This week in rock history, Jimmy Page hit the stage with the Yardbirds, the Beatles told the world that “All You Need is Love,” Steely Dan broke up, John Lennon’s murderer pleaded guilty, and the Ronettes took Phil Spector to court.
June 21, 1966: Jimmy Page makes his live debut with the Yardbirds
Before Jimmy Page became the quintessential guitar player with mystique, he was a bass player with ambition.
In 1966, Page joined one of the most influential and up-and-coming British bands of his era, the Yardbirds. At only 22 years old, he was already a respected session musician in London – in fact, the blues-leaning rock band had approached him two years earlier to replace then-guitarist Eric Clapton, but Page declined in loyalty to his pal. A year later, when Clapton quit, the group solicited Page again, who in turn recommended another friend, Jeff Beck (because Page was raking in the cash sitting in with Decca Records artists, including the Rolling Stones).
Page finally joined the group in 1966 as a replacement for bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. At his first show with the Yardbirds, at the Marquee Club in London, he played electric bass. The venue was a significant one for the Yardbirds, as they’d held their first residency there in February 1964, and the show celebrated Page’s hard-won presence. Page kept up four-string duties for a bit before switching to twin lead guitar alongside Beck – until Beck left the tumultuous group too, and the Yardbirds became a quartet with Page at lone lead guitar. It was with this lineup that they released their final album, 1967’s Little Games.
All three guitarists of the Yardbirds – Clapton, Page, Beck – would become guitar superstars. However, the Yardbirds proved an especially strong catalyst for Page’s future glory: When singer Keith Relf and drummer Jim McCarty left the quarreling group in 1968, Page rebranded the band as “the New Yardbirds” and recruited vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham. Bassist John Paul Jones came into the fold soon after – and with him, the one and only lineup of Led Zeppelin was cemented.
June 25, 1967: 400 million people watch the Beatles perform “All You Need is Love”
The Beatles conquered the airwaves yet again when they debuted “All You Need is Love” on global TV – and they brought some famous friends along for the ride.
The Fab Four served as the centerpiece of Our World, the first international satellite television program. The nearly two-and-a-half-hour, predominantly black-and-white variety show focused on different regions of the planet, highlighting them with video feeds and special performances; the Beatles played as representatives of the United Kingdom and at the behest of the BBC. (Other artists included in the program included Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and American/Italian opera diva Maria Callas.)
The BBC commissioned the Beatles to write a new song for the event and requested that it contain a simple message, one that would easily translate across the globe. The group delivered their unequivocal answer, “All You Need is Love,” seated on stools in a compact studio, over a prerecorded rhythm track. They were surrounded by string and brass musicians, percussionists and their backup singers, the latter being many of the most famous faces in the Sixties British pop scene: Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, Marianne Faithfull and more. The Beatles’ longtime producer, George Martin, manned the boards and can be seen in the introductory camera pan.
A few weeks later, the Beatles released “All You Need is Love” as a single, where it dashed straight to Number One in England and the United States. It remains a lasting credo of the band – not surprisingly, as the Washington Post estimated that 400 million people watched the broadcast.
June 21, 1981: Steely Dan breaks up
Steely Dan were a playful, powerful oddity in 1970s rock: they covered Duke Ellington jazz standards, sang dryly about esoteric topics (from tropical cocktails to the ruler Charlemagne) and slaved for years with single-minded obsession over albums that contained only a handful of songs. In short, they seemed content to upend all expectations for successful, touring pop acts.
The group was composed of permanent members Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and an ever-revolving collective of cameos (including raspy future soul star Michael McDonald). They released seven studio albums during their most active period of 1972 to 1980, including the heavily jazz-influenced Aja (1977), the band’s most popular album and one of the first discs to be certified platinum.
Although stadium rock bombast and disco club jams dominated the 1970s, Steely Dan enjoyed a fervent cult following until their breakup in 1981. After the split, Becker decamped to Maui and became an avocado rancher; Fagen continued recording as a solo artist. The duo reunited in the mid-1990s and released two albums in the early 2000s. In 2001, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To date, the band has sold over 30 million albums.
June 22, 1981: Mark David Chapman pleaded guilty to the charge of murdering John Lennon
Mark David Chapman pleaded guilty to John Lennon’s murder against the advice of a cabal of lawyers, who wanted to file an insanity plea. And Chapman certainly had convincing proof of psychosis, having sent a rambling handwritten letter to the New York Times that February urging readers to read J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the novel he’d read at the Lennon murder scene, as a book that “holds many answers.”
Chapman, then 26, insisted that he was competent to plead guilty to the charge of second-degree murder, and did so in a New York courthouse in June of 1981. He admitted shooting the Beatles icon four times in the back as he and Yoko Ono walked outside the Dakota apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison and currently is incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York. He has been denied parole six times.
June 20, 2000: The Ronettes are awarded $2.6 million in back earnings from Phil Spector
Ronnie Spector enjoyed a rare kind of retribution when she took her ex-husband, Phil Spector, to court over the royalties of their famed 1960s girl-group the Ronettes.
Lead singer Ronnie and fellow original members Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley sued their former svengali producer Phil Spector for $11 million in 1988, accusing him of breach of contract and bilking them out of royalties since 1964. The amount reflected the Ronettes’ heyday as one of the most popular girl-groups of that decade, and their aesthetic of deep eye-liner and towering beehive hair was almost as influential as their delightful singles “Be My Baby,” “Baby, I Love You” and “(Walking) in the Rain.”
New York judge Paula Omansky sided with the singers, though she did not transfer ownership of the original Ronettes recordings to them as requested. She explained, “Spector’s contributions to the Ronettes’ success cannot be underestimated, as composer of their songs, and as creator of the sound for which the Ronettes’ recording hits became famous.” However, she did order the volatile Wall of Sound producer to pay $2.6 million in back and future earnings to the singers. The ruling was overturned years later in the New York State Court of Appeals, who ruled that the group’s original, unfortunate contract with Spector was still binding.