This week in rock history, Lesley Gore played a Batvillain, Jimi Hendrix recorded one of rock’s greatest covers, the Beatles’ White Album was played in the Manson Family’s Sharon Tate murder trial, Ozzy Osbourne bit the head off a live bat and Tom Waits won a lawsuit against a snack manufacturer.
January 19, 1967: Lesley Gore appears on an episode of Batman as Catwoman’s sidekick, Pussycat
Teen queen Lesley Gore conquered the charts at 16 years old with her very first single, the 1963 pop classic “It’s My Party,” and she followed it up with a landmark feminist anthem, 1964’s “You Don’t Own Me.” As she continued to release hits well into the late 1960s, she also enjoyed an interesting diversion: playing a villain on Batman.
In 1967, the pop star appeared as Pussycat, an underling to Catwoman, on two episodes of the hit television series. In between thwarting the caped crusader’s latest do-goodery, she lip-synched two songs, “Maybe Now” and her last chart hit, “California Nights.” It was an interesting crossover moment between feminine teen idolatry and television, especially in the age of the Monkees and Beatlemania.
After the 1960s, Gore turned much of her attention to gay and lesbian rights advocacy, including her return to television as the host of the PBS documentary program In the Life.
January 21, 1968: Jimi Hendrix records “All Along the Watchtower“
Deemed the greatest cover song of all time by Rolling Stone readers, Jimi Hendrix’s volcanic take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” was no easy feat. Recorded over several days at Olympic Studios in London, the sessions were so drawn-out and dissatisfying that Hendrix’s bassist, Noel Redding, quit midway.
Hendrix was manic about “All Along the Watchtower.” Blown away by a tape of Dylan’s original (reportedly given to him by publicist Michael Goldstein), he recorded dozens of psychedelic guitar parts and experimental chord variations in January, only to overdub them that summer while in New York. He would also later do the same to the bass part; that’s him playing the final, funky line in the released cut of the song.
However, Hendrix’s tunnel vision paid off. “He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there,” said Dylan to The Fort-Lauderdale Sun Sentinel in 1995. “He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
January 19, 1971: Prosecutors for the Sharon Tate murder trial play the Beatles‘ White Album in the courtroom to determine if it incited Charles Manson and his followers to violence
Once a struggling folk musician who reedily sang misanthropic odes called “People Say I’m No Good” and “Don’t Do Anything Illegal,” Charles Manson established himself as the leader of the murderous Manson Family cult in the late 1960s. He told his followers that a race war was underway, and he displayed his proof in an unexpected form: the Beatles’ White Album.
Manson claimed that the album “spoke” to him, especially the raucous jam “Helter Skelter” and the garbled harmonies of “Piggies” (he claimed it would be the establishment who received the song’s “damned good whacking”). Manson incited his cult to murder the couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca and actress Sharon Tate in 1969 (the latter married to director Roman Polanski and pregnant). His “Helter Skelter” apocalypse theory was tested by lawyers in the ensuing murder trial, and Manson and his associates eventually received lifetime prison sentences (some reduced from death sentences due to a shift in California state law). Manson and numerous members of his “family” remain behind bars.
January 20, 1982: Ozzy Osbourne bites the head off a live bat during a concert
Perhaps you’ve heard this one before? While on tour in support of his second solo album, 1981’s Diary of a Madman, former Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne shocked audiences at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa, by biting the head off a live bat. It almost made sense in context: Osbourne had taken to hurling animal organs at his audiences, who in turn began to arrive armed with their own unsavory ammunition.
At the Des Moines concert, a bat was hurled at Ozzy’s feet, where it laid stunned by the bright stage lights. Ozzy, thinking it was made of rubber, bit its head off (a move he’d perfected with a dove during a record label meeting in 1981) and learned quickly that it was real. Rushed to the hospital and treated for rabies, he never made that mistake again.
As Osbourne described in his memoir, I Am Ozzy (brace yourself):
Immediately, though, something felt wrong. Very wrong. For a start, my mouth was instantly full of this warm, gloopy liquid, with the worst aftertaste you could ever imagine. I could feel it staining my teeth and running down my chin. Then the head in my mouth twitched. Oh fuck me, I thought. I didn’t just go and eat a fucking bat, did I?
January 20, 1993: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that Tom Waits can keep the money awarded to him after suing Frito-Lay
In the 1980s, chip manufacturer Frito-Lay decided that the perfect spokesman for their new Doritos ad campaign would be gravel-voiced singer-songwriter Tom Waits. The musician disagreed, however, and declined the offer to perform their jingle. Undeterred, Frito-Lay hired a sound-alike singer and released the commercial.
Incensed, Waits filed a lawsuit against the snack company in 1988, although the outcome was uncertain; impersonators graced many ads in that era. He was awarded approximately $2.4 million by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Frito-Lay appealed, claiming that they had not deliberately imitated Waits’ distinctive voice.
The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where the justices voted in favor of Waits and allowed him to retain the money. It was an early, somewhat unexpected victory for independent artists against unauthorized impersonators. Only Bette Midler had won a similar suit, netting $400,000 over a 1986 Ford commercial that used an impersonator.
Take note, Pringles and Tostitos: Tom Waits will not sell your damn chips.
Last week: The Pixies Break Up