This Week In Rock History: Michael Jackson Becomes a Superstar, Neil Young Goes to Jail and Van Hagar is Born - Rolling Stone
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This Week In Rock History: Michael Jackson Becomes a Superstar, Neil Young Goes to Jail and Van Hagar is Born

Also, Blondie tops the charts with ‘Rapture’ and Elton John teams up with George Michael

Michael Jackson performs at the Motown 25th anniversary celebration March 16, 1983.

Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank

This week in rock history Neil Young and Eric Clapton got busted, Debbie Harry rapped, Michael Jackson moonwalked, Van Halen began the second phase of their career and Elton John teamed up with George Michael.

March 20th, 1968: Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Jim Messina and Richie Furay busted
Many people would pay good money to hear Neil Young, Eric Clapton and Stephen Stills jam into all hours of the night, but in March of 1968 people who lived near Stephen Stills’ girlfriend’s house in California’s Topanga Canyon had had enough of the noise and called the police. At the time Buffalo Springfield had been rehearsing for their performance at a new Sunset Strip club with their friend Eric Clapton and a good time was being had by all – until two Malibu police deputies stormed into the house. Stills’ road manager Chris Sarns grabbed a giant stash of marijuana and ran to flush it, but was busted just before he finished the job. Young, Clapton, Jim Messina, Richie Furay and many others were hauled off to prison, but Stills somehow made it out a window.

At the prison everybody was stripped down and sprayed with DDT. “Neil was afraid of having a [seizure] because they denied him his medicine,” Sarns told Young’s biographer Jimmy McDonough. “They separated him from the rest of us and put him in a tank with a bunch of drunks.” The next day their lawyers sorted everything out, but the incident put further strain on the band and just weeks later Buffalo Springfield played their last concert until their 2010 reunion.

March 21st, 1981:  Blondie’s “Rapture” tops the charts
Most Americans had never heard rap music until Blondie’s “Rapture” blew up in early 1981, hitting Number One on March 21st of that year. At the time Blondie were key players in the New York downtown music scene, and they had Fab Five Freddy (who was namechecked in the song) and Jean-Michael Basquiat in the video. In 2004 Rolling Stone asked Debbie Harry what the track did for the evolution of rap. “Creatively it did one thing in particular,” she said. “It was the first rap song to have its own original music. Commercially it made rap viable for the mainstream charts. I don’t think it was a tremendous influence. I am nowhere close to being a rapper.”

March 25th, 1983:  Michael Jackson unveils The Moonwalk on TV
A lot of amazing things happened at Motown’s 25th Anniversary concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium: Linda Ronstadt sang with Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross reunited with The Supremes, Marvin Gaye performed on national TV for the final time and the Temptations sang together with the Four Tops. Much of that has been forgotten because it was also the night when Michael Jackson stepped outside of The Jackson 5 and performed “Billie Jean,” debuting the moonwalk to the shrieking crowd. It remains the most famous performance of Jackson’s long career.

March 24th, 1986:  Van Halen release 5150
It was widely presumed that Van Halen would collapse after David Lee Roth left the group in 1985. With the exceptions of Genesis and AC/DC, few bands had survived the departure of a high-profile frontman. Undaunted, Eddie phoned up former Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar and asked him if he’d be up for the job. They held a quick jam session at Van Halen’s 5150 studio, and afterwards Hagar listened to the tape. “I got the goose bumps all over my body,” Hagar writes in his new memoir Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock. “There was something about it that was slow, confident, almost majestic. On March 24th, 1986 they released 5150, which contained the classics “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Best Of Both Worlds,”  “Dreams” and “5150.” It sold millions and for the next decade Van Halen remained one of the biggest names in rock.

March 23rd, 1991:  George Michael and Elton John perform “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”
One of the first public appearances that Elton John made after leaving an extensive stay in a rehabilitation clinic in 1990 was at a George Michael concert in London. Elton’s appearances prior to his stay at the clinic were shocking: He was bloated and his hair was completely white. When he walked onstage at the London arena with George Michael he looked 20 years younger. Their duet on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” hit Number One all around the world, with all proceeds going to charity.


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