Week in Rock History: James Brown Dies - Rolling Stone
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Week in Rock History: James Brown Dies

Plus: the Rolling Stones take out an ad for the ‘starving hairdressers’ of Britain

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James Brown performs at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California.

Steve Jennings/WireImage

This week in rock history, the Rolling Stones send out cheeky holiday wishes, Peter Tork bought himself out of the Monkees, two pairs of young rock celebrities tied the knot and James Brown and Dennis Wilson passed away.

December 26, 1964: The Rolling Stones take out an ad in NME wishing hairdressers a happy Christmas
Between the Beatles and the Stones, British teenagers of the Sixties did not want for style inspiration. However, their penchant for unkempt long hair (especially Mick, with his shaggy neck-grazing locks) was unpopular with one subset of people: hairdressers.

As salons and barbershops lost their youthful clientele to the new fad, they complained arduously, even taking to newspapers to gripe about this new, allegedly offensive aesthetic. Naturally, the Rolling Stones found this hilarious and retorted as only British wits could: in December 1964 (a month before the release of their smash second UK album, The Rolling Stones No. 2), the band placed an ad in the New Musical Express wishing, “Happy Christmas to the starving hairdressers and their families.”

Of course, not until the arrival of Bryan Ferry and his high-maintenance bangs would they actually have one.

December 30, 1968: Peter Tork buys himself out of his Monkees contract
Peter Tork was a slight anomaly in the pop-rock band the Monkees. Although the members had been assembled by producers for a television sitcom, and chosen mostly for their inoffensive charisma and fluid singing voices, Tork was a multi-instrumentalist with a sharp intellect and well-read past. None of this mattered on their show, however, on which he was relegated to playing the lovable idiot.

After a hit television show and six successful albums, Tork called it a day with the teen-idol group. Pleading exhaustion and a lack of cohesive group collaboration – beyond which, he was reportedly humiliated by the terrible reception of the band’s recent experimental movie, Head – Tork bought himself out of the remaining four years in his contract. It was a move of clear desperation: he paid a reported $160,000 for the freedom, which was almost all of the money he had.

Despite this, the band and Tork parted amicably. Tork went on to record with George Harrison and release solo material, and he reunited with fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz in 1986.

December 28, 1983: Dennis Wilson drowns
The worst kept-secret of the Beach Boys: only one of them, Dennis Wilson, could actually surf. The drummer and resident sex symbol of the group, Wilson was the brother of members Brian and Carl and the general wild-child of the pop sensations; he once punched through a plate-glass window, rendering him unable to perform with the band. However, he was also immensely talented: he co-wrote and sang lead on one of the Beach Boys’ most affecting love ballads, 1970’s “Forever,” he was the first member of the band to release a solo album, 1977’s gorgeously meditative Pacific Ocean Blue, and he appeared occasionally in art-house films.

Wilson met his tragic end in December 1983, shortly after celebrating his 39th birthday. While sailing in Marina Del Rey, California, he went swimming in the water – according to some witnesses, he was attempting to retrieve jewelry that had been dropped over the side. He was by all accounts a strong swimmer but that afternoon, he had been drinking for some hours prior to his dip, and he drowned in the harbor. A week later, he was buried at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard, at the special permission of President Ronald Reagan.

December 31, 2000/2003: Chris Robinson marries Kate Hudson and Natalie Imbruglia marries Daniel Johns (respectively)
New Year’s Eve bred romance for two pairs of rock royalty. In 2000, Chris Robinson, frontman of the blues-rockers the Black Crowes, married actress Kate Hudson in Aspen, Colorado. They rang out a pivotal year in Hudson’s career: she had just starred as Penny Lane in Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s heartwarming ode to music journalism, for which she would soon receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The role was a clear union of her genetic gifts: mother Goldie Hawn was an Academy Award-winning actress herself, and father Bill Hudson was a rock musician.

Three years later, two Australian music celebrities wed on the same night. Soap actress turned singer-songwriter Natalie Imbruglia, who hit international fame with her 1977 cover of the Ednaswap song “Torn,” married Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns in a beachside ceremony in Port Douglas, Queensland. John was a notable young talent himself; though Silverchair were once derided for their similarities to Nirvana, Johns earned a spot in Rolling Stone’s list of the 25 Most Underrated Guitarists.

Sadly, both couples have since divorced, but at least they rang in the New Year in style.

December 25, 2006: James Brown dies after being diagnosed with severe pneumonia
The Godfather of Soul led one of the most eventful lives in pop history: he was arrested for theft as a teenager, married four times, was involved in a much-reported high-speed car chase in the 1980s, spent years in prison, stole the show from the Rolling Stones (and any other artists who dared cross his stage), and pioneered funk music. His vivacious, inexhaustible charisma made him one of the greatest live performers of all time, as seen in his legendary T.A.M.I. Show set of 1964.

Brown got his start in show business in the mid-1950s with a R&B singing group called the Gospel Starlighters; the group changed their named to the Flames and scored a hit with track “Please, Please, Please” in 1956. Brown’s self-financed live LP, 1963’s Live at the Apollo, made him an international star; in the 1960s, he released two of his signature funk tunes, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good),” winning a Grammy for the former. His career vacillated from highs to lows, from being one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 to serving a prison term in same decade.

Brown died in Atlanta on Christmas Day 2006, from severe pneumonia. He was 73.

LAST WEEK: Nikki Sixx Declared Dead for Two Minutes


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