This week in rock history, Chuck Berry’s novelty song reached Number One, the Band taped The Last Waltz, Mick Jagger married Jerry Hall, Freddie Mercury passed away and the Zombies reunited briefly.
November 25, 1972: Chuck Berry reaches Number One with “My Ding-a-Ling”
Chuck Berry’s first and only Number One single was a pyrrhic victory, to be sure: a cornball novelty song called “My Ding-a-Ling,” a far cry from his pioneering rock & roll tracks of the 1950s and 1960s. The entire track was essentially one long, drawn-out double entendre: Berry sang about a childhood toy of silver bells dangling from a string, taking clear glee in the overt sexual innuendo.
Despite going to Number One on the Billboard charts, critics and DJs loathed “My Ding-a-Ling.” Indeed, it was a confounding effort from the rhythm and blues innovator who offered “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode” to the world. The middle-aged Berry mockingly singing, “My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling/I want to play with my ding-a-ling” was seen as a direct affront by some, including the powerful British DJ Alan Freeman, who took to ranting against it on air; others, such as the writing staff of The Simpsons, would go on to parody its inanity.
November 25, 1976: The Band tapes The Last Waltz
The Band’s farewell concert was an exceptional end to their 16-year career: a Thanksgiving day spectacle that included such friends as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Joni Mitchell, filmed by Martin Scorsese. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest music documentaries ever made.
The Last Waltz was a visibly emotional send-off to the Band. Filmed at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, it captured the roots rockers’ remarkable five-hour set, beginning with “Up on Cripple Creek” and concluding with “Don’t Do It,” their encore cover of the Marvin Gaye hit. In between, the Band welcomed a rotating roster of famous guest artists and jammed loosely before their sold-out crowd, who had been treated to turkey dinners prior to the show.
Scorsese later interspersed the concert footage with artist interviews; his final cut, released in 1978, influenced scores of music documentaries to follow.
November 21, 1990: Mick Jagger marries Jerry Hall
The Rolling Stones playboy and the Texan supermodel were already common-law married with two children when they formally tied the knot in 1990. Their high-profile affair had begun over a decade earlier in 1977, while Jagger was still married to his first wife, Bianca, and Hall was in a relationship with Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music.
In 1990, the globe-trotting pair flew to Bali with their son and daughter for an intimate wedding ceremony; per Indonesian tradition, it lasted several hours and called for the bride to offer her new spouse honey and yogurt. The Stones’ tour director, Alan Dunn, served as best man.
After they married, rumors of Jagger’s infidelities continued to plague the relationship; Jagger’s alleged tryst with the model and future first lady of France, Carla Bruni, created a press fervor in 1992. In 1998, after the Brazilian model Luciana Morad named Jagger as the father of her unborn child, Hall filed for divorce; to evade the costly alimony payments, Jagger insisted that the Bali ceremony had never been legal. A British court, unable to find documentation of the ceremony, agreed with him, and Hall received an out-of-court settlement instead.
November 24, 1991: Freddie Mercury dies from complications from AIDS
One of the most extraordinary frontmen in rock history, Freddie Mercury of Queen commanded stadiums with his operatic tenor voice, brilliant songwriting and euphoric showmanship. Yet towards the end of his life, he hid from public view as the British press speculated on his health; rumors abounded that the singer was suffering from a terminal disease, possibly HIV.
On November 23, 1991 – almost 16 years to the day since the release of Queen’s landmark album A Night at the Opera – the fully isolated Mercury issued a public statement confirming that was HIV-positive and had AIDS. He said, “The time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors, and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”
Mercury died just one day later at his home in London. The official reason for death was bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. He was 45.
Earlier this year, Rolling Stone readers voted Mercury the second greatest lead singer of all time.
November 25, 1997: The original Zombies line-up reunites onstage
Thirty years after breaking up, the original line-up of the Zombies finally reunited . . . very, very briefly.
To celebrate the release of the exhaustive box set Zombie Heaven, which compiled close to their entire catalog, the British Invasion rockers made a surprise appearance during singer Colin Blunstone’s solo show at the Jazz Café club in Camden Town, London. The classic lineup (with Rod Argent on organ, Paul Atkinson on guitar, Chris White on bass and Hugh Grundy on drums) performed their two hit tracks from the 1960s, “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season,” the latter which topped the charts after the group had dissolved.
The affable, if extremely short-lived, reunion was the first time that all five members had performed together since they split in 1967. A broader reunion was discussed after the Jazz Café gig; the plans were scrapped when, sadly, Atkinson passed away in 2004. A new partial incarnation of the group, the Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone & Rod Argent, released the record Breathe Out, Breathe In to mixed reception earlier this year.
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