This week in rock history, Abbie Hoffman and Grace Slick nearly dosed Richard Nixon, the Rolling Stones cut one of their greatest songs, the Ramones released their debut LP, Queen honored Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium and Aerosmith issued Get a Grip.
April 20th, 1968 – The Rolling Stones Record “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
It’s crazy to imagine now, but in early 1968 the Rolling Stones were beginning to seem passé. Their most recent LP, the psychedelic Her Satanic Majesties Request, was a misfire on most every level, and for a very short while it seemed like the group might fade away. The Stones were way too smart and ambitious, however, to let one disappointing album sink them. And just four months after the LP hit stores, they returned to the studio to begin cutting a track that would completely restore their reputation and begin the second great era of their career.
“The lyrics [for ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’] came from a red gray dawn at Redlands,” Keith Richards wrote in his memoir Life, referring to his estate. “Mick and I had been up all night, it was raining outside and there was the sound of these heavy stomping rubber boots near the window, belonging to my gardener, Jack Dyer, a real country man from Sussex. It woke Mick up. He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s Jack. That’s Jumping Jack.” The song was recorded on April 20th, 1968 and rushed into stores just four weeks later. It became a hit all over the world, and provided the perfect setup for their next album, Beggars Banquet — which came out later that year.
April 24th, 1970 — Grace Slick and Abbie Hoffman Nearly Dose President Nixon
In early 1970, Grace Slick was shocked when an invitation to appear at the White House arrived in her mailbox. At the time, Richard Nixon had been in the White House for just about a year and the Jefferson Airplane singer was one of the most famous hippies in the entire country. She got the invitation because Nixon’s daughter Tricia was throwing a party for her fellow Finch College alumnae, and Slick had attended the women’s finishing school a decade earlier. “Going against the counsel of the other Finchettes, she sent me an invitation,” Slick wrote in her memoir Somebody to Love? “When she asked me who my ‘escort’ would be, I quickly said, ‘Mr. Leonard Haufman.'” As in Abbie Hoffman.
When the big day came, Slick did everything she could to make the counterculture icon look as straight as possible. “I tried to flatten his hair — he had a big Afro and we didn’t want to look like a couple of screaming hippies,” she wrote. “But when I got through with him and he put on a suit and tie, he looked like a hit man for the Mafia.” They got in line at the White House gates, secreting a gigantic supply of powdered LSD. Their plan was to dose the tea at the event and take President Nixon on his first acid trip. “The idea that he might be stumbling through the White House a little later, talking to paintings, watching the walls melt, and thinking was turning into a bulldog, was irresistible,” she wrote. Unfortunately for the couple, they were detained by security and told that they couldn’t enter because Slick was on an FBI blacklist. After a brief back-and-forth — in which the guards relented and said she could come in, but without Hoffman — the pair left in a huff, having almost pulled off the dosing of the century.
April 23rd, 1976 — The Ramones Release Their Debut LP
Recorded in a span of seven days with a budget of just $6,400, the Ramones‘ self-titled debut kicked off the punk revolution when it hit stores on April 23rd, 1976. The LP contains some of their most enduring songs, including “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is a Punk” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” The band cut the disc at Plaza Sound Studios, located at New York’s fabled Radio City Music Hall. When their manager, Seymour Stein, dropped in on the session, he was incensed when he heard Joey Ramone belting out the lyrics to “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World”: “I’m a Nazi, baby; I’m a Nazi, yes I am/I’m a Nazi, schatzi, y’know I fight for the fatherland.” He begged them to change the words, but when they came up with the substitution phrase “shock trooper” it sounded so lame that Stein relented. Equally shocking was Dee Dee Ramone’s lyric for “53rd and 3rd,” which tells the story of a gay prostitute working the title’s Manhattan street corner who kills one of his clients with a razor blade. The debate still rages to this day about whether or not Dee Dee worked that intersection himself during his pre-Ramones days.
The LP peaked at Number 111 on the Billboard Album Chart, but today it’s widely regarded as one of the most important albums in rock history. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it as the 33rd greatest album of all time.
April 20th, 1992 — Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Held at Wembley
Five months after Freddie Mercrury died of AIDS-related complications, the surviving members of Queen held a gigantic all-star tribute concert in his honor at London’s Wembley Stadium. Mercury’s bandmates recruited an incredibly diverse roster of artists for the show, including Elton John, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Robert Plant, David Bowie, George Michael, Def Leppard and even Spinal Tap and Liza Minnelli. The show began with many of the groups playing their own sets, and after an intermission they all played Queen classics with the surviving band members. The highlights are too numerous to mention, but two most famous moments were Axl Rose and Elton John’s duet on “Bohemian Rhapsody” and George Michael’s emotional take on “Somebody to Love.” The show also marked the first time David Bowie and his Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson had shared a stage in many years. They played “All The Young Dudes” with Queen, members of Def Leppard and Mott the Hoople’s Ian Hunter. Ronson died almost exactly a year later, and Bowie drew a lot of heat when he didn’t show up at Ronson’s own tribute concert.
April 20th, 1993 — Aerosmith release Get a Grip
The grunge movement peaked around 1993, but looking back as to what actually sold that year may surprise you — especially when you realize that some of the biggest hits were by 1970s dinosaurs Aerosmith, Eric Clapton and even Meat Loaf. A decade earlier, Aerosmith were widely dismissed as washed-up junkies, but when they cleaned up and recut “Walk This Way” with Run-DMC in 1985 they pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in rock history. The band’s resurgence peaked with 1993’s Get a Grip, which produced six hit singles — including “Livin’ on the Edge,” “Amazing,” “Cryin'” and “Crazy.” The latter three introduced the world to Alicia Silverstone, who went from video vixen to movie star seemingly overnight. She teamed up with Steven Tyler’s daughter Liv for the “Crazy” video, which launched not only Silverstone’s movie career but Liv Tyler’s as well. MTV played these videos on what seemed like an endless loop and Aerosmith created an entire generation of fans, some of whom weren’t even born during the band’s initial burst of success. Aerosmith have released just two studio albums of original material since Get a Grip, and both of them failed to come close to matching its success.
LAST WEEK: Nirvana Debut ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’