Halloween’s Greatest Hit, Zeppelin’s Movie, Skynyrd’s Plane Crash: This Day In Classic Rock [Videos]

Bobby “Boris”Pickett and The Crypt Kickers hit #1 on the American charts today in 1962 with Halloween’s greatest hit, Monster Mash. Pickett was an aspiring Hollywood actor who happened to sing in a band, and one night while doing a cover of The Diamonds Little Darlin’, had perhaps had a few beers when he  decided to work an imitation of Boris Karloff into the song. The audience loved it, and his bandmate Lenny Capizi wrote song, and recorded it with a couple of notables: Leon Russell on piano and The Ventures drummer Mel Taylor. It would eventually climb to #3 on the charts in England, Scotland, and Wales where the whole Halloween thing started, but not for another 11 years because the BBC banned the song for being “too morbid”.

The Who played the first of six nights at New York’s Fillmore East tonight in 1969, a two-hour show that included all of Pete Townsend’s new “rock opera” Tommy. The shows would get brilliantly positive reviews, including one from an unusual source, New York City Philharmonic Orchestra director Leonard Bernstein. Two years later the first-ever attempt at turning the rock opera into a real opera happened of all places at Seattle’s Moore Theater, under the direction of the Seattle Opera’s Richard Pearlman, with a cast  now largely forgotten but starring a young Bette Midler as “The Acid Queen”.

Led Zeppelin’s movie The Song Remains The Same premiered in New York tonight in 1976, attended by all four members of the band who were living in America as tax exiles at the time. They installed a high tech quaqdrophonic sound system for the premier, but did not show the version of the film they’d shown to the censors, which had all the ****’s and ****’s in manager Peter Grant’s tirade bleeped out, in fact director Peter Clifton made sure that the only censored print of his movie was the one the censors saw.

Lynyrd Skynyrd had just played a show at the Memorial Auditorium in Greenville South Carolina tonight in 1977 when the band’s entire 24 person entourage boarded the Convair CV-300 they’d rented to fly to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for the next show. Their Street Survivors album had been released just three days earlier, but tonight some of them didn’t when the plane ran out of fuel and crash landed in a heavily wooded swamp near Gillsburg Mississippi, killing both pilots, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his older sister and backup singer Cassie Gaines, and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick on impact. Drummer Artimus Pyle was the only band member uninjured enough to crawl from the wreckage and make his way to a farmhouse with two crew members, where their long-haired and battered appearance at first made the farmer think they’d escaped from a nearby prison, and his son apparently shot pyle in the shoulder with an air-rifle. Most of the survivors were severly injured and/or burned, guitarist Allen Collins and bass player Leon Wilkerson had to talk doctors out of amputating limbs, guitarist Gary Rossington had three of his broken, and all took many months to recuperate. One group reluctantly relieved by the crash were the tour management group for Aerosmith, who’d rejected that very plane earlier that summer feeling both the aircraft and it’s crew weren’t “up to standards”, even though Steven Tyler and Joe Perry had insisted on using it.

The Police played their first show on American soil tonight in 1978 in the dingy Greenwich Village basement club CBGB. They’d managed to get a screaming deal on airfare on low-budget upstart Laker Airways, who allowed them to take their guitars as carry-on luggage.

Country guitarist and singer Merle Travis died at age 65 today in 1983. In the rock world we think of Hendrix, Clapton, and Page immediately when it comes to rippin’ leads, but most of the Rolling Stone magazine Top 100 list have heard and are in awe of this gem from 1947:

Rock and Roll Birthdays

Ten Years After drummer Ric Lee is 71, and not related to the band’s late frontman and lead guitarist Alvin Lee, who was born Graham Barnes.

Tom Petty is 66.

10/20

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