If the history of the world had a playlist, it would run the gamut from Bach to Big Boi. The folks at the History Channel are putting out another of Rick Beyer's The Greatest Music Stories Never Told series on June 7. We picked up the book expecting to inflate our egos, reinforcing the myth that we know everything there is to know about music history. Short answer- we were wrong, very wrong.
This is everything they leave out of the music classes that left you drooling on your notebook. And just like Cliffs Notes, we've read the book so you don't have to. Now all you have to do is rattle off these fun facts to your closest friends and sound like the music nerd you really are. Here are our Top Ten Greatest Music Stories Never Told:
10. Lenin Loves Electronica
You can thank Communism for all the pills, back rubs, and glow sticks at every rave. Leon Theremin was mediocre musician who gained overnight fame thanks to a little invention of his, the first popular electronic instrument considered to be the predecessor of all synthesizers. He modestly named it the “theremin,” and the instrument's spacey alien-like sounds have been featured in the Beach Boys hit “Good Vibrations” as well in countless science-fiction movies. You're welcome, every electronic musician ever.
9. Brought To You By Satan
Giuseppe Tartini was a famous Italian composer and a violinist in the 1700's (yeah, we're going that far back). Tartini lived in a time were most of the music was composed to praise God. You could say that Tartini was way ahead of his time, because it was not God but Satan who inspired him. In a dream, Satan played a solo for him that “surpassed all the music I had ever heard.” He woke up and wrote a piece that would be often called “The Devil's Trill.” Today it is regarded as one of the most challenging pieces to play on the violin. Satan doesn't play around.
Before Charlie Daniels' “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” or Tenacious D's “The Greatest Song In The World,” or any black metal band burned down any church in Norway, Tartini dabbled in the dark arts. In other words? Tartini is the Adam and Eve for Black Sabbath, Gorgoroth, and Mayhem.
8. Footloose: Dance, Go to Hell
Evangelist Bob Jones said New Yorkers were tangoing themselves to “the brink of hell,” and added, “The only difference between Manhattan and hell is that Manhattan is surrounded by water.” Taking the world by storm in 1913, the tango was so popular that the French quarter in New Orleans became known as the “Tango Belt.” We can replace “tango” with a number of other things that scared society to the brink of culture wars like this one. They all subside and turn into something lame that our parents think is groovy, swell, and so on.
7. “Hey, you're doing that wrong.”
We're sure that's what they were saying to Clive Campbell when he began isolating and repeating instrumental breaks in funk records while DJing at parties in the Bronx. Clive Campbell not only made a name for himself, but also with the help of Africaa Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash gave name to a new genre of music. Hip Hop. Clive Campbell more commonly goes by the name Kool Herc. Not one of the weirdest stories on the list but one of the more important ones.
6. The First Reality TV Show
John Roberts and Joel Rosenman planned to pitch a television sitcom about two naïve young venture capitalists with more money than brains who get involved in wacky antics. Humor and drama follow. The two men ended up being the main characters in their own real life sitcom. They invested money in the idea of a recording studio in upstate New York, which turned into a idea for a Dylan concert, which turned into Woodstock. Not a bad investment.
5. Elvis Presley: Musician, Entertainer, Federal Agent
It's nice to know where Kanye inherited his sense of entitlement, and that Michael Jackson wasn't the first pop star to completely lose his mind. Elvis Presley waltzed up to the White House gates one morning with a six-page handwritten letter in hand requesting a meeting with ol' Tricky Dick Nixon. Presley told the president that he should make him a “federal agent at large” to help fight the spread of drugs and communism. A couple years down the road The King was found dead sitting on a pile of his own shit, and Tricky Dick resigned after getting caught with his hand in the Democratic headquarters cookie jar. Looks like the dynamic duo didn't pan out so well.
4. A Monumental Mistake For Rock Music
Country Music gave birth to what we now know as distortion, the very sound that fills every head banger's brain to this day. Engineer Glen Snoddy turned a blown transformer into distortion. The original “mistake” can be found on country singer Marty Robbins' “Don't Worry.” Snoddy sold his new invention to Gibson Guitar in 1962 and the “Maestro Fuzz Tone,” the first ever guitar effects box, was born. Later this same tone would be used on a song called “Satisfaction” by a little band called The Rolling Stones.
3. Your Tax Dollars At Work
FBI field agents across the country went into action in 1964 in effort to crack a code. Hundreds of pages of documents, crime labs, and dozens of interviews later this code was getting closer and closer to crack. The code that had the Federal Bureau Of Investigation stumped was the “cryptic” lyrics of The Kingsmen's “Louie Louie.” Agents threatened the songwriter, Richard Berry, with jail.
Public Enemy Number One:
2. Destroy To Create
On September 4, 1971, an old casino in Montreux Switzerland over looking Lake Geneva burned to the ground. The cause of this tragic accident was from a flare gunshot by a member of the audience during a Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention show. No one got hurt, but Deep Purple was planning on recording an album at the casino the very next day. The band watched their recording studio burn to the ground from across Lake Geneva. As the smoke came over on top of that water, they had a pretty neat idea for a tune. This is all really just further proof that Frank Zappa is way cooler than Deep Purple.
Dr. Brian May is an astrophysicist. Attending Imperial College, he earned a doctorate. His thesis was titled “A Survey Of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud” (we will post his thesis next week for your reading pleasure). He went on to write a book and became chancellor of John Moore's University. He also went on to write “Bohemian Rhapsody,” because Dr. Brian May is the guitarist of Queen.