As we brace ourselves for another year of hope and improvement, it would be appropriate for me at this particular juncture to predict the musical happenings of 2014. Predicting what or who will occupy the charts, or our radios and TV, is not really my forte; what will be will be and I will find plenty to enthuse about by the end of the year.
Researching potential documentaries and specials happening in the next 12 months has thrown up some very interesting music and cultural anniversaries. For instance, this year is the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ debut album released in April of 1964.
Decca Records, the label that signed the band, will be forever known as the label that rejected the Beatles and this calamitous faux pas played right into the hands of manager Andrew Loog Oldham, who negotiated a far better deal for the Stones than the Beatles had over at Parlaphone.
The head of A&R at Decca at the time was Dick Rowe, who famously told the Fab Four’s manager Brian Epstein after their audition for the label, “Groups with guitars are on the way out. The Beatles have no future in show business.” However, Rowe denied that it was his decision to send the Fab Four on their way, instead blaming his humble assistant Mike Smith for the decision. A bad tradesman always blames his tools. Licking his wounds, he hastily signed the Stones on the recommendation of George Harrison — at least he had the common sense to listen again to a Beatle. He will be forever known as the man who turned down the Beatles. Poor Dick.
It is also the 50th anniversary of the mysterious death of singing superstar Sam Cooke. He was shot dead in suspicious circumstances at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles on 11 December 1964, when he was 33 years old. At the time Sam was one of America’s biggest and most successful entertainers, scoring 30 Top 40 records between 1957 and his death seven years later. He was entertainment royalty and right up there with a Frank Sinatra. How one of the most famous men in the world ended up in a low-rent motel is anybody’s guess, but by the early morning of December 11th he was dead, shot through the heart by the motel’s manager Bertha Franklin.
She claimed that Cooke had burst into her office wearing nothing but a shoe and a sports coat, demanding to know where Elisa Bowyer, the woman he was with that night, had gone. Franklin then claimed that Sam became violent and in self-defence, fired a gun at him and then proceeded to beat him over the head with a broomstick. Bowyer later claimed that she had been kidnapped.
A verdict of justifiable homicide was returned by the court. Sam was drunk at the time and a large amount of money he had in his wallet was never recovered (he had withdrawn $5,000 earlier that day). Bowyer was arrested soon after for prostitution. It was not until a day later that a reporter discovered that the man signed into the motel that night was one of the greatest singers of all time, Sam Cooke.
Conspiracy theories dominate his death but what we are left with is a man cut down in his prime with so much more ahead of him regarding civil rights and political commentary. He could have produced something as radical as What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye or Superfly by Curtis Mayfield.
The Who celebrate their half century with a world tour, which they say will be their last-ever shows together. The band that epitomised the Swinging Sixties mod era were inspired by the reaction to the Rolling Stones 50 and Counting tour. The Stones, according to Billboard magazine, raked in more than £77 million pounds in 2013 — now that would inspire me, too.
Ray Davies of the Kinks has recently stated that the band could celebrate the 50th anniversary of You Really Got Me, often cited as the first heavy rock song. Ray and his brother Dave recently met in a London pub to discuss the possibility of a reformation, with Dave refreshingly stating, “I don’t want to see the legacy of the Kinks soured by two miserable old men doing it for the money,” so we will have to wait to see if this tour materialises.
2014 also sees the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest British albums of all time, Definitely Maybe by Oasis. The record went straight to number one and went seven times platinum. As the Madchester period ended in disarray with drugs, gangs and deaths, the city was dubbed “Gunchester” and the party was over.
As the nightclubs closed and the ashtrays were emptied for the last time, the void was palpable. The road sweepers cleaned up the detritus from the streets and alleyways, as the dark clouds descended in a fitting denouement. As the city licked its wounds and regrouped in the wake of the Stone Roses, from over the hill came four Manchester boys with the attitude and swagger of the Sex Pistols, coupled with the all-knowing streetwise Mancunian belligerence and self-belief that would see them succeed at all costs.
They grabbed the British music scene by the scuff of the neck and pronounced that they were the greatest thing since the Beatles and for a moment in time they were as big as U2 or the Clash. Parklife by Blur was released in the same year and the battle of Brit Pop ensued.
Blur won the battle for the number one slot with Country House, beating Roll with It into submission by a handful of copies. Both albums owe a great debt to one group, their forbears the Stone Roses, who celebrate the 25th Anniversary of their incredible eponymous debut album in March. I cannot recall another album that evokes such a period in time. Put on this album now and it immediately conjures up the spirit and freedom of the youth of Britain in the late 80s and early 90s. It is a sonic time capsule that in years to come will improve like a fine bottle of wine.
Will 2014 produce a group, a phenomenon, a cultural revolution that in years to come will be described as awe-inspiring and significant? One would hope so, but I really wouldn’t like to predict where it will come from and when it will happen. I’ll leave that to the experts.
Pete Mitchell’s show is at 10pm on Saturdays on Absolute Radio. Listen live here