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Week in Rock History: John and Yoko's 'Two Virgins' Is Seized as Pornography

Plus: Johnny Cash performs at San Quentin State Prison

January 2, 2012 9:50 AM ET
Two Virgins
Front cover of the album 'Two Virgins,' by John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Blank Archives/Getty Images

This week in rock history, Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin, John and Yoko's album was seized by police, the Supremes recorded one of their biggest hits, Nirvana signed a fateful record deal and Pink got married in Costa Rica.

January 1, 1958: Johnny Cash performs at San Quentin State Prison
If Johnny Cash changed country music overnight with the release of his 1968 album Live at Folsom Prison, it was a long time coming: his first performance behind bars occurred a full decade earlier.

In 1958, Cash showed his longtime compassion for inmates when he performed at the notoriously rough San Quentin State Prison, site of California's death row for male prisoners. His audience was enraptured by his frank, unintimidated performance, and their ecstatic response did not go unnoticed by the Man in Black's label, Columbia. Although some at the company opposed Cash's enthusiasm for the jailhouse project, producer Bob Johnson backed him in the late 1960s, and Cash subsequently performed at more correctional facilities, releasing Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison in 1968 and Johnny Cash at San Quentin in 1969. Both swept the country charts and became signature Cash releases, and they cemented the singer-songwriter's reputation as a wary outsider and champion of outlaws the world over.

Interestingly, Cash's first performance at San Quentin had a future country star in its audience: Merle Haggard, who was serving two years for burglary and, inspired by Cash, would go on to have 38 Number One hits of his own on the Billboard country charts.

 

January 2, 1969: A shipment of John and Yoko's Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins is seized by New Jersey authorities, who deem its cover "pornographic"
After an all-night session of avant-garde jamming in 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono decided to release the recordings under the name Unfinished Music No.1: Two Virgins, the title relating to their feelings of innocence in the world around them and also the consummation of their relationship after that evening. However, New Jersey authorities had a different response to the album art: they found it pornographic.

Two Virgins' cover art famously featured a full-length nude photograph of the couple. Shortly after its release, police seized 30,000 copies of the record at Newark Airport in New Jersey, preventing their sale. Following this, the couple's disc of discordant sound and white noise was sold with a brown paper sleeve obscuring the stark cover, which did not help the disc's general reception. Ironically, some listeners found the raucous melee an artistically immature expression.

January 5, 1965: The Supremes record "Stop! In the Name of Love"
The Supremes' classic "Stop! In the Name of Love" was not just their triumph – it also belonged to the greatest songwriters in Motown, the team of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr. As Holland-Dozier-Holland, they wrote scores of classics for such acts as Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops and, of course, the Supremes.

By the time "Stop!" was released, the Supremes were already the brightest stars on the Motown Records roster. With their confident, feminine pop hits they held their own alongside the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as one of the biggest groups of the mid-Sixties. While Diana Ross, who served as the lead singer, became an international style icon, bandmate Florence Ballard had the stronger voice, a rivalry thinly fictionalized in Dreamgirls.

"Stop!" was heavily emphasized during the band's recording process of January 1965. Though it took several intense sessions to record, the song confirmed their claim as one of the biggest acts of the decade by jumping to the Number One position on the charts in March and staying there for two weeks. It remains one of the group's most widely beloved songs.

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