1985 – “Material Girl” by Madonna enters the US charts

Material Girl was the second single from Madonna’s second album, and her seventh overall. It was a hit for her at the time, although unlike Like A Virgin or Crazy For You, the songs either side of it that reached #1, it wouldn’t top the charts. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 at #43, and eventually peaked at #2. The clip was a homage (or ripoff, if you prefer) to Marilyn Monroe’s iconic Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend performance, right down to Madonna wearing a dress of the same style and colour.

To this day, Madonna is often referred to as ‘the Material Girl’ in the media, a phenomenon she is convinced will still be happening when she’s ninety. She’s probably right, too.

Referenced in:
Lucy Can’t Dance — David Bowie

1969 — The Beckenham Free Festival is held

The Beckenham Free Festival was held at the Croydon Road Recreation Ground in Beckenham in August 1969, in parallel with the Woodstock Festival. It was organised by a group of British musicians and artists, the most prominent of whom was David Bowie (quite early in his career).

The festival was a success, with some 3,000 people attending. The atmosphere was generally peaceful, for which Bowie was complimented by Bromley’s mayor and chief of police (who were among the attendees).

Referenced in:
Memory of a Free Festival — David Bowie

1967 — David Bowie records “The Laughing Gnome”

Bowie himself regards it as one of his worst songs.

He’s not wrong. The Alvin and the Chipmunks high-voices, the tortured puns… it’s just horrible. Except for the music. Musically, it’s one of the strongest pieces of his work to that time. It’s the lyrics that let it down.

However, on the plus side, Bowie performed it for an audition in 1968 and failed to get the part – which meant that he continued to record pop music instead of pursuing a career in cabaret.

Referenced in:
No More Fun — Roger Taylor

1974 — “The Uncle Floyd Show” premieres

Floyd Vivino was born in 1951. He was from a showbiz family – two of his brothers are in Conan O’Brien’s house band, his niece was in the original production of Les Miserables. Floyd himself worked as a tap-dancer at the 1964 World’s Fair, and later as a sideshow barker. He sang, he played piano, he did impressions. And like many another vaudevillian, he eventually found his way onto television.

“The Uncle Floyd Show” began on WBTB in West Orange, New Jersey. It was broadcast on Channel 68 (which could be picked up in New York City also). “The Uncle Floyd Show” was quirky and unpredictable, and did pretty much everything wrong by the standards of modern children’s television – which no doubt explains why this largely improvised, low budget and frequently age-inappropriate show stayed on the air for nearly twenty years, including a stint on NBC, until it finally ended in 1992.

Referenced in:
Slip Away — David Bowie
Work for Food — Dramarama
It’s Not My Place (In the Nine to Five World) — The Ramones

1977 — Christopher ‘The Falcon’ Boyce is arrested

An employee of TRW in California from 1974, Boyce was disturbed by misrouted cables for the CIA that he began receiving at work, which made it look as if the CIA was conspiring to destroy the government of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (who was acting in a way that the Agency considered contrary to American interests) and to similarly meddle in the affairs of other American allies. Disgusted by what he regarded as this betrayal of America’s allies, Boyce retaliated by selling CIA secrets to the KGB.

Unfortunately for him, his intermediary was an old high school buddy, cocaine and heroin dealer Andrew Daulton Lee, who took the information to the Soviet embassy in Mexico City. When Lee was arrested by the Mexican police on an unrelated charge, he had on him microfilm intended for the Soviets – and it didn’t take long for him to implicate Boyce as well. Ten days after Lee’s arrest, Boyce was picked up by the FBI. Later, he would be sentenced to 40 years in prison on espionage charges, although he was later paroled after serving 25 years.

Referenced in:
This Is Not America — David Bowie and the Pat Methany Group

1971 — Marvin Gaye releases “What’s Going On?”

A number two US chart hit for Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” was a departure from his previous Motown sound into a more personal and introspective direction. Inspired by the rising tide of racial and social unrest in the United States in the late Sixties, and more personally by events like the death of Gaye’s cousin (a soldier in Vietnam), “What’s Going On?” was a plea to everyone to just stop and take a look around at the world, and to ask themselves why it was like that.

The song was nominated for two Grammy awards, and ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as number 4 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004, and again when the list was revised in 2010. They may actually have been under-rating it.

Referenced in:
Black Tie White Noise — David Bowie

1977 – Andrew ‘The Snowman’ Lee is arrested

Andrew Lee was an average enough twenty-five year old Californian male of the mid-Seventies, except for two things: his drug use had crossed the line into dealing (chiefly cocaine, but later heroin) and his best friend, Christopher Boyce, was engaged in espionage against the United States. Boyce was an employee of a defence contractor who was horrified by the information he saw regarding the CIA’s dealings in other nations (some of them allies of the USA). When he decided to sell this information to the Soviets or Chinese, he reached out to Lee, recruiting him as a courier and intermediary in 1976.

Unfortunately, coke-addicted drug dealers often come to the attention of the authorities: after several successful trips, Lee was arrested outside the Soviet consulate in Mexico City on suspicion of having murdered a cop there. While he was not guilty of the murder, he confessed to the spying when tortured by the Mexicans, and was extradited back the USA, where he and Boyce were charged with espionage and quickly convicted. Lee’s sentence was a life one (Boyce was sentenced to only 40 years imprisonment – the disparity is most likely due to Lee’s drug dealing), and as of this writing, he remains in the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.

Referenced in:
This Is Not America — David Bowie and the Pat Methany Group

1999 – The Twentieth Century ends

Technically, the Twentieth Century did not end for another year, at the end of the year 2000. But in the popular imagination, the last day of 1999 was the last day of the millennium. A day when many a religious – and one big secular – apocalypse was counted down to, to hit at the stroke of midnight. But neither the Second Coming nor the Y2K bug proved to be that big a threat.

The Twentieth Century was over with, and now, the 21st Century – the future – could begin. Only it turned out that if apocalypse wasn’t just around the corner, neither was utopia. And only 21 months into the new century, we’d all be dragged into a brand new endless Cold War when we’d just finally shaken off the last one.

Referenced in:

1999 — Prince
L.A. Money Train — Rollins Band
I Have Not Been to Oxford Town — David Bowie

1987 – “Children in Darkness” is published

While it had been rumoured in certain circles for years that child prostitution was alive in well in South East Asia, it was an article titled “Children in Darkness”, published in The Christian Science Monitor‘s June 30, 1987 edition that first began to bring it to the attention of mainstream article. Sara Terry, the journalist who produced the piece (along with with fellow reporter Kristin Helmore and photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman), wrote a series of painstakingly researched articles on the subject across the late Eighties.

But for all the outrage it generated, and the efforts of well-meaning activists and missionaries, child prostition still thrives in Bangkok and other cities throughout the Third World, catering mostly to the jaded and perverted tastes of Western tourists. Because ending this atrocity just isn’t as important as winning the next election.

Referenced in:

Shopping for Girls — Tin Machine

1992 – The Rodney King trial verdict results in widespread rioting in LA

It’s hard not to think that something may have gone wrong with the American justice system at times. For example, when several police officers (Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano) are caught on video beating a suspect, when those same police officers are later heard boasting about the injuries they dealt out, well, you’d expect that convicting them of the crimes that they very clearly committed would be a straightforward matter.

Unless, of course, all the cops were white while the suspect was black. Unless the jury consists of ten whites, an Asian and a Hispanic. Unless the trial is held in a jurisdiction notably more conservative than the one where these events took place. Then the complete acquittal of all four officers should be expected as a matter of course, because as we all know, justice is less important than the good name of the Los Angeles Police Department, and anyway, Rodney King must have had it coming, right?

So later that day, after the verdict is announced, these same police officers and jurors claiming to be stunned that anyone could possibly disagree with the verdict is completely believable. If you’re an idiot, that is.

The riots in Los Angeles (which lasted a week and caused 53 deaths, a thousand injuries, somewhere in the region of a billion dollars worth of property damages and kicked off sympathetic riots in other cities), while not in any way justifiable, were certainly both an understandable and a predictable response.

Referenced in:

Anger — Downset
I Wanna Riot — Rancid
Rioting — The_Rugburns
Recipe for Hate — Bad Religion
Livin’ on the Edge — Aerosmith
Don’t Pray on Me — Bad Religion
Say Goodbye — Black Eyed Peas
April 29, 1992 (Miami) — Sublime
Black Tie White Noise — David Bowie
The Day tha Niggaz Took Over — Dr. Dre
Forgotten (Lost Angels) — Lamb of God
Down Rodeo — Rage Against the Machine
We Had to Tear This Motherfucka Up — Ice Cube
Peace in L.A. — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Stuck Between a Rock and a White Face — One Minute Silence

1987 – Madonna serves Sean Penn with divorce papers at Thanksgiving

Some relationships have an expiry date from the very start – the marriage of Sean Penn and Madonna was one of these. Both were infamously volatile and egotistical, and the failure of the film they made together, “Shanghai Surprise”, didn’t help. By the start of 1987, it was pretty obvious that the couple wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas together that year.

The two weren’t speaking for a while – and it appears that Penn may have be trying to delay the inevitable. Even so, MNadonna choosing the occasion of their family Thanklsgiving to serve Penn with divorce papers was some cold shit.

Referenced in:

Lucy Can’t Dance — David Bowie

1992 – Madonna releases her book “Sex”

Sex is a coffee table book written by Madonna, with copious photographs taken by Siung Fat Tjia and Fabien Baron, and edited by Glenn O’Brien. The book was released by Madonna as an accompaniment to her fifth studio album ‘Erotica’, which it was released in unison with.

The book was extremely controversial – which was no doubt what Madonna intended. It featured softcore pornographic photographs which included sadomasochism and analingus. Madonna wrote the book without outside assistance, although if you’ve ever read the damned thing, you’ll know that this was probably not the best choice she ever made.

Referenced in:

Lucy Can’t Dance — David Bowie

1976 – David Bowie releases the album “Station to Station”

David Bowie’s tenth studio album was a transitional work. It built on the funk and soul of his previous album, Young Americans, while moving toward the more krautrock-influenced sound of the so-called ‘Berlin Trilogy’ that was his next three albums (Low, “Heroes” and Lodger). It also introduced his last great character, ‘The Thin White Duke’.

The best-known song from the album in Golden Years, a plastic soul number that was the first recorded track for the album, but the album as a whole is a critical and popular favourite in Bowie’s career. Ironically, it also marks the high point of Bowie’s cocaine addiction and fascination with Nazism, and Bowie himself has described it as soulless.

Referenced in:
Trans-Europe Express – Kraftwerk
Californication – Red Hot Chili Peppers