Week in Rock History: James Brown Dies

Plus: the Rolling Stones take out an ad for the 'starving hairdressers' of Britain

December 28, 2011 12:00 PM ET
james brown 2005
James Brown performs at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California.
Steve Jennings/WireImage

This week in rock history, the Rolling Stones send out cheeky holiday wishes, Peter Tork bought himself out of the Monkees, two pairs of young rock celebrities tied the knot and James Brown and Dennis Wilson passed away.

December 26, 1964: The Rolling Stones take out an ad in NME wishing hairdressers a happy Christmas
Between the Beatles and the Stones, British teenagers of the Sixties did not want for style inspiration. However, their penchant for unkempt long hair (especially Mick, with his shaggy neck-grazing locks) was unpopular with one subset of people: hairdressers.

As salons and barbershops lost their youthful clientele to the new fad, they complained arduously, even taking to newspapers to gripe about this new, allegedly offensive aesthetic. Naturally, the Rolling Stones found this hilarious and retorted as only British wits could: in December 1964 (a month before the release of their smash second UK album, The Rolling Stones No. 2), the band placed an ad in the New Musical Express wishing, “Happy Christmas to the starving hairdressers and their families.”

Of course, not until the arrival of Bryan Ferry and his high-maintenance bangs would they actually have one.

December 30, 1968: Peter Tork buys himself out of his Monkees contract
Peter Tork was a slight anomaly in the pop-rock band the Monkees. Although the members had been assembled by producers for a television sitcom, and chosen mostly for their inoffensive charisma and fluid singing voices, Tork was a multi-instrumentalist with a sharp intellect and well-read past. None of this mattered on their show, however, on which he was relegated to playing the lovable idiot.

After a hit television show and six successful albums, Tork called it a day with the teen-idol group. Pleading exhaustion and a lack of cohesive group collaboration – beyond which, he was reportedly humiliated by the terrible reception of the band’s recent experimental movie, Head – Tork bought himself out of the remaining four years in his contract. It was a move of clear desperation: he paid a reported $160,000 for the freedom, which was almost all of the money he had.

Despite this, the band and Tork parted amicably. Tork went on to record with George Harrison and release solo material, and he reunited with fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz in 1986.

December 28, 1983: Dennis Wilson drowns
The worst kept-secret of the Beach Boys: only one of them, Dennis Wilson, could actually surf. The drummer and resident sex symbol of the group, Wilson was the brother of members Brian and Carl and the general wild-child of the pop sensations; he once punched through a plate-glass window, rendering him unable to perform with the band. However, he was also immensely talented: he co-wrote and sang lead on one of the Beach Boys’ most affecting love ballads, 1970’s “Forever,” he was the first member of the band to release a solo album, 1977’s gorgeously meditative Pacific Ocean Blue, and he appeared occasionally in art-house films.

Wilson met his tragic end in December 1983, shortly after celebrating his 39th birthday. While sailing in Marina Del Rey, California, he went swimming in the water – according to some witnesses, he was attempting to retrieve jewelry that had been dropped over the side. He was by all accounts a strong swimmer but that afternoon, he had been drinking for some hours prior to his dip, and he drowned in the harbor. A week later, he was buried at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard, at the special permission of President Ronald Reagan.

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