This week in rock history, Janis Joplin left Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix passed away, Radiohead released “Creep” to underwhelming results, Kylie Minogue released “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” to worldwide adoration and Yusuf Islam was detained by Homeland Security.
September 21, 1968: Janis Joplin announces her departure from Big Brother and the Holding Company
In 1966, Janis Joplin joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, one of the most popular psychedelic-rock bands in San Francisco’s hippie community. At the time, both the group and the Texas-born singer were eager to refocus their sounds, and their chemistry was immediate: Joplin brought bluesy, heartrending vocals and Big Brother shifted their experimental songwriting into more straightforward structures to complement her. Off the strength of singles such as “Down on Me,” they continued to rise in popularity across the country and deliver scorching live shows, including the Monterey Pop Festival set in 1967 that secured their record deal with Columbia; the ensuing album, Cheap Thrills, hit Number One on the Billboard 200 and is ranked Number 338 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Eventually, Joplin’s soul inclinations proved too strong for the rock outfit, and she announced in the fall of 1968 that she was leaving to start a bluesier band. Soon after, she debuted her new backing group, which would grow into the Kozmic Blues Band.
September 18, 1970: Jimi Hendrix dies
Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27 in London, the town that first embraced his soulful genius.
The night of Hendrix’s death, he dropped by a party and then stayed the night with his girlfriend, figure skater Monika Dannemann. He took several tablets of a powerful sedative and passed out; the combination of the sleeping pill, and the drugs and alcohol in his system, caused him to vomit the contents of his stomach, which he choked on.
The blues-based psychedelic guitarist, one of the most seminal musicians of the 1960s, was born in Seattle in 1942 and became a backing musician in New York in the early 1960s. In 1966, he signed a management contract with Chas Chandler, ex-bassist of the Animals; Chandler brought him to London, where he became an immediate sensation in the rock community. The debut Jimi Hendrix Experience album, Are You Experienced, was released in the United Kingdom in 1967, after which he scored international fame and delivered his epochal performances as the Monterey Pop and Woodstock festivals.
At the time of his tragic death, Hendrix was desperate to stop his hectic touring schedule and complete his next studio album, which was partially released in 1971 as The Cry of Love.
September 21, 1992: Radiohead releases “Creep”
Radiohead’s debut single was, fittingly, a misfit of British radio – it was widely unpopular when first released, with many DJs agreeing with BBC Radio 1’s decree that the song was too depressing. However, the Parlophone track did gain a following with Israeli DJs, then hopscotched over to San Francisco and became a cult hit on Bay Area airwaves.
“Creep,” written by frontman Thom Yorke while he attended Exeter University in the late 1980s, gained slow traction as Radiohead finished recording their first album, Pablo Honey. The single was reissued with the album in 1993, when it cracked the Top Ten on the UK Singles Charts and achieved similar popularity around the world.
The band dropped their breakthrough hit from their live setlists in the late 1990s, and still play it sparingly. Other rockers have been less reticent: “Creep” has been covered by Prince, Moby, Weezer and more.
September 23, 2001: Kylie Minogue releases “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”
After more than a decade as a global pop star, Kylie Minogue finally broke through to American audiences with one of the catchiest songs of the decade.
A former child actress and television star in her native Australia, Minogue struck musical gold early in 1987 with her first single, “Locomotion.” She released her debut album, Kylie, in 1988, and over the next few years, all of her first 13 singles cracked the Top Ten of the British charts – a singular achievement in U.K. musical history.
Her record sales lagged in the mid-1990s as she experimented with her nü-disco sound, trying all the while to cross over to American audiences. It was “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” off her eighth album, Fever, that finally helped her crack the United States. The irresistible electronic dance track was first released in Australia then bounded over to America in 2002, where it climbed the Billboard Hot Dance Club charts and reached Number One, as well as reached Number Seven on the Billboard Hot 100.
September 21, 2004: Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens, is detained by United States Homeland Security
British folk-pop singer-songwriter Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam when he converted to Islam in the late 1970s. Two decades later, his name made him a temporary suspect of the United States government.
In 2004, Yusuf boarded a United Airlines flight from London to Washington to meet with Dolly Parton, with whom he was planning to record a song. En route, his name was discovered on the U.S. “no fly list,” suggesting he posed a possible terrorism threat; the flight was diverted to Maine and Islam was interrogated by government officials at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. The next day, Islam was flown back to Britain, drawing complaints from the British government and widespread ire towards Ridge.
Islam petitioned to have his name removed from the no fly list, and he entered the United States without detainment in 2006. In 2008, he recorded a song about the political debacle, “Boots and Sand,” with Dolly Parton and Paul McCartney.
LAST WEEK: Fleetwood Mac Breaks Up and Johnny Cash Dies