The London Evening Standard published an interview with writer Maureen Cleave and John Lennon today in 1966, as part of her weekly series “How does a Beatle live?“. She was well known by the band, having interviewed them semi-regularly since the start of Beatlemania in England, and had accompanied them on their first trip to America two years earlier. Noting the large pile of books at his house, she mentioned that he’d been reading extensively on the subject of religion, and included this quote from him: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that, I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus right now. I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll, or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” The decline of Christianity, marked by dwindling church attendance, had been a subject of regular discussion in England since the end of WWI, and nobody thought twice about John’s comments there, but when the American teen magazine Datebook published Cleave’s piece 5 months later, it put John’s quote on the cover, and a s***storm erupted among Jesus’s more “thick and ordinary” followers in America’s Bible Belt in the South, as well as more conservative areas of Mexico and South Africa. Some two dozen radio stations in America’s South stopped playing The Beatles immediately, and some went so far as to organize Beatle record-buring bonfires. Though John had tried valiantly to explain and apologize for his comment, the city of Memphis city council cancelled a planned show in August, saying “The Beatles are not welcome in Memphis”, and adding that they would not let their municipal facilities “be used as a forum to ridicule anyone’s religion”. But there was too much money to be made and promoters convinced them to let the show go on. When it did the band were met by protests from the thick and ordinary Ku Klux Klan, and at one point someone in the crowd threw a firecracker on stage, which at first everyone, including the other three Beatles, thought was John being shot. The furor led to their decision to stop touring, and in ’78 John said “I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days. If I hadn’t said The Beatles were bigger than Jesus and offended the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas”.
The Rolling Stones found things calmed down a bit in The States today in 1967 when Ruby Tuesday went to #1, the 4th time they’d hit that mark, but it only came when the “A” side to the single, Let’s Spend the Night Together was banned by many U.S. stations, and Ed Sullivan told them they couldn’t play it on his show: “Either the song goes or you go”. He relented after they agreed to change the lyrics to “Let’s spend some time together”, which Mick Jagger sang rolling his eyes on-camera. Ruby Tuesday would inspire a restaurant chain, but the Stones would continue to have trouble with Let’s Spend the Night Together as recently as 2006, when officials in China wouldn’t allow them to play it on their first-ever tour there.
The Stones were in Newcastle England tonight in 1971, starting a 9-date tour of England, at which they announced they were leaving, to become British rock’s first “tax exiles” in the South of France. They were making gobs of money having started their own record label, and management felt too much of it was going into the Royal coffers back home. They relocated to the South of France, where Keith Richards rented a 19th century 16-room mansion and former WWII Gestapo headquarters called Villa Nelcóte, where they would write and record most of what many consider to be their best album, Exile on Main Street.
CBS records British division released the self-titled debut album from The Clash today in 1977, but their American counterpart was very much part of a concerted effort to keep “punk” rock off American airwaves in favor of lighter and less threatening fare like REO Speedwagon and Journey, and didn’t release the album Stateside until 1979. In that time, Clash fans bought over 100,000 imported-from-Britain copies, making it one of the best-selling import albums of all time.
Jerry Lee “The Killer” Lewis was the subject of an Internal Revenue Service raid on his home in the early hours of today in 1978. They towed away some $170,000 worth of cars, to be sold off to satisfy his unpaid tax debt.
Multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel was playing a “comeback” show with The Band at the Cheek-to-Cheek Lounge outside of Orlando Florida tonight in 1986. He seemed to be in good spirits when he thanked Garth Hudson for “25 years of incredible music” between songs, but after retiring to their hotel he talked music and film in Levon Helm’s room, then returned to his own and hung himself from a shower curtain rod. Band-mate Rick Danko later said “I can’t believe in a million years that he meant for that to happen. There was just no sign. I have to think this was a goddamned silly accident”, but a toxicology report found that he’d been quite drunk and on cocaine.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was on tour in Europe and had been diagnosed with bronchitis and laryngitis in Germany and had flown to Rome for treatment, when Courtney Love awoke this morning in 1994 to find him unresponsive and in a coma, having overdosed on champagne and some 50-60 tablets of the sedative and muscle relaxant Rohypnol. After 5 days in the hospital he flew back to Seattle, but Courtney would later say this was his first suicide attempt.
Rock and Roll Birthdays
Soul singer, session guitarist, and songwriter (most notably in rock circles as the author of the Rolling Stones hit It’s All Over Now Bobby Womack would be 73 if he hadn’t passed in 2014. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009.
Yes bass player, singer, and songwriter Chris Squire would be 69 if we hadn’t lost him to leukemia in 2015. He and singer Jon Anderson started the band in ’68, but Chris was the only one to have appeared on everything they ever recorded, and while the band will finally be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April, keyboardist Rick Wakeman said he won’t be attending because they took too long and missed the chance to have Chris play. His wife said he would be highly amused at being called “The Late Chris Squire”, because like most bass players he was always late to everything.
Jason Newsted, the longest-serving bass player for Metallica, from the death of Cliff Burton in 1986 until 2001, is 54.