Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rock trivia, factoids, ephemera

All of these are stolen from found in the fun new tome: Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? by Gavin Edwards. I heartily recommend it for all music noids.

(Oh, and it contains the best definition of rock and roll I've found: "[B]y "rock," I mean "the whole megillah of popular music since 1955, based on the union of blues and country, but encompassing soul, folks, hip-hop, distorted electric guitars, and the funky chicken.")

- Steve Wonder briefly lost his sense of smell and taste after a car accident in 1973. He got most of it back eventually.
- Bono of U2 is 5' 6" tall.
- John Mayer has synaesthesia where he sees/experiences colors when he hears music. For instance, his first hit "No Such Thing" is "red over white." And "'Dave Matthew's Under the Table and Dreaming was like a kid breaking into a paint store.'" (I have a touch of this myself. I taste candy when I see multi-colored Christmas lights, for example. Mayer mentions he's way into the melody of music, and so am I; which leads me to wonder if folks with synaesthesia all lock onto the melody when they listen to music.)
- Elvis Presley "liked girls in lacy white panties, with some pubic hair coming out the sides."
- Elvis Costello's album Blood and Chocolate was so named after girlfriend Bebe Buell's (she of many rock star couplings, mother of Liv Tyler) need for chocolate when she was having her period.
- Huey Lewis has a big dick, second only Iggy Pop's amongst living rock stars, with Jimi Hendrix weighing in for the deceased.
- The original "chorus" for Chic's "Le Freak" was not, "Aww, freak out!" but "Aww, fuck off!" because composer Nile Rodgers was turned away from Studio 54 even when they were playing his previous hit inside. The bassist was religious, hence the change.
- The Beatles' "Yesterday" is the most covered song written in the rock era (see above for definition). "Summertime" from Porgy & Bess is the most covered song of all time, not counting Christmas songs.
- Neil Young personally paid for the recall of all 200,000 copies of the initial pressing of Comes a Time when he discovered it was pressed from a damaged master tape. He shot all the boxes with a rifle.
- Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan wrote for the (in)famous Brill Building, and one song, "I Mean to Shine," was done by Streisand.
- "Charlie Watts legendarily picked up the Rolling Stones' backbeat from the movements of Mick Jagger's ass."
- Stevie Nicks on Lindsey Buckingham: "'He could take my songs and do what I would do if I had his musical talent. When he wasn't angry with me, that is. That's why there's seven or eight great songs, and there's fifty more where he wasn't happy with me and didn't help me.'"
- It's now kinda common knowledge that Bachman Turner Overdrive's song "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" was never meant for release, and the stuttered vocals are really Randy Bachman ribbing his brother - the manager of the band - about his stutter. Here's the new news: His brother stopped stuttering after that.
- Alanis Morissette has a twin brother, and Justin Timberlake - like Elvis - had a twin sibling that died at birth.
- The supposed death wail of a woman being murdered on Ohio Players "Love Rollercoaster" is actually keyboardist Billy Breck screeching.
- George Harrison once told John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, "'The problem with your band is that you don't do any ballads.'" (Cheeky, even for a Beatle, imho.) Page responded by "'purposely [sticking] the first two notes of 'Something" on 'The Rain Song.''" (A ballad.)
- Gregg Allman avoided the Vietnam draft by shooting himself in the foot. His brother Duane later snuck into the emergency room and absconded with the moccasin with the target painted on the top.
- Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones' boyfriend at the time, provided the title/lyric/hook for "Chuck E.'s in Love" by saying those exact words after hanging up from a phone conversation with said Chuck who'd followed a girl half way across the nation. And the line about Chuck being "in love with the little girl who's singing this song" was just artistic license. She was Tom's girl.
- Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is about a (wealthy) boyfriend she (also wealthy) had way before she was popular as a singer (according to her husband, Jim Hart). She auctioned off the answer in a charity action and Dick Ebersol was the highest bidder, and thus knows the secret. She has explicitly denied it was neither Mick Jagger (who wasn't slated to do the background vocal, but when he offered to pitch in, the original choice, Harry Nilsson, graciously bowed out), nor Warren Beatty. However, Beatty did assume it was about him and once called Simon and thanked her for the honor. (No doubt "heaven can wait" merely so they have time to make enough room for his freakin' ego.)
- Don Henley claims he was the father of the child that Stevie Nicks aborted (to her deep, lasting regret), for whom she wrote the song "Sara" (which is heartbreaking to listen to, once you know).
- The first time the Beatles' had LSD, a dentist who was holding a dinner party for them had slipped it into their after-dinner coffee without their knowledge. They did not have a good time. Reportedly a lot of screaming was involved.
- During the recording of Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" she was (in her own words): "'...on my back. I couldn't do the song with four guys staring at me, so I lay down on the floor; we put up curtains and shut the lights off.'"
- Pink Floyd once tried to record a whole album using household items rather than instruments. They bailed after a month of trying and recording only about a minute and a half of music.
- The band Jimmy Eat World got their name from a drawing done by the guitarist's brother during his fight with another (elder) brother, which showed "Jimmy" shoving a planet down his throat and containing the famous caption, which the band regrets using as their name to this day.
- Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all died at 27.
- James Taylor wrote the first verse of "Fire and Rain" in his basement apartment in London, the second in a New York hospital where he landed due to his heroin addiction, and the third verse in a Massachusetts psych clinic.
- Mama Cass and Keith Moon both died in the same London flat, which was owned by Nilsson (during both deaths). Pete Townshend subsequently bought the flat from Nilsson who no longer wanted it. (The book contains a great crack from Townshend regarding the issue.)

Other highlights of the book include:
- The hilarious observation (regarding the fact that Barry Manilow did NOT write, "I Write the Songs" - Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys did) that: "The song was recorded by the Captain and Tennille and David Cassidy before Manilow got his hands on it, which is some sort of strange '70s light-rock trifecta." (The whole book is amusing that way.)
- The odd synchronicity between The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is described in full, so you don't have to bother experiencing it yourself (especially if you aren't altered). Any purposeful coincidence (ooo, did I just make a new oxymoron?) is cleverly debunked.
- An investigation of the rumor that Kurt Cobain wrote Hole's (Courtney Love's) only good album, Live Through This.
- An examination of whether or not Ringo Starr is/was a great drummer.

Apologies for leaving you hanging re Edwards' verdicts (all of which I think are dead-on), but I've got to leave you some reason to read the book (and in case he ever reads this post and contemplates litigation - if you are reading this Mr. Edwards, just consider this a free full-page ad!).

Speaking of the Beatles (and this was not in this book), I read in an article on the web that John Lennon briefly thought he was Jesus Christ, and announced that revelation to the other Beatles in a meeting called for that specific purpose (search for "Jesus" (har har) in the article to get to the goods). What a moment that must have been, eh? Besides the fact that it's kinda funny (especially since Lennon got over that delusion - apparently Yoko was good for something), I just love the irony that the guy who wrote the most popular atheist hymn thought he was Jesus once.

Finally, last year I read two separate books (one, two) on the music scene of Laurel Canyon that spawned well over half the songs from that era (late 60s, early 70s) and have dominated FM radio since, but this book sums up the whole schmear on three pages, 132 through 134 - to be precise. And I mean it. He hits all salient factoids in those few paragraphs (save for perhaps Mama Cass's phenomenal drug use and litanies of who screwed whom*), where it took the other two books over 300 pages to relay the same info. That is not to say I didn't enjoy the other two, but I did read them primarily for the trivia, and could have saved a lot of time.

(*So here's the short version for you completists: Pretty much everyone who was anyone in the Laurel Canyon/Californian music scene got a whack at Joni Mitchell, Michelle Phillips, and Grace Slick (except Marty Balin who considers it a source of pride that he was the only band member who didn't do Slick), with Linda Ronstadt probably achieving the same thing, but managing to leave the names out of it. More notable, though, was that Ronstadt was more egalitarian in that she often, uh, bonded with a lot of the band members and recording studio folks she, uh, worked with, and wasn't as much of a star-fucker. Stevie Nicks, after Buckingham, had an affair with Mick Fleetwood before she moved on to Henley. However, the biggest slut of all was Jackson Browne, even compared to Don Henley and Glen Frey, which brings new light to the song, "Doctor, My Eyes.")

I literally didn't put Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John? down once I turned the first page. What a blast!

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