This week in rock history, Capitol Records opened its doors, David Bowie released his debut album, John and Yoko recorded “Give Peace a Chance,” the Sex Pistols were banned by the BBC, and Jeff Buckley passed away.
June 4, 1942: Capitol Records is cofounded by Glenn Wallichs, the man who invents modern record promotion
Without Glenn Wallichs (1910-1971), the still-active Capitol Records would not exist – and neither would modern record promotion as we know it. The Capitol Records company was founded by songwriter Johnny Mercer, movie producer Buddy DeSylva and businessman Wallichs; it was Wallichs’ ingenious idea to give free promotional copies of records to local disc jockeys, an unprecedented move that made Capitol very popular in radio circles.
Wallichs had no shortage of innovations. He also founded Wallichs Music City, the largest record store in Los Angeles; it closed not long after his death. Capitol Records endures and, in its eight decades of operation, has been home to hundreds of famous artists: Les Paul, Tina Turner, Radiohead, Snoop Dogg and many more.
June 2, 1967: David Bowie releases his first album, David Bowie
The Modfather, David Bowie, hit his stride when he slapped on androgynous couture and hitched a ride to Mars. But before that came his self-titled debut, in which he unsuccessfully tried out a few more guises. Years later, he would admit to Britain’s Mojo magazine that the record “seemed to have its roots all over the place, in rock and vaudeville and music hall. I didn’t know if I was Max Miller or Elvis Presley.”
For its lack of commercial success – it failed to make the charts – David Bowie did show hints of the provocative artist to come. Produced by Mike Vernon and intended loosely as a musical production, it vacillated among theater tune influences, experimental whimsy and trendy Edwardian pomp, and was more audacious than Bowie’s earlier non-album singles with the King Bees, the Lower Third and the Manish Boys.
May 31, 1969: The Plastic Ono Band records “Give Peace a Chance“ in a hotel room in Canada
When John Lennon found his muse, he ran with her – all the way to Canada. During the Vietnam War, Lennon and his new wife, Yoko Ono, decided to direct the worldwide publicity of their March 20, 1969, wedding toward world peace, staging two week-long “Bed-Ins for Peace” in Amsterdam and Montreal. The subsequent Beatles single “The Ballad of John and Yoko” included details of their marriage (“You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain”) and honeymoon (“Talking in our beds for a week”).
An even more enduring song sprung from the Montreal Bed-In: “Give Peace a Chance,” Lennon’s first solo single and the anti-war anthem of a frustrated generation. Taped on a bare-bones set-up of four microphones and a four-track recorder in the couple’s suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, the recording session was attended by a roomful of celebrities (including psychedelic drug guru Timothy Leary and poet Allen Ginsberg) and journalists. Lennon sang lead vocals and played acoustic guitar, with six-string support from Tommy Smothers of comedic folk duo the Smothers Brothers.
“Give Peace a Chance” was released on July 4th, 1969 in the United Kingdom and July 7th in the U.S. It was an overnight counterculture sensation and, on October 15th of that year, was sung by over 500,000 demonstrators at the Vietnam Moratorium Day in Washington, D.C.
May 31, 1977: The BBC announces a ban on the new Sex Pistols single, “God Save the Queen“
The six-month-long festivities surrounding Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee – the 25th anniversary of her coronation – proved to be the Sex Pistols’ ideal time to release their vitriolic anti-monarchy song “God Save the Queen.” An attack on the British government and the hopeless standard of living of its citizens, the song was the punk band’s second single off their lone album, 1977’s vastly influential Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. During the Jubilee, it reached Number Two on the U.K. singles charts, though rumors abounded that the numbers had been fixed to prevent the song from hitting Number One.
The Sex Pistols gained international notoriety when the BBC announced a ban on the “God Save the Queen,” insisting it was “in gross bad taste.” Radio stations were ordered not to play the song, though BBC Radio 1’s John Peel still spun the track.
The refrain in the song, “No future,” became the de facto motto of the late Seventies punk explosion – and ironically paved the way for the enduring legend of the Sex Pistols.
May 29, 1997: Jeff Buckley disappears after taking a swim in the Mississippi River; his body is discovered six days later.
Singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley was a gentle soul unlike anyone else in Nineties folk-rock. A vocalist of expansive, arid range and guitarist with dexterous flair, he cut his teeth in New York’s East Village nightclub circuit before joining the hip experimental rock troupe Gods & Monsters. He found his truest fame upon the release of his debut album, 1994’s Grace, a mix of sensitive original works and a few covers – including his heartbreaking reimagining of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” which featured a brilliant falsetto vocal turn and stark, baleful guitar.
Thirty-year-old Buckley was living in Memphis, deep into production of his follow-up album (tentatively titled My Sweetheart, the Drunk) when he decided to go swimming at night in the Wolf River Harbor, a side channel of the Mississippi River. It was a favorite activity of his, and according to onlookers, he happily sang the chorus of “Whole Lotta Love” as he splashed around in the river. Then he disappeared under the water and, despite a large-scale rescue effort that night, did not reappear. On June 4th, his body was discovered downstream. The cause of death was ruled an accidental drowning, to the devastated response of the music community and his many fans.