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Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 5:48pm
John Fry

Sad news for Big Star fans: John Fry, the man who founded Ardent Records, the label that first brought the world Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City albums, and Ardent Studios, where those albums were recorded, has died at the age of 69. Mind you, the man was about far more than just Big Star: he was such a major player on the Memphis music scene, in fact, that he was inducted into the city’s Music Hall of Fame only last month.

Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 3:45pm
The Cars

Celebrating his 61st birthday today is the left-handed guitarist whose solos were one of the driving forces behind The Cars making it beyond the Boston new wave scene and turning into a platinum-selling rock band.

Although Brooklyn-born (and originally named Elliot Steinberg), Easton got his Boston cred by attending the Berklee College of Music – a school also attended by his soon-to-be bandmate, Greg Hawkes – and first crossed musical paths with Ric Ocasek and Benamin Orr when they played together in a group called Cap’n Swing. After some creative struggles within the lineup of the band, a few folks left and a few new folks came in, but once Hawkes and David Robinson were onboard, Robinson suggested that they call themselves The Cars, and the rest is history.

Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 1:49pm
T. Rex

43 years ago today, T. Rex earned their first and only #1 album in the UK, but it was a long-lasting one, staying in the top spot through January 29, 1972, then taking the top spot back again on February 5 and remaining there through February 19.

Marc Bolan and Steve Peregrin Took released three albums as Tyrannosaurus Rex and found a following almost immediately, even if their popularity was often more cult than mainstream, but when Took stepped out of the band after 1969’s Unicorn and Mickey Finn stepped in for 1970’s A Beard of Stars, Bolan also strapped on an electric guitar in the studio for the first time. Before the year was out, the band had simplified their name to simply T. Rex, released a self-titled album, and revealed that they’d punched up their sound considerably, turning away from the folk side of things and leaning heavily into the rock. By the fall of ’71, their transformation into glam rock heroes was complete.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 4:56pm
Josh White

New this week in the Rhino Room at iTunes:

J Mascis, Martin + Me: By the time J Mascis finally got around to releasing his first album under his own name in 1996, many critics – most of them old-school Dinosaur Jr. fans – were muttering, “You might as well,” since the band’s most recent album, 1994’s Without a Sound, found Mascis as the sole founding member remaining in the ranks. (As it happens, it was also their most commercially successful album up to that point.) Whether it’s because he was toying with the idea of doing away with band name altogether or just because he felt like it, Martin + Me, a live album recorded on Mascis’s Fall 1995 acoustic tour, came out under his name, and…well, frankly, it sounds like Dinosaur Jr., because what else is it gonna sound like when the lead singer of Dinosaur Jr. releases a live album that includes several Dinosaur Jr. songs in his set? Still, if you like the band, you’ll like the album, and even if you’re not a fan, you might actually become one after hearing Mascis’s low-key covers of the Smiths’ “The Boy with the Thorn in His Side,” the Wipers’ “On the Run,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Every Mother’s Son,” and Carly Simon’s “Anticipation.”

Josh White, The Story of John Henry / Sings Ballads – Blues / Chain Gang Songs / The House I Live In / Spirituals & Blues / Empty Bed Blues / The Best Of

: As you may have noticed in some of our past Digital Roundups, we’ll occasionally have a week where you suddenly find yourself knee-deep in the work of an artist whose past efforts – if not all of them, then certainly quite a few of them – have suddenly found their way into our digital catalog all at once. Such is the case this week with singer, songwriter, occasional actor, and frequent civil rights activist Josh White, whose Elektra output during the 1950s and 1960s has arrived at last.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 12:14pm
Aquarium Drunkard Presents

Trim your tree. Part three of our vintage holiday mix series. Find part one, here and two, here. Continuing in the vein of the past two weeks, Wassailing aims to re-frame seasonal music in a way that has nothing to do with crowded shopping malls, elves on shelves, or, as Charlie Brown once pondered, the over-commercialization of the holidays.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 12:01pm
David Bowie

43 years ago today, David Bowie released the album that would give him his first top-five placing on the UK album charts, kicking off a series of ch-ch-ch-changes in the public’s appreciation of his music that would, only two years later, lead him to earn his first #1 album in the UK.

While the success of Hunky Dory no doubt had quite a lot to do with the music, which found Bowie’s confidence sky high (as well it should have been, given that this is the album that featured “Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life on Mars?” and “Kooks,” among other classics), the value of Bowie making the jump to a new label must be taken into consideration as well: having concluded his contract with Mercury after The Man Who Sold the World failed to set the charts alight, RCA signed him to a three album deal after hearing the tapes of Bowie’s still-in-progress effort, and they maintained their optimism through its initially-minor success to see him through to his full-fledged commercial breakthrough. As for Bowie himself, he has rarely hesitated to cite the album as being a major turning point in his career.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 4:11pm
ZZ Top

Today marks the 65th birthday of a gentleman tasted his first success of note in a band that opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, not only earning praise for his tasty licks from Hendrix but also getting the gift of a pink Stratocaster from the guitar god. Those are the sorts of accomplishments that would be enough for a lot of musicians to coast on for the rest of their lives, so we should probably consider ourselves quite fortunate that Billy Gibbons decided to carry on with his music career beyond The Moving Sidewalks to ultimately join forces with Dusty Hill and Frank Beard for what has turned into a 45+ year career with ZZ Top.

Born in Houston in 1949, William Frederick Gibbons was the son of a musician, making it slightly less surprising that, when he got his first electric guitar not long after entering his teens, Billy was off and running, playing in a few bands here and there before starting the unit mentioned above: The Moving Sidewalks, who went on to score a minor hit single with the song “99th Floor.” Given their gigs opening up for Hendrix and The Doors, among others, The Moving Sidewalks might well have gone farther had two of the band’s members – Tom Moore and Don Summers – not been drafted, but while the US Army’s gain was a major loss for the band, it turned out to be a positive development for Gibbons: he and his fellow remaining Sidewalks member, drummer Dan Mitchell, brought in organist Lanier Greig and founded ZZ Top.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 2:22pm
Debbie Gibson

28 years ago today, Debbie Gibson released her first single, a self-composed track which ultimately climbed all the way to the #4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Not too bad for a 16-year-old, eh?

“Only in My Dreams” was written by Gibson in 1984, two years before she actually recorded it for her debut album, Out of the Blue, but when she spoke to Rhino earlier this year, she was quick to credit her producer for taking her composition and making it such a success. “Fred Zarr, who produced and co-produced all those hits with me, he took what I was doing in my garage on the four-track and elevated it to what you heard on the radio,” said Gibson. “He really helped facilitate my vision, fine-tune it, and elevate it, so I really hold him responsible for that sound.”