In 1977, English punk rock band The Stranglers released their debut studio album Rattus Norvegicus. The album's ambituous reggae-influenced song Peaches was the bands second official single, and despite being censored by the BBC the song managed to hit Number 8 on the UK singles chart. The song's strong sexual language and theme was somewhat uncommon at the time. Peaches was later re-recorded with toned-down lyrics suitable for radio play - "oh shit" was replaced with "oh no", and "clitoris" was replaced with "bikini". Nonetheless, the song's title is a slang term for cunnilingus - a slang popularized in 1972 by The Allman Brothers Eat a Peach album. Rattus Norvegicus got it's title from the scientific name for a brown rat, and the album release party was held at Water Rat Pub in Chelsea. The album was produced in one week, and it was one of the top selling albums from the UK punk rock era. The video below is from a 1978 performance at Battersea Park - the show was eventually shut down by the police after semi-nude strippers accompanied the band for the song Nice 'n' Sleazy.
.In 1983, English singer and songwriter Elvis Costello had his first US top 40 hit single with Everyday I Write The Book. The song was featured on Punch the Clock - Costello's eighth studio album. He wrote the song in about 10 minutes as a challenge to himself to write a simple and typical "formula" song. The music video for the song became a MTV classic - it features domesticated look-alikes of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in a suburban setting. In 1977 Costello released his first album My Aim is True on Stiff Records. The label was only distributed in the UK at the time, and out of frustration with the lack of attention from US labels he staged a impromptu street performance outside a convention of CBS Records executives in London. His performance was shut down and he was arrested for busking - the act of performing in public for gratuities. The protest stunt managed to get the attention of label executives, and he was soon signed to Columbia/CBS. At the end of the year, on December 17, 1977, Costello had a big break in America when he was booked to perform on Saturday Night Live to replace the cancelled Sex Pistols. In the intro to the agreed upon song - Less Than Zero - Costello began yelling "Stop! Stop!" to his band, then he played Radio Radio - a song producer Lorne Michaels had specifically forbidden him to play (the song is an attack on the commercialism of the airwaves). NBC and Michaels banned him from the show for this (which was lifted in 1989), Meanwhile his antics garnished a lot of attention and helped to boost his popularity and record sales in the US.
In 1983, Irish rock band U2 released War - their third album, and their most political album. The album opens with Sunday Bloody Sunday, and it is followed by Seconds, which is followed by New Year's Day. The album and it's title were inspired by the global unrest in 1982, and the looming threat of a nuclear war. U2's War album was the band's first number one album in the UK, achieved after knocking Michael Jackson's Thriller off the top of the charts. War only reached number 12 on the US charts, however it was their first gold-certified album there. The song Seconds marked the first recording of The Edge singing lead vocals - which he only does for seconds on the first verse of the song. Not only was it unusual for The Edge to sing lead on the verse - "it takes a second to say goodbye" - it was also unusual that The Edge wrote the lyrics for that line. The rest of the song was written by Bono, as usual, who had asked The Edge to help on this song. U2 has not performed the song live in concert in almost 40 years - since July 7, 1985.
In April 1967, soon after being signed to Stax Records, Tennessee-based instrumental funk band the Bar-Kays released their first single - Soul Finger. The song peaked at number 3 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, and the B-side Knuckelhead hit number 23. Within a few months the band was back in the studio recording nine more tracks that, along with their first 2 songs, would complete their debut album. The first song on the album gave the album it's name - Soul Finger. During the time their debut single and album were released, the band had just begun working as Otis Redding's backup band. On December, 10th 1967, while on tour with Otis Redding, four of the band members died with Redding in a tragic plane crash. The only survivor of the crash was trumpeter Ben Cauley. The only other surviving band member was bassist James Alexander, who had flown separately because the was no more room on Redding's plane. Soon, the band was re-formed by Cauley and Alexander, and they continued working as a backup band for Stax Records, recording on dozens of classic Stax releases. Soon after Cauley left the band in 1971 the Bar-Kays changed direction musically, and they went on to build a solid reputation as a hit-making funk band. In 1974, when Alexander had a son, he named him Phalon - named after Phalon Jones , the group's saxophonist who died in the 1967 plane crash. Today, his son Phalon is better known as rapper and producer Jazze Pha.
In 1959, Belgian singer songwriter Jacques Brei released his biggest hit - Ne Me Quitte Pas (translation: Do Not Leave Me). The famous French cabaret performer was well known for his very emotional performance of this song, which he had written while breaking up with his pregnant mistress Suzanne "Zizou" Gabriello. At the time he wrote the song, Brel was refusing to acknowledge that he was the father of the child Zizou was pregnant with. Ultimately, she had the pregnancy aborted, and in response to the song Zizou declared "this is not a love song, but a song about the cowardice of men." Brei's heart-wrenching hit song borrow's a part in it's melody straight out of the Romantic Era with a piece of Franz Liszt's classical composition Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. The song has been performed by countless artists and in dozens languages. The English version of the song, known as If You Go Away, was recorded by Nina Simone for her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. On the recording, Simone's vocal hits the note E2 - it is considered the lowest voice recording by a woman. In more recent years the song has been covered by Cyndi Lauper, Celine Dion, Lauryn Hill and others.
In 1968, French pop icon Serge Gainsbourg released his notorious gangster ballad Bonnie and Clyde. The song is an interpretation of a 1930's poem titled The Trail's End, written by Bonnie Parker. The poem was written by Bonnie weeks before her and her outlaw partner Clyde Barrow, were famously gunned down. Gainsbourg's provocative hit was performed with Bridgette Bardot, and in 1968 it was released on two albums, on a solo album by Gainsbourg and on the compilation album he released with Bardot (which featured just two tracks performed together). Bonnie and Clyde was recorded early on in the pop icon and sex symbol's short-lived love affair. This song, and his signature hit Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus, were written by Gainsbourg as an effort to impress his new love. After an unimpressive first date, Gainsbourg was determined to write the "most beautiful love song ever" for Bardot - and so he did. By mid-1968 Gainsbough left Bardot after falling in love with singer and actress Jane Birkin. Their relationship would last 10 years. In 1969, Gainsbourg and Birkin released an album together, and in 1976 Birkin starred in Gainsbourg's controversial film Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus.
Money (That's What I Want) was written in 1959 by Motown founder Barry Gordy and Janie Bradford. The song was first recorded by 18 year old Barrett Strong that same year, with Gordy on piano, and it was released on Gordy's newly formed Tamla label. To increase the reach of the popular song it was also released on Gordy's short-lived Anna label. In April 1960 Gordy formed Motown Records, and he merged Tamla with Motown. In June of 1960 Money (That's What I Want) peaked at #2 on the Hot R&B charts - it was the first big hit for the Motown enterprise. Over the years, there have been many hit recordings of the song, including by The Beatles in 1963, and by UK New Wave band the Flying Lizards in 1979. Reportedly, Money (That's What I Want) came together in a spontaneous recording session with Gordy and Strong. Although Strong was originally given writing credit for the song, his name was removed 3 years after the song's release. When the copyright was renewed in 1987 Strong's writing credit was restored, only to be removed again the following year due to what Gordy claimed was a clerical error. Strong has disputed the label's writing credits for the song, and has always maintained that he co-wrote it with Gordy and Bradford. Ironically, being omitted from the songs credits, and royalties, must have had Strong thinking: "Money, That's What I Want." In the following years, Strong proved to be a brilliant songwriter for Motown Records, and he has been credited with co-writing many songs, such as: I Heard It Through the Grapevine, War, Smiling Faces Sometimes, Ball of Confusion, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, and many other hits.
Bob Marley released the original drum machine-driven No Woman, No Cry on his 1974 Natty Dread album. The following year Marley's stunning performance of the song at London's Lyceum Ballroom was captured for his Live album - this recording of the song became Marley's breakthrough pop hit. The deep and relaxed live version of the song was twice the length of the original 3 minute 46 second long studio version. Outside of Jamaica the song's title is often misunderstood. It doesn't mean the absence of a woman means there is no reason to cry, rather it is telling a struggling woman "no, don't cry." The song reflects on Marley's struggles and hardships growing up in the Trenchtown ghetto. "The Government Yard in Trenchtown" refers to the common area between the housing structures where people would gather. "We Had hard times but there was love and friendship and hope. Some of us were lost, they are remembered. Some survived and thrived. It's a glorious celebration of life in the face of hardship. Don't cry, we must live on." An apparent example of the song's sentiment was a hometown hero of Bob Marley's - Vincent Ford. In the area just around the Government Yard, Ford ran a soup kitchen, providing many, including Marley himself, with free meals. Ford was a paraplegic who lost his legs when he was young due to untreated diabetes. Marley credited several of his songs to Vincent Ford - the publishing royalties from the songs repayed him for his generousity, and enabled him keep feeding people. No Woman, No Cry, one of Marley's biggest hits, is one of the song's Marley credited to Vincent Ford.
In 1940 jazz icon Billie Holiday recorded her most popular and well-known song, God Bless The Child, which she had written with frequent collaborating composer Arthur Herzog Jr. The song was inspired by a clash she had with her mother. When she was a child, Billie's mother was in and out of her life, and she was mostly in the care other other family members. By the time she was a teenager, young Billie had a career singing in Harlem nightclubs. In 1940, now 25, she was in desperate need of money and asked her mother to help her with a loan. Over previous years she had given her mother thousands of dollars to help with her mother's restaurant. Then, after having been fired from touring with Count Basiie's crew, she found herself struggling financially. Despite her popularity, as she had just introduced her dark hit Strange Fruit, she needed some cash. Billie's mother refused to help her, and as the story goes, her mother exclaimed "God bless the child that got his own." The song began to form after the upsetting argument. At the beginning of the song, Billie seems to be responding directly to the bible (Matthew 25-29) when she says: "Them whose got shall get, them whose not shall lose. So the bible says, but it still is new." In 1976, God Bless The Child was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame award.
In 1969, inventive avant-garde vocalist Leon Thomas released his debut album on the Flying Dutchman label - Spirits Known and Unknown. The album showcases Thomas' distinctive and unique scat-yodel, which had gained a lot of attention earlier in 1969 when he appeared on Pharoah Saunder' renowned Karma album - particularly on the the song The Creator Has a Master Plan. Thomas composed the lyrics for the song, and a version of the song was also included on the Spirits Known and Unknown album. The album also introduced a vocal adaption of the 1965 Horance Silver instrumental Song For My Father, with lyrics written by singer/songwriter Ellen May Shashoyan (who didn't record the song herself until 1989). Over the following few years Thomas appeared on a 1970 Louis Armstrong album, and he released a half dozen critically acclaimed solo albums. Despite all the attention and success, he remained a somewhat underground vocalist. In 1973 Thomas joined the Santana band, and for 2 years he toured with the group and he recorded on their Welcome album as well as their epic 3-disc live album Lotus. In 1999, Thomas died of heart failure at 61 just after performing a show in Harlem. At the time he was living in the Bronx, where he had a five year old son - his namesake Amos Leon Thomas III. Like his father, young Amos dropped his first name and went by Leon. His father, "the man", would never see his success in music and television. When he was 10-years old, young Leon made his Broadway debut as Simba in The Lion King, and in 2006 he provided his voice for the popular children's show The Backyardigans. And from 2010 to 2013 he played Andre, a main character on the trendy Nickelodeon sitcom Victorious. Since then, Leon Thomas III has enjoyed major success as a singer and songwriter, writing hit songs for Drake, Rick Ross, Ariana Grande, Toni Braxton and many others.
"If you like to lounge