Madonna Ciccone is many things to many people, but the reason she matters is that she’s fearless. After pushing boundaries throughout the 80s she took it to another level with Erotica (1992). The established coy sexuality of female pop stars went out the window and was replaced by wanton sexuality. Co-released with her explicit book, Sex, and arguably the raunchiest record launch party in history, the record ruffled some feathers, to say the least. Billboard gathers the principals on the 25th anniversary to go over how the project came together as well as the aftermath.
Madonna’s ‘Erotica’ Turns 25: An Oral History of the Most Controversial ’90s Pop Album
The Beatles transformation from pop superstars to psychedelic rockers was influential not just in music but in society. What was one prime instigator for this evolution? Acid! George and John were unknowingly dosed by a shady dentist in 1965 and it changed their life. Later that year they dosed again at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Los Angeles mansion. Ringo and some other celebrities joined them this time and they had an intense trip. This party also included their first exposure to Ravi Shankar and the sitar–an influence that would grow to gigantic proportions in later years. Vice recounts when the Beatles changed forever.
The Oral History of the First Two Times the Beatles Took Acid
Total Request Live, better known as TRL, will always be remembered as a product of its time, a kind of pop music zenith before filesharing and streaming would help reshape the industry. Britney and Christina, N’Sync and the Backstreet Boys, all broadcast live from Times Square in front of thousands of screaming teenagers. Carson Fucking Daly. In honor of MTV’s reboot, Billboard takes a look back at a modern pop-culture institution, and one that its principals show a remarkable amount of perspective in evaluating.
An Oral History of ‘TRL’: Trump’s Demands, Mariah’s Meltdown and Anthrax Scares
The Strokes exploded on the scene with This Is It (2001), one of the shining examples of the garage rock resurgence. The band, full of charismatic personalities, did not handle success well and soon fell prey to the stereotypical band killers (ego, drugs). Their follow-ups, derided as both too similar and too divergent, did not do nearly as well commercially and the band was left chasing what it had thrown away. Vulture provides a beautifully illustrated, and brutally honest, retrospective of a band that could have been.
The Last Moment of the Last Great Rock Band
The National took the long view and it has paid off for them. Incubating in the same Brooklyn scene as The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol, the band watched all three explode to international popularity while they nurtured a more modest fan base with a decidedly less intense sound. With their third studio album, Alligator (2005), something started to click. On endless tours their audiences started to grow organically and expectations grew for the their next album. Boxer would have a difficult birth, however, as the band exited the record studio after months of effort with a half-finished album. Their diligent work and experimentation would pay off, though, as the album would catapult the band to newfound fame.
Everything counts a little more than we think: An oral history of The National’s Boxer
In August 2017 Spin digitized and posted an oral history of Pearl Jam from August 2001. They did that because it’s really good–the Pearl Jam guys are nothing if not honest, and they openly share painful and embarrassing memories in a way that seems alien now. In many ways the band came together from the ashes of Mother Love Bone after lead singer Andy Wood’s overdose death. That was a tough spot for San Diego surfer Eddie Vedder to step into, and when he became the face of the band (and one of the biggest stars on the planet) it led a difficult transformation within the band. Pearl Jam famously struggled with pop culture stardom and there are choice anecdotes from aging superstars like Pete Townshend and Bono about the advice they provided. And, of course, there was the “rivalry” with Nirvana and the subsequent cataclysmic suicide of Kurt Cobain. Lots of meat on this bone. Two thumbs up!
The Dance Mania label grew organically out of a record store distribution and retail operation, building off local DJs who couldn’t keep up with demand as ghetto house exploded in the late 80s. The old house heads didn’t approve because the new stuff was gloriously obscene, but the kids loved it and would buy any new release just because of the Dance Mania reputation. After ceasing operations in 2001, the label relaunched in 2013 due to ongoing demand and the booming EDM scene. FACT takes a look back at Chicago’s beloved homegrown label.
“No one was doing the type of music we were doing”: An oral history of Dance Mania
Although reggae is now associated with blissed-out stoners it began as liberation music for the Jamaican oppressed. Bob Marley railed against the social and political elite that he associated with racism and greed. He planned a non-political “national unity” concert on the eve of 1976 national elections, but the ruling party, which he supported, framed it in their favor. Marley had also recently started dating a white girl and his opponents decided to send him a message. While recording a version of his famous song “Who Shot the Sheriff?” two carloads of gunman pulled into the Tuff Gong compound and raided the mansion, filling it with bullet holes and wounding Marley and his manager, Don Taylor. Rolling Stone provides an interesting excerpt recounting the shooting from an upcoming book about Marley.
The Night Bob Marley Got Shot
As strange as it may seem today in the early 90s promoters didn’t want multiple female acts on a single bill, convinced that it wouldn’t sell. The strong-willed (and successful) Sarah McLachlan decided she’d had enough of male-dominated festivals and tours, so she founded her own festival, Lilith Fair, and its record-breaking success changed the music industry forever. Some artists said immediately said yes, including Paula Cole, Lisa Loeb and Emmylou Harris, but others passed on the first year before reconsidering in later years. McLachlan took some heat for an over-representation of white artists, but successfully rectified that issue after the festival established its financial foothold. Lilith Fair was very 1990s phenomenon as female artists pushed boundaries in every direction and Glamour takes a nostalgic (and gorgeous) look back.
The Oral History of Lilith Fair, As Told By the Women Who Lived It
CBGB is a club with a worldwide reputation, but it started out as a tiny, dirty hole in the wall furnished entirely in wood. It opened in 1973 and quickly became a favorite destination for the artsy weirdos and outcasts of New York City. Although known as a punk club, and birthplace of The Ramones, it housed a diverse mix of mix, including Patti Smith’s art rock and later the Talking Heads new wave stylings. The most commercially succcessful band was Blondie, fronted by the iconic Debbie Harry. Cuepoint put together a wonderful history of the club with numerous high-res images and a link to a CBGB-inspired music playlist.
Our Hole in the Wall: An Oral History of the CBGB Scene
For us 90’s kids, Columbia House (and their rival, BMG) were ubiquitous and important purveyors of CDs. Their infamous “8 CDs for a Penny” promotion was touted everywhere and many (including me) were hooked. It had a very tangible effect on the music business: some estimates say 15% of CDs sold in the 1990s were from mail order companies. How did this business model work? When you signed up, you turned on the firehouse–they would keep sending you full-price items on a monthly basis until you cancelled. This actually worked. The A.V. Club talked about working at Columbia House with four now-famous individuals who worked there as 20-somethings in the 90s, including journalist Sasha Frere-Jones and online content god Piotr Orlov.
Four Columbia House insiders explain the shady math behind “8 CDs for a penny”
There have been a number of pieces recently celebrating the 20th anniversary of OK Computer, the first great post-grunge rock album. Startlingly innovative, the album represented Radiohead’s long-expected ascension to true rock icons. The album, which came at the end of four years of constant touring, is heavily influenced by that reality (or unreality) and the resulting alienation and loss of individual identity. It was recorded in Jane Seymour’s 1,000-year old English manor house, which may be haunted by Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter (or Jane Seymour’s mother), thus providing its own unique influence on the proceedings. Rolling Stone went all out for the anniversary, including a lengthy oral history with embedded music videos for each of the album’s songs.
Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’: An Oral History
Bonnaroo wanted to expand its festival experience so in 2004 it added a comedy tent, a showcase that has gone on to host many of the top names in comedy, including Louis C.K., Steven Wright, Aziz Ansari, and David Cross. The digs are somewhat less than swanky (no running water), but many of the stars treat it like going to camp, or a paid vacation, where they see their comedy brethren and some good music. The A.V. Club gathers a bunch of interesting and funny anecdotes, plus some good video clips, in this oral history.
Deadnecks and sound checks: An oral history of Bonnaroo’s comedy tent
The Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 was the first rock music festival to gain widespread notice, and has since become known as a watershed moment in the 60’s rock history, especially for the California sound personified by the Grateful Dead, The Byrds, and Jefferson Airplane. Bands such as the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring a 24-year-old Janis Joplin), and The Who quickly became huge in the States due to their performances and the resulting publicity. The bands played for free and profits went to charity, another innovation that would trickle down through the years. On the eve of the 50th anniversary concert Billboard takes a look back at music history.
The Oral History of Monterey Pop, Where Jimi Torched His Ax & Janis Became a Star: Art Garfunkel, Steve Miller, Lou Adler & More
When your subgenre’s flagship song is “Ass N Titties” it’s tough to get philosophical. It’s time to party. Ghettotech grew out of Detroit’s legendary techno scene as pure party jams. Get the RPMs up, get the booty poppin’. With DJ Assault joined as DJ Godfather as the headlining party people, the subgenre enjoyed a fun decade run starting in the mid-90s. This oral history includes some great images and graphics from the time.
Ghettotech: An Oral History; The definitive story of Detroit’s dirty little genre
The MJQ nightclub was founded in 1994 by George Chang, a 6’4″ Swedish-Chinese party monster. He quickly cultivated hip cache with an eclectic mix of music, including lounge music, dub, jungle, acid jazz, retro-soul and trip-hop. Three years later he upgraded to a larger venue and became a cornerstone of Atlanta nightlife that is still going strong today. Creative Loafing provides an expansive two-part oral history of the club, providing fascinating anecdotes how the club actively evolved with the times in order to stay in business.
Late-night magic at MJQ: An oral history, Part I
Late-night magic at MJQ: An oral history, Part II
Although Freaknik started as a barbecue amongst Atlanta’s black colleges, by the early 90s it had the rep of the ultimate off-the-hook party. Anything goes. Every year it got bigger, ultimately taking over the city with gridlock and insanity. It was unsustainable and Atlanta’s attempts to rein in the madness failed, ultimately causing the party to end. Complex takes a fond look back.
The Oral History of Freaknik
L.A.’s punk explosion of 1977/78 faded quickly and one of the scenes to take its place was the Paisley Underground, a group of psychedelia-influenced bands in the same social circle. Originally referring to the triumvirate of the Bangles, Dream Syndicate, and Rain Parade, the term grew to encompass a wider range of bands, including ones outside L.A. Characterized by rough, droning guitars with sunshine vocals, the sound found a sizable audience in the early 80s.
The Paisley Underground: Los Angeles’s 1980s psychedelic explosion
If there was one thing that people agreed upon regarding James Brown it was that he could bring it. Night after night the “Hardest Working Man In Show Business” would bring the funk and show his audience a good time. Off the stage things get more complicated with contentious professional relationships and a rocky personal life. Unsurprisingly, Creative Loafing‘s oral history has lots of juice.
James Brown: Soul Brother No. 1 (1933-2006)
Soundgarden formed in 1984 and Superunknown was their fourth studio release. They knew what they were doing and they knew they were ready to go big. Superunkown would deliver with such 90’s rock classics as “Black Hole Sun,” “Spoonman,” and “Fell on Black Days.” Spin collects anecdotes about the volatile creation and effect of this grunge masterpiece.
Get Yourself Control: The Oral History of Soundgarden’s ‘Superunknown’