UK, 1988) p. 5, 6, 9, 10
  9. ‘Before I Get Old: The Story of The Who’ (2003) by Dave Marsh (amazon.co.uk as at 14 August 2014) via 4 above
  10. whosdatedwho.com as at 14 August 2014
  11. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 14 August 2014
  12. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 65, 74, 79, 146
  13. ‘Moon the Loon’ – MTV Cable Network – video interview with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle (1989?)
  14. ‘Good Morning America’ (U.S. television program, ABC Network) – interview with Pete Townshend and Keith Moon (1978)
  15. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 98, 102, 106, 107, 108, 116, 121, 128, 131, 132, 151, 161, 206, 213, 220, 256, 287, 288, 298, 302, 305, 311, 345, 347, 361
  16. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 241, 243
  17. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Who’ by Dave Marsh (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 400, 401, 403, 404, 405
  18. smothersbrothers.com/episodes/htm as at 14 August 2014
  19. ‘The Who Sell Out’ (1967) – Sleeve notes by Dave Marsh (Polydor Ltd. (UK) (1995 re-issue)) p. 16
  20. milesago.com as at 3 April 2014
  21. ‘Stones History & Discography’ – MTV Networks – angelfire.com/pa/Redlands/hist.html as at 19 October 2001
  22. ‘Tommy’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Polydor Ltd., London, 1969) p. 5
  23. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 40, 48, 55
  24. ‘Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon’ (2005) by Tony Fletcher (amazon.co.uk as at 14 August 2014) via 4 above
  25. ‘The Who – BBC Sessions’ – Sleeve notes by Andy Neill (Polydor Ltd. (UK), 1995) p. 5, 6
  26. ‘Who’s Next’ (1971) – Sleeve notes by Pete Townshend (Polydor Ltd. (UK), 1995 reissue) p. 5, 6
  27. ‘Who’s Next’ (1971) – Sleeve notes by John Atkins (Polydor Ltd. (UK), 1995 reissue) p. 14, 17, 18, 20
  28. ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine – Pete Townshend interview (1968) via 16 above p. 20
  29. ‘Odds And Sods’ – Sleeve notes by Pete Townshend (Polydor Ltd. (UK), 1974) via 19 above p. 20
  30. brandy-and.tripod.com as at July 2002

Song lyrics copyright Fabulous Music Ltd. / Essex Music with the exception of ‘Boris The Spider’ (New Ikon Music Ltd.)

Last revised 9 September 2014

The Velvet Underground

 The Velvet Underground

 Nico – circa 1967

 “Between thought and expression / Lies a lifetime” – ’Some Kinda Love’ (The Velvet Underground)

The Velvet Underground has got it all wrong.  Their debut album is released in March 1967, just before the so-called ‘Summer of Love.’  The middle of 1967 sees the cultural triumph of the hippies, the flower children, the San Francisco bands like The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead – it’s the era of joss sticks, psychedelics, bells, beads, kaftans, long hair and beards.  And there are The Velvets – in black leather and biker boots, glowering behind dark glasses – singing songs about narcotics and deviant sex.  Lou Reed, vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter for The Velvet Underground, grumbles, “We had vast objections to the whole San Francisco scene.  It’s just tedious, a lie and untalented.  They can’t play and they certainly can’t write.”  His aide-de-camp, John Cale, adds, “The only reason we wore sunglasses onstage was because we couldn’t stand the sight of the audience.”

Lou Reed (2 March 1942 – 27 October 2013) is born Lewis Allan Reed in Brooklyn, New York City, New York, U.S.A.  He is the son of Sidney Joseph Reed and his wife, Toby Reed (nee Futterman).  Sidney Reed is an accountant and Lou comes from a ‘rich middle-class family.’  When Lou is 11, he and his family move to Freeport, Long Island, New York.

Lou Reed is trained to play classical piano.  He learns to play guitar, listening to songs on the radio.  While still an adolescent, Reed works with bands such as Pasha And The Prophets and The Eldorados.

In 1956 Lou Reed spends some weeks as a patient in a mental institution.  He is treated with medication and subjected to Electro Convulsive Therapy.  His stay is at the insistence of his parents.  The dubious goal is to ‘cure’ Lou Reed of his bisexual tendencies.

In 1957, the 14 year old Lou Reed makes his first recording.  By this time, he is part of a band called The Shades – though on the record label they metamorphose into The Jades.  This ‘doo-wop band’ issues the single ‘So Blue’ backed with ‘Leave Her For Me’.  The latter song is written by Reed who also plays rhythm guitar on the track.

After graduating from Freeport High School, Lou Reed goes on to Syracuse University.  He undertakes a Bachelor of Arts degree, but also dabbles in journalism and poetry.  The poet Delmore Schwartz is something of a mentor to the young man.  Lou Reed has not lost interest in music.  He has his own jazz radio show while at college and plays in local bar bands with Sterling Morrison, a fellow guitarist and student at Syracuse University.

Sterling Morrison (29 August 1942 – 30 August 1995) is born Holmes Sterling Morrison, Jr. in East Meadow, Long Island, New York, U.S.A.  He is the oldest in a family of six children.  Sterling Morrison attends four different colleges, including the University of Illinois and Syracuse University.  At the latter, Morrison meets Lou Reed whom he gravitates toward as another ‘anti-authoritarian.’

Lou Reed graduates from university in 1964.  He takes additional courses in journalism and acting.  He gives poetry readings at St Mark’s Church and some of his verses are printed in ‘Fusion’ magazine.  However Reed’s main occupation is as a songwriter for Pickwick Records.  One of his (not very successful) attempts at writing a hit tune is ‘a silly dance record’ called ‘The Ostrich’.  To publicise the disc, Reed forms a group called The Primitives in 1964.  One of his bandmates is John Cale.

John Davies Cale is born 9 March 1942 in Garnant, Carmenthenshire, Wales, U.K.  (It may be noted that John Cale is born one week after Lou Reed.)  John Cale is the son of Will Cale and Margaret Cale (nee Davies).  Will Cale is a coal miner and his wife is a primary school teacher.  “Growing up in Wales was a pretty draconian experience with religion,” John Cale recalls.  He is a classically trained musician.  “I missed out on my teenage years,” he reflects.  “I was practicing scales instead of playing football.”  Cale studies viola and keyboards at Goldsmith’s College, London, from 1960 to 1963.  During that time he also studies under the experimental composer Cornelius Cardew.  “The avant-garde makes more sense to me,” Cale shrugs.  In 1963 John Cale wins a Leonard Bernstein scholarship to study modern composition at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, U.S.A.  Later in 1963, Cale moves to New York and mixes with America’s experimental composers.  He is reputed to have been apprenticed to John Cage but, more significantly, Cale works with La Monte Young in The Dream Syndicate, embracing minimalism.  Cale appears on two of Young’s albums.  All this artistry may seem impressive, but John Cale finds himself seriously low on funds.  This leads him, ‘through a bizarre set of connections’, to audition for The Primitives and meet Lou Reed.  John Cale plays bass in The Primitives.

‘The Ostrich’ is a ‘non-hit’, but John Cale is interested in Lou Reed’s songwriting.  Cale is drawn not to Reed’s attempts at writing a hit, but the darker material that even Reed recognises is non-commercial.  With his taste for the avant-garde, Cale encourages Reed to form a band to play these compositions.  For instance, ‘Heroin’ (a future Velvet Underground song) was written while Lou Reed was still at Syracuse University.  Reed calls in his old buddy Sterling Morrison to join the group and the line-up is completed by drummer Angus MacLise (4 March 1938 – 21 June 1979).  MacLise, like John Cale, had played with La Monte Young.  This quartet, formed in 1965, is called The Warlocks at first, changing soon after to The Falling Spikes.  A college friend, Jim Tucker, visits the group at their New York loft ‘carrying a paperback book he’d found in the street en route, a sexual expose by Michael Leigh titled “The Velvet Underground”.  The name is ideal and is adopted right away’ by the group.  Another version of the same legend has Tony Conrad, an associate of John Cale’s from The Dream Syndicate, carrying the book.  In any case, The Velvet Underground becomes the name of the band.

The Velvet Underground rehearses Lou Reed’s songs.  They play at screenings of experimental films.  However, just before their official debut at a high school in Summit, New Jersey, in November 1965, Angus MacLise quits.  After leaving The Velvet Underground, Angus MacLise marries his wife, Hetty, and they have a son, Ossian.  Angus MacLise settles in Nepal in the late 1960s.  He dies in Kathmandu in 1979 from hypoglycaemia and pulmonary tuberculosis.

In November 1965, The Velvet Underground hires a new drummer: Maureen ‘Mo’ Tucker.

Maureen Ann Tucker is born 26 August 1944 in Levittown, New York, U.S.A.  She is the sister of Jim Tucker, the college friend said to have given The Velvet Underground their name.  Jim Tucker is described as ‘one of [guitarist Sterling] Morrison’s friends.’  Jim and Maureen have another sibling, Margo.  Maureen Tucker grows up playing drums at home in time to records by 1950s rocker Bo Diddley.  She is working as computer keypunch operator when she is recruited to The Velvet Underground.  Maureen Tucker is one of the first female musicians in rock.  With her short, Beatles-style haircut and the standard Velvet Underground uniform of dark shirt, pants and boots, the five feet, four inch drummer certainly doesn’t trade on her femininity.  At a glance, she looks like another one of the boys.  After an early gig with The Velvet Underground, Tucker’s drums are stolen.  She plays a set on trash cans and lids at the next show until a new drum kit is obtained.

The Velvet Underground gets a residency playing at the Café Bizarre in Greenwich Village, New York, in late 1965.  They play there through the winter of 1965-1966.  Their rather extreme repertoire is the cause of some angst with the café’s proprietors who forbid the group from playing ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’ again.  One of those in the audience at Café Bizarre is Gerard Malanga.  He is an associate of Andy Warhol, the outrageous painter at the centre of the Pop Art movement.  Malanga brings Warhol with him one night to see The Velvet Underground.  The two men have the idea that it would be good for Warhol’s image if he managed a rock ‘n’ roll band.  For twenty-five per cent of their earnings, Warhol offers to take on the Velvet underground as well as buy them new equipment.  The group consents, but still have to get out of their residency at Café Bizarre.  The key to this is the fuss over ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’.  As Lou Reed puts it, “They said, ‘One more song like that and you’re fired.’  So we played one more song like that and, sure enough, they fired us.”

The Velvet Underground finds that Andy Warhol’s first move as their manager is to give them a fifth member, a beautiful female vocalist known as Nico.  The band accepts her ‘rather reluctantly.’

Nico (16 October 1938 – 18 July 1988) is born Christa Paffgen in Cologne, Germany.  She is the daughter of Margarette Paffgen.  Christa works as a model, actress and singer.  She learns to speak German, English and French.  Christa Paffgen works for the French fashion designer Coco Chanel.  She studies acting at Lee Strasberg’s method acting school in 1960 in the same class as Hollywood sex symbol Marilyn Monroe.  Christa has a relationship with Nikos Papatakis from 1960 to 1962.  German photographer Herbert Tobias names Christa Paffgen Nico after her ex-boyfriend, Nikos Papatakis.  A relationship with French actor Alain Delon from 1961 to 1962 results in the birth of her son, Christian Aaron Boulogne (‘Ari’) in 1962 – though Delon denies his paternity.  Nico teaches herself to play the harmonium.  In 1965 she arrives in London to begin a singing career – and becomes romantically involved with Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones.  She records an unsuccessful single, ‘The Last Mile’, produced and co-written by Jimmy Page, later of heavy metal band Led Zeppelin.  In 1966 Nico relocates to New York where she is a chanteuse at the Blue Angel Lounge.  From there, she is spotted by Andy Warhol and taken into the Factory, his loose collective of artists, film-makers, musicians and free spirits.  Nico appears in Warhol’s ‘Chelsea Girls’ (1966) film.  Her rather chilly and forbidding fascination is exemplified by this quote: “I’m a nihilist so I like destruction.  Nihilism seemed to be the most suitable religion since I started to think.”

In 1966 The Velvet Underground consists of: Nico (vocals, occasional harmonium and percussion), Lou Reed (vocals, guitar), Sterling Morrison (guitar), John Cale (bass, viola, piano) and Maureen Tucker (drums).  Nico is romantically linked to Lou Reed in 1966, but transfers her affections to John Cale in 1966-1967.  The Velvet Underground tour with Andy Warhol’s show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, with films being projected on the walls and over the group.  While The Velvets absorb the generally freaky atmosphere and the outré characters that trail in Warhol’s wake, their patron uses his influence to secure them a recording contract with MGM subsidiary, Verve.

Describing the music of The Velvet Underground is difficult.  They are categorised as, simply, rock music, or alternative rock.  Rock is too broad a designation to have much meaning and while The Velvet Underground is certainly an alternative to the mainstream, the term alternative rock did not really come into use until the early 1980s, long after the advent of The Velvets.  Lou Reed (doo-wop, commercial songwriting), Sterling Morrison (bar bands) and Maureen Tucker (Bo Diddley fan) all bring an element of early, basic rock ‘n’ roll to the group.  However, the more highbrow, arty types like John Cale, Nico and Andy Warhol redefine this as primitivism.  Added to this is Cale’s background in the avant-garde which puts into play more experimental characteristics such as drone theory and atonal sounds.

Challenging as The Velvet Underground’s music may be, their lyrics are equally confronting.  Lou Reed’s early poetic aspirations are welded to a journalistic detachment allowing him to cast a knowing eye over the underbelly of life.  Here are songs about drugs, sadomasochism, religion and death – not exactly common radio fare at the time.

Over the course of their career The Velvet Underground’s level of commercial success is meagre at best.  Yet their importance to the history of rock and the influence they exert is disproportionately large.  Later art rock experimentalist Brian Eno notes that though hardly anyone bought The Velvets’ records at the time they appeared, almost everyone who did formed their own bands.

The songs of The Velvet Underground are largely the work of Lou Reed.  Some compositions are credited to the group as a whole, but the impression is always that Reed is the driving force in the act.

The debut album, ‘The Velvet Underground And Nico’ (1967) (US no. 171), is produced by Andy Warhol.  The peelable banana image on the album cover is also Warhol’s work.  The skills of the famed painter as a record producer are questionable but perhaps it is enough that he kept out of the way and, through his reputation, gave the brand-new group some artistic cachet.  Pundits claim that Lou Reed and Tom Wilson, a better known record producer, actually do most of the production work on this disc.  “We were trying to do a Phil Spector thing with as few instruments as possible,” states Reed.  The odd thing about his statement is that Spector’s claim to fame as a producer is conjuring a ‘wall of sound’ from a large ensemble of musicians.  So The Velvet Underground is trying to make a big noise from a small number of musicians.  Nico is handed lead vocals on four of the album’s eleven songs.  The best of the Nico songs is the softly seductive ‘Femme Fatale’: “She’ll build you up just to put you down / What a clown,” she utters disdainfully, her Teutonic accent rendering ‘clown’ as ‘klonn.’  The tinkly soft ‘Sunday Morning’ is a sort of hungover lullaby, ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ is hypnotic and ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ is weirdly folk-ish.  As may be expected, Lou Reed sings the most significant tracks on the album.  The definitive Velvet Underground song is ‘Venus In Furs’, a dark parable of sadomasochistic love.  John Cale’s discordant viola scrapes away relentlessly, adding to the sense of unease.  “Shiny, shiny / Shiny boots of leather / Whiplash girlchild in the dark,” intones Reed.  The song pounds away until the protagonist is urged, “Severin, Severin, speak so slightly / Severin, down on your bended knee / Taste the whip, in love not given lightly / Taste the whip / Now plead for me.”  With its taboo-busting, blackly intoxicating lyrics working in combination with the band’s taut, minimal rock overlaid with experimental noise, ‘Venus In Furs’ sums up The Velvet Underground’s appeal.  Lou Reed provides a pair of drug songs.  The ragged, shuddering ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ sketches a junkie’s relationship with his dealer: “Feel sick and dirty more dead than alive / I’m waiting for my man.”  ‘Heroin’ is a love song (“It’s my life and it’s my wife”) to perhaps the most insidious of all narcotics.  At the time Reed composed the song, when he was still at Syracuse University, he ‘had never tried the drug [and] just drew from others experiences and descriptions.’  In a deceptively gentle voice that hardens to steely resolve, Reed advises, “I’m gonna try to nullify my life / ‘Cos when the blood begins to flow / And it shoots up the dropper’s neck / And I’m closing in on death…”  The musical accompaniment accelerates from throbbing to pounding to a distressing screeching.  Rock music has rarely, if ever, painted such a vivid image of the drug scene.  By contrast to the rest of the album, ‘Run, Run, Run’ and ‘There She Goes Again’ are almost conventional pop songs.  The album crashes to earth with its two most experimental pieces.  ‘Black Angel’s Death Song’ has a babbling vocal and grating viola while ‘European Son’ is an epic eight-minute barrage of noise and momentum interspersed with smashing glass.  ‘The Velvet Underground And Nico’ is not released until nearly a year after it is recorded, some radio stations ban it in its entirety, and its sales are poor.  Despite all these things, this is the best Velvet Underground album, ‘a record of fearless breadth and lyric depth.’

In the wake of the debut album, The Velvet Underground’s association with Andy Warhol is weakened and fades away.  Nico ‘leaves or is fired.’

Nico’s first solo album, ‘Chelsea Girl’ (1967), includes songs by Lou Reed, John Cale and a young singer-songwriter, Jackson Browne, who is also one of her lovers (1966-1967).  She goes on to relationships with other rock stars, The Doors’ Jim Morrison (1967) and The Stooges’ Iggy Pop (1969).  John Cale continues to work with Nico as producer and accompanist on ‘The Marble Index’ (1969) and ‘Desertshore’ (1970).  Nico has a relationship with film director Philippe Garrel, living with him from 1970 to 1979.  ‘June 1, 1974’ (1974) is a live album co-credited to Nico, Brian Eno, John Cale and Kevin Ayers.  The last-named is also reputed to be Nico’s lover in 1974.  Lutz Ulbrich is another supposed lover of Nico from 1974 to 1979 – though that overlaps with her time with Philippe Garrel.  After ‘The End..’ (1974), an album produced by John Cale, Nico is absent from the recording scene until ‘Drama Of Exile’ (1981) and ‘Camera Obscura’ (1985).  She becomes ‘a heroin addict for the latter part of her life’, but finally kicks the habit and gets clean.  On a holiday with her son, Ari, in Ibiza, Spain, Nico suffers a minor heart attack and falls off the bicycle she is riding.  She sustains a head injury that results in her death on 18 July 1988.  Nico was 49.

‘White Light / White Heat’ (1968) (US no. 199), released in January, is the second Velvet Underground album.  Tom Wilson is credited as the producer for this disc.  The black-on-black cover image is actually a photograph of the tattoo on the arm of the band’s friend, Billy Name.  According to legend, this album is recorded in a single day, but drummer Maureen Tucker remembers there being a series of recording sessions.  The album is characterised as ‘the most extreme album in The Velvet Underground’s extreme catalogue’ and one that ‘focuses almost exclusively on their noisiest arrangements.’  ‘White light goin’ messin up my brain / Oh, white light, it’s gonna drive me insane,” sings Lou Reed on the title track, ‘White Light / White Heat’, a shambling composition that is always on the verge of total disintegration.  The album has only six tracks: ‘Here She Comes Now’ and ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’ are comparatively short; ‘I Heard Her Call My Name’ is celebrated for Lou Reed’s guitar chaos; ‘The Gift’ is a ‘surreal recitative’; but the knockout blow is the seventeen minute noise sculpture ‘Sister Ray’, a group composition.  This is ‘one of rock’s most uncompromising albums.’

In 1968 John Cale marries Betsey Johnson, a fashion designer and photographer who was part of Andy Warhol’s circle of acquaintances.  The newlyweds divorce less than a year later.

The Velvet Underground goes on tour to promote ‘White Light / White Heat’.  However, tensions on the tour lead to a rift between Lou Reed and John Cale.  The matter is resolved when John Cale leaves the band in September 1968.

John Cale goes on to record a series of solo albums: ‘Vintage Violence’ (1970); ‘The Academy In Peril’ (1972); ‘Paris 1919’ (1973); ‘Fear’ (1974); the live album ‘June 1, 1974’ (1974) (with Nico, Brian Eno and Kevin Ayers); ‘Slow Dazzle’ (1975) in March; ‘Helen Of Troy’ (1975) in November; ‘Sabotage / Live’ (1979); ‘Honi Soit’ (1981) (US no. 154); ‘Music For A New Society’ (1982); ‘Caribbean Sunset’ (1984); ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (1985); and ‘Words For The Dying’ (1989).  In 1971 John Cale meets Cynthia ‘Cindy’ Wells (a.k.a. Miss Cindy of GTOs [Girls Together Outrageously], associates of art rock adventurer Frank Zappa) and they marry soon after.  John Cale and Cindy Wells divorce in 1975.  On 6 October 1981 Cale marries Rise Irushalmi and they have a daughter, Eden Myfanwy Cale (born 14 July 1985).

In 1968 Doug Yule (guitar, bass, keyboards) takes the place of John Cale in The Velvet Underground.  He is born Douglas Alan Yule on 25 April 1947 in Long Island, New York, U.S.A.

‘The Velvet Underground’ (1969) (US no. 197) is released in March.  The band is credited as the producers on this disc.  Doug Yule makes his debut on this set.  Where the group’s second album was an abrasive, noisy assault, by contrast this set is hushed, ideal listening for the wee small hours.  The lullaby-like qualities of ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ are tossed a curve by Lou Reed’s typically provocative lyrics: “It was good what we did yesterday / And I’d do it once again / The fact that you are married / Only proves you’re my best friend / But it’s truly, truly a sin.”  ‘Candy Says’ is a delicate late night croon while ‘I’m Set Free’ is a fragile supplication.  The unlikely ‘Jesus’ comes across like a junkie’s prayer: “Help me find my proper place / Help me in my weakness ‘cos I’m falling out of grace.”  The exultant ‘Beginning To See The Light’ is more uptempo as is the steady, strumming rhythm of ‘What Goes On’, the latter aided by a church-like organ highlight towards the latter stages.  ‘Some Kinda Love’ is twisted and wiry, falling between the album’s poles.  ‘That’s The Story Of My Life’ is a lightly swinging number, ‘The Murder Mystery’ features clashing reading voices over staccato music, and the album closes with the old-fashioned love song ‘After Hours’ sung by drummer Maureen Tucker.  The Velvet Underground’s third album is ‘a gentle invitation to intimacy.’

Live performances by The Velvet Underground in 1969 are recorded in Texas and San Francisco.  They will be released as a live album in 1974.

The Velvet Underground had always been a marginal commercial proposition for MGM / Verve.  In the middle of 1969 they finally lose their recording contract.  A more sinister interpretation has it that MGM was clearing its roster of all ‘supposedly drug-related acts.’  In any case, The Velvet Underground spends ‘some few months’ without a recording contract until being picked up by Atlantic Records in 1970.

Maureen Tucker falls pregnant and is absent from the recording sessions for the next Velvet Underground album.  Doug Yule’s younger brother, Billy (who is still in high school), plays drums with the group for these sessions.  Back in New York, The Velvet Underground has a residency at a venue in that city that has the contradictory name of Max’s Kansas City.  The group plays there through the summer of 1970.  Brigit Polk, a fan of the band, captures the show on her cassette recorder.  It will be officially released as a live album in 1972.  In August 1970, Lou Reed quits The Velvet Underground in ‘a bout of disenchantment.’

‘Loaded’ (1970), released in September, is recorded before Lou Reed’s departure.  The Velvet Underground’s first release for Atlantic is co-produced by Geoff Haslam, Shel Kagan and The Velvet Underground.  Billy Yule deputises for Maureen Tucker on drums for this album.  ‘Loaded’ is viewed as the group’s ‘most conventional rock album.’  ‘Sweet Jane’ is a melodic, numb-mouthed mumble as Lou Reed sings of, “Heavenly wine and roses / Seem to whisper to me when you smile.”  The ragtag anthem ‘Rock And Roll’ is reduced to its most elemental form.  “You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll,” Reed asserts in this song about the radio, “It took no computations / To dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station / It was all right.”

Although his subsequent commercial achievements are, generally, modest, Lou Reed is the most successful with the public of the former members of The Velvet Underground.  Lou Reed releases the following solo albums: ‘Lou Reed’ (1972) (US no. 189); ‘Transformer’ (1972) (US no. 29, UK no. 13); ‘Berlin’ (1973) (US no. 98, UK no. 7); the live album ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal’ (1974) (US no. 45, UK no. 26); ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ (1974) (US no. 10); ‘Metal Machine Music’ (1975); ‘Coney Island Baby’ (1976) (US no. 41, UK no. 52); ‘Rock And Roll Heart’ (1976) (US no. 64); ‘Street Hassle’ (1978) (US no. 84); ‘The Bells’ (1979) (US no. 130); ‘Growing Up In Public’ (1980) (US no. 41, UK no. 52); ‘The Blue Mask’ (1982) (US no. 169); ‘Legendary Hearts’ (1983) (US no. 154); ‘New Sensations’ (1984) (US no. 56, UK no. 92); ‘Mistrial’ (1986) (US no. 47, UK no. 69); and ‘New York’ (1989) (US no. 40, UK no. 14).  Reed’s best known solo song is ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (US no. 16, UK no. 10) from ‘Transformer’.  Reed marries twice: Betty (surname unknown) (9 January 1973 – 1979) and Sylvia Morales (14 February 1980 – 1994).

Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker also leave The Velvet Underground soon after Lou Reed’s exit.

While ‘Loaded’ was being recorded, Sterling Morrison obtained a Bachelor’s Degree at City College in New York in 1970.  The guitarist bicycled between school and The Velvet Underground shows at Max’s Kansas City.  After leaving the band, Morrison returns to academia, working as a teaching assistant at the University of Texas in Austin.  During this time, he also goes on to earn a doctorate in medieval studies at the same educational facility.  Sterling Morrison marries a woman named Martha and they have two children, Thomas and Mary Anne.  After leaving the University of Texas, Morrison works as a tugboat pilot in the ship channel of Houston, Texas, through the 1980s.

Maureen Tucker marries in the early 1970s and divorces in the early 1980s.  She has five children: Kerry (a daughter born in 1970), Austen (a son, date of birth unavailable), Keith (born 1974), Kate (born 1979) and Richard (born 3 February 1981).  Maureen Tucker works at a Wal-Mart department store in Georgia for five years during the 1980s.  She also has a sporadic solo recording career that results in these albums: ‘Playin’ Possum’ (1981); ‘MoeJadKateBarry’ (1987); ‘Life In Exile After Abdication’ (1989); ‘I Spent A Week There The Other Night’ (1991); and the live album ‘Oh No, They’re Recording This Show’ (1992).

In 1970-1971 Doug Yule recreates The Velvet Underground under his leadership.  The line-up is: Doug Yule (vocals, guitar), Willie ‘Loco’ Alexander (keyboards) (born 13 January 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Walter Powers III (bass) (born 4 August 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts) and Billy Yule (drums).

‘Live At Max’s Kansas City’ (1972) is the recording made by Brigit Polk of Lou Reed’s last show with The Velvet Underground in the summer of 1970.

Doug Yule heads to England to record a new Velvet Underground album – but none of the other neo-members of the group accompany him.  Ian Paice, drummer of British heavy metal band Deep Purple, helps out on the sessions for ‘Squeeze’ (1973).  Released on Polydor, this album is supposedly produced by The Velvet Underground – which presumably means Doug Yule.

Seeing the writing on the wall, The Velvet Underground disbands in 1973.

‘1969: The Velvet Underground Live’ (1974) is released after the group splits and features concert recordings from 1969 (as the name of the album suggests).

Doug Yule gives up rock music in the late 1970s, becoming a carpenter and cabinet-maker instead..  He sticks with that profession through the 1980s.  He returns to music in the 1990s (but not with The Velvet Underground) and adds violin to his multi-instrumental capabilities.

When Andy Warhol, the pop artist and early mentor of The Velvet Underground passes away, Lou Reed and John Cale reunite to make a tribute album, ‘Songs For Drella’ (1990) (US no. 103, UK no. 22), on which they are co-credited.

The quartet of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker reunite as The Velvet Underground in June 1990.  In Paris, France, they perform ‘Heroin’ at a tribute to Andy Warhol.  “That was extraordinary!” gushes Lou Reed.  “To have those drums behind me, that viola on one side and that guitar on the other again.  You have no idea how that felt.”  Given that sort of enthusiasm, it is not surprising that The Velvet Underground undertakes a European tour in 1992.  However, they ‘fall out’ again before a projected American tour.  ‘Live MCMXCIII’ (1993) (US no. 180, UK no. 70) becomes The Velvet Underground’s last word.  The individual members resume their individual lives and careers.

Maureen Tucker releases the albums ‘Dogs Under Stress’ (1994) and ‘Moe Rocks Terrastock’ (2002) – a live album.

Sterling Morrison dies from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on 30 August 1995.  His death comes just a week after he is diagnosed with the illness.  There is speculation that the toxicity of the shipping channel he plied in the 1980s as a tugboat pilot is what led to the cancer.

John Cale earns these words from Lou Reed: “I only hope that one day John will be recognised as…the Beethoven or something of his day.”  John Cale issues the album ‘Walking On Locusts’ (1996).  He then divorces his wife, Rise Irushalmi, in 1997.  Cale goes on to release the albums ‘Hobosapiens’ (2003) and ‘blackAcetate’ (2006).  In the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, John Cale is made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for his services to music.  He continues his career with ‘Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood’ (2012) (US no. 44).

Lou Reed resumes his solo career with ‘Magic And Loss’ (1992) (US no. 80, UK no. 6).  In 1995 he begins a live-in relationship with New York musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson.  Reed’s next albums are: ‘Set The Twilight Reeling’ (1996) (US no. 110, UK no. 26); ‘Ecstasy’ (2000) (US no. 183, UK no. 54); ‘The Raven’ (2002) (UK no. 122); and ‘Hudson River Wind Meditation’ (2007).  On 12 April 2008 Lou Reed marries Laurie Anderson.  ‘Lulu’ (2011) (US no. 36, UK no. 36) is an album Reed works on with heavy metal band Metallica.  In May 2013 Reed has liver transplant surgery.  He dies as a result of liver failure on 27 October 2013.

When their debut album arrived in March 1967, The Velvet Underground was horribly out of step with the prevailing hippie peace & love vibe of the time.  Yet their work proved both prescient of the next decades’ punk rock and alt rock and more individualistic and timeless than most of their contemporaries.  ‘Though their impact at the time was minimal, The Velvet Underground’s legacy and influence on the subsequent course of rock has probably been second only to…The Beatles.’  ‘Few rock groups can claim to have broken so much new territory and maintained such consistent brilliance on record.’

Sources:

  1. wikipedia.org as at 9 June 2014
  2. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 6 August 2014
  3. brainyquote.com as at 6 August 2014
  4. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 36, 176, 220
  5. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Velvet Underground’ by David Fricke (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 351, 352, 355, 356
  6. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 6 August 2014
  7. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 169, 170, 236, 237
  8. allmusic.com, ‘The Velvet Underground’ by Richie Unterberger as at 6 August 2014
  9. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 70, 71
  10. whosdatedwho.com as at 6 August 2014
  11. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p.96, 97
  12. ‘Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story’ by Victor Bockris via (5) above p. 352
  13. lyricsfreak.com as at 1 August 2014
  14. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 37, 63
  15. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 309

Song lyrics copyright Screen Gems Columbia

Last revised 17 August 2014

Van Halen

 Van Halen

 Eddie Van Halen – circa 1979

 “A live wire / Barely a beginner” – ’Dance The Night Away’ (Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, Michael Anthony)

It could all have been very different.  Eddie Van Halen is described as ‘inarguably the most significant heavy metal guitarist of the 1980s.’  Yet he doesn’t start out as a guitar player.  The first instrument Eddie Van Halen learns to play is the piano.  Later, he switches instruments…becoming a drummer.  This too passes, and Eddie Van Halen finally takes up the guitar, the instrument with which he is closely identified.  But it could have been very different…

Edward Lodewijk ‘Eddie’ Van Halen is born 26 January 1955 in Nijmegen, Gelderland, Netherlands.  He is the son of Jan van Halen and his wife, Eugenia van Halen (nee Beers).  Jan (pronounced ‘Yarn’) is Dutch but Eugenia comes from an Indonesian-Eurasian background.  Edward’s middle name, Lodewijk, is the Dutch form of Ludwig; the boy is named after the famed classical music composer Ludwig van Beethoven.  Edward is the couple’s second son.  Their elder boy is Alexander Arthur Van Halen, born 8 May 1953 in Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands.  Jan van Halen is characterised as happy-go-lucky but his wife, Eugenia, is viewed as more career-minded.

Jan van Halen is an accomplished musician who plays clarinet, saxophone and piano.  Jan is a bandleader, so his sons grow up in a musical household.  Alex Van Halen says, “The earliest memories I have, musically, is that our father was into music and you couldn’t help but be touched by it.  I’d watch him practice, I’d watch him play.  Basically, Ed and I were surrounded by music.”  Eddie Van Halen points out, “I never took guitar lessons.  I took classical piano lessons from the age of 6 when we lived in Holland.”  In fact, both Alex and Eddie take classical piano lessons.

In February 1962, the Van Halen family relocates to southern California in the U.S.A.  “When we came on the boat to America, my Dad would play in the band that was playing on the boat to pay for our passage.  We were flat broke when we came over here,” says Alex Van Halen.  “Ed and I would play piano…on stage [with our father]…It was kind of a novelty to have two kids playing piano.”

The Van Halen brothers attend Pasadena High School in Pasadena, California.  At first, the boys have very little knowledge of English.  “When Ed and I went to school the only barrier we had was the language barrier,” Alex Van Halen observes.

Although Eddie and Alex Van Halen are expected to keep up their classical piano lessons, they find American popular music interesting as well, and soon their musical ambitions extend in that direction.  “My parents bought me a guitar and they bought me a Silvertone amplifier,” recalls Alex Van Halen (yes, Alex Van Halen – not Eddie!).  “I was playing the thing but no matter what I tried it wouldn’t happen.  Ed bought a drum set and he had a paper route to pay for it…While he was gone [delivering newspapers], I’d sit there banging on the drums…I forget exactly how it happened, but eventually Ed and I switched: Ed played guitar and I played drums.”

‘Eddie [Van Halen] spends his adolescence in his bedroom for hours on end playing records from front to back and learning all the guitar parts verbatim.’  Eddie’s first guitar is a Teisco Del Ray.  Eddie says, “I grew up on a lot of early Beatles, DC5 [The Dave Clark Five, a British pop group of the same era as The Beatles], Cream, [Eric] Clapton [Cream’s guitarist], [Jimmy] Page [of Led Zeppelin], [Jeff] Beck [of The Yardbirds and The Jeff Beck Group], and [guitarist Jimi] Hendrix.”  But despite this list of influences, Eddie claims, “I just like songs…I’ve never really been that much of a fan of bands outside of Cream.”

Eddie Van Halen meets David Lee Roth while both are attending Pasadena Community College in the 1970s.  Eddie and his brother, Alex Van Halen, form a band called The Broken Combs.  Eddie is both lead vocalist and guitarist in this group.  David Lee Roth auditions to join them but is rejected.  However, Alex Van Halen persists and eventually persuades his brother that Roth should become the lead vocalist.  He joins in 1973.

David Lee Roth is born 10 October 1954 in Bloomington, Indiana, U.S.A.  He is the son of Nathan and Sibyl Roth and is of Ukrainian descent with a Jewish heritage.  David has two sisters, Allison and Lisa.  Nathan Roth is an ophthalmologist, a ‘renowned eye surgeon who makes millions via his private practice and in real estate.’  Several of his relatives are also surgeons.  One exception is David’s uncle, Manny Roth, who is the owner of Café Wha in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, a venue famed for hosting notable folk and rock artists.  David Lee Roth’s family moves from Indiana to California a few years after David’s birth.  He goes on to attend John Muir High School in Pasadena, graduating in 1972.  Then, at Pasadena Community College, Roth meets Eddie Van Halen.  David Lee Roth is the lead singer for another band, The Red Ball Jets, while Van Halen forms The Broken Combs.  Roth joins Van Halen’s band in 1973.

David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen are joined by bassist Mark Stone to form Mammoth.  Stone’s tenure with them is brief.  In 1974 he is replaced by Michael Anthony.

Michael Anthony is born Michael Anthony Sobolewski on 20 June 1954 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.  He is the son of Polish immigrants.  He attends Dana Junior High and Arcadia High School in Arcadia, California.  Although he is left-handed for every other purpose, Michael Anthony plays bass right-handed.  From 1967 to 1974 Michael Anthony plays in a number of different bands: Poverty’s Children, Black Opal, Balls, and Snake.  “The first time I heard of or saw Eddie Van Halen play guitar was in 1972 at a student carnival in Arcadia, California,” Michael says.  “Two years later, the band I was in opened for Van Halen at Pasadena High School.  David Lee Roth was now singing lead and they were playing original material…I joined…soon after.”  Michael Anthony provides high backing vocals as well as his bass-playing to the group.

Mammoth plays ‘1960s and 1970s cover versions and some originals.’  Gene Simmons of hard rock band Kiss produces some demos for the group but they fail to secure a recording contract for Mammoth.  To add to their woes, the quartet discovers there is another band who has already registered the name Mammoth, so there is a need for Roth, Anthony and the Van Halen brothers to find a new sobriquet.  They toy with the designation Rat Salade, but ultimately go with David Lee Roth’s straightforward and simple suggestion: Van Halen.  The quartet is still in search of a record deal.  They resort to ‘attention-grabbing tricks like parachuting into a stadium gig in a successful attempt to upstage the headlining band.’  Ted Templeman from Warner Bros. catches a Van Halen gig at a Hollywood club in 1977 and signs the group to a recording contract.

Van Halen are normally characterised as a heavy metal band – but there are some caveats to that designation.  Some see them more as a hard rock band, but the distinction between the two labels is wafer-thin and only really debated by hard core aficionados of the genres.  Basically, Van Halen play really loud songs with caustic guitar riffs, screamed vocals, throbbing bass and thundering drums.  Although the boys sport the long hair of standard metal bands, they favour bright satins and tight pants over leather jackets and grotty denim.  Perhaps most importantly, Van Halen has a definite sprinkling of pop smarts amidst their strafing bombast.  “Music is for people.  The word ‘pop’ is simply short for popular,” Eddie Van Halen says.  “If I could deliberately sit down and write a pop hit, all my songs would be pop hits.”

In David Lee Roth, Van Halen is blessed with one of rock’s most charismatic frontmen.  He has a ‘flair for showmanship derived as much from lounge performers as Robert Plant [lead vocalist of Led Zeppelin, perhaps the greatest heavy metal band].’  Or, to put it another way, he is ‘equal parts rock god and used car salesman.’  ‘Diamond Dave’ is not exactly a shrinking violet, so let’s let him speak for himself: “The world’s a stage, and I want the brightest spot.”  On his ego: “I’m not conceited.  Conceit is a fault and I have no faults.”  It must be noted that David Lee Roth says such things with tongue-in-cheek.  He’s definitely not shy, but he doesn’t take himself all that seriously either.  “You want a hero in the music world?  James Brown,” he suggests, nominating the flamboyant Soul Brother Number One.  David Lee Roth is one of rock’s greatest – and funniest – roosters.

For all David Lee Roth’s antics, for many fans, the real star of Van Halen is guitarist Eddie Van Halen.  “I’m a musician, Dave’s a rock star,” Eddie says, drawing a distinction between the two.  David Lee Roth describes Eddie Van Halen as, “The first guitar hero of the 1980s.”  Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work is marked by some notable characteristics.  Although he is not the originator of the technique, Eddie popularises ‘tapping.’  Instead of using a plectrum, he will, at times, ‘tap’ the guitar strings in a percussive manner with his fingertips.  Then there is his use of the whammy bar – a sort of handle on the scratchplate of the guitar.  The whammy bar temporarily alters the tension of the guitar strings.  It is usually used to provide a distorted ‘dive-bombing’ sound.  Eddie Van Halen is also notorious for radically, violently, customising his guitars.  Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony observes that Eddie “would hack up some very expensive guitars, changing the wiring and pickups around to create what would ultimately define his sound, and separate him from any other rock guitarist in the business.”  Although he is fond of his ‘Frankenstein guitars’, Eddie Van Halen frequently plays a Gibson Flying V guitar in Van Halen’s first recordings, going on to later favour Kramer guitars.  Guitarist Eddie Van Halen ‘redefines what the electric guitar can do.’

Most of Van Halen’s songs are jointly composed by all the members of the band.

The debut album is ‘Van Halen’ (1978) (US no. 19, UK no. 24, AUS no. 17), released in February.  The group’s first six albums are produced by Ted Templeman.  The debut is Van Halen’s best album.  Arguably, later sets are better written or more cohesive, but this trumps them because it is aided by the element of surprise.  It is here that the world at large first experiences the shock of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar prowess.  “I was a young punk and everything revolved around the fastest kid in town, gunslinger attitude,” he muses.  Of course, the disc also introduces the outrageous David Lee Roth and the powerhouse rhythm section of Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen.  The first single from the disc is a cover version of ‘You Really Got Me’ (US no. 36, AUS no. 12) by British group The Kinks.  With its orgasmic moans, Van Halen’s take on the 1964 song that some view as the original heavy metal song also owes a debt to Led Zeppelin’s 1970 song ‘Whole Lotta Love’.  The brief (1:42) instrumental ‘Eruption’ is a fast-fingered guitar spray from Eddie Van Halen.  It was originally just intended to be a guitar warm-up exercise, but the recording engineer happened to have the tapes rolling, so it was captured and kept for the album.  Among the better original compositions is the rough and charging ‘Ain’t Talkin’ About Love’ in which David Lee Roth roars, “My love is rotten to the core / Ain’t talkin’ about love / Just like I told you before.”  Roth offers this philosophy, “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow,” on the stalking ‘Runnin’ With The Devil’ (US no. 84, UK no. 52).  Tracks like ‘Jamie’s Cryin’’ and ‘Ice Cream Man’ are also well regarded.

‘Van Halen II’ (1979) (US no. 6, UK no. 23, AUS no. 68) is recorded in a mere six days, only one third of the (still quite quick) recording time for the debut album.  The highlight of this album is Van Halen’s all-time best song, ‘Dance The Night Away’ (US no. 15), a surprising pop metal confection.  The song finds David Lee Roth’s narrator sizing up a young honey and yelping, “Just watch that lady go / She’s so fine, ‘cause dancin’ gets her higher than-uh anything else she knows.”  What makes this definitive?  Well, there’s Roth’s cartoonish lust, Eddie Van Halen’s precise and powerful guitar work and a strong pop melody acting as a framework.  Added together, it’s Van Halen as they deserve to be remembered.

‘Women And Children First’ (1980) (US no. 6, UK no. 15, AUS no. 128) features the bad boy anthem ‘And The Cradle Will Rock’ (US no. 55).  “Well, they say it’s kind of fright’ning how this younger generation swings,” confides David Lee Roth.  Playing the concerned parent, he asks, “Have you seen junior’s grades?” just before Eddie Van Halen kicks off the kind of solo bound to inspire teenagers to rock out in their bedrooms, playing imaginary air guitar along with their hero.  Adolescence has rarely sounded so attractive.

In 1980 Eddie Van Halen begins dating actress Valerie Bertinelli.  The couple marry in Los Angeles on 11 April 1981.  They go on to have a son, Wolfgang (born 16 March 1991).

On 21 February 1981 bassist Michael Anthony marries Susan Hendry.  Michael and Sue will have two daughters, Elisha (born 1985) and Taylor (born 1992).

In 1981 drummer Alex Van Halen begins dating Valeri Kendall.

Van Halen’s next album, ‘Fair Warning’ (1981) (US no. 5, UK no. 49, AUS no. 97), is released in April.  With this album, Eddie Van Halen claims, “I started to concentrate more on songwriting.”  The result is the off-the-hook, riff-happy ‘Unchained’: “Change / Nothing stays the same / Unchained / Yeah, you hit the ground running.”  In the same song, David Lee Roth describes a woman as “Blue-eyed murder in a side-swiped dress.”

The album ‘Diver Down’ (1982) (US no. 3, UK no. 36, AUS no. 79) is most notable for Van Halen’s growling cover version of Roy Orbison’s 1964 hit, ‘(Oh) Pretty Woman’ (US no. 12, AUS no. 59).

After a two-year engagement, Alex Van Halen marries Valeri Kendall on 11 June 1983.  The wedding ceremony takes place in Los Angeles but features Tahitian fire dancers at the reception.  Eddie Van Halen acts as best man for his older brother.  The marriage is short-lived.  They divorce two months later.

Over the next decade, Van Halen’s lead vocalist, David Lee Roth is romantically linked to a number of women.  His loves include: Apollonia Kotero (1983), Kathy Simmons (1983), Sonia Braga (1984), Sabrina Guinness (1985), Fleur Thiemeyer (1986) and Caron Bernstein (1991).  According to one account, Roth even marries Kathy Simmons, but this is officially refuted.  “I have had four great loves in my life, but have never married or even come close,” states Roth.  He does not name those ‘four great loves’ so it is open to conjecture.  Even murkier is the issue of David Lee Roth’s paternity.  Three individuals claim to be his children: two daughters, Avy (born 1977) and Brenna (born 1983), and a son.

Eddie Van Halen plays the guitar solo on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ in 1983.  This proves beneficial to both artists.  It enhances the rock credibility of Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop, and brings Van Halen to a wider audience.

The Van Halen album ‘1984’ (1984) (US no. 2, UK no. 15, AUS no. 11) is named after its year of release.  The album is a major change for the group since guitarist Eddie Van Halen plays a synthesiser on a number of tracks, giving the group a new emphasis on electronic keyboards.  David Lee Roth initially opposes the use of synthesiser.  The upbeat, synth-powered ‘Jump’ (US no. 1, UK no. 7, AUS no. 2) is the album’s calling card.  “You got to roll [pronounced roh-oh-wohl] with the punches to get to what’s real,” Roth sings, leading to the advice, “You might as well jump.”  The song ‘transforms Van Halen from a very popular heavy metal band to one of the most popular bands in the world.’  ‘1984’ also offers somewhat more traditional Van Halen fare.  ‘Panama’ (US no. 13, UK no. 61, AUS no. 74) is a shout-along blast with its marching rhythm and Roth’s lascivious ‘Hot For Teacher’ (US no. 56, UK no. 87, AUS no. 89) is also notable.  ‘1984’ turns Van Halen into ‘superstars.’

The growth in Van Halen’s popularity creates the possibility for the band to exercise its power in questionable ways.  One legendary example is the story that Van Halen demand in their contract rider that, backstage, they are provided with the multi-coloured chocolate candies called M & M’s – but with all the brown ones removed.  It’s true.  Article 126 of their contract reads: ‘There will be no brown M & M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show with full compensation.’  However, David Lee Roth justifies what seems like pure whimsy as something with more serious intent.  “If I saw a brown M & M in that bowl…guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error.  They didn’t read the contract…[and it could mean something] life-threatening [was also wrong].”

In 1984 drummer Alex Van Halen marries for the second time.  He and his new wife, Kelly Carter, go on to have a son, Aric (born 6 October 1989).

David Lee Roth releases a solo EP, ‘Crazy From The Heat’ (US no. 15, UK no. 91), in January 1985.  The four tracks on the disc include covers of The Beach Boys’ 1965 hit ‘California Girls’ (US no. 3, UK no. 68, AUS no. 6) and ‘Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody’ (US no. 12, AUS no. 13).  The latter medley was first recorded by Louis Prima in 1956 but its component parts have a longer history.  ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ is written in 1915 by Roger Graham (lyrics) and Spencer Williams (music).  ‘Just A Gigolo’ is written in 1929 by Irving Caesar but is an adaptation of a 1928 Austrian song, ‘Schoner Gigolo, Armer Gigolo’ by Julius Brammer (lyrics) and Leonello Casucci (music).

This solo venture by David Lee Roth brings to a head tension between the vocalist and the rest of the band.  ‘Eddie [Van Halen] grows tired of the comic antics of Roth’ and the vocalist is ‘fired.’  Eddie states that, “Roth was trying to take the band in more of a Las Vegas direction.”

David Lee Roth records the following albums as a solo act: ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’ (1986) (US no. 4, UK no. 28); ‘Skyscraper’ (1988) (US no. 6, UK no. 11, AUS no. 35) – whose cover shows the singer indulging in one of his passions, mountain climbing; ‘A Little Ain’t Enough’ (1991) (US no. 18, UK no. 4, AUS no. 26); and ‘Your Filthy Little Mouth’ (1994) (US no. 78, UK no. 28).  Some of his more notable solo singles are: ‘Yankee Rose’ (US no. 16, AUS no. 33) (from ‘Eat ‘Em And Smile’) and ‘Just Like Paradise’ (US no. 6, UK no. 27, AUS no. 14) (from ‘Skyscraper’).

After David Lee Roth leaves, Warner Bros. ‘urges [Van Halen] to change the group’s name, but they decline.’  The three remaining members hire Sammy Hagar as the new lead vocalist.  Hagar also becomes second guitarist in the group.

Samuel Roy Hagar is born 13 October 1947 in Salinas, California, U.S.A.  The son of a professional boxer, young Sammy also tries out as a pugilist before becoming a rock musician.  In 1967 he passes through three different acts: The Fabulous Castilles, Samson & Hagar, and The Johnny Fortune Band.  In 1967 Sammy Hagar begins dating Betsy Berardi.  Sammy and Betsy marry on 3 November 1968 and go on to have two sons: Aaron (born 1970) and Andrew (born 1984).  Sammy Hagar’s musical career begins to take off in 1973 when, as Sam Hagar, he becomes the vocalist for hard rock band Montrose.  The group takes its name from their noted guitarist, Ronnie Montrose.  Sammy Hagar appears on two albums by Montrose, ‘Montrose’ (1973) (US no. 133, UK no. 43) and ‘Paper Money’ (1974) (US no. 65), before leaving the group in 1975.  The song ‘Bad Motor Scooter’ from the debut album follows Hagar through much of his later career.

As a solo act, Sammy Hagar releases the following albums: ‘Nine On A Ten Scale’ (1976) (US no. 167); ‘Sammy Hagar’ (1977) (US no. 89); ‘Musical Chairs’ (1977) (US no. 100); ‘All Night Long’ (1978) (US no. 89) – a live album; ‘Street Machine’ (1979) (US no. 71); ‘Danger Zone’ (1980) (US no. 85); ‘Standing Hampton’ (1981) (US no. 28); ‘Three Lock Box’ (1982) (US no. 17); and ‘VDA’ (1984) (US no. 32).  Some of his better known songs are: ‘Urban Gorilla’ (from ‘Nine On A Ten Scale’); ‘I’ve Done Everything For You’ (UK no. 36) (which first appears on ‘All Night Long’ and becomes a hit for Rick Springfield in 1981); ‘Trans Am’ (from ‘Street Machine’); ‘Three Lock Box’ (from the album of the same name); and ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ (from ‘VDA’).  In 1983-1984 he is part of the short-lived Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve (or HSAS), an act that issues one album, the concert recording ‘Live – Through The Fire’ (1984) (US no. 42).  Then, in 1985, Sammy Hagar joins Van Halen.

‘5150’ (1986) (US no. 1, UK no. 16, AUS no. 5) is Van Halen’s first album with Sammy Hagar.  The disc is produced by the group, Mick Jones (from the band called Foreigner) and Donn Landee.  Pronounced ‘fifty-one-fifty’, the album takes its name from the law enforcement call number for ‘a mentally disturbed person’ (which is itself derived from section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code).  5150 is also the name of Eddie Van Halen’s home recording studio.  A potentially disastrous album for Van Halen due to changing frontmen, ‘5150’ instead proves a triumph.  The synthesisers are still present but are now more integrated into the band’s heavy metal rock.  “It’s got what it takes / So tell me why can’t this be love?” asks Hagar in ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’ (US no. 3, UK no. 8, AUS no. 8) and it seems to echo the sentiment that his pairing with the other three boys from Van Halen can work.  The airy ‘Dreams’ (US no. 22, UK no. 62, AUS no. 51) pushes the synths to the foreground, but still makes room for an impressive Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.  In ‘Dreams’, Hagar’s voice strains for the high notes, urging, “So baby dry your eyes / Save all the tears you’ve cried / Ohh, that’s what dreams are made of.”

Sammy Hagar releases a solo album, ‘I Never Said Goodbye’ (1987) (US no. 14).

The title of ‘OU812’ (1988) (US no. 1, UK no. 16, AUS no. 9) is not another police code; it’s a bad pun: ‘Oh, you ate one too.’  Donn Landee is the producer on this album.  The disc’s best known song is ‘When It’s Love’ (US no. 5, UK no. 28, AUS no. 23): “How do I know when it’s love?” chorus the band.  “I can’t tell you but it lasts forever,” responds Sammy Hagar.  The synthesisers and guitars are roughly evenly balanced on this slower-paced track.  “In Van Halen there were moments, like in some of the ballads, I put my heart and soul into those records,” Hagar reports.  ‘OU812’ also includes ‘Cabo Wabo’.

In April 1990 Sammy Hagar launches Cabo Wabo, a chain of nightclubs and restaurants in Cabo San Lucas in the Mexican State of Baja California Sur.  Hagar goes on to also manufacture tequila under the name of Cabo Wabo.  This brand of booze is eventually sold to Campari/Skyy in 2007.

‘For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge’ (1991) (US no. 1, UK no. 12, AUS no. 5) is another joke title – if the initials are put together…Production credit here is shared by Andy Johns, Ted Templeman and Van Halen.  This album includes the thundering ‘Poundcake’ (UK no. 74, AUS no. 55), which draws a parallel between loving and cooking, and the dramatic demand of ‘Right Now’ (US no. 55).

Sammy Hagar has a part-time project, Los Tres Gusanos (The Three Worms), from 1993 to 1996.  The act briefly reunites in 2002 and 2005.

The next Van Halen release is a double album recorded in concert: ‘Live: Right Here, Right Now’ (1993) (US no. 5, UK no. 24, AUS no. 7).

Sammy Hagar’s marriage to Betsy Berardi ends in divorce in 1994.

‘Balance’ (1995) (US no. 1, UK no. 8, AUS no. 9), released by Van Halen in January, is produced by Bruce Fairbairn.  It is most notable for the pop metal track ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’ (US no. 30, UK no. 33).

On 29 November 1995 Sammy Hagar marries his second wife, Karte (known as Kari).  Sammy and Kari go on to have two daughters, Kama (born 1996) and Samantha (born 2001).

Alex Van Halen and his wife, Kelly, divorce in August 1996.

The Van Halen compilation album, ‘Best Of – Volume 1’ (1996) (US no. 1, UK no. 45, AUS no. 11) released in October, is particularly interesting for the three new tracks it includes and the effect they have on the band’s future.  One of these songs is recorded with Sammy Hagar; the other two are a reunion with former vocalist David Lee Roth.  Hagar’s voice adorns the sinister, punishing ‘Humans Being’.  “I had written the lyrics to a song called ‘The Silent Extreme’, which Alex [Van Halen] later renamed ‘Humans Being’,” says Sammy Hagar.  He adds, “When they brought Roth back into the picture, obviously I didn’t go along with that well.”  ‘Hagar…falls out of favour with the band for reasons that are difficult to pin down’ and he is dismissed in 1996.  “I think all the bad blood started when Geffen [Records, Hagar’s old label] released a ‘Greatest Hits’ package of my solo stuff [‘The Best Of Sammy Hagar’ (1992)],” theorises the departing member of the group.  Eddie Van Halen ‘accuses Hagar of being stricken by the same condition that befell Roth, that of “L.S.D.” or “Lead Singer’s Disease”.’  For his part, Hagar bitterly says of Eddie, he is “one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived, but he’s really limited to a style and they’re just locked into it.”  On Van Halen’s ‘Best Of – Volume 1’, David Lee Roth features on two new songs, the strutting ‘Can’t Get This Stuff No More’ and the burnished ‘Me Wise Magic’.  With Hagar’s exit, it seems Roth is set to rejoin Van Halen full-time.  However the 1996 reunion is ‘unsuccessful.’  ‘Roth eventually goes on to say that he had been out-and-out lied to by the Van Halen camp, who told him that he would be returning on a permanent basis but were really only interested in utilising his services for the two new songs.’  Roth quips, “Van Halen can keep providing the rain and I’ll keep providing the parade.”

David Lee Roth writes his autobiography, ‘Crazy From The Heat’ (1997) – which is named after his 1985 solo EP.

Sammy Hagar releases a solo album, ‘Marching To Mars’ (1997) (US no. 18), before resurfacing with the Hagar/Hart Project for ‘Code War’ (1999).  Putting together a new backing group, he releases the following albums credited to Sammy Hagar & The Waboritas: ‘Red Voodoo’ (1999) (US no. 22), ‘Ten 13’ (2000) (US no. 52) and ‘Not 4 Sale’ (2002) (US no. 181).

Gary Cherone becomes Van Halen’s new vocalist in 1996.  Born Gary Francis Caine Cherone on 26 July 1961 in Marsden, Massachusetts, U.S.A., Gary Cherone is best known up to this point as the lead singer for another heavy metal band, Extreme (1985-1995).  ‘Van Halen III’ (1998) (US no. 4, UK no. 43, AUS no. 8) introduces Gary Cherone to the ranks of the band.  The disc is co-produced by Mike Post and Eddie Van Halen.  ‘Cherone is put in an impossible position, and when his debut with the group…simply does not sell, he is unfairly blamed for the downturn in the band’s fortunes.’  Gary Cherone is dismissed from Van Halen in 1999.

David Lee Roth issues another solo album, ‘DLR Band’ (1998) (US no. 172), before he is again enticed to attempt a reunion with his Van Halen bandmates who, after sacking Gary Cherone, are again without a lead singer.  They reconvene with Roth in 2000 and ‘record a couple of songs but soon part ways due to legal reasons.’

Eddie Van Halen soon has greater concerns.  He is treated for throat cancer in 2000-2001.

Alex Van Halen marries for the third time in 2000.  His bride is Stine Schyberg, whom he has been dating since 1996.  Alex and Stine have a son, Malcolm.

Eddie Van Halen and his wife, Valerie Bertinelli, separate in 2002, with the divorce becoming final on 20 December 2007.

2002 brings the unlikely spectacle of Van Halen’s two former frontmen, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar, touring together on a double bill.  Predictably, the tour is rife with tension.  “I don’t like Dave,” Hagar says bluntly.  “What’s rock ‘n’ roll without a little drama?” shrugs his touring partner.

David Lee Roth resumes his solo work with ‘Diamond Dave’ (2003).  His music career declining, in 2004 David Lee Roth begins a new job as an emergency medical technician in New York’s ambulance service – but it doesn’t seem to last long.  He obtains a private pilot’s licence for helicopters in December 2006.

Sammy Hagar tries a new project, Planet Us, in 2002-2003.  He then re-joins Van Halen from 2003 to 2006 but the band records no new material in this period.  Sammy Hagar & The Waboritas issue ‘Livin’ It Up’ (2006) (US no. 50), before Hagar puts out another solo disc, ‘Cosmic Universal Fashion’ (2008) (US no. 95).

Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony leaves the group in 2006.  He joins with Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani (guitar) and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith (drums) in a modest supergroup called Chickenfoot.  This part-time exercise creates two albums: ‘Chickenfoot’ (2009) (US no. 4) and ‘Chickenfoot II’ (2011) (US no. 9).

In 2006 Van Halen is reconstituted with a line-up of: David Lee Roth (vocals), Eddie Van Halen (guitar), Wolfgang Van Halen (bass) and Alex Van Halen (drums).  Wolfgang is Eddie’s 15 year old son.

On 27 June 2009 Eddie Van Halen marries his second wife, Janie Liszewski.  The couple began dating in 2007 and became engaged on 4 August 2008.  The wedding ceremony is conducted by Eddie’s brother, Alex Van Halen, who has become an ordained minister.  Alex also officiates at the marriage of former sister-in-law, Valerie Bertinelli, in 2011.

‘A Different Kind Of Truth’ (2012) (US no. 2, UK no. 6, AUS no. 4) on Interscope is Van Halen’s first new studio album since 1988.  It is the debut of the new line-up with the return of David Lee Roth and the introduction of Wolgang Van Halen on bass.  The disc is co-produced by Van Halen and John Shanks.  The single from the album is ‘Tattoo’.

Sammy Hagar continues to follow his own path with ‘Sammy Hagar & Friends’ (2013) (US no. 23).

Things could have been very different if Eddie Van Halen had stayed with piano, the first instrument he learned, or even if he had continued with his second instrument, drums.  Arguably, the mid-1980s to mid-1990s version of Van Halen, with Eddie making significant contributions on keyboards, gave some idea of what may have been.  Van Halen fans may debate until infinity the comparative merits of David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar without reaching conclusions.  Roth’s sense of humour was perhaps more appealing, but both men had their strengths.  Van Halen’s early heavy metal pop (1978-1982) is their best period, but the subsequent keyboard-laced recordings (1984-1995) also have value.  After that, they seemed to become bogged down in switching and changing vocalists and became much less productive.  Van Halen specialised in ‘coming of age car-radio unavoidables.’  They were the ‘most popular American rock ‘n’ roll band of the late 1970s and early 1980s and in the process set the template for hard rock and heavy metal for the 1980s.’

Sources:

  1. ‘The Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal’ by Daniel Bukszpan (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. 2003) p. 202, 266, 269, 270
  2. brainyquote.com as at 29 July 2014
  3. ‘The History of Van Halen Pt. 1: The Van Halen Story – The Early Years’ – Video documentary (26 September 2010?)
  4. wikipedia.org as at 2 June 2014
  5. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 29 July 2014
  6. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 2 June 2014
  7. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 219, 457
  8. ‘Eddie Van Halen’ by Neil Zlozower (Chronicle Books, 2011) p. 23, 25, 114, 115, 119, 129
  9. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 148, 219
  10. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Metal Explosion’ by Chuck Eddy (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 466
  11. allmusic.com, ‘Van Halen’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 30 July 2014
  12. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 284, 297, 325, 355
  13. ‘Van Halen – Best Of – Volume 1’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Warner Bros. Records Inc. 1996) p. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10
  14. lyricsfreak.com as at 25July 2014
  15. whosdatedwho.com as at 2 June 2014
  16. ultimateclassicrock.com – ‘David Lee Roth Opens Up About His Love Life’ by Sterling Whitaker (7 April 2013)
  17. halen.com posting on 18 October 2003
  18. lukeford.net/blog – ‘An interview with David Lee Roth’s daughter, Brenna’ (17 August 2007)
  19. ‘Crazy From The Heat’ (1997) by David Lee Roth – via snopes.com as at 24 March 2014
  20. ‘Sammy Hagar Vs David Lee Roth Pt. 5 of 5’ – Video (21 February 2010? 2002?)
  21. E! Online: ‘David Lee Roth’s New Gig: Emergency Medical Technician’ by Sarah Hall (25 June 2004) (reproduced on eonline.com)

Song lyrics copyright WB Music Corp. ASCAP

Last revised 12 August 2014

U2

 U2

 Bono – circa 2004

 “If you twist and turn away / If you tear yourself in two again” – ’Bad’ (U2)

“That day changed my life,” says Bono, the lead vocalist of Irish rock group U2.  He is talking about 13 July 1985 when U2 is one of the acts performing at Live Aid, an all-star extravaganza charity concert to raise funds in order to combat famine in Africa.  Stepping on the stage at Wembley Stadium in London, England, Bono tells the crowd, “We’re an Irish band.  We come from Dublin City, Ireland.  Like all cities it has its good; it has its bad.”  The group then launches into their song titled ‘Bad’.  The performance is unusual for a few reasons.  Firstly, Bono begins singing not the lyrics to ‘Bad’, but to American singer Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite Of Love’ before starting ‘Bad’ a few bars later.  He ends the song quoting Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ – after similarly quoting lyrics from ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, songs by British rock titans The Rolling Stones.  More memorable is Bono dropping the microphone at the instrumental break, jumping the barricade, and walking out on the apron of the stage to interact with the crowd.  A couple of young girls are handed up to him, but Bono pulls another young woman out of the crowd.  She hugs him and he slow dances with her.  Meantime, the rest of U2 vamps for time, extending the song by five minutes.  U2 guitarist The Edge remarks, “We were really depressed [about the performance].  Bono…felt it had been kind of clumsy and that generally the whole thing hadn’t lifted up.”  After pausing to dance with the two younger girls handed up earlier, the errant singer clambers back on stage and concludes the song.  “Thank you!  God bless you!” he yells before sauntering off, the band still playing.  U2’s set is seen as ‘a show stealing performance’ on a day when there was no shortage of big name stars on stage.

Bono is born Paul David Hewson on 10 May 1960 at Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.  His parents are Brendan Robert ‘Bob’ Hewson and Iris Hewson (nee Rankin).  The couple already have one son, Norman, who is eight years older than the new arrival.  Norman is raised as an Anglican, but Paul is raised as a Catholic.  “I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays…and my father used to wait outside,” Bono reminisces.  “My earliest memory of waking up with a melody in my head was, you know, 8, 9, 10.  I’ve always heard kind of melodies in my head.”  Paul Hewson attends Glasnevin National School.  On 10 September 1974, Paul’s mother, Iris Hewson, dies from a cerebral aneurysm while attending her father’s funeral.  The lad attends Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf.  This is ‘a progressive, non-sectarian alternative to the conservative Catholic schools most Irish children attend.’  At Mount Temple, Paul Hewson meets Alison Stewart, his ‘childhood sweetheart’, in 1975.  Paul ‘fights constantly’ with his father.  He will describe Bob Hewson as ‘a working-class Dublin guy who listened to the opera and conducted the stereo with my mother’s knitting needles – he just loved opera.”  The bickering between father and son may have been the start of something better.  “Overcoming my Dad telling me that I could never do anything is what made me the megalomaniac you see today,” Bono later says, half in jest.  At first, Paul Hewson channels his excess energy into becoming a school boy chess champion.  Then, on a fateful day in 1976, he sees a note pinned to the bulletin board at his high school seeking musicians for a band.  The lads who respond to the notice will become U2.

The Edge is born David Howell Evans on 8 August 1961 at Barking Maternity Hospital in Essex, England.  His parents, Garvin and Glenda Evans, come from Llanelli, Wales.  David is the middle child in the family.  He has an older brother, Richard (‘Dick’) and a younger sister, Gillian.  Garvin Evans is an engineer working for the Electricity Board.  The family lives in Caldwell Heath until around 1962.  When Garvin Evans is offered a promotion if he transfers to Dublin, Ireland, the family relocates with him.  David is 1 year old.  The boy goes on to attend St Andrew’s National School.  He takes piano and guitar lessons at school.  The other children tease him a bit because of his accent which clearly betrays his non-Irish origins.  Dave Evans goes on to Mount Temple Comprehensive School.  It is there he meets his girlfriend, Aislinn O’Sullivan.  Both Dave Evans and his brother, Dick, answer the same bulletin board announcement that catches Bono’s eye.

Adam Charles Clayton is born 13 March 1960 in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England.  His parents are Brian and Jo Clayton.  Adam has two siblings, Sarah and Sebastian.  Brian Clayton is in the Royal Air Force but becomes a civilian aviation airline pilot.  Jo Clayton is a stewardess.  The family lives in Nairobi, Kenya, for a short time when Adam is 4.  They move to Malahide in County Dublin in 1965.  Adam’s younger brother, Sebastian, is actually born in Ireland.  Adam Clayton is sent to a boarding school but is expelled.  He then goes to Mount Temple Comprehensive School because it is a progressive school and non-denominational.  Adam’s mother, Jo Clayton, becomes friends with Glenda Evans (The Edge’s mother) and, through the two women, the families socialise.  Adam meets Paul Hewson (Bono) at school.  Like Bono and The Edge, Adam Clayton is intrigued by the notice on the school bulletin board seeking kids to form a band.

Larry Mullen, Jr. is born Laurence Joseph Mullen, Junior, on 31 October 1961 in Artane, Dublin, Ireland.  His parents are Laurence Mullen, Senior, and Maureen Mullen (nee Gaffney).  Laurence Mullen is a civil servant and Maureen Mullen is a homemaker.  Larry has an older sister, Cecilia (born 1957), and a younger sister, Mary (born 1964).  Sadly, Mary dies in childhood in 1973.  Larry attends a school of music in Chatham Row.  He plays piano at age 8, but switches to drums when he is 9.  Larry studies with Joe Bonnie, a famous Irish drummer.  In 1976, Larry Mullen, Jr. starts at Mount Temple Comprehensive School.  In that year he meets Ann Acheson who becomes his long-term girlfriend.  It is also in 1976 that Larry has the idea of forming a band and so puts a notice on the school bulletin board seeking like-minded youths.

In 1976, Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Dick Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. get together to form a band.  Larry recounts that the group is called, “The Larry Mullen Band for about ten minutes, then Bono walked in and blew any chance I had of being in charge.”  Paul Hewson (Bono) really ‘hopes to play guitar, [but] is deemed unacceptable even by the others’ fledgling standards’, so he becomes the vocalist.  The group takes the name Feedback.  The teens have rich imaginary lives and create a fictitious hometown for the group, Lypton Village, from which they critique everyday life in Dublin.  In the same spirit, new names are adopted by some of the boys.  Paul Hewson becomes Bono Vox, after a hearing-aid retailer.  Bono Vox is Latin for ‘good voice.’  Over time, the singer abbreviates his stagename to simply, Bono.  “The only person who ever called me Paul was my father, so I always associate it with doing something wrong, you know,” Bono says.  “People will come up to me…and call me Paul.  I don’t like it, actually.”  The guitarist is dubbed ‘Dave Edge’ by Bono ‘because he is on the edge of things, assessing what is going on, and partly because of the shape of his head, which has a straight edge.’  Over time, Dave Edge becomes The Edge.  (Larry Mullen does not become known officially as Larry Mullen, Jr. until U2 become a little more famous – around 1983 – when his father starts getting bills associated with U2.)  Adam Clayton takes on the role of being the band’s manager as well as playing in the group.

Feedback begins playing gigs with a repertoire drawn from the works of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and Peter Frampton.  Bono concludes his formal education when he is 16.  Feedback changes their name to The Hype.  Dick Evans, The Edge’s brother, quits the group in March 1978.  At this point, the band changes its name to U2, ‘with the implication that every fan could join as well’ (i.e. ‘you too’).  “I don’t like the name U2, actually,” Bono will later admit.  The line-up of U2 is: Bono (vocals, occasional guitar), The Edge (guitar, keyboards), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen, Jr. (drums).

Shortly before Larry Mullen, Jr.’s 17th birthday, his mother, Maureen Mullen, dies in a car accident.  “She passed away in 1978,” he says.  “Every Irish son is closest to his mother.  She thought I’d make a priest one day.  She’d be very disappointed [in my choice of career]…When I joined the band, it was like running away to the circus.”

U2 win a talent contest sponsored by Guinness brewery and held in Limerick in 1978.  The rest of the boys (apart from Bono who left school at 16) wrap up their education.  Adam Clayton passes over the role of manager to Paul McGuinness, ‘who has worked in the Irish film industry and dabbled in the music business.’  The Edge promises his parents that if U2 hasn’t become a success in a year, he will start a natural-sciences course.  Larry Mullen, Jr. does some work as a messenger for a company.  U2 make a deal with CBS Records and prepare to enter the recording studio.

The music of U2 is characterised in broad strokes as pop or rock, with some allegiance to alternative rock and post punk.  The list of the band’s influences supports these designations.  Mainly, they pick up on the biggest acts in rock history: Elvis Presley (Larry Mullen, Jr. is ‘a huge Elvis Presley fan’ and Bono says, “Elvis’ music has been my greatest inspiration”); The Beatles; The Rolling Stones; Bob Dylan; and The Who.  U2 is a band that aspires to populism.  “If you pour your life into songs, you want them to be heard,” asserts Bono.  “We were never shy about wanting to appeal to a wide audience,” agrees The Edge.  “From the very beginning that was the way we felt about it.”  At the ‘very beginning’, U2 is seen as a post-punk band.  Moving on from punk acts such as The Clash (“We were like the b*****d children of The Clash who actually believed that music could change the world,” claims Bono), they are at first lumped in with Joy Division, Magazine, The Teardrop Explodes and Echo And The Bunnymen.  It’s accurate enough, but U2’s ambitions are greater.

U2 take their music very seriously.  “Even people who loathe us and can’t stand the sound we make, they know that we see music as a sacrament, something sacred,” Bono testifies.  This ties-in with another aspect of the band: with the exception of Adam Clayton, all the members of U2 strongly identify themselves as Christians.  For the most part, their religious beliefs are present as a subtext in their songs. U2 rarely preaches at their audience, preferring to inspire by example.  “Great music is written by people who are either running toward or away from God,” observes Bono.

U2’s songs are almost always credited to the band as songwriters.  Their works are often built up around The Edge’s guitar lines with Bono improvising poetry to accompany the sound.  “U2 is sort of songwriting by accident really,” says Bono.  Having acknowledged the role of the group as an entity, it is also a barely disguised fact that Bono and The Edge are the main songwriters.  “Everyone argues, then we do what I say,” admits Bono.  “I am, as a character, at times, a little overbearing.  I recognise that…Look, I’m sick of Bono and I am Bono.”  The Edge is a remarkable guitarist.  He takes a professorial attitude to his work, exploiting technology and effects.  “Edge is much more Zen, much more monkish, much more ethereal,” says Bono of his regular conspirator.

The first U2 recording released is the three-song EP wittily titled ‘U2:3’. It is issued by CBS in September 1979.  The trio of songs on this disc are ‘Out Of Control’, ‘Stories For Boys’ and ‘Boy-Girl’.  The first two will be rerecorded for U2’s debut album.  ‘U2:3’ is released only in Ireland.  After this, U2 play their first gigs in England.

U2 releases two one-off singles in 1980.  ‘Another Day’ is their last for CBS.  ’11 O’Clock Tick Tock’ is their first for Island Records.  It is produced by Martin Hannett and is issued in May 1980.

The debut album by U2, ‘Boy’ (1980) (UK no. 52, US no. 63, AUS no. 25), is released in October.  The cover is a close-up photograph of a male child – except in the U.S. where a photo of the band is substituted ‘because of fears of a homosexual interpretation.’  Martin Hannett was scheduled to produce the disc, but instead Steve Lillywhite acts as producer on this and U2’s next two albums.  ‘Boy’ is the kind of work a band can only create once – and that is at the start of their career.  U2 are neophytes and this is reflected in the album’s loose theme, the life of a young boy.  Specifically, Bono draws on the experiences of his own youth.  This includes the death of his mother when he was 14.  “A boy tries hard to be a man / His mother takes him by his hand / If he stops to think, he starts to cry, oh why / If you walk away, walk away, walk away / I will follow,” sings Bono in ‘I Will Follow’ (AUS no. 71), the album’s most notable song.  The Edge’s echoing, circular guitar work forms a sonic tunnel around the singer.  Some listeners think the song is about being so in love, you follow that person; some see it as a declaration of religious faith to be followed; but it’s simplest meaning is a child tagging along after his mother.  ‘Stories For Boys’ and ‘Out Of Control’ from the ‘U2:3’ EP are revisited here, and the latter is also purportedly inspired by the death of Bono’s mother.  ‘Boy’ is viewed as ‘a moving and inspired document of adolescence.’

‘October’ (1981) (UK no. 11, US no. 104, AUS no. 34) is the title of U2’s second album and it is released, fittingly, in October.  The songs on this album have a difficult birth.  After a show in Portland, Oregon, in the U.S.A., Bono loses the briefcase in which he was carrying the lyrics for these compositions.  With the recording sessions booked, the words are hastily recreated or improvised, lending the album a sketchy feel.  The album’s most impressive track is ‘Gloria’ (UK no. 55, AUS no. 32) – but it’s not about a girl.  “Gloria / In te domine / Exultate Gloria, Gloria / Oh Lord, loosen my lips,” petitions Bono.  The chorus is from the hymn ‘Gloria In Excelsis Dio’ and the Latin words mean, ‘Glory in you, Lord / Glory exalt [him].’  As with ‘I Will Follow’, it hardly matters if fans of a more secular background think it is just a love song to a girl.  The Edge contributes a masterful guitar solo to ‘Gloria’ that leads into a final verse where, through double-tracking, the band seems to expand into a cavalry charge by the heavenly host of angels.  It’s bracing stuff.  The bruised and brooding ‘Tomorrow’ is, again, a song about the death of Bono’s mother.  ‘Its dread of a dark figure waiting outside the singer’s house, is about the undertaker’s car coming to the Hewson home.’  ‘October’, the title track, is almost an instrumental with only thirty seconds of vocals.  It is built on The Edge’s crystalline piano notes.  As an album, ‘October’ has a stronger religious tone, perhaps more so than any other U2 album.

U2 comes close to breaking up after their second album due to a crisis of religious faith.  They are weighed down by doubts about whether being ‘rock stars’ is really an appropriate way to spend their lives.  Adam Clayton, as the least religious, is comparatively untroubled.  Bono and Larry Mullen, Jr. both reach some sort of personal agreement with God and soldier on.  ‘The Edge wavers and almost quits the band in 1982 to devote himself to the Lord’, but he too elects to remain part of U2.

In 1982 Bono marries his long-time girlfriend, Ali Stewart.  Bono and Ali go on to have four children.  They have two daughters – Jordan (born 10 May 1981) and Memphis (born 7 July 1991) – and two sons – Elijah (born 17 August 1999) and John (born 20 May 2001).  Note: Memphis goes on to become an actress using her middle name of Eve Hewson.

‘War’ (1983) (UK no. 1, US no. 12, AUS no. 9), released in February, is a breakthrough album for U2.  While ‘Boy’ and ‘October’ have their moments, they are the sound of a band searching for something; on ‘War’ they seem to have found it.  The cover is a picture of a pre-teen boy with a split lip.  It echoes the cover of the debut disc, but speaks of growth and pain.  ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is a song about ‘the troubles’ in the band’s native Ireland, the ‘massacre of civilians by the British in Northern Ireland.’  “Broken bottles under children’s feet / Bodies strewn across the dead end street / But I won’t heed the battle call,” asserts Bono in the lyrics to this song.  The bone-rattling martial music is all anger, nearly drowning out the wry comment towards the end: “The real battle just begun / To claim the victory Jesus won / On a Sunday, bloody Sunday.”  ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ leads to a kidnapping threat against U2 from the Irish Republican Army.  ‘New Year’s Day’ (UK no. 10, US no. 53, AUS no. 36) is almost the opposite of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’.  This time, The Edge’s glacial keyboard notes evoke a pristine fresh beginning – but his helicoptering guitar sounds cut through.  Bono’s vocals carry a searing, almost unbearable, power.  Again there is a sting in the tail: “And so we are told this is the golden age / And gold is the reason for the wars we wage.”  ‘War’ manages to hit its targets repeatedly.  Other high quality efforts are: ‘The Refugee’ (‘a barn-burning rocker about a political victim dreaming of asylum in America’); the para-military bomb warning ‘Seconds’ (with The Edge on lead vocals); the passionate trilogy of ‘Two Hearts Beat As One’ (UK no. 18, US no. 101, AUS no. 53), ‘Red Light’ and ‘Surrender’; and the soothing balm of ‘40’.

On 12 July 1983 The Edge marries his girlfriend since secondary school, Aislinn O’Sullivan.  The couple go on to have three daughters: Hollie (born 1984), Arran (born 1985) and Blue Angel (born 1989).

A live album is U2’s next release.  ‘Under A Blood Red Sky’ (1983) (UK no. 2, US no. 28, AUS no. 2) takes its name from a line in ‘New Year’s Day’, one of the tracks performed on the disc.  Because an accompanying video is filmed of U2 on stage at Colorado’s Red Rocks Ampitheater in the U.S., it is often thought the album is recorded there.  In truth, only two tracks come from that venue (‘Gloria’ and ‘Party Girl’); one is recorded in Boston, Massachusetts (’11 O’Clock Tick Tock’) and the bulk of the album (the other eight songs) are from a show at Sankt Goarshausen in Germany.

‘The Unforgettable Fire’ (1984) (UK no. 1, US no. 12, AUS no. 1) is named after paintings made by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts at the end of World War Two.  This album is co-produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.  It features U2’s all-time best song, ‘Pride (In The Name Of Love)’ (UK no. 3, US no. 33, AUS no. 4).  This is a tribute to the African-American civil rights campaigner, the Reverend Martin Luther King.  In this big and bold anthemic number, Bono sings, “One man come in the name of love / One man come and go / One man come, he to justify / One man to overthrow / In the name of love / What more in the name of love.”  It also chronicles King’s assassination: “Early morning April 4 / Shot rings out in the Memphis sky / Free at last, they took your life / They could not take your pride.”  There is a historical inaccuracy here because King was killed at 6:01 p.m.  As an added bonus, ‘Pride’ closes with some backing vocals from ‘Mrs Christine Kerr’ (that’s Chrissie Hynde from new wave band The Pretenders who, at the time, was married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds).  ‘Pride’ is the definitive U2 song because it merges their most important elements: a big guitar noise from The Edge, Bono’s impassioned vocals, a social conscience (a song about a civil rights activist) and religious overtones (“One man betrayed with a kiss” seems to refer to Judas’ treatment of Jesus).  The hymn-like closer, ‘MLK’, is also about Martin Luther King.  ‘Bad’ is introduced in concerts as a song about heroin addiction, even though there is no mention of that drug in the words of the song.  ‘Promenade’ is ‘a description of the view from Bono and [his wife] Ali’s seaside home on a warm evening.’  The title track, ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ (UK no. 6, AUS no. 59), is a showcase for The Edge’s grandiose keyboards.  ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’ has a tramping, marching rhythm.  Although reverting to a more dreamlike tone, this album evinces ‘a new maturity.’

‘Wide Awake In America’ (UK no. 37, US no. 11) is an EP released in May 1985.  The title is inspired by ‘Bad’, one of the tracks on this disc, where Bono bellows, “I’m wide awake.”  ‘Bad’ and ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’ are live recordings.  This EP pairs them with ‘The Three Sunrises’ and ‘Love Comes Tumbling’, two B sides of singles.

On 13 July 1985 U2 put on their triumphant set at the Live Aid charity concert.  In December 1985 Bono records ‘Silver And Gold’ with Rolling Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ron Wood for the album ‘Sun City’ (1985) (US no. 31) by Artists United Against Apartheid (‘apartheid’ is the name for the institutionalised racial discrimination practiced in South Africa at that time).  U2’s activism continues when they headline the Conspiracy of Hope tour for Amnesty International in 1986, raising awareness of people unjustly imprisoned for their beliefs in various countries around the world.

‘The Joshua Tree’ (1987) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 3) is U2’s finest album.  While this set is produced again by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, in contrast to the gauzy ‘Unforgettable Fire’, these songs are tightly constructed and clearly defined.  There is a distinctly American flavour to the project from its absorption of the grass roots sounds of Americana to the twisted, prickly desert plant that gives the album its name, to The Edge’s cowboy hats (a vain attempt to disguise his thinning hair).  ‘With Or Without You’ (UK no. 4, US no. 1, AUS no. 9) shows Bono’s voice has deepened considerably.  Looking back over the earlier part of U2’s career, he will later remark, “I am sort of a macho, Irish guy and particularly in those 1980s songs, I think I sound like a girl.”  ‘With Or Without You’ is a throbbing, anguished howl about male-female relations: “My hands are tied / My body bruised, she’s got me with / Nothing left to win / And nothing else to lose.”  The questing ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ (UK no. 6, US no. 1, AUS no. 17) is a generalised meditation on faith.  Both sides of the Christian belief system manifest in the lyrics: “I have held the hand of a devil / It was warm in the night” co-exists with ‘I believe in the Kingdom Come / Then all the colours will bleed into one.”  ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ (UK no. 4, US no. 13, AUS no. 27) is breathtakingly cinematic.  ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ is a song in which ‘The Edge’s guitar conveys…the horror felt by Nicaraguan civilians as they huddle together during a U.S.-sponsored bombing raid.’  ‘Running To Stand Still’ deploys slide guitar to illustrate a downcast tale of drug addiction.  ‘Red Hill Mining Town’ is a trudging account of economic hardship.  ‘In God’s Country’ (UK no. 48, US no. 44) offers refreshment in the desert.  Bono blows harmonica on the wild-eyed ‘Trip Through Your Wires’.  ‘One Tree Hill’ is a shamanic song of mourning.  ‘The Joshua Tree’ is justifiably called ‘a masterpiece’ and turns U2 into the ‘biggest band in the world.’

When ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ is released as a single, the B side is ‘The Sweetest Thing’.  Bono writes the song as an apology to his wife, Ali, for forgetting her birthday.  Gifted with the royalties from the song, Ali Hewson donates them to victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Russia that occurred on 26 April 1986.  ‘The Sweetest Thing’ will have another life later in U2’s career.

The problem with creating ‘a masterpiece’ like ‘The Joshua Tree’ is that it imposes a crushing weight of expectation for what comes next.  U2 try to get around the issue with ‘Rattle and Hum’ (1988), a black-and-white movie directed by Phil Joanou, that serves as a combination of documentary and concert film.  The accompanying double album, ‘Rattle And Hum’ (1988) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1), is produced by Jimmy Iovine.  The title is taken from a line in one of the featured concert performances, ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ (“In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum / Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome”).  ‘Rattle And Hum’ presents live versions of some other songs (including ‘Silver And Gold’ from the ‘Sun City’ album).  Here, U2 audaciously cover the songs of rock greats (Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’, both from 1968) and then have Dylan himself sing backing vocals on ‘Love Rescue Me’ while ‘God Part II’ seems to be intended as a sequel to ‘God’, a track from ex-Beatle John Lennon’s album ‘Plastic Ono Band’ (1970)‘Rattle And Hum’ also contains some brand new songs including the following: ‘Desire’ (UK no. 1, US no. 3, AUS no. 1) is built on the kind of basic rock riff Bo Diddley introduced to rock’s D.N.A. in the 1950s.  ‘Angel Of Harlem’ (UK no. 9, US no. 14, AUS no. 18) is a tribute to the great jazz and blues singer Billie Holliday.  ‘When Love Comes To Town’ (UK no. 6, US no. 68, AUS no. 23) is a riotous and rough duet with blues great B.B. King.  ‘All I Want Is You’ (UK no. 4, US no. 83, AUS no. 2), the closing song, is aching, with a cosmic string section finale.  ‘Rattle And Hum’ is generally underrated.

‘Achtung Baby’ (1991) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 1) boldly reinvents U2 for the 1990s.  The Americanisms are ditched and the album takes on the ambience of Berlin, Germany, where it is primarily recorded.  The Edge trades in his cowboy hat for a head scarf, beanie, or his bald pate.  Bono begins to wear dark glasses at all times from this point.  However this is more than an affectation: “[I have] very sensitive eyes to light,” the singer explains.  Daniel Lanois is brought back to act as producer for this album.  “I remember saying to the band this should be the sound of four men chopping down ‘The Joshua Tree’,” claims Bono, trying to explain the new and brash noise.  The darkness on the record may come out of The Edge’s disintegrating marriage at the time; he separated from his wife in September 1990.  The title, ‘Achtung Baby’, is born from a line in the movie ‘The Producers’ (1967), a comedy send-up of musicals, which features the unlikely stage-show ‘Springtime for Hitler’: “The Fuehrer does not say baby!” (‘Achtung’ is the German word for ‘attention’).  ‘The Fly’ (UK no. 1, US no. 61, AUS no. 1) is built on The Edge’s remarkably corrosive and distorted guitar work.  His voice electronically altered, Bono advises in ‘The Fly’ that, “It’s no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest / It’s no secret ambition bites the nails of success.”  This subverts the band’s image as crusading do-gooders and commercially powerful recording artists.  Is ‘One’ (UK no. 7, US no. 10, AUS no. 4) sinister or romantic?  It’s both really; love is complicated.  “Have you come here for forgiveness / Have you come to raise the dead / Have you come here to play Jesus / To the lepers in your head,” intones Bono in ‘One’.  With its seductive guitar line and tender chorus (“One love / One life”), ‘One’ is used at many weddings while U2 express ‘utter incomprehension that anyone would want to get married to this song’ with its often poisonous sentiments.  The undulating, funky groove of ‘Mysterious Ways’ (UK no. 13, US no. 1, AUS no. 3) takes some inspiration from William Cowper’s 1773 hymn ‘God Moves In Mysterious Ways’, but substitutes a woman for the Lord, also evoking the story of Salome and John the Baptist.  The startling opening track, ‘Zoo Station’, sets the scene for the album with its processed, metallic, invitation.  It is inspired by Berlin Zoologischer Garten Railway Station which is ‘notorious as a haunt for drug-dealers, prostitutes and pimps, pick-pockets and transients.’  ‘Zoo Station’ is serviced by the U-Bahn line designated…U2.  ‘Until The End Of The World’ faces down Armageddon in what is reputedly the story of Jesus and Judas told from the point of view of Judas.  ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ (UK no. 12, US no. 32, AUS no. 11) is a sugary rush while ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’ (UK no. 14, US no. 35, AUS no. 9) is softer, a taunting – yet loving – ode.  ‘Achtung Baby’ is ‘an impressive work’ that ‘eliminates many of the rules the band had built for themselves during their rise.’

To support ‘Achtung Baby’, U2 undertakes the Zoo TV tour, ‘an innovative blend of multi-media electronics, featuring a stage filled with televisions, suspended cars and cellular phone calls.’

Around this time, bass player Adam Clayton is ‘so nearly lost to addiction.’  He posed nude for one of the many small photos on the back cover of ‘Achtung Baby’ saying, “Men should not be forced to wear pants when it’s not cold.”  During Zoo TV he almost ‘loses his way.’  “When I was in party mode, I was out every night,” he admits.  He barely recovers his bearings before throwing himself into a relationship with supermodel Naomi Campbell (in 1993-1994) that makes him a celebrity.

The Edge too goes through some changes.  His marriage to Aislinn O’Sullivan has fallen apart.  In 1993 he begins dating Morleigh Steinberg, whom he meets when she appears on stage as a belly dancer during the Zoo TV tour.  Edge and Aislinn divorce in 1996.  Edge and Morleigh go on to have a daughter, Sian (born 1997), and a son, Levi (born 25 October 1999).  Edge and Morleigh Steinberg marry on 22 June 2002.

‘Zooropa’ (1993) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) extends the experiments of ‘Achtung Baby’ and the Zoo TV tour.  The album is co-produced by Flood, Brian Eno, and The Edge.  Bono adopts a falsetto voice for the dance music-influenced ‘Lemon’ (AUS no. 6): “She wore lemon / To colour in the cold grey night.”  The Edge intones the lead vocal for ‘Numb’ (AUS no. 7), a buzz of noise that seems to celebrate sensory deprivation.  ‘Zooropa’, the title track, is an electronic babble, a sort of media self-help program.  ‘Babyface’ is a perverse love song.  Slightly more conventional are the loose-limbed – and loose-minded? – ‘Stay (Faraway So Close)’ (UK no. 4, US no. 61, AUS no. 5) and the hushed and strummed ‘The First Time’.  ‘Zooropa’ ‘demonstrates a heavier techno and dance influence.’  On the Zooropa tour, Bono adopts the red-leather-clad guise of the ‘demonic MacPhisto.’

In 1995 U2 contribute the ‘glam rock’ ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’ (UK no. 2, US no. 16, AUS no. 1) to the soundtrack of the movie ‘Batman Forever’ (1995).

Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. becomes a father for the first time in 1995.  He is still with Ann Acheson, the girl he met at Mount Temple Comprehensive School in 1976.  Although Larry and Ann never marry, they go on to have three children together: a son, Aaron Elvis (born 3 October 1995), and two daughters, Ava (born 28 December 1998) and Anya (born 8 February 2001).

‘Original Soundtracks 1’ (1995) (UK no. 12, US no. 76, AUS no. 11), released in November, is credited to Passengers.  This is a pseudonym for a collaboration between U2 and Brian Eno, the art rock experimentalist who has worked as a producer for the band.  This project includes the song ‘Miss Sarajevo’ (UK no. 6, AUS no. 7), featuring opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, which mixes opera into what might vaguely be considered rock music.

U2’s next album is titled ‘Pop’ (1997) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1).  The Edge claims that, on this this set, “We deconstructed the concept of the rock ‘n’ roll band.”  Bono puts it this way: “Rock ‘n’ roll is ridiculous.  It’s absurd.  In the past U2 was trying to duck that.  Now we’re throwing our arms around it and giving it a great big kiss.”  The album is produced by Flood and is, again, ‘heavily influenced by techno, dance and electronic music.’  The processed sound of ‘Discotheque’ (UK no. 1, US no. 10, AUS no. 3) sets the tone: “You know you’re chewing bubble gum / You know what that is but you still want some.”  Early songs on the album like the scintillating ‘Do You Feel Loved’ and ‘Mofo’ (AUS no. 33), with its fast-paced laboratory of dance, continue the theme.  However, by the middle of the album, a more anguished mood sets in as exemplified by the scorched acoustic strum of ‘Staring At The Sun’ (UK no. 3, US no. 26, AUS no. 23) and ozone-bound guitar that howls into the heavens on ‘Gone’.  Reaching the end of the album, U2 kick through the ashes in the harsh ‘Please’ (UK no. 7, AUS no. 21) and the penetrating ‘Wake Up Dead Man’ (“Jesus, Jesus help me / I’m alone in this world / And a f***ed up world it is too”).  ‘In the 1990s the band’s music and concerts mocked the excesses of commercialism.’

From 1997 to 2007 Adam Clayton has a romantic relationship with Suzie Smith.

The compilation album ‘The Best Of 1980-1990’ (1988) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 1) includes ‘The Sweetest Thing’ (UK no. 3, US no. 63, AUS no. 6).  This track is released as a single in its own right in October 1998.

On 21 September 1999 Bono meets with Pope John Paul II to petition for relief of third world debt.  In the following years, U2’s vocalist has similar crusading meetings with world leaders like America’s George W. Bush, Britain’s Tony Blair and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.  He feels obliged to tell the media, “I’m a singer, not a politician, and I think you don’t want the two to get confused.”

‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ (2000) (UK no. 1, US no. 3, AUS no. 1) is the first of two new albums released by Island and Interscope.  It is produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois.  The Edge says this album is “a chance to rediscover the core chemistry of U2 as a band.”  Just as ‘Achtung Baby’ redefined U2 for the 1990s, this album hits ‘reset’ for the 2000s.  The Edge claims that the glorious, euphoric rock of ‘Beautiful Day’ (UK no. 1, US no. 21, AUS no. 1) “had come through various different incarnations.”  “It’s a beautiful day / Don’t let it get away,” is the simple, yet important, message of the song.  The underrated ‘Elevation’ (UK no. 3, AUS no. 6) successfully makes ambiguous whether it is about arousal or beatification.  Aside from these two rockers, the prevailing mood on ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ is wistful and elegiac.  The album is released in October 2000 so U2 could not possibly have anticipated the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001, but the tour to promote the album that subsequently takes place is spurred by that tragic day and ‘takes on new resonance…[with songs] full of ecstasy, mourning and release.’  The album’s title is drawn from Bono’s spoken word introduction to the light ‘Walk On’ (UK no. 5, AUS no. 9): “The only baggage you can bring / Is all that you can’t leave behind.”  ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’ (UK no. 2, US no. 52, AUS no. 3) is soulful, yet thick with depression.  ‘Kite’ is appropriately swooping.  ‘Peace On Earth’ reflects bitterly, yet tenderly, on the absence of the quality described in the title of the song.  There is even a prescient hothouse number called ‘New York’.  The album closes with the hypnotic ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feet’, a song whose lyrics are the work of controversial author Salman Rushdie.

The compilation album ‘The Best Of 1990-2000’ (2002) (UK no. 2, US no. 3, AUS no. 1) includes a couple of new tracks.  ‘Electrical Storm’ (UK no. 5, US no. 77, AUS no. 5) is full of sketchy electronics while the skeletal ‘The Hands That Built America’ comes from the soundtrack to the movie ‘Gangs of New York’ (2003).

In 2003 Bono is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to relieve third world debt and promote A.I.D.S. awareness in Africa.

‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ (2004) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is produced by Steve Lillywhite, the producer of U2’s first three albums.  There are two separate forces driving this album.  From the dance music of the 1990s to the graceful tunes of the early 2000s, The Edge has been using a lot more keyboards.  Bono notes, “[Edge] might be into keyboards this album, and you have [drummer] Larry [Mullen, Jr.] and [bassist] Adam [Clayton] going, ‘Oh f***, he’s into the keyboards now.  We’ll never get a rock song out of him.’”  Contrary to such fears, on this disc The Edge ‘rediscovers the guitar as his weapon of choice.’  The best example is the full-blooded, riff-happy, ‘Vertigo’ (UK no. 1, US no. 31, AUS no. 5): “Hello, hello / I’m at a place called vertigo / It’s everything I wish I didn’t know / But you give me something I can feel, feel.”  Mind you, by the last verse, that changes to “Your love is teaching me how, how to kneel” in a typically ambiguous U2 religious allusion.  ‘Love And Peace Or Else’ is seemingly sculpted out of guitar feedback and turned into a bold groove.  ‘All Because Of You’ (UK no. 4, AUS no. 23) is powered by scarring riffs and is both rough and lovely.  “It is a guitar record,” says Mullen.  “I think they are all rocky tunes.”  The other impetus shaping the album is the death of Bono’s father from cancer in 2001.  “In my head, ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ is about my father, Bob – How To Dismantle An Atomic Bob’,” says Bono.  This comes through most clearly in the painful examination of ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ (UK no. 1, US no. 97, AUS no. 19): “We fight all the time / You and I…That’s alright / We’re the same soul.”  ‘One Step Closer’ is inspired by a comment from Noel Gallagher of British rock band Oasis.  Bono was uncertain about his father’s faith and fate and Gallagher said, “Well, he’s one step closer to knowing [what comes after death], isn’t he?”  Along the way there is also the hopeful ‘Miracle Drug’ and the giddy flight of ‘City Of Blinding Lights’ (UK no. 2, AUS no. 31).

The compilation album ‘U2 18Singles’ (2006) (UK no. 4, US no. 12, AUS no. 1) yields two more singles: ‘The Saints Are Coming’ (UK no. 2, US no. 51, AUS no. 1) (a duet with neo-punk band Green Day) and ‘Windows In The Skies’ (UK no. 4, AUS no. 17).

‘No Line On The Horizon’ (2009) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) is released internationally by Interscope.  The album is produced by the trio of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite.  Eno and Lanois are also co-credited with U2 as songwriters on this album.  “Brian and Dan have been part of our little musical commune for some time,” says bassist Adam Clayton, explaining the increased role for the producers on this disc.  “The image of no line on the horizon…is an image of the future and wanting to disappear into it.  There’s no limits, no end in sight,” explains Bono.  “There’s some songs [on this album] that just sound very, very different,” he continues.  “But some songs do sound a little familiar and that wasn’t a good enough reason for us to throw them out.”  The wild and way out ‘Get On Your Boots’ (UK no. 12, US no. 37, AUS no. 26) finds Bono warbling, ”You don’t know how beautiful you are / Hey sexy boots / I don’t want to talk about the wars between the nations,” undermining his own public persona.  ‘Magnificent’ (UK no. 42, AUS no. 79) is big and ambitious.  ‘I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight’ (UK no. 32) offers straight up rock and pop.  The title track, ‘No Line On The Horizon’, is rock that gets right in your face.  Among the more unusual pieces are the pummelling and punning ‘Stand Up Comedy’ and the quietly moving ‘Cedars Of Lebanon.’

In 2009 U2 bassist Adam Clayton begins dating Mariana Teixeira de Carvalho.  The couple marry on 4 September 2013.

‘Songs Of Innocence’ (2014) (UK no. 6, US no. 9, AUS no. 7) is produced by Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton), though with many production assistants.  The rather startling cover image portrays drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. hugging the naked torso of his son, Elvis.  This ties in though with the overarching theme of the album: a look back at the band’s own youth.  Accordingly, U2 reminisce about their first exposure to punk rock in the form of The Ramones (‘The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)’) and The Clash (‘This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now’); the death of Bono’s mother (‘Iris (Hold Me Close)’); and growing up in Ireland (‘Cedarwood Road’, ‘The Troubles’).  The sweeping ‘Every Breaking Wave’ is perhaps the most traditional U2 song, but some of the more successful pieces – artistically, at least – are the less traditional ones.  The abrasive ‘Raised by Wolves’ looks at the aftermath of a car bombing while the sinister ‘Sleep Like A Baby Tonight’ seems to depict a paedophile priest.  Adam Clayton’s bass is given a strong place in the mix of the whole album and Bono often sings in a higher voice than he has for many years – which is fitting enough since it evokes his more youthful style.  ‘Songs Of Innocence’ achieves a bit less commercially for U2 than usual and does not generate any hit singles.

In 2016 U.S. magazine ‘Glamor’ names U2 vocalist Bono ‘Man of the Year.’  This breaks the publication’s twenty-six year tradition of awarding the title of ‘Woman of the Year’.  Bono wins this distinction due to his campaigning for ‘Poverty is Sexist’ and calling for assistance to the world’s most financially disadvantaged women.

U2’s performance at Live Aid signified many aspects of their career.  Bono’s venture off the stage embodied their questing and impetuous drive.  Yet it also displayed the humanism and compassion associated with U2.  The charity concert itself symbolised their crusading capacity for good works as dictated by their Christianity.  It was also powerful rock music they pumped out on the day, highlighted by The Edge’s distinctive guitar work.  “Music can change the world because it can change people,” said Bono on one occasion and U2’s career worked towards proving that true.  ‘U2 possessed an acute instinct for taking the right creative – and commercial – decisions.’  They were ‘equally known for their sweeping sound as for their grandiose statements about politics and religion.’

Sources:

  1. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 22 July 2014
  2. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘U2 Become Stars After Live Aid’ by Peter Paphides (12 June 2011) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  3. You Tube
  4. allmusic.com, ‘U2’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 15 January 2004
  5. wikipedia.org as at 2 June 2014, 1 January 2015, 7 January 2017
  6. brainyquote.com as at 14 July 2014
  7. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘U2’ by Bill Flanagan (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 633, 634, 635, 636, 637, 638
  8. whosdatedwho.com as at 2 June 2014
  9. ‘Sunday Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Bono’s Journey to Peace’ by James Wigney (21 November 2004) p. 7 of ‘i.e.’ lift-out
  10. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 132, 139
  11. ‘Herald Sun’ (Melbourne, Australia, newspaper) – ‘Keeping It Together’ – U2 interview by Chrissy Illey (15 November 2004) p. 8, 9, 10 of ‘Weekend’ lift-out
  12. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 2 June 2014
  13. ‘War’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1983) p. 4
  14. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 451, 452
  15. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 217
  16. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 223
  17. Pitchfork Media Inc. – Video interview with Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton conducted by Mark Richardson (2009)
  18. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 52, 58
  19. lyricsfreak.com as at 15July 2014
  20. ‘The Unforgettable Fire’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1984) p. 3
  21. songfacts.com as at 14 July 2014
  22. ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ (U.S. television program) – Bono interview conducted by Ellen DeGeneres (1 December 2011) via nme.com/news/U2/60733
  23. ‘The Joshua Tree’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1987) p. 10
  24. ‘Rattle And Hum’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1988) p. 9, 20
  25. ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine via (5) above
  26. ‘Achtung Baby’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1991) p. 3, 25
  27. ‘U2 – Achtung Baby – A Classic Album Under Review’ – DVD (Sexy Intellectual, 2006)
  28. ‘Zooropa’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1993) p. 22
  29. ‘U2 – The Best Of 1990-2000’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Universal Music International B.V., 2002) p. 26
  30. ‘Pop’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 1997) p. 4
  31. ‘The Guardian’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Pope Meets Bono and Calls for Debt Relief’ (Jubilee 2000 Press Release) (24 September 1999) (reproduced on theguardian.com)
  32. ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 2000) p. 15
  33. ‘How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Island Records Ltd, 2004) p. 20
  34. ‘No Line On The Horizon’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Universal – Island Records Limited, 2009) p. 18
  35. ‘Songs Of Innocence’ – Sleeve notes by Bono (Island Records – Universal Music Operations Limited, 2014) p. 16, 17, 21

Song lyrics copyright Island Music, Inc. BMI (1980-1983), Chappell Music (1984-1991), Polygram International Publishing (2000), Universal Music Publishing B.V. (2004), Universal Music Publishing B.V./Opal Music (2009)

Last revised 12 January 2017

Tina Turner

Tina Turner

 Tina Turner – circa 1993

 “I’ve been thinking about my own protection / It scares me to feel this way” – ’What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (Terry Britten, Graham Lyle)

Tina Turner has been ‘beaten bloody.’  It is July 1976.  The assailant of the African-American singer is her husband, Ike Turner.  Their act, The Ike And Tina Turner Revue, has come to Dallas, Texas, to begin a tour.  The couple travel in the back of a hired car to their motel.  “In the car he was real edgy,” Tina begins.  “And I was holding some chocolates and I made him angry and I was wearing a white suit…So…we started to fight in the car…”  Ike Turner has been physically abusing his wife for the last sixteen years.  This time something is different.  Tina fights back.  “We fought all the way back to the motel.  It was like something came over me.”  Once Ike Turner falls asleep in the motel room, Tina makes her escape.  Wearing sunglasses to conceal her bruised face, she exits with thirty-six cents and a Mobil gasoline credit card in her pocket.  “I had to go out the back way.  I was running,” Tina recounts.  She is given refuge in a nearby Ramada Inn.  From there, she makes her way to Los Angeles, California.  “I’m gone and I’m not going back was the attitude,” says Tina Turner defiantly.

Tina Turner is born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939 in Haywood Memorial Hospital, Tennessee, U.S.A.  She is raised in the nearby town of Nutbush.  “In Tennessee where I grew up, there were animals, farms, wagons, mules.”  Anna Mae is the child of Floyd Richard Bullock and his wife, Zelma Priscilla Bullock (nee Currie).  “My parents were church people; My father was a deacon in the church.”  The child is raised in the Baptist faith.  Floyd Bullock works as an overseer of sharecroppers.  Anna Mae has an older sister, Ruby Ailene.  Less often mentioned is that Anna Mae has two half-sisters: (i) Mary Ann Buck-White who is taken away when Anna Mae is born; and (ii) a mysterious, unnamed half-sister who dies in a car accident in Ripley, Tennessee, when Anna Mae is 14.  This girl is the ‘oldest sister.’  While her parents are Baptists, young Anna Mae is also exposed to a different brand of spirituality.  “I heard stories from my mother’s mother who was an American Indian…She used to tell me stories of the rivers.”  Anna Mae grows up believing she has ‘significant Native American ancestry’, but a D.N.A. test in 2008 reveals she is only one percent Native American and thirty-three percent European.  Of course, her main genetic background is African-American.

During World War Two, the parents of Anna Mae Bullock (Tina Turner) go to work at the defense plant in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Anna Mae is separated from her older sister, Ruby Ailene, and sent to live with her paternal grandparents.  Her father’s mother is “strict…I was always getting spanked.”  Anna Mae starts to sing in the church choir at Nutbush’s Spring Hill Baptist Church.  While still a pre-teen, she is employed as a domestic worker for the Henderson family.

After the war, the Bullock family is reunited, but Floyd and Zelma have an ‘abusive relationship.’  “My mother and father didn’t love each other so they were always fighting,” Tina Turner remembers.  Zelma runs off when Tina / Anna Mae is 13.  “When a mother leaves, it leaves some kind of loneliness for a girl,” Tina says wistfully.  Floyd Bullock remarries before his daughter turns 14.

The teenage years bring new awareness to Anna Mae Bullock.  “As I grew up, I learned what worked for me.  That’s where the short dresses came from.  And you can’t dance [like I do] in a long dress.”  Despite being only five feet, four inches, the girl notes, “I always had long legs.  When I was young, I used to think, ‘Why do I look like a pony?’”

Anna Mae Bullock graduates from Sumner High School in 1958.  “I’m self-made,” she later says.  “I always wanted to make myself a better person because I was not [highly] educated.  But that was my dream.  To have class.”  Anna Mae Bullock works as a nurse’s aide at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.  She gains her first boyfriend, a fellow named Harry, while living in Brownsville, Tennessee.

With her sister Ruby Ailene, Anna Mae Bullock moves to St Louis, Missouri, in the hope of finding a career as a professional singer.  “After I moved to St Louis, my older sister and I went to see Ike Turner, who was the hottest then.  His music charged me.  I was never attracted to him, but I wanted to sing with his band.”

Ike Turner (5 November 1931 – 12 December 2007) is born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.A.  He grows up in an area steeped in blues music.  Ike works as a disc-jockey and forms his own band, The Kings Of Rhythm (a.k.a. The Delta Rhythm Kings).  Ike Turner plays guitar and piano and also acts as a talent scout for the Los Angeles-based record labels Modern and RPM.  In 1951 he plays on ‘Rocket 88’ by Jackie Brenston.  This is one of a handful of contenders for the title of the first rock ‘n’ roll record.  Jackie Brenston is a saxophone player in The Rhythm Kings but, because he takes the lead vocal on ‘Rocket 88’, the song is credited to him on the record label.  Ironically, the sax solo on the track is not played by Brenston but by Raymond Hill, another one of The Kings Of Rhythm.  Ike Turner’s prototypical dirty guitar sound is due to his amplifier having a patchwork repair after it was damaged falling off the truck on the way to the recording session.  After this seminal recording, Ike Turner’s work as a talent scout is attributed with the discovery of such recording artists as Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Bobby Bland.

Ike Turner tours with ‘a revue-style show, featuring him on guitar and piano, and spotlighting various vocalists.’  This involves an open-mike section of the show where members of the audience are given an opportunity to sing with The Kings Of Rhythm.  One night in 1958, the future Tina Turner is in the St Louis audience.  “Many times other girls had stood to sing [with Ike] and I knew they couldn’t sing as well as I could,” Tina recalls.  When her turn comes, Anna Mae Bullock turns in an impressive performance.  The 18 year old becomes part of the touring show as a backing vocalist.  She is billed as Little Ann.  She becomes romantically involved with Raymond Hill (the saxophone player who was featured on ‘Rocket 88‘).  Anna Mae Bullock bears him a son, Raymond Craig (born 29 August 1958).  She describes her relationship with Ike Turner in the late 1950s this way: “He was a very nice person at the time and we were really friends, like brother and sister.”  Within a year, Raymond Hill has left Anna Mae Bullock and Ike Turner’s attention turns to her.  “The first time Ike actually touched me, I felt ashamed because he was my friend.”  Nonetheless, in January 1960 she finds herself pregnant by Ike.  Complicating the situation is that Ike Turner is already married to a woman named Lorraine.

In March 1960 Ike Turner and The Kings Of Rhythm prepare to record one of Ike’s songs, ‘A Fool In Love’.  A male vocalist is supposed to sing on the recording session but he fails to turn up at the studio, so Ike turns to Little Ann.  “It was kind of done as a demo,” she says apologetically, but the recording engineer convinces Ike to keep Anna’s vocal.  ‘A Fool In Love’ (US no. 27) is a rough and ready rhythm and blues shake highlighted by a wordless section of pure vocal shouting by the singer – a woman who finds herself renamed Tina Turner.  The record is credited to Ike And Tina Turner.  The Kings Of Rhythm are later renamed The Ike And Tina Turner Revue.  The act is augmented by a trio of female backing vocalists dubbed The Ikettes.  Various ladies pass through the ranks of The Ikettes over the years.

Tina Turner gives birth to a son by Ike, Ronald (born October 1960).  Ike’s estranged wife, Lorraine, leaves them with her children by Ike as well, Ike, Jr. (born 1958) and Michael (born 1959).  With the addition of Raymond Craig, Tina’s son by Raymond Hill, that means the couple have four young sons to raise.  Tina gives birth to Ronald on a Thursday and is back on stage by Saturday night.  Despite his familial responsibilities, Ike Turner is ‘openly carrying on with countless women.’  When Tina protests about these infidelities, she is physically abused.  “That was the first time I had a real beating – with a shoe stretcher [a metal device to push back the heel of a leather shoe to more easily accommodate the wearer’s foot].”  Ike Turner will continue to batter his partner over the course of their lives together.  So why does Tina stay with him and tolerate his violence?  “I had nowhere to go,” she says.  “There was nowhere to go for many years.”

The single ‘A Fool In Love’ is released on the Sue label and it is for that label that Ike And Tina Turner record their earliest albums.  The debut album, ‘The Soul Of Ike & Tina Turner’ (1961) includes ‘A Fool In Love’.  ‘Dance With Ike & Tina Turner’s Kings Of Rhythm’ (1962) is an album of instrumentals.  These discs are followed by ‘Don’t Play Me Cheap’ (1963), ‘Dynamite’ (1963) and ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ (1963).  Singles from this period are ‘I Idolize You’ (US no. 82) and the ‘hopeful’ ‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ (US no. 14) (both from 1961) and ‘Poor Fool’ (US no. 38), ‘Tra La La La La’ (US no. 50) and ‘You Shoulda Treated Me Right’ (US no. 89) (all from 1962).  Ike Turner has a habit of recycling or re-recording the duo’s hits.  So, for instance, ‘A Fool In Love’ shows up again on ‘Dynamite’‘It’s Gonna Work Out Fine’ includes Tina Turner’s first composition, ‘Tinaroo’.

Ike and Tina Turner officially marry in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1962.  The marriage is prompted by other women making claims on Ike’s money and, somehow, a legitimate marriage helps ward off these problems.

The mid-1960s are a bewildering period in Ike and Tina Turner’s recording history.  They release material on a variety of labels: Sonja, Innis, Kent, Loma (for whom they cut half a dozen non-charting singles), Warner Bros., United, Tomato, Modern, Tangerine (owned by rhythm and blues legend Ray Charles) and Cenco.  The albums released in these years are: ‘Please Please Please’ (1963), ‘The Ike & Tina Turner Revue Live’ (1964), ‘Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show’ (1965), ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ (1965), ‘Festival Of Live Performances’ (1965), ‘Ike & Tina Show 2’ (1965), ‘Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show’ (1966) and ‘Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show, Vols. 1-2’ (1966).  Their most successful singles in this period are ‘I Can’t Believe What You Say (For Seeing What You Do)’ (US no. 95) in 1964 and ‘Tell Her I’m Not Home’ (US no. 48) in 1965.

Ike and Tina Turner appear in the concert film ‘The Big T.N.T. Show’ (1966) in January.  One of the organisers of this multi-artist showcase is legendary record producer Phil Spector.  The ‘Tycoon of Teen’, Spector has been producing and co-writing pop hits since 1958.  He is best known for his ‘wall of sound’ technique, an extravagant method of multi-tracking with orchestra-size collections of rock music session musicians.  Spector is impressed by Ike and Tina Turner and offers to work with them.  It may be more accurate to say Spector offers to work with Tina since he bans Ike Turner from the studio so there will be no interference with Spector’s own eccentric production techniques.  “He wanted me to not sing from any kind of way I remembered,” says Tina.  “I had never sung like that before.  I worked hard for it.  I wanted it.”  The result is ‘River Deep Mountain High’ (US no. 88, UK no. 3).  “When I was a little girl I had a rag doll / Only doll I’ve ever owned / Now I love you just the way I loved that rag doll / But only now my love has grown,” bellows Tina Turner from within a cavernous sonic construct.  The song is co-written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich.  The accompanying album, ‘River Deep Mountain High’ (1966) (US no. 102) is released by A&M and is split between five songs produced by Phil Spector and seven by Ike Turner.  The song ‘River Deep Mountain High’ has mixed fortunes.  Released in May 1966, it doesn’t do very well on the U.S. chart and Spector ‘is so embittered by its failure to hit in America that he goes into seclusion for two years.’  On the other hand, it is very successful in England (“I don’t know if I even knew where England was,” Tina chortles) and is ‘the song that first earns her a loyal legion of European fans.’  On 22 September 1966 The Ike And Tina Turner Revue begins a U.K. tour as a support act to British sensations The Rolling Stones.  The tour continues up to 9 October 1966.

Once again Ike And Tina Turner’s recordings enter a period where they are passed around through multiple record labels.  The record companies include Valiant, Pompeii, Blue Thumb, Minit, Liberty/United Artists and Capitol.  The albums released are: ‘Ike & Tina Turner And The Raelettes’ (1966); ‘Outta Season’ (1968) (US no. 91); ‘So Fine’ (1968); ‘In Person’ (1969) (US no. 142); ‘Fantastic’ (1969); ‘Get It Together’ (1969); ‘Her Man, His Woman’ (1969); ‘The Hunter’ (1969) (US no. 176); ‘Come Together’ (1970) (US no. 130); ‘On Stage’ (1970); ‘Workin’ Together’ (1969) (US no. 25); ‘Live In Paris’ (1971); ‘Nuff Said’ (1971) (US no. 108); ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ (1971); ‘What You Hear Is What You Get’ (1971) (US no. 25) – a live album; ‘Feel Good’ (1972) (US no. 160); ‘Let Me Touch Your Mind’ (1972); ‘Live! The World Of Ike And Tina Turner’ (1973); ‘Nutbush City Limits’ (1973) (US no. 163); ‘Strange Fruit’ (1974); ‘Sweet Rhode Island Red’ (1974); ‘The Gospel According To Ike And Tina’ (1974); ‘The Great Album’ (1974); ‘Delilah’s Power’ (1977); ‘Airwaves’ (1978); and ‘The Edge’ (1980).

The most successful singles for Ike And Tina Turner in the same period include the following: 1966’s ‘A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday)’ (UK no. 16) and 1968’s ‘I’ve Done All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)’ (US no. 98).  1969’s ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ (US no. 68) is a cover version of an Otis Redding song from 1965.  It comes from the album ‘Outta Season’ (1968) on Blue Thumb. It is notable for the way it is performed on stage.  Tina Turner ‘handles the microphone in a raunchy way, Ike makes suggestive pornographic slurping noises…[and] the song ends with Tina having a simulated orgasm.’  This can all be seen in The Rolling Stones’ documentary film ‘Gimme Shelter’ (1970).  (Ike And Tina Turner are the support act on a U.S. tour by The Stones.  It replicates their British tour together in 1966.)  Recalling such performance antics with distaste, Tina Turner comments, “I used to hate my work, hated that sexy image, hated those pictures of me onstage, hated that big raunchy person.”

Increasingly, Tina Turner wants to sing rock songs rather than rhythm and blues songs and this is reflected in Ike And Tina Turner’s singles.  1969’s ‘The Hunter’ (US no. 93) and 1970’s ‘Bold Bold Sister’ (US no. 59) are followed in 1970 by a cover of British rock giants The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ (US no. 57) from 1969.  After 1970’s ‘I Want To Take You Higher’ (US no. 34), in January 1971 Ike And Tina Turner deliver a horn-infused version of ‘Proud Mary’ (US no. 4), a song that was originally a hit for American rock band Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969.  This very successful Ike And Tina Turner hit comes from the Liberty album ‘Workin’ Together’ (1971).  Jesse Hill’s ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’ (US no. 60) that Ike And Tina Turner first recorded back in 1965 is resurrected in 1971.  ‘Up In Health’ (US no. 83) in 1972 precedes Tina Turner’s best individual song.

‘Nutbush City Limits’ (US no. 22, UK no. 4) is a relentlessly funky hit for Ike And Tina Turner in November 1973.  Like ‘River Deep Mountain High’, it actually does better in Britain than America.  ‘Nutbush City Limits’ is a rare Tina Turner composition.  If it is recalled that Tina was raised in Nutbush, Tennessee, it becomes obvious that it is also an autobiographical song.  “A church house, gin house / A school house, out house / On highway number nineteen / The people keep the city clean / They call it Nutbush,” Tina barks, painting a vivid portrait.  Small town life is detailed in the lyrics, “Go to the store on Friday / You go to church on Sunday / You go to the fields on week days / And have a picnic on Labor Day / You go to town on Saturday / But go to church every Sunday.”  The highly personal tale of the song would, on its own, qualify this as Tina Turner’s definitive work, but its addictive hyperactive shuffle is also irresistible.

Rounding out the singles selection for Ike And Tina Turner are 1974’s ‘Sexy Ida (Part 1)’ (US no. 65) and 1975’s ‘Baby Get It On’ (US no. 88).

The private lives of Ike and Tina Turner are also eventful from 1966 to 1976.  In spring 1968 Tina Turner discovers that Ann Thomas, one of The Ikettes, is pregnant by Ike.  Despairing of this latest show of disrespect from her abusive husband, Tina swallows fifty tranquiliser pills in a suicide attempt.  After being taken to hospital and having her stomach pumped, Tina survives and somehow finds the strength to carry on.  In May 1971 Ike Turner opens his own recording studio, Bolic Sounds.  It coincides with him using cocaine significantly.  Ike is described as a ‘violent, drug-addicted wife-beater.’  In 1971 Tina Turner is introduced to Buddhism by a friend of Ike’s.  She embraces the Eastern religion, saying, “I found that when I would chant the words [of prayer], I felt better.”  Tina doesn’t exactly abandon the faith in which she was raised.  She describes herself as ‘Buddhist-Baptist’.  Predictably, Ike Turner is not impressed with her Buddhist chanting: “He had forbidden me to do it.”  Tina points out, “He was becoming more and more insecure ‘cos he couldn’t get a hit record and I was getting blamed for it.”  This all culminates in Tina walking out on Ike in July 1976, ending both their musical and personal relationship.  The divorce is not finalised until 1978.  A glance at the albums released by Ike And Tina Turner shows that Ike released three albums credited to the duo even after they split, so these are presumably culled from previously unreleased recordings from earlier in their career.

Tina Turner’s first solo recordings predate her split with Ike Turner.  ‘Tina Turns The Country On!’ (1974), her debut disc, is released in August 1974.  It is the first of four albums she records for United Artists / EMI.  Produced by Tom Thacker, as the name implies, ‘Tina Turns The Country On!’ is a collection of country music-oriented cover versions.  Tina Turner plays the part of the Acid Queen in the movie ‘Tommy’ (1975), adapted from the rock opera of the same name created by British rock group The Who.  Tina’s second solo album, ‘Acid Queen’ (1975) (US no. 115, AUS no. 75), exploits this connection.  As well as her rendition of ‘Acid Queen’, the album consists mainly of cover versions of rock songs by The Who and The Rolling Stones.  However the same album also serves up the proto-disco song ‘Baby Get It On’ which, when released as a single, is credited to Ike And Tina Turner (since Ike produces that track).

‘Rough’ (1978) is Tina Turner’s first album after her break up with Ike Turner.  Produced by Bob Monaco, the album includes the songs ‘Viva La Money’ and ‘Root Toot Indisputable Rock ‘N’ Roller’ as well as cover versions of the 1978 Dan Hill song ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ and the 1957 Nappy Brown song ‘The Night Time Is The Right Time’.  ‘Love Explosion’ (1979) is a more disco-oriented work, produced by Alec R. Constandios.  Songs on this set include ‘Music Keeps Me Dancin’’, ‘Love Explosion’ and a re-working of the O’Jays ‘Backstabbers’ from 1972.

After the breakdown of her marriage, Tina Turner finds television appearances to be a good way of earning enough money to keep afloat herself and the four kids in her care.  Her live shows veer towards cabaret, all ‘glitter, glitz and high kicks.’  Tina says, “In the beginning I wanted to be like [actress, singer and dancer] Ann-Margret [who also starred in ‘Tommy’]…[Las] Vegas…I wanted the Bob Mackie dresses…tuxedo suits, glitter suits, feather boas…”  One of the television appearances Tina Turner makes is on ‘Olivia Newton-John: Hollywood Nights’ in 1980.  Tina seeks out Roger Davies, the manager of Olivia Newton-John, in the hope that he will also take her on as a client.  The blonde pop singer’s manager agrees to consider the possibility but is aghast when he takes in one of Tina’s cabaret-influenced live shows.  Davies will only consent to managing Tina Turner if she gives her image a makeover.  With Davies assistance, Tina Turner is brought to the attention of John Carter, a staff producer at Capitol Records.  Carter champions Tina Turner with the record label and she is signed to a recording contract with Capitol.  With Roger Davies and John Carter’s input, Tina Turner is set to move into a new era.

Despite being over 40 years old, Tina Turner’s career is really only starting.  With Ike Turner, Tina recorded primarily rhythm and blues material (e.g. ‘A Fool In Love’), though she seemed to press for more rock songs (e.g. ‘Proud Mary’).  In the 1960s the main forces in African-American popular music were the black pop of Motown Records and the gospel-influenced soul music of labels like Stax.  Ike And Tina Turner didn’t really fit in either camp.  Perhaps because Ike Turner was present at rock music’s (arguable) birth with ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951, he seemed to feel free to hew a more individualistic path.  The general allegiance to rhythm and blues appears to be an economic necessity for African-American performers when American society (and music) is still in the process of transitioning from a form of racial segregation to a more ethnically integrated state.

The relatively rare instances of white performers operating in the field of soul music gives rise to the somewhat left-handed designation of ‘blue-eyed soul’ (i.e. white singers performing black music).  Tina Turner is an example of a flow in the opposite direction.  For want of a better description, she performs ‘brown-eyed rock’; she is a black singer performing white music.  “I never had that thing about being black,” says Tina Turner.  She has never been a poster child for black rights or Afro-American consciousness.  Yet she subtly reverses the expected path for a black singer.

A large part of Tina Turner’s image is her sex appeal.  “I didn’t plan to be sexy because I didn’t think I was sexy,” she says defensively.  ‘I didn’t think I was pretty.  It wasn’t a plan of mine to be a sex symbol because in those times [in the early part of my career] it was kind of disrespectful as a Baptist girl to be a sex symbol.”  Ike Turner certainly made use of his partner’s sex appeal.  Given the microphone fondling of ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and Tina’s response to it (“[I] hated that sexy image”], it could be contended that Ike exploited her.  That point is diluted somewhat by Tina Turner, as a solo artist, continuing to emphasise her own sensuality.  Even when seemingly in charge of her own destiny, Tina maintains a raw physicality.

Ike Turner observes that Tina’s “voice was kind of raspy.  It didn’t sound high-pitched like a girl’s.”  This is true, but Tina Turner’s vocal style is also brash and leonine.  In the latter part of her career a certain world-weary resignation also seeps in.  It never sounds like indifference; it is just that Tina’s vocal inflection reflects the tumultuous life she has led.

Tina Turner is not really a songwriter – despite the odd exception like ‘Nutbush City Limits’.  Most of the material she records in her 1980s solo career is furnished by professional songwriters like Terry Britten, Albert Hammond, Holly Knight and Graham Lyle.

The first step in the rebirth of Tina Turner’s career takes place in October 1981 when she is the opening act on a U.S. tour by U.K. pop star Rod Stewart.  This leads to Tina appearing in Rod’s satellite broadcast show from the Los Angeles Forum on 18 December 1981.  Rod Stewart and Tina Turner duet on ‘Hot Legs’, ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Get Back’.

Next, Tina Turner performs a cover version of The Temptations’ 1970 hit ‘Ball Of Confusion’ for the album ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction’ (1982) on Virgin Records.  This is a project attributed to The British Electric Foundation.  Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware were formerly half of the ‘electropop experimentalists’, The Human League.  Now, in this new guise, they mastermind a clutch of singers performing notable songs from years past.  Tina Turner’s contribution to the disc is perhaps the most famous and successful.

Tina Turner has a romantic relationship with James Ralston in 1982-1983.

The Tina Turner renaissance really takes off with her first solo album for Capitol Records, ‘Private Dancer’ (1984) (US no. 3, UK no. 2, AUS no. 7).  This turns out to be the singer’s all-time best album.  ‘Private Dancer’ is assembled from multiple recording sessions with different producers.  Such a method could lead to a disastrous mix of clashing styles but Tina Turner’s larger-than-life persona manages to unite all the sounds.  This multi-producer approach is used for most of her subsequent albums.  The first single from this disc is a sexy and smooth rendition of Al Green’s 1971 soul hit ‘Let’s Stay Together’ (US no. 26, UK no. 6, AUS no. 19).  This is overseen by Martyn Ware from The British Electric Foundation.  The real turning point is ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (US no. 1, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1), co-written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle.  “I hated it,” admits Tina Turner, confessing that she only recorded the song at the urging of her manager, Roger Davies.  The song has a sullen, yet sauntering, mood, offset by a flute-like synthesiser part.  It is very easy to transpose the travails of Tina Turner’s personal life with the lyrics: “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? / What’s love but a second-hand emotion? / What’s love got to do, got to do with it? / Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”  Terry Britten produces this track as well as Tina’s techno-fied cover of ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ (UK no. 57), first recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973 and notably covered by Eruption in 1978.  Rupert Hine is the producer for ‘Better Be Good To Me’ (US no. 5, UK no. 45, AUS no. 28), co-written by Holly Knight, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman.  While the backing sounds like mechanical pistons, Tina Turner growls in a scorching tone, “Oh yes, I’m touched by this show of emotion / Should I be fractured by your lack of devotion? / Should I?!”  The title track, ‘Private Dancer’ (US no. 7, UK no. 26, AUS no. 21), is contributed by Mark Knopfler of British rock band Dire Straits.  The rest of Dire Straits act as backing musicians for the song but, surprisingly, the guitar solo is played by 1960s guitar hero Jeff Beck – even though Knopfler is also acknowledged for his guitar prowess.  In the song, Tina plays the part of a “Private dancer / A dancer for money” (ahem!) with a fitting mix of class, weariness and allure: “Well the men come in these places and the men are all the same / You don’t look at their faces and you don’t ask their names.”  John Carter produces the song ‘Private Dancer’.  “I had my own songs,” asserts Tina Turner, summing up the appeal of this album.  Although she is not the songwriter, the material sounds tailored for her life and experiences.  This element of truthfulness distinguishes the project.

Tina Turner appears at the charity concert Live Aid on 13 July 1985.  She duets with Mick Jagger, lead vocalist from The Rolling Stones, on ‘It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and ‘State Of Shock’.  However, the performance is memorable chiefly because ‘during their duet on “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll” Mick Jagger accidentally rips away part of Tina Turner’s dress, leaving her to finish the song in what was, effectively, a leotard.’  The term ‘accidentally’ is used very loosely since there is a strong suspicion that it is ‘a planned wardrobe malfunction.’  “Mick is just naughty, you know?” Tina Turner laughs.  “It wasn’t as if some guy pulled off my skirt; it was like this boy I knew did it.”

Also in July the soundtrack to the film ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ (1985) (US no. 39) is released.  As well as co-starring in the film in the role of Aunty Entity, Tina Turner sings two songs on the soundtrack: “We Don’t Need Another Hero’ (US no. 2, UK no. 3, AUS no. 1) (written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle) and ‘One Of The Living’ (US no. 15, UK no. 55, AUS no. 34) (written by Holly Knight).  Both blur the line between Tina Turner’s own persona and the Aunty Entity role in the sci-fi desert-set movie.

In 1985 Tina Turner meets German music executive Erwin Bach who becomes her long-term boyfriend.

Tina Turner’s autobiography ‘I, Tina’ (1986) is published in January 1986.  For the first time, the details of her tumultuous marriage to Ike Turner become public knowledge.

In many ways, ‘Break Every Rule’ (1986) (US no. 2, UK no. 2, AUS no. 11) in September is an attempt to recreate the formula of ‘Private Dancer’.  Most of the album is co-written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle and produced by Terry Britten.  This applies to the album’s best known tracks, ‘Typical Male’ and ‘What You Get Is What You See’.  ‘Typical Male’ (US no. 2, UK no. 33, AUS no. 20) casts Tina as a love-struck client trying to charm an attorney: “Tell me, lawyer, what to do / I think I’m fallin’ in love with you…I confess I’m a fool for a man with a clever mind / But your intellect ain’t no match for this heart of mine.”  The song deploys throaty synths and bold rhythms, and some of the credit for the latter must go to guest drummer Phil Collins, a pop star in his own right, who started out as a drummer in the British band Genesis.  ‘Typical Male’ also features a hot saxophone solo from Tim Cappello who, due to his body-builder physique, is the most recognisable of Tina Turner’s regular backing musicians.  On ‘What You Get Is What You See’ (US no. 13, UK no. 30, AUS no. 15), Tina Turner sounds like a cowgirl kicking up the dust: “What you get is what you see / Ain’t nothin’ more to it / And if you wanna love a woman like me / It takes a man to do it.”

The concert recording ‘Tina Live In Europe’ (1988) (US no. 86, UK no. 30, AUS no. 15) is most notable for its grinding, metallic take on Robert Palmer’s 1986 hit ‘Addicted To Love’.  Also in 1988 Tina Turner makes it into the Guinness Book of Records for a concert in Brazil that year where one hundred and eighty-two thousand fans – the largest paying crowd for a solo artist in history – cram into the Maracana Soccer Stadium to see her show.

‘Foreign Affair’ (1989) (US no. 31, UK no. 1, AUS no. 15) completes the trilogy of studio albums (together with ‘Private Dancer’ and ‘Break Every Rule’) that define Tina Turner in the 1980s – and beyond.  Dan Hartman produces most of the best tracks on ‘Foreign Affair’.  ‘Look Me In The Heart’ (UK no. 31) is a mid-tempo song composed by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg.  More interesting is the swamp rock of Tony Joe White’s ‘Steamy Windows’ (US no. 39, UK no. 13, AUS no. 34), given a glossy finish with poppin’ bass and a hot and funky groove.  “We was snuggled up in the back seat / Making up for lost time,” confides Tina saucily, adding, “Steamy windows / Coming from the body heat.”  Tina Turner shares production credit with Dan Hartman on the disc’s biggest hit, ‘The Best’ (US no. 15, UK no. 5, AUS no. 4).  The song is co-written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman.  Holly Knight has revealed that, although the song has become closely identified with Tina Turner, it was originally written for British pop singer Paul Young who passed on recording it.  From pouting verses, the song bursts into a technicolour chorus as Tina whoops, “You’re simply the best / Better than all the rest / Better than anyone / Anyone I ever met.”  The other notable track on ‘Foreign Affair’ is ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose You’ (UK no. 8, AUS no. 53).  It is co-written by Albert Hammond and Graham Lyle and that duo act as producers for the song in conjunction with Roger Davies.  ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose You’ appears to be another bespoke creation, as Tina fittingly sings, “Women of a certain age they learn to relax and judge all his responses.”

The compilation album ‘Simply The Best’ (1991) (US no. 113, UK no. 2, AUS no. 12) adds a trio of new songs from Tina Turner’s frequent songwriters.  The coquettish ‘I Want You Near Me’ (UK no. 22) (Terry Britten and Graham Lyle), the high-rent ballad ‘Way Of The World’ (UK no. 13) (Albert Hammond and Graham Lyle) and the full-on metal of ‘Love Thing’ (UK no. 29) (Holly Knight and Albert Hammond).

Tina Turner performs Sam Cooke’s 1964 song ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ on The British Electric Foundation’s ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction – Volume Two’ (1991).

Tina Turner’s life story is dramatized in the movie ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (1993).  Angela Bassett plays the part of Tina Turner, but mimes to Tina’s own singing voice.  The ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It – Soundtrack’ (1993) (US no. 17, UK no. 1, AUS no. 30) includes three new songs, ‘I Don’t Want To Fight’ (US no. 9, UK no. 7, AUS no. 39), ‘Stay Awhile’ and ‘Why Must We Wait Until Tonight’, together with a new cover version of The Trammps’ 1976 song ‘Disco Inferno’ (UK no. 12, AUS no. 56).

In 1994 Tina Turner takes up residence in Zurich, Switzerland, with her partner, Erwin Bach.

‘Wildest Dreams’ (1996) (US no. 64, UK no. 4, AUS no. 14) is produced by Trevor Horn and Terry Britten.  After this album, her first for Parlophone, Tina Turner ‘allegedly retires.’

‘Twenty Four Seven’ (1999) (US no. 21, UK no. 9) proves the notice of retirement may have been a little premature.  This multi-producer disc is followed by the singer’s last major tour.

On 12 December 2007 Ike Turner, Tina’s ex, passes away.  The cause of death is a cocaine overdose but Ike Turner also had advanced emphysema.

‘Tina Live’ (2009) (US no. 169, UK no. 43) is a concert recording.

In July 2013 Tina Turner weds her long-time partner Erwin Bach in a civil ceremony.

Tina Turner’s journey from battered wife to independent woman was inspiring.  It was accompanied by a less recognised growth in her singing career and recording persona.  From a raw rhythm and blues shouter, she progressed to a vocalist of wider range and subtlety without losing an ounce of her power.  Tina Turner was ‘the most dynamic soul singer in the history of the music’ and was ‘a unique and enduring star.’

Sources:

  1. ‘Simply The Best’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Festival Records Pty. Ltd. Australia, 1999) p. 5, 6, 9
  2. ‘O – The Oprah Winfrey Magazine’ – Tina Turner interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey (October 2003) (reproduced on oprah.com)
  3. ‘VH1 – Behind The Music – Tina Turner’ (U.S. television program, VH1 Cable Network) – Narrated by Jim Forbes (2006)
  4. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 215, 216, 234, 235
  5. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 12 July 2014
  6. wikipedia.org as at 12 May 2014
  7. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 12 May 2014
  8. brainyquote.com as at 30 June 2014
  9. wikianswers.com as at 13 July 2014
  10. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Rock Begins’ by Robert Palmer (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 12
  11. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 216
  12. allmusic.com, ‘Tina Turner’ by John Bush as at 16 June 2014
  13. lyricsfreak.com as at 9 July 2014
  14. ‘Tina Turner – What’s Love? Tour ’93 – Concert programme’ – Anonymous text, p. 3
  15. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 116, 120, 318, 335
  16. tinaturnerfanclub.eu/biography.html by Pierre Raiche (?) as at 13 July 2014
  17. whosdatedwho.com as at 30 June 2014
  18. popmatters.com – ‘Tina Turner: Tina Live!’ review by Steve Leftridge (30 November 2009)
  19. ‘The Virgin Encyclopedia Of Eighties Music’ – Edited by Colin Larkin (Virgin Books, 1997) p. 447

Song lyrics copyright Rondor/Warner/Chappell with the exceptions of ‘River Deep Mountain High’ (Belinda); ‘Nutbush City Limits’ (EMI Catalogue); ‘Better Be Good To Me’ (BMG Music); ‘Private Dancer’ (Rondor); ‘Steamy Windows’ (EMI Songs); and ‘The Best’ (Warner/Chappell)

Last revised 29 July 2014