1997 – Jeff Buckley dies

Jeff Buckley’s career was really only just starting at the point where he died. He’d released one album, which had done well for him, especially his cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (although ironically, it was not released as a single until long after his death, it’s probably still Buckley’s best known work).

Despite the inevitable rumours in such cases, an autopsy showed that Buckley was not drunk or on drugs at the time of his death, and he had not seemed to be suffering any unusual stress or depression. He simply drowned by accident while swimming in a quiet bay of the Mississippi near Memphis, Tennessee. His body was not recovered until June 4, however, which left plenty of time to speculate before the truth could be discovered.

Referenced in:

Memphis — PJ Harvey
A Body Goes Down — Duncan Sheik
Memphis Skyline — Rufus Wainwright

1971 – Led Zeppelin releases Stairway to Heaven

Despite being one of the best known songs of all time – and one of the most frequently requested on radio – Led Zeppelin’s eight minute opus was not released as a single until years after its legend was well established. It was the fourth track of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, and its length precluded its release in single form in the 45rpm vinyl format.

It at once sums up everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with seventies rock in one song: it is pretentious and wanky, with lyrics that make little or no sense; but on the other hand, it rocks damned hard, has one of the greatest guitar solos ever, and is completely made of awesome.

Referenced in:

No More Fun — Roger Taylor
That Says It All — Duncan Sheik

1980 – John Lennon is shot and killed

Mark David Chapman is, by any standard, an idiot. On this day in 1980, he shot John Lennon five times, in the back, while Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono looked on helplessly.

Whatever his actual motive for shooting John Lennon – and Chapman has contradicted himself on several occasions regarding it – the fact remains that he acheived only two things: depriving the world of a truly great musical talent, and giving the rest of the world one more reason to loathe American culture.

The fact that he has not been shanked in the yard at Attica State Prison only serves to underscore the massive injustice of Lennon’s death.

Referenced in:

That Says It All – Duncan Sheik
Far Side of Crazy – Wall of Voodoo
Life Is Real (Song for Lennon) – Queen
I Just Shot John Lennon – The Cranberries

1967 – Jimi Hendrix releases “Castles Made Of Sand”

Jimi Hendrix’s brother Leon always claimed that the song was about their family – Jimi had told him so – but most people seem happier with the broader interpretation of the song as a meditation on the impermanence of all things, both good and bad.

Whatever the truth may be – and as with all art, isn’t the truth that works for you sufficient? – “Castles Made of Sand” was the second track on the second side of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s second album. It was never released as a single, although it did become one of Hendrix’ more popular songs, and the album it was from “Axis: Bold as Love”, was ranked at 82 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003.

Referenced in:

That Says It All – Duncan Sheik

1965 – Bob Dylan releases “Like A Rolling Stone”

Although the world is full of songs inspired by stories, few songs can claim to be the remains of one. But Like A Rolling Stone is one that can. Extracted from a short story Dylan wrote, and which he describes as “20 pages of vomit“, the song is about alienation – although whose alienation remains a matter of some debate. (The leading candidates are Edie Sedgwick, Joan Baez and Dylan himself.)

Despite being six minutes long, it was released as a single, and rose to #2 on the American charts, making it Dylan’s biggest hit to that time. (It was beaten out of the top spot by “Help”.) The song marks Dylan’s first use of electric guitar in his music, and thus represents his shift from his folk roots to a more pop sound. Not coincidentally, it also marks the point from which he became a part of the cultural mainstream, albeit remaining an iconoclastic and dissenting part of it.

The song was first performed live by Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Since then, it has been covered by numerous artists, including Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed the song, with its characteristic restraint, “the greatest song of all time.”

Referenced in:
That Says It All – Duncan Sheik