This week in rock history, Beatles manager Brian Epstein and R&B singer Aaliyah passed away, Jefferson Airplane incited a riot, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant reunited for a famed MTV special and Brian May received a doctorate in astrophysics.
August 25, 2001: Aaliyah is killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas
Aaliyah Haughton was already an industry veteran at the time of her tragic death. Signed to Jive Records at age 12, each of her three R&B albums (1994’s Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, 1996’s One in a Million, and 2001’s Aaliyah) went double platinum and she was also an established movie actress (notably 2000’s teen hit Romeo Must Die). She was a tasteful, elegant singer and frequent collaborator with hitmakers Timbaland and Missy Elliott; with them, the beautiful singer became a defining artist of futuristic urban pop, helping strengthen its place in the R&B spectrum. She also became something of a tabloid fixture after she was outed as the former underage wife of R. Kelly.
Haughton was killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas after filming the music video for her single “Rock the Boat.” She was 22. Eight other passengers perished, and a wrongful death lawsuit was filed by her family when the pilot was revealed to have traces of drugs in his system.
Last year, Billboard named Aaliyah the 27th most successful R&B/hip-hop musician of the past 25 years.
August 21, 1972: Jefferson Airplane incites a riot after taunting police from the stage
As Jefferson Airplane imploded as a band, they took their tension to Ohio. It didn’t go well.
In support of Long John Silver, their final studio record together (before their tepid 1989 reunion), the argumentative San Francisco rockers embarked on a major national tour. It marked their first performances in approximately a year; all went peacefully until their performance in Akron, Ohio, when singer/guitarist Paul Kantner argued with local policemen, calling them “pigs” from onstage. Soon after Kantner began his taunts, frontwoman Grace Slick accidentally grabbed an officer’s arm and he maced her. A fight broke out onstage and in the audience and bassist Jack Casady was arrested. Several members of the band were injured besides Slick, and it proved a final straw in the unhappy artists: Casady and guitarist Jorma Kaukonen left the band by the end of the year.
August 25, 1994: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant reunited to record the TV special Unledded
Fourteen years after ending Led Zeppelin in despair over the death of drummer John Bonham, guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant reunited for 90 minutes down memory lane.
UnLedded, an MTV television special, revisited many of Led Zep’s defining tracks, including “The Battle of Evermore,” “Kashmir” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” It also included acoustic takes and a handful of new, Middle Eastern-inspired tunes that reflected the program’s recording session in Morocco (as well as in the U.K.). However, it wasn’t a proper band reunion, as bassist John Paul Jones was not informed about it; he later expressed anger to the press that the pair named the show’s accompanying live album, No Quarter, after a Led Zeppelin song he’d mostly written.
UnLedded achieved strong ratings on MTV and No Quarter peaked at Number Four on the Billboard charts.
August 27, 1967: Beatles manager Brian Epstein is found dead in his London home
One man turned the Beatles from a scruffy group of street brats into a worldwide event: their manager Brian Epstein.
Epstein first met the Beatles in 1961 at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; at the time, he ran the city’s popular NEMS record store. Struck by the band’s charming energy and tight melodies, and equally appalled by their unprofessional stop-and-start performance demeanor and tough stage garb of leather and denim, he began managing the group and immediately overhauled their image. Per his insistence, the Fab Four donned suits, trimmed their hair and delivered cleanly orchestrated sets capped with their now-famous group bow. Epstein’s steady hand also guided the Beatles into their formative partnerships with producer George Martin and Parlophone Records and ran their merchandising empire (though his uneven profit divisions earned him some criticism).
Epstein died from an accidental sleeping pill overdose in his London home at age 32. At the time, the Beatles were in Wales studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who told the distraught musicians that Epstein’s death was unimportant because it occurred in the physical realm. Jimi Hendrix felt otherwise: he canceled his London performance that evening out of respect for the fallen manager.
August 23, 2007 : Queen guitarist Brian May earns a doctorate in astrophysics
The ax-slinger behind “We Will Rock You” always had his mind in the clouds. Initially a PhD candidate of astrophysics at the prestigious Imperial College, London (with a few honors in physics to supplement), May postponed his schooling in the early 1970s when Queen achieved worldwide success. Yet even as the guitarist crossed the globe with the swaggering rockers, he pursued his scientific goals, co-authoring two research papers, 1972’s MgI Emission in the Night-Sky Spectrum and 1973’s An Investigation of the Motion of Zodiacal Dust Particles Part 1.
In the summer 2007, more than three decades after leaving school, May completed his studies with a 48,000-word thesis and was awarded his doctorate by Imperial College. He was formally presented with his degree a few months later at London’s Royal Albert Hall – a stage he’d already tread as frontman of the Brian May Band. He currently serves as the Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University and contributes to The Sky at Night, a monthly documentary program on the BBC.
May’s continuing research on fat-bottomed girls has also yielded notable results.
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