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This Week In History: Sly, Nilsson And A Van Halen Classic

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Big-Jay-Sorensen Big Jay Sorensen
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The music history books are vast and full of interesting bits of knowledge. “Big” Jay Sorensen gives you a recap of the biggest and most interesting music news from the week; something from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

This week Big Jay schools you on a soul classic from Sly & The Family Stone, Lennon and McCartney favorite Harry Nilsson and a Van Halen classic.

The 1960s

"Stand!" from Sly & The Family Stone

“Stand!” from Sly & The Family Stone

The top single on the Pop and Soul charts in 1969 was a tune that preached the gospel of being multi-cultural prior to the term being invented; not only lyrically, but in practice with a fully integrated line-up. “Everyday People” from Sly & The Family Stone on Epic Records was enjoying its second week of an eventual four in the top pop spot, and the first of two weeks on the Soul singles side. This song was in fact the first by the group to hit the number one spot on the Pop chart.

Sly’s sister Rose (Rosemary Stewart) was featured as an important vocalist on this track and would go on to have some solo hits in the early ’70s as Little Sister. The bass player with The Family Stone, Sly’s cousin Larry Graham, claims this was first instance of the use of the so-called “slap-pop” thumping and plucking style that would become a signature sound not only for him, but for much of the rhythmic music to follow from contemporary musicians of the day.

The flip-side of the 45 was “Sing A Simple Song” which, along with “Everyday People,” appeared on their current breakthrough album Stand. The assemblage would play later in the year at the legendary Woodstock Music and Art Fair in upstate New York.

The 1970s

Harry Nilsson "Without You"

Harry Nilsson “Without You”

Harry Nilsson heard this song at a party and thought it was The Beatles. He was close, as The Beatles-sanctioned band Badfinger had recorded the song “Without You” as a track on their album called No Dice. That album featured Badfinger’s hit song “No Matter What,” released in November of 1970 on Apple Records.

Nilsson had already had some key hits by this point; “Everybody’s Talkin'” was the theme from the film Midnight Cowboy and won a GRAMMY Award. He wrote “One,” which was a smash for Three Dog Night, as well as the theme from the TV show The Courtship of Eddie’s Father called “Best Friend.”

Nilsson’s music was widely appreciated, especially amongst some of the most recognized in the business. When asked in 1968 by a reporter, “Who’s your favorite American artist?” Lennon replied, “Nilsson.” Paul McCartney responded similarly when asked, “What’s your favorite American group, replying, “Nilsson.” McCartney would later remark that this week’s top pop hit “Without You” is the “killer song of all-time.”

This week’s chart-topper from the RCA Records LP Nilsson Schmilsson was written by Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans, who both tragically committed suicide, purportedly over the lack of royalties owed to them (and other business reasons) from their collective works, including “Without You.”

Nilsson eventually became a close friend of John Lennon’s and he was notoriously connected to Lennon’s so-called ‘lost weekend’ that lasted a couple of years before he reconciled with Yoko Ono. Nilsson died from heart issues in 1994.

The 1980s

Van Halen "Jump"

Van Halen “Jump”

Van Halen had the number one pop hit in America this week from their impeccably named album 1984 on Warner Bros. Records. “Jump” was their only number one American single on the pop chart, with the album narrowly missing the top spot. The album eventually sold over 10 million copies, designated with “Diamond” status in 1999 by the RIAA.

The song used synthesizers to adorn their hard-rock sound, causing tension between frontman David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Roth had no desire for the band to progress in that direction and then Eddie didn’t appreciate that Roth and band producer Ted Templeman disliked that Van Halen had built his own studio and could make music away from the rest of the band. This friction led to Roth parting with the band for a solo career, only to resurface on the scene in later years.

According to Daryl Hall, the synthesizer melody on “Jump” was copied from the Hall & Oates song “Kiss On My List,” a number one song from 1981. Hall then said, “I don’t have a problem with that.”


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