This week in rock history, Billboard began their famous singles chart, Paul McCartney announced the formation of Wings, Debbie Harry went solo, Guns N’ Roses hit Number One and David Crosby’s drug woes earned him five years in prison.
Aug 4, 1958: Billboard begins its Hot 100 singles chart
A hit just isn’t a hit until it reaches the top of the Hot 100. The weekly ranking of singles has been a benchmark of mainstream music success since it was launched by Billboard magazine. The inaugural Number One song: “Poor Little Fool” by TV heartthrob-turned-singer Ricky Nelson.
The Hot 100 is based on sales and radio play—a model that doesn’t always reflect the modern digital culture, and one that can be surprisingly contradictory to an artist’s popularity. For instance, while the Beatles’ 1 compilation album celebrated their 27 singles to top the Billboard list and/or the UK’s Record Retailer list, not all major artists enjoy the same prominence on the Hot 100. Pink Floyd enjoyed tremendous success atop the Billboard Albums chart with 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, placing in the Billboard album rankings for 741 weeks from 1973 to 1988. Yet Pink Floyd’s labyrinthine songs didn’t translate to the radio-friendly Hot 100, and their limited appearance on it suggested a band far less massive than they were.
Aug 3, 1971: Paul McCartney announces the formation of a new group, Wings, with wife Linda
Macca and Lovely Linda did quite well for themselves in the Seventies; their cheery rock group lasted through the decade as a top anthemic rock band. The McCartneys were the lone permanent members of the ever-revolving lineup, along with guitarist/singer Denny Laine (also of the Moody Blues), until their dissolution in 1981.
McCartney’s ability to create wonderful, succinct pop melodies (arguably underrated in the Beatles next to his fashionably counterculture bandmates) was the guiding force of Wings – their singles “My Love,” “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Live and Let Die” displayed him at his finest balance of enthusiasm and tenderness. Wings also proved a forum for McCartney’s droll side; “Mary had a Little Lamb” and “Silly Love Songs” were penned in response to critics who mocked his more maudlin lyrics, and both charted well. Wings recorded seven albums, all of which went top 10 in the United Kingdom and/or the United States.
July 31, 1981: Debbie Harry’s first solo album is released in the U.K.
The first solo album by punk priestess Debbie Harry had an ambitious objective: to break worldwide audiences. The gorgeous Blondie lead singer, so strongly associated with the riotous punk and New Wave scene of New York City, recorded KooKoo while on a year-long hiatus from Blondie, and it reflected ambitious new disco leanings; Harry worked with New York dance group Chic and incorporated dance-heavy funk beats into her tracks. The cover art was also a new direction: a stark, black-and-white image of her face sliced with four spikes, created by Swiss artist H.R. Giger (who also leant his macabre designs to the film Alien).
The experimentalism paid off more in the United Kingdom than the States (where it was released a few days prior). KooKoo (and single “Backfired”) was a sensation in the London club scene, ultimately reaching Number Six on the U.K. charts. In the United States, the album peaked below the Top 20. To date, Harry has released five solo albums and nine more with Blondie.
Aug 6, 1988: Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction hits Number One after spending almost a year on the charts
What were we saying earlier about the Billboard charts not always being indicative of a band’s success? Epic rockers Guns N’ Roses know that conundrum well. Their 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, had a long road to Number One: Its sales built quietly and steadily from hair-metal niche circles to nationwide attention, taking almost a year to top the charts. It debuted at Number 182 on the Billboard 200 on August 29, 1987 and hit Number One on August 6, 1988 (though the album is frequently cited, incorrectly, as hitting Number One in September of that year).
The libidinous swagger of Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, and Steven (poor Steven came up short in the name department) has proven to have timeless appeal. Appetite for Destruction has sold over 18 million copies – not band for a band helmed by “a screaming two-year-old,” as Axl put it to Rolling Stone in 1992.
Aug 5, 1983: David Crosby was sentenced to prison for cocaine possession
It’s a hell of a drug, as Dave Chappelle would quip many years later. Cocaine proved the downfall of Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young singer David Crosby; he was so dependent to the drug, and many other rumored narcotics, that he seemed almost completely out of it throughout his criminal trial.
When Crosby was taken to court for cocaine possession and for carrying a loaded handgun into a nightclub, he was at the apex of his addiction. At his trial, he repeatedly fell asleep, right up until he was sentenced to five years in prison; he spent approximately a year behind bars in a Texas facility, a stint that included an enforced detoxification program. It wasn’t the end of his legal troubles (other charges of drunk driving and drug possession were later levied against him), but the stint in jail led to a new period of creativity: He released Oh Yes I Can, his second solo record, in 1989, almost two decades after his first, 1971’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.