Today in rock history; The Velvet Underground & Nico arrives, The Jam's last album and more

Happy birthday, James Taylor.

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Today in rock history: on this date in 1967, one of the most influential rock and roll albums of all time, the very first release from New York City art rock/experimental band The Velvet Underground was released. The Velvet Underground & Nico was met with little fanfare at the time of its arrival but the impact the record has had on countless genres of music ever since is immeasurable. Gaining attention as part of pop artist Andy Warhol’s performance art show titled the "Exploding Plastic Inevitable," the band and its songs including lyrical content dealing with prostitution, drug usage and sadomasochism fit right into Warhol’s multimedia show. Featuring founders Lou Reed and John Cale, the band was paired with German chanteuse Nico and delivered a record unlike anything anyone had heard before. Despite the record’s paltry sales, electronic music pioneer and musician Brian Eno made the observation many years ago that, although few bought the album upon its release, everyone who did buy it was inspired to form a band after hearing it. Featuring an exquisite cover designed by Warhol that featured a peelable banana, the album included songs that are now considered cornerstones in the formation of punk rock and experimental music. “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Heroin” and “Venus in Furs” were all bold statements that delved into topics that hadn’t been covered so graphically in rock songs before. The record changed the face of rock and roll and gave those who sought something edgier and more sordid than run of the mill pop music something to rally around. The album is often regarded as one of the greatest and most integral rock albums of all time and will continue to inspire and amaze listeners for many years to come.

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Today in rock history: on this date in 1982, the sixth and final album by the most popular British band of the era, The Jam, was released. The Gift was a sonic departure from the band’s earlier records. Focusing more on R&B and soul-influenced songs, The Jam stretched out and showed that it was capable of more than the punk and mod inspired sounds of its earlier records. While some fans felt indifferent about the stylistic change, the record still shot straight to No. 1 on British sales charts and was immensely popular. The rise was fueled by the singles “Just Who is the 5 O’Clock Hero,” “Precious” and the Motown-inspired, infectious pop song, “Town Called Malice” which wound up being the song that began to break the band in America after being somewhat ignored in the U.S. in years prior. Lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Paul Weller decided to dissolve the band after the record was released and what would be the band’s final tour had been completed. While fans were devastated by the breakup, the band went out on a high note and ended its existence while on top.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MIKE
Today in rock history, Michael Stipe born, Phil Lynott dead and more

Today in rock history: on this date in 1991, Athens, Georgia band R.E.M. released its seventh album, Out of Time. With the soaring success the band found with the record, the four-piece band became internationally known thanks to the incredible popularity of the album. The record’s lead single, “Losing My Religion” was the breakthrough single that made R.E.M. rise from being a popular alternative band to a globally recognized rock band. The record also featured the singles “Shiny Happy People” (which featured vocal accompaniment by fellow Athens singer, Kate Pierson of the B-52’s), “Near Wild Heaven” and “Radio Song” which included verses performed by hip-hop star KRS-One. “Out of Time” was a No. 1 hit album in England and in America as well as in several other countries around the world. The album made R.E.M. Grammy award winners when Out of Time was honored with three trophies in 1992. Worldwide sales figures for the record are estimated at close to 20 million copies sold since its release.

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Today in rock history: on this date in 1948, singer/songwriter James Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts. The singer rose to fame in the early 1970s with his plaintive ballad “Fire and Rain” which became his first major hit. Taylor built a loyal following through the decade thanks to hit songs like Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend,” “Shower the People” and “Mexico.” Later hits like a cover of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” (originally a hit for soul legend Marvin Gaye in 1964) ensured continued radio airplay and record sales for Taylor. Still a hugely popular singer who still tours and records, James Taylor turns 70 years old today and celebrates his 50th year in the music industry following the release of his self-titled debut album which was released in 1968. He is set to play Tampa's Amalie Arena on May 18 — more info on that show here.

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