Fun Music Facts

Johnny Cash

“Folsom Prison Blues” was initially released in 1956 as a B-side to Cash’s single “So Doggone Lonesome.” But a live version, recorded at San Quentin prison, became the #1 country hit of 1968.


An iTunes user downloaded the 10 billionth song sold on the service. The song: “Guess Things Happen That Way,” by Johnny Cash. Guess things happen that way.

 

In 1958 country music powerhouse Johnny Cash played his first prison concert…at San Quentin. Inmate Merle Haggard was in the audience and so enjoyed the show that he was inspired to start playing himself. 

When Haggard later told Cash that he’d been at the concert, Cash said he didn’t remember Haggard performing that day; Haggard replied, “I was in the audience, Johnny.” In fact, he was sitting in the front row and was mesmerized by Cash. He and his fellow inmates identified with Cash’s lyrics about loss and imprisonment. 

Haggard reminisced: “This was somebody singing a song about your personal life. Even the people who weren’t fans of Johnny Cash - it was a mixture of people, all races were fans by the end of the show.” Haggard also soon realized that he shared Cash’s talent for making music and for speaking to the struggles of the working class. 

He joined the prison’s country band shortly after Cash’s concert and penned songs about being locked up. After his release in 1960, Haggard sang at clubs until he eventually became a country superstar himself.

 

Producers of the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball couldn’t make up their minds on a title song. After rejecting “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” by Shirley Bassey (who had done “Goldfinger” for Goldfinger), they asked Dionne Warwick to re-record it. 

Studio United Artists rejected both renditions, because they wanted the song to have the same name as the movie, for marketing purposes. Filmmakers went in the complete opposite direction and commissioned Johnny Cash to write “Thunderball.” Ultimately a different “Thunderball,” recorded by Tom Jones, was used.

 

During a show at the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, the Man in Black got upset about a faulty microphone stand. 

Reaction: Cash flipped out and used the faulty stand to smash all the footlights on the stage. The Grand Ole Opry banned him from performing there for decades.

Van Halen

Jon’s going to hate this one:

Gene Simmons of KISS discovered a hard rock band playing around Southern California in 1976. They were going by the name Mammoth, until Simmons convinced them to change it to something closer to home: the last name of the Scandinavian drummer and guitarist. That band did pretty well as Van Halen.


Sammy Hagar is most famous for being the second lead singer in Van Halen and also for owning his own tequila company, Cabo Wabo. But that’s just one of his side businesses. In the ’80s, he traveled so much that he found it was cheaper to open his own private travel agency, saving on fees. He’s also an avid bicyclist, and started Sausalito Cyclery, a bike shop in northern California.


After a successful round of test marketing, Pepsi introduced Crystal Pepsi in 1992. Among the marketing tactics: free bottles included with newspaper deliveries in major cities and a Super Bowl commercial featuring Van Halen’s hit “Right Now.” Crystal Pepsi was one of the most successful new soda product launches in history, with more than $470 million in sales in its first year.


Eddie Van Halen played the song’s guitar solo for Michael jackson’s “Beat it” as a favor to producer Quincy Jones. He was uncredited and unpaid for his work, apart from the two six-packs of beer Jones gave him during the recording session.

 

A handful of bands rocked so hard that they got their own Guitar Hero games, including Aerosmith, Metallica, and Van Halen.

Ozzy Osbourne

On the 1988 song “Bloodbath in Paradise,” Ozzy Osbourne recorded backward a line parodying a very dirty line of dialogue spoken by a satanically possessed little girl in the movie The Exorcist. Osbourne says, “Your mother sells whelks in Hull.”... I don't even know what that means.

 

In 2009, Fox produced a variety show hosted by heavy metal star Ozzy Osbourne and his family, best known for their MTV reality show/sitcom hybrid The Osbournes. That show was famous for its high volume of bleeped profanity…and a fear of more profanity is why 20 Fox affiliates refused to air the show. Fox cut its losses and axed the show after one airing.


Don Airey has played keyboards for the biggest acts in heavy metal, including Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and for Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career. Airey played on Osbourne’s 1981 album Blizzard of Ozz, and Osbourne asked him to be a part of the ensuing concert tour. But on one condition: Airey couldn’t be on stage. Although Airey’s keyboards featured prominently on Blizzard, Osbourne didn’t think keyboards were a very “metal” instrument. So he planned to keep Airey backstage, unseen to the audience and even the rest of the band. Airey refused that arrangement, so he and Osbourne compromised: Airey would play from inside a special area on the stage set where he and the band could see each other…but the audience couldn’t see Airey.

Mick Fleetwood

Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac estimates that he spent $8 million on cocaine.


The Beatles

Penny Lane


The song described real locations in Liverpool. Or at least they were real—the street called Penny Lane is no longer there, although the barber, banker, and “shelter in the middle of the roundabout” still stand. The barber and banker are still a barber and banker; the shelter is now a coffee shop.


Eleanor Rigby


A statue of the song’s subject sits on a bench on Stanley Street in Liverpool. It was sculpted by Tommy Steele, a 1950s British rock star, who gave it to the city in 1982. Unlike the song’s Eleanor Rigby, each year several thousand people “come near” the statue, which is dedicated to “all the lonely people.”


Dear Prudence


John Lennon met Prudence Farrow—actress Mia Farrow’s sister—on a spiritual retreat with the Maharishi in India. She seemed very depressed when she arrived there, so Lennon wrote this song in an attempt to cheer her up. (She later said that she was neither sad nor despondent, just very deeply into meditation.)


Yellow Submarine


Paul McCartney intended it to be a children’s song, and wrote a spoken introduction to go along with it, but the idea of the intro was abandoned—no recording of it exists.


Because


The chord progression is Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” played backward. Lennon got the idea after hearing Yoko Ono play the original piece on the piano. The unique vocal is the result of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison singing in unison, then overdubbing the parts twice to create nine-part harmony.

 

“Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)”


It’s about Elton’s friend John Lennon, who was murdered in 1980. In an interview on Inside the Actors’ Studio, John said that he hardly ever plays the song live anymore because it makes him too sad. But he noted that he has performed it at Madison Square Garden in New York, where he dueted with Lennon in 1974 on the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”—Lennon’s final concert appearance.


Got to Get You Into My Life


In his autobiography, Many Years From Now, McCartney admitted who the song was about: nobody. It was actually about his need to smoke marijuana.


When I’m 64


Paul McCartney wrote this song when he was 15, then recorded it a decade later with the Beatles. It was about his hope that he would have someone to love him in his old age. In 2002 McCartney married former model Heather Mills. They split up in 2006…one month before McCartney’s 64th birthday.


Twist and Shout


The Beatles’ first concert ever held in a stadium was their show at Shea Stadium in August 1965. The first song they played: “Twist and Shout.” The Beatles’ version came from a 1962 recording by the Isley Brothers, but the Isleys didn’t originate it: a Philadelphia R&B group called the Top Notes did.


Something


John Lennon and Paul McCartney controlled the Beatles’ output—George Harrison wrote lots of songs with the group, but this was his only composition with the Beatles that was ever released as a single. It went to #1.


I Want to Hold Your Hand

 

“Helter Skelter”

 

This song changed the world for the worse. Paul McCartney wrote “Helter Skelter” in 1967 after challenging himself to write something louder and noisier than the Who’s “I Can See for Miles.” According to McCartney, the song is about an amusement park ride. But mass murderer Charles Manson believed it contained secret messages about an upcoming race war, in the aftermath of which Manson would become the ruler of the world because he’d be the only white man left. Led by this delusion, Manson sent his followers on a killing spree in 1969. They brutally murdered seven people in Los Angeles and left the words “healter skelter” crudely scrawled (and misspelled) on one of the victims’ refrigerators.


The crowds of screaming girls during live performances were so loud that neither they nor the band could really hear the lyrics. So, when performing this song, Lennon would sing “I want to hold your gland,” meaning a breast.


Strawberry Fields Forever


When John Lennon was a boy in Liverpool, he liked to play in a garden called Strawberry Field on the grounds of a Salvation Army house. His Aunt Mimi didn’t want him playing there, though, because he was technically trespassing. She often warned him, “It’s nothing to get hung about.” 


I Saw Her Standing There


Rights-holders wouldn’t allow Beatles songs to be used on American Idol until the series’ sixth season, but now a “Beatles week” is an annual feature. The first Fab Four song, performed on the 2007 finale, was “I Saw Her Standing There,” sung as a duet by Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis. 


I Am the Walrus


Some of the lyrics to this psychedelic song seem to be nonsensical—who is “the eggman,” for instance? Eric Burdon of the Animals claims that it’s him. Burdon says that Lennon nicknamed him “Eggman” after he told Lennon about an intimate encounter he’d once had that involved an egg.

 

One of Phil Collins’ early acting roles: He was an extra in the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night. For years, he claimed that he was in the film, but that his part was cut out. Collins had answered a casting call to be in a group of fans screaming for the Beatles. In the mid-’90s, Collins was approached to narrate a Beatles documentary, and he got to see outtakes from the movie. Sure enough, he found himself in the audience for a concert scene. He told Rolling Stone that he “found a guy that looked just like me, sitting completely still. I remember thinking, ‘For crying out loud, will you stop screaming? Let’s listen to the music!'”

 

Sometime in the 1960s, John Lennon gave a rotten, extracted tooth to his housekeeper, Dot Jarlett. Lennon wanted her to throw it away, but jokingly told her to give it to her Beatles-crazed daughter. Jarlett did indeed pass it along, and in 2011, the younger Jarlett sold it to Omega Auctions in London. It sold to a Canadian dentist named Michael Zuk for $31,200. Zuk has bizarre plans for the tooth: he wants to extract Lennon’s DNA from it and someday create a John Lennon clone that “could be looked at as my son.”


Pete Best’s claim to fame: he was the drummer fired by the Beatles right before they became the most popular band in the world. Despite being kicked out of the Beatles, he signed a Beatles drum head in 2015, and it was auctioned off for $1,024. (At the same auction, a baseball signed by the Fab Four sold for $100,000.)


In 2000, George Harrison turned down an OBE (Officer of the British Empire). He was miffed that his Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney had been knighted in 1997 and he hadn’t been.


In 1995 the surviving members of the Beatles convened in a London studio to record a new song called “Free as a Bird,” built on a vocal demo that Lennon had recorded in the ’70s. According to Paul McCartney, Lennon’s ghost attended the reunion, too. “There were a lot of strange goings-on in the studio—noises that shouldn’t have been there and equipment doing all manner of weird things.” Another sighting: Lennon once told his son Julian that should he ever die, he would visit him as “a white feather floating evenly across the room.” About a year after Lennon’s death, Julian Lennon reported that his father kept his word.


Before the late ‘60s, radio stations rarely played songs over four minutes long. It took a band as powerful as the Beatles to change that. In 1968, the group released “Hey Jude.” The 7:11 song went to #1, was the band’s biggest hit, and opened the doors for longer songs on the radio. About a decade later, Meat Loaf shattered the hit song length record with “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” That song is 8:55. That record stood until 1991, with the release of Guns N’ Roses “November Rain,” which comes in at 8:57.


In 1981, a Dutch studio act called Stars on 45 hired a bunch of studio musicians and compiled a medley of re-recorded versions of songs by the Beatles and other acts, and put a dance beat under it. It was popular in dance clubs and then hit #1 in the U.S. and other countries. But because of all the use of other people’s music, Stars on 45 was required to list the names of all the songs in the medley on album sleeves, record labels, etc. The full name of the song is “Medley: Intro Venus/Sugar Sugar/No Reply/I’ll Be Back/Drive My Car/Do You Want to Know a Secret/We Can Work It Out/ I Should Have Known Better/Nowhere Man/You’re Going to Lose That Girl/Stars on 45.” That’s 41 words.


They were originally called the Iveys. When they signed with the Beatles’ Apple Records label, Paul McCartney gave them this name. It was the original title of the Beatles song “A Little Help from My Friends.”


George Martin, who arranged and created the orchestrations for Beatles songs, conducts a small orchestra who plays Beatles hits in a classical, instrumental style. All of the songs chosen are directly or indirectly about women in Beatles songs, such as “Eleanor Rigby,” “Michelle,” and “Girl.” (There’s also a version of “Yellow Submarine” for some reason.)


Only George Martin can do justice to Beatles songs arranged and produced by George Martin. That’s the concept behind this collection of Beatles covers. The singers? Not quite as much justice. Tracks include Sean Connery singing “In My Life,” comedian Billy Connolly on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and Jim Carrey doing “I Am the Walrus.”


The first ever “hidden track” was on a vinyl record. At the end of the Beatles’ Abbey Road, there’s 14 seconds of silence, followed by the 30-second song “Her Majesty.” The song was supposed to go elsewhere on the album but Paul McCartney hated it, so he asked tape operator John Kurlander to trash it. He didn’t—he secretly placed it at the end of the album without telling anybody.



Lisa Simpson met Paul and Linda McCartney on the Kwik-E-Mart’s rooftop garden, or “Apu’s garden in the shade,” a reference to the Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden.” Paul also suggests to Lisa to play his solo hit “Maybe I’m Amazed” backward, where she’ll find a recipe for lentil soup. At the end of the episode, “Maybe I’m Amazed” plays over the credits. McCartney recorded a specially recorded backward message placed over the song. It’s that recipe for lentil soup, and then the words, “Oh, and by the way, I’m alive.” (That references the “Paul is dead” rumors of the late 1960s.)

 

Gordon Jenkins came to Frank Sinatra with an idea called Trilogy, a career-spanning triple album that would include re-recordings of past Sinatra hits (“The Past”), Sinatra takes on rock-era songs (“The Present”), and a bizarre song cycle (“The Future”) in which Sinatra reflects on his life and travels through space. (Seriously.) For “The Present,” Sinatra picked Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” the Beatles’ “Something”…and “New York, New York.” It became an unlikely comeback hit for Sinatra, peaking at #32 on the pop chart—his last top 40 hit, and first since “My Way” in 1969.

 

Until recently, Ringo Starr was the only member of the Beatles not inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. In fact, he was only inducted via a special committee who included Starr under its “Award for Musical Excellence Banner,” which honors sideman, producers, and other tertiary participants in the music industry. The honor was arranged after Starr’s old bandmate Paul McCartney, and Robbie Robertson of “the Band”, personally lobbied Hall organizer Jann Wenner.


When The Simpsons premiered in 1990, three Beatles were still living, and all appeared on the show, at separate times. Starr was the first to do so. In an April 1991 episode, he’s shown getting around to answering all of his Beatles-era fan mail, and sends Marge a letter thanking her for the “fab painting” she made of him. “I hung it on me wall!” he adds.



The Beatles were minimally involved with the making of the film Yellow Submarine. Except for Starr. He asked animators to make the animated version of himself have a bigger nose.



While the other Beatles had various disagreements with each other over the years, Starr reportedly never had any bad blood with any of his former band mates. (After George Harrison died in 2001, his wife, Olivia Harrison, said Starr was “probably his best friend.”) Starr took the friendship musical—he’s the only Beatle to perform on solo albums by all the other Beatles. He was the drummer on Lennon’s 1970 Plastic Ono Band album, four Paul McCartney albums, and seven George Harrison albums.



In the 1960s, a health food-obsessed Brian Wilson recorded a song called “Vega-Tables.” He’d intended it to be a part of the Beach Boys’ Smile, which fell apart during recording. It ultimately appeared on the 1967 album Smiley Smile. The song is literally about the pleasures of eating vegetables, and includes lots of crunching of vegetables as a kind of percussion. Wilson’s friend, Paul McCartney, crunched celery on the track.


Paul McCartney’s biggest achievements came with the Beatles, but his three biggest solo hits came in 1982 and 1983. Two of those were collaborations with Michael Jackson (“Say Say Say” and “The Girl is Mine”) and Stevie Wonder (“Ebony and Ivory.”)


Elvis took 18 songs to #1 in his career. That’s surpassed only by the 20 chart-toppers of the Beatles. However, in cumulative weeks at #1, Presley leads the way, with 79 weeks—that’s a year and a half in all.



The Fab Four never reunited after their acrimonious split in 1970, and John Lennon and George Harrison have since passed away. In the mid-1970s, concert promoter Bill Sargent offered the Beatles $10 million to play a single concert, likely at Shea Stadium, that was also going to feature the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. It didn’t happen, even when he offered $50 million, and even when he offered $100 million. They also turned down $3,000 from Lorne Michaels.


December 29, 1974 is the other “day the music died”—it’s when the Beatles were formally, legally dissolved. The Beatles slowly began breaking up in 1969, but 1974 is when it became official.


A music publishing agreement dictated that any song John Lennon or Paul McCartney wrote alone or together be credited to “Lennon-McCartney.” McCartney reportedly wrote more than 100 Beatles songs by himself, including “Yesterday.” The version that appears on the Beatles’ 1965 album Help! features McCartney singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and backed with a string quartet. No other Beatle is present on the track.


All of the Fab Four have children who became musicians. McCartney’s son James is a singer-songwriter, Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey has been the drummer for Oasis and the Who, and George Harrison’s son Dhani is a producer and multi-instrumentalist. Lennon’s son Sean has released several solo albums and was a member of the ‘90s alternative rock group Cibo Matto. But only Lennon’s oldest son, Julian, has had successful pop singles. In 1984, Julian Lennon released Valotte, which yielded the #9 hit “Valotte” and the #5 “Too Late For Goodbyes.”


In 1980, Harrison published I Me Mine, an appropriate title taken from a song he wrote for the Beatles. It’s so far the first and only time a Beatle has published an autobiography.


In 1982, Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy won the Grammy for Album of the Year, a little over a year after Lennon’s death.


The Beatles honed their skills playing nightclubs in Hamburg, Germany. Once Beatlemania struck in 1964, a German division of their record label, EMI, convinced the band to re-record a few of their biggest hits in German. Result: a double-sided single featuring “Komm, gib mir deine Hand” and “Sie liebt dich”—German versions of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You,” respectively. The singles didn’t make it to the American pop charts…but they did make the top 10 in Germany.

 

One of the most famous Sesame Street parodies ever: “Letter B,” a spelling-centric parody of the Beatles’ “Let It Be,” as performed in 1983 by a group of Muppet musicians with mop-top haircuts called “The Beetles.”


Under a copyright law called “Fair Use,” parodies may be recorded and released without securing permission from the song’s copyright owner. At the time “Let It Be” was controlled by a music publishing company called Northern Songs. In 1981, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, along with Yoko Ono, widow of ex-Beatle John Lennon, attempted to buy Northern Songs, so McCartney and Lennon’s family could own the Beatles songbook. The deal fell through.


A 1966 Soviet anti-Beatles film excerpt: “When they started their career, they wore nothing but swimming trunks and toilet seats around their necks.”

 

The Hobbit was first published in 1937 and was a worldwide smash, but Tolkien held on to the movie adaptation rights until the ‘60s. Reason: He feared Disney might get ahold of them and he hated Disney’s films. Tolkien finally sold the rights to United Artists in 1969, around the same time that the Beatles approached Stanley Kubrick to direct them in a live-action version for UA. Each member of the band would play a character (John Lennon wanted to play Gollum). But Kubrick turned them down, and soon after, Tolkien rejected the Fab Four’s plan and killed the project entirely.


original artist: Harrison’s 1987 comeback hit “Got my mind set on you” was a cover of an obscure 1960s soul song recorded by James Ray and written by Rudy Clark (who also wrote “Good Lovin’” and “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”). Harrison had wanted to do the song ever since he was with the Beatles—he thought it was well written, but badly performed on Ray’s recording. (He especially disliked the “horrible screechy women’s voices singing those backup parts.”)

Keith Richards

The Keith Richards rumor he once had his blood replaced with “clean” blood at a Swiss clinic to beat an addiction to heroin?…. Didn't happen.

 

Keith Richards has a $1.5 million insurance policy if he can’t play the guitar anymore. And that’s just for his middle finger.



In his 2010 autobiography, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards boasted that he once managed to go nine days without sleep.