When David Bowie Released His First Album and Jeff Buckley Passed Away

This week in rock history also saw the recording of 'Give Peace a Chance'

May 31, 2011 10:40 AM ET
David Bowie, circa 1967.
David Bowie, circa 1967.

This week in rock history, Capitol Records opened its doors, David Bowie released his debut album, John and Yoko recorded "Give Peace a Chance," the Sex Pistols were banned by the BBC, and Jeff Buckley passed away.

June 4, 1942: Capitol Records is cofounded by Glenn Wallichs, the man who invents modern record promotion

Without Glenn Wallichs (1910-1971), the still-active Capitol Records would not exist – and neither would modern record promotion as we know it. The Capitol Records company was founded by songwriter Johnny Mercer, movie producer Buddy DeSylva and businessman Wallichs; it was Wallichs’ ingenious idea to give free promotional copies of records to local disc jockeys, an unprecedented move that made Capitol very popular in radio circles.

Wallichs had no shortage of innovations. He also founded Wallichs Music City, the largest record store in Los Angeles; it closed not long after his death. Capitol Records endures and, in its eight decades of operation, has been home to hundreds of famous artists: Les Paul, Tina Turner, Radiohead, Snoop Dogg and many more.

June 2, 1967: David Bowie releases his first album, David Bowie

The Modfather, David Bowie, hit his stride when he slapped on androgynous couture and hitched a ride to Mars. But before that came his self-titled debut, in which he unsuccessfully tried out a few more guises. Years later, he would admit to Britain’s Mojo magazine that the record "seemed to have its roots all over the place, in rock and vaudeville and music hall. I didn't know if I was Max Miller or Elvis Presley."

For its lack of commercial success – it failed to make the charts – David Bowie did show hints of the provocative artist to come. Produced by Mike Vernon and intended loosely as a musical production, it vacillated among theater tune influences, experimental whimsy and trendy Edwardian pomp, and was more audacious than Bowie’s earlier non-album singles with the King Bees, the Lower Third and the Manish Boys.

May 31, 1969: The Plastic Ono Band records "Give Peace a Chance" in a hotel room in Canada 

When John Lennon found his muse, he ran with her – all the way to Canada. During the Vietnam War, Lennon and his new wife, Yoko Ono, decided to direct the worldwide publicity of their March 20, 1969, wedding toward world peace, staging two week-long "Bed-Ins for Peace" in Amsterdam and Montreal. The subsequent Beatles single "The Ballad of John and Yoko" included details of their marriage ("You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain") and honeymoon ("Talking in our beds for a week").

An even more enduring song sprung from the Montreal Bed-In: "Give Peace a Chance," Lennon’s first solo single and the anti-war anthem of a frustrated generation. Taped on a bare-bones set-up of four microphones and a four-track recorder in the couple’s suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, the recording session was attended by a roomful of celebrities (including psychedelic drug guru Timothy Leary and poet Allen Ginsberg) and journalists. Lennon sang lead vocals and played acoustic guitar, with six-string support from Tommy Smothers of comedic folk duo the Smothers Brothers.

"Give Peace a Chance" was released on July 4th, 1969 in the United Kingdom and July 7th in the U.S. It was an overnight counterculture sensation and, on October 15th of that year, was sung by over 500,000 demonstrators at the Vietnam Moratorium Day in Washington, D.C.

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