Today in rock history: On this date in 1972, Don McLean’s epic, eight-minute single, “American Pie,” reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s pop singles chart where it stayed for four weeks. The song — which occupied both sides of the 45 RPM record it was released on — instantly gained a following and inspired listeners to dig deeper into the lyrics where McLean recalls historic events including the untimely deaths of rock and roll pioneers Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
Editor's note: The inaccuracy in our headline has come to our attention, and we regret the error.
Today in rock history: On this date in 1961, an up and coming singing group named The Supremes signed a recording deal with budding record label Motown Records on the condition that it change the group’s name (which was called called The Primettes). Some of the members were still minors, so adult guardians co-signed their contracts. The group’s core members — Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard — were also accompanied by a fourth member, Barbara Martin, who left the group before The Supremes achieved record-breaking chart success in America.
Today in rock history: A heart attack killed renowned singer, songwriter and producer Harry Nilsson on this day in 1994. He was 52 years old. He was one of the most underrated and overlooked artists to emerge in the 1960s and retained a strong following of loyal supporters including all four members of The Beatles. Nilsson’s compositions helped maintain the popularity of groups like Three Dog Night and The Monkees which both covered his tunes. Nilsson’s two biggest hit singles, however, happened to be songs he didn’t write himself. “Everybody’s Talkin’” was written by Fred Neil and became a hit after appearing the 1969 movie Midnight Cowboy. Another memorable Nilsson song, “Without You” was penned by members of pop group and Beatles protégé, Badfinger. Still, Nilsson remained a hero to many thanks to his body of work and the stand he took against the recording industry as a whole.
Today in rock history: On this date in 1941, Don Van Vliet was born in Glendale, California. In the 1960s, Vliet developed the Captain Beefheart persona and began writing and recording material with the aid of his backing group, The Magic Band. Beefheart’s quirky nature and offbeat music (a mixture of free jazz, rock and experimentation) was widely panned upon arrival. While it attracted cult listeners who welcomed Beefheart’s originality, Beefheart was dropped from record labels due to a lack of commercial appeal. He joined the roster of Frank Zappa’s Straight Records label and released what many consider to be his masterwork — the highly influential album Trout Mask Replica — in 1969. Beefheart continued to record until the early 1980s and then decided to take an extended break from the business. Complications from multiple sclerosis killed him in 2010, just before his 70th birthday.