This week in rock history, James Brown unleashed a funk classic, Bob Dylan filmed “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the Cure released their masterpiece, Led Zeppelin reformed at a wedding, and John Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
May 6, 1964 - James Brown records "I Got You (I Feel Good)” at Miami’s Hit Factory
At 31, James Brown was already a prolific recording artist before he passed through the Hit Factory’s doors. He crooned relatively straight-ahead, gospel-laced R&B with vocal group the Famous Flames, even hitting No. 1 on the R&B charts with “Try Me” in 1959.
"I Got You (I Feel Good)” was a career-making track and an explosive display of Brown’s new funk prowess. It also alienated the Famous Flames, who weren’t included in the recording but ultimately received billing for it. Alone in Miami, Brown’s vivacious charisma and long-held interest in funk came through unfettered: the brassy instrumentation followed genre style by falling “on the one” (i.e. heavily emphasizing the first beat of the measure), and the song charted as one of Brown’s first two Top 10 pop singles (with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag").
In the fall of 1964, bolstered by the new direction of “I Got You (I Feel Good)," Brown took the stage with the Famous Flames for his iconic concert performance on The T.A.M.I. Show—upstaging none other than the Rolling Stones.
May 8, 1964 - Bob Dylan films the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video
Shot in a nondescript alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London, the video for Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” served as the opening segment for Don’t Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker's 1967 documentary of Dylan’s first tour through England in 1965. Shot with a nod to the cinéma vérité style of the film, the famous clip shows Dylan hoisting more-or-less corresponding cue cards to his politicized lyrics while poet Allen Ginsberg and road manager Bob Neuwirth chat animatedly in the background.
While in London, Dylan and Pennebaker shot the video in two alternate locations: at a park and on a rooftop. (Martin Scorsese’s 2005 Dylan documentary, No Direction Home, compiles much of this lost footage.) “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was the lead track of fifth album Bringing It All Back Home (1965), in which Dylan first upended his spare folk songwriting with electric instrumentation, and the video shares a similar defiance: initially, Dylan’s cards align perfectly with his lyrics, but as he continues, he lags behind the beat and flashes intentional errors (the card for the line “11 dollar bills” reads “20,” others are scrawled “pawking metaws” and “sucksess”). Don’t Look Back is rife with this attitude: in its final scene, Dylan discovers that he has been labeled an anarchist in the press, and rejoins with the now-infamous drawl, “Give the anarchist a cigarette.”
May 2, 1989 - The Cure releases Disintegration The Cure’s eighth studio album was a despondent return to origins, and feared initially as commercial suicide by their UK label, Fiction Records. Its recording process was tumultuous: disgusted by the group’s ascendant mainstream popularity, lead singer Robert Smith fell heavily into hallucinogenic drugs and opaque writing. The group also fired drummer Lol Tolhurst, a founding member and Smith’s childhood friend. In Disintegration, Smith attempted to return to the sullen goth-rock of the band’s earliest days. Instead, Disintegration’s slow-building pop sprawl became their most popular and critically acclaimed release to date. On the strength of singles “Lullaby,” “Lovesong,” and “Pictures of You,” Disintegration defined the Cure’s aesthetic and sold over three million copies.
May 5, 1990 - Led Zeppelin play a reunion set at Jason Bonham's wedding
The death of thundering drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham on September 25, 1980, was an insurmountable loss for Led Zeppelin: the band disbanded three months later, issuing the official announcement, "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family together with the sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager have led us to decide we could not continue as we were.”
Singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, and bassist John Paul Jones continued to perform and record, occasionally with each other: Page and Plant formed the R&B group the Honeydrippers in 1981 (which also featured Page’s fellow Yardbirds alum Jeff Beck) and joined with Jones to release an album of Led Zep outtakes, Coda, in 1982. The surviving trio regrouped for a short set at Live Aid in 1985, with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson sitting in on drums, but Page and Plant were reportedly infuriated by the performance.
Led Zeppelin’s next gig, five years later, was a much more joyous affair. Page, Plant, and Jones reformed for a lengthy jam at the wedding of Bonzo’s son, Jason Bonham, in Kidderminster, England. The groom sat in on drums, and the immediate chemistry of that lineup proved the catalyst for the band’s biggest reunion to date: the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert on December 10, 2007, at O2 Arena in London….with Jason Bonham sitting in for his father again.
May 7, 1992 - John Frusciante quits the Red Hot Chili Peppers Upon its release in 1991, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was a startling departure and an all-in gamble for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Their fifth album abandoned their previous affinity for heavy-metal guitar riffs and introduced stronger funk influences, lascivious lyrics, and major mainstream success (to the tune of 13 million copies sold).
But the hysterical popularity of the record and its singles ("Under the Bridge," "Give It Away," "Suck My Kiss," “Breaking the Girl") confounded guitarist John Frusciante. Overwhelmed by the group’s runaway success, he argued constantly with singer Anthony Kiedis while on their ensuing world tour, yearning for smaller venues and less pressure. He quit the band backstage before their show at Tokyo’s Club Quattro – and, although he was persuaded to perform that evening, he flew back to California the next day. The departure blindsided his bandmates and also the photo editors at Rolling Stone, who had to digitally remove him from the upcoming (buck naked) cover photo of the band.
In California, Frusciante entered a period of deep depression and drug addiction. He dropped several solo albums, including 1994 avant-garde debut Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt, before entering rehab. After a successful stint there, Frusciante rejoined the Chili Peppers in 1998 and, ironically, contributed to the most successful album of their career, 1999’s Californication (15 million copies sold worldwide), as well as the well-received By the Way (2002) and Stadium Arcadium (2006). He left the group, much more amicably, in 2008.