This week in rock history, Leonard Cohen stopped a riot, George Harrison was found guilty of plagiarism, U2 released their first record, Tina Turner reached Number One and Bruce Springsteen’s affair led to his divorce.
August 31, 1970: Leonard Cohen calms the rioting crowds of the Isle of Wight festival with a spontaneous 2 a.m. set
The third annual Isle of Wight festival was an extravagant failure: held on the largest island in England, and attended by an estimated 600,000 fans (100,000 more than Woodstock), the five-day concert lost huge amounts of money from trespassers who scaled the borders. Even more disastrously, its attendees rioted on the final day, upset by the wind-distorted soundsystem and roused into a frenzy by Jimi Hendrix’s aggressive performance.
At 2 a.m. on that final evening, the crowd began setting fires to equipment and pulling down fences. The festival’s organizers responded by waking up folk singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and asking him to deliver an impromptu set to the agitated masses. The sleepy musician grabbed his guitar and took the stage; his gentle, courteous attitude toward the audience and elegantly spare takes on his poetic tunes (including “Bird on the Wire” and “Suzanne”) worked quiet magic on the mob. The 35-year-old Cohen kept the crowd spellbound, preventing further destruction and danger to all present; his legendary set is captured on the documentary Leonard Cohen: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970.
August 31, 1976: George Harrison is found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” while writing his song “My Sweet Lord”
The quiet Beatle’s widespread hit, the devotional yet radio-friendly “My Sweet Lord,” established his popularity as a solo artist and furthered his interest in spiritual exploration through pop music. (It appeared on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass.) It also landed him in legal hot water when he was accused of plagiarizing a girl group’s song.
Bright Tunes Music, the company that owned the copyright to the Chiffons’ 1962 song “He’s So Fine,” filed an infringement suit against Harrison, maintaining that the singer/songwriter had copied much of the chorus for “My Sweet Lord.” Harrison denied the claim, entering in an arduous half-decade of legal battling with his lawyer, Allen Klein. Though they argued the case vigorously, the judge ruled Harrison guilty of “subconscious plagiarism” in 1976.
Before the court assigned damages, however, Klein complicated matters further when he purchased the copyright to “He’s So Fine” in 1978 – in essence, attempting to prolong litigation and cop another payday from Harrison. In 1981, the court ordered Harrison to pay Klein more than $580,000 for the song rights.
September 1, 1979: U2 releases their first EP, Three
Three years after they formed in drummer Larry Mullen’s kitchen, U2 released their first EP in Ireland. It was a modest success for the teenage lads, reaching Number 19 on the Irish singles charts and paving the way for their first shows outside their native Dublin.
Three (also referenced occasionally as U2-3) was named quite literally: It featured the trio of songs “Out of Control,” “Stories for Boys” and “Boy–Girl,” which the band played faithfully in their early days. Side A’s choice of “Out of Control,” a succinct punk-influenced track, held sentimental significance as it was written on Bono’s 18th birthday; the song reappeared with “Stories for Boys” on Boy, U2’s 1980 debut album.
U2 fans can still hear these formative jams occasionally in the globe-trotting group’s current live repertoire – the band chose “Out of Control” to close their headlining set at this year’s Glastonbury Festival in England.
September 1, 1984: Tina Turner reaches Number One with “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
Tina Turner rose to fame throughout the 1960s and 1970s in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, a rock and R&B combo with her abusive then-husband, Ike Turner. Her sexy outfits and dynamic stage persona made her an international star, and the couple released many enduring hits: “A Fool in Love”, “River Deep, Mountain High” and their ecstatic cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.”
Tina left Ike because of spousal abuse and drug addiction while the couple was in the middle of their 1976 tour. She fled with almost no money and spent the next several years attempting to rebuild her life and her career. In 1984, she released Private Dancer, her fifth studio album and one of the most remarkable comebacks in rock history. Its brazen single “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” reached Number One on the Billboard charts, Turner’s only song ever to do so; the album went five times platinum in the United States and netted four Grammys, giving Turner the solo superstardom she’d struggled so long to achieve.
August 30, 1988: Bruce Springsteen’s wife files for divorce after tabloids reveal the singer’s affair with his backing singer, Patti Scialfa
The Boss’s first marriage, to model/actress Julianne Phillips, lasted less than four years, but it gave the music world plenty to gossip about. The union met its demise when tabloid newspapers ran photographs linking Springsteen romantically to his backing singer, Patti Scialfa.
Much of the ensuing media frenzy was directed toward the disparities between the two women, who could not have been more different. Phillips was a classically beautiful socialite of privileged upbringing; the older Scialfa was a laid-back Jersey girl who dressed in denim and harmonized along with the Boss’s increasingly discontent lyrics. (It’s rumored that “Tunnel of Love” was written about Phillips.)
Springsteen and Phillips divorced in March of 1989. Soon after, Scialfa gave birth to her first child with Springsteen; the musicians married the following year and are still together.
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