This week in music: higher education from the music geek

It’s Super Bowl Week, and although it is a time when music, entertainment, and sports collide, it’s not the only thing that happened this week in music history.

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The Day the Music Died

This week in 1959, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper, three of the biggest stars of their day, were killed in a plane crash outside of Clear Lake, Iowa.  The crash, immortalized as, “The Day The Music Died,” by Don McLean in his song “American Pie,” is interesting not only for who died in the crash, but who almost did. Dion of Dion and the Belmonts was offered a seat on the plane, but refused because of the $36 charge, saying that it would be disrespectful to his parents to spend so much.  Country star Waylon Jennings, a bandmate of Buddy Holly, gave his seat to The Big Bopper since he was sick.  Buddy Holly jokingly said “Well, I hope your ol’ bus freezes up,” to which Jennings replied “I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”  This statement has reportedly haunted Jennings for his entire life.

The Day New Music Began

Three years to the day after the horrific crash in Iowa, the Beatles played their first professional gig at the Oasis Club in Manchester, England.  John, Paul, George, and (ugh) Ringo went on to become the world’s favorite band, gaining unimaginable popularity and setting ridiculous chart records.  At one time, they had seven out of the top ten songs on the Billboard charts, including the top five.  Their music and recording styles have influenced thousands of musicians that followed them.  In short, they rock.

Star-Spangled Super Bowl Highs

The Super Bowl has had its share of amazing and memorable performances.   The national anthem isn’t always just your last pre-game bathroom break time; sometimes it is really great.  This year will be Christina Aguilera, which comes with two guarantees: people will either love it or hate it, with no in between, and it will probably set the Super Bowl record for most notes in a “Star-Spangled Banner” (which I’m sure you can bet on if you’re in Vegas this weekend).  Over the years, many noteworthy acts have done the anthem justice: Harry Connick, Jr., Garth Brooks, Jewel, Faith Hill, Billy Joel, and Beyonce all did a fine job.  Even though it wasn’t my favorite performance of all time, my favorite anthem lineup was for Super Bowl XL (that’s 40 for you non-Romans) when Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin sang, accompanied by Dr. John on the piano.

Another cool thing about the Super Bowl national anthem is that, since 1992, every anthem has been interpreted with ASL, helping more people enjoy the moment (or eight moments in the case of Christina this year).

Some Super Bowl Lows

Although some big game performances have been memorable for good reasons, there are several stinkers in the bunch as well.   I’m a bit torn putting Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” into this category, as I don’t really care all that much, but I will say that accidentally/purposefully sort of exposing yourself doesn’t really match the “Rock the Vote” theme of Super Bowl XXVIII’s halftime.

The most egregious Super Bowl musical atrocity in my book is Whitney Houston’s singing of the national anthem in 1991.  We had just invaded Iraq (for the first time), so the country was really feeling a need for some patriotism, which Whitney delivered.  The rendition was in the top five moments in TV history according to one poll.  So what’s the problem?  What she was singing on that field in Tampa Stadium wasn’t heard by anybody.  What was heard was a prerecorded version, and Whitney was belting into a dead microphone, which was her defense against charges of lip-syncing.  My vote is that it is still a form of lip-syncing, and it’s just dishonest.  Boo Whitney – you have one of the greatest voices ever; use it!

Super Bowl “Who The Hell is That?”

It is almost unimaginable to think of, but there was a time when the Super Bowl wasn’t such a big deal.  Athletes weren’t signing contracts equal to the gross national products of African countries, there was only one game a week shown on television, and there wasn’t a constant barrage of advertising around the NFL and the Super Bowl.   The first ten Super Bowl halftimes featured nine college marching bands and Up with People.  The next ten blockbuster shows had more marching bands, two more Up with People performances, and Helen O’Connell (I don’t know who the hell that is either).

Finally, 1987 brought some star power to the Super Bowl Halftime show; too bad it was 1950’s star power.  That year, the Super Bowl XXI halftime show was, and I quote, “Mickey Rooney, George Burns, Grambling State University Marching Bands, Disney Characters, and Southern California High School drill teams and dancers.”

I think the Super Bowl must have hired the people who book Saturday Night Live musical guests to fill their shows (that is not a compliment).  Early “Star-Spangled Banner” performers included (shocker) college marching bands, Al Hirt, Tommy Loy (???), Tom Sullivan, Wyatt Metty, and Leslie Easterbrook (the tall, mean blonde from the Police Academy movies).   Thank God they finally figured out that more people tune in if they know who the hell they are watching.

Born This week

Lisa Marie Presley – the Princess of Rock n Roll

Shakira – “Shake”-ira

Graham Nash – with Crosby and Stills, one of the greatest harmonizers ever.

Alice Cooper – “No more pencils, no more books.  No more teachers’ dirty looks….”

Axl Rose – world-class screamer.  Also, world-class slow record maker.

Natalie Cole – another musical princess, but from Nat King Cole.

Bob Marley – put the rasta in Rastafarian.

Garth Brooks – sold a billion albums.  Somehow.

Died this week –

Palestrina – the king of Renaissance musical style.

Sid Vicious – Sex Pistols bassist.

Benjamin Britten – wrote an amazing library of music for the tenor, for which I am thankful.

Karen Carpenter – deep-voiced, happy, anorexic singer.

Liberace – somehow was viewed as a ladies man in his early days.  Man, we were in denial, eh?

Vince Guaraldi – with his death, Schroeder died too.  Composer of all of the music for the “Peanuts” movies.  Good grief, Charlie Brown!

Carl Wilson – Beach Boy.

Falco – died at 40, but still had time to bring us a somewhat biographical “Rock Me, Amadeus.”


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