A number two US chart hit for Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” was a departure from his previous Motown sound into a more personal and introspective direction. Inspired by the rising tide of racial and social unrest in the United States in the late Sixties, and more personally by events like the death of Gaye’s cousin (a soldier in Vietnam), “What’s Going On?” was a plea to everyone to just stop and take a look around at the world, and to ask themselves why it was like that.
The song was nominated for two Grammy awards, and ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as number 4 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004, and again when the list was revised in 2010. They may actually have been under-rating it.
Idi Amin was already fairly notorious by 1971. As the commander in cheif of Uganda’s armed forces, he had recruited heavily amongst tribes not sympathetic to the Ugandan majority, and built himself a considerable power base. The Ugandan Prime Minister, Milton Obote – formerly an ally to Amin, but now worried about his subordinate’s increasingly obvious ambitions – reclaimed that post in October 1970, reducing Amin in rank to commander in cheif of the army.
In January 1971, Amin struck back. In a lightning military coup, he seized power on January 25. Publically, Amin announced that he was a soldier, not a politician. He promised that his military government would be only a caretaker regime until new elections could be held, and to release all political prisoners. On February 2, he proclaimed himself President of Uganda, a post which he held until he too was deposed, in 1979, after years of corruption, ethnic cleansing and economic mismanagement.
The commander of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard holds several unique distinctions. He is the only member of the Mercury 7 astronauts to have walked on the Moon and also the oldest person to have walked there (in terms of age at the time he did it). His mission was the first to broadcast colour video from the surface of the Moon and made the most accurate landing of all the Apollo missions. And, of course, he is the first man to have hit golf balls (two of them) on the Moon.
Shepard came home to the hero’s welcome that astronauts traditionally received, and was promoted from Captain to Rear-Admiral after the successful completion of his mission. He retired from the US Navy and NASA, becoming a successful businessman, and eventually died from leukemia in 1998, 21 years to the day from Armstrong’s first moon walk.
His golf balls are presumably still somewhere on the lunar surface.
The child of one of the most famous and creative rock stars of all time, Zowie Bowie was also saddled with one of the world’s most embarassing names. Later on in his childhood, he would known as Joey, but this wasn’t really much of an improvement, and he eventually settled on Duncan as a first name, and Jones (his father’s actual surname – Bowie is a stage name only) as his last name.
Since then, Jones has gone on to direct the films “Moon” and “Source Code” – and is apparently in talks to direct the next Wolverine film. He’s not yet wholly emerged from his father’s shadow, but to be fair, his father’s shadow is a very, very large one.
Morrison died on July 3, 1971, at age 27. In the official account of his death, he was found in a Paris apartment bathtub by Courson. Pursuant to French law, no autopsy was performed because the medical examiner claimed to have found no evidence of foul play. The absence of an official autopsy has left many questions regarding Morrison’s cause of death.
Many believed that Morrison had in fact faked his death, as he had occasionally talked of doing over the preceding few years, but if so, he has yet to reappear. And it’s hard to believe that a man with Morrison’s ego and drug use could have stayed anonymous for nearly 40 years now…
Early in the morning of July 22, 1971, the oil tanker Tamano briefly ran aground in Casco Bay, Maine. No one noticed this, or the twenty foot long gash in the side of the ship that was now leaking oil into the bay. This particular display of oil transport competence was brought to you by Texaco, and followed the same depressing trajectory as any other oil spill.
The months that followed saw massive environmental damage to the local area, a partial cleanup of the spill at taxpayer expense, and a completely typical denial of liability by the oil company – who passed the buck to the shipping company they’d outsourced to and blamed the government for not making the shipping channels safer. Incredibly, the latter point Texaco actually won a court case over.
Born Winona Laura Horowitz, the actress now known as Winona Ryder is best known for her appearances in such films as “Heathers”, “Alien Resurrection”, “Reality Bites”, “Girl, Interrupted”, and more recently, “Stranger Things”, among many others.
She is also well known for dating Johnny Deep in the early Nineties (he had a tattoo reading “Winona Forever” on his arm; after they broke up, it was modified to read “Wino Forever”), and for getting arrested for shoplifting in 2001.
Despite being one of the best known songs of all time – and one of the most frequently requested on radio – Led Zeppelin’s eight minute opus was not released as a single until years after its legend was well established. It was the fourth track of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, and its length precluded its release in single form in the 45rpm vinyl format.
It at once sums up everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with seventies rock in one song: it is pretentious and wanky, with lyrics that make little or no sense; but on the other hand, it rocks damned hard, has one of the greatest guitar solos ever, and is completely made of awesome.
The facts of the matter are distressingly simple: United States Army troops, under the immediate command of 2nd Lieutenant William Calley, entered the village of Son My in Vietnam on March 16, 1968. They killed an unknown number of people in that village, generally estimated to be between 100 and 400. Some of them were assaulted or raped before their deaths; almost all of them were non-combatants.
The army covered it up. An investigative committe headed by one Colin Powell whitewashed the incident, and so it might have remained, had not some of the men in the unit (and others who knew them), made great efforts to bring it to the attention of the American government and media. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh began investigating the story nearly a year after the events of the massacre, and eventually formed a fairly full picture of it, largely from conversations with Calley. The story was published in 33 newspapers on November 12, 1969. It was immediately controversial, and strongly increased opposition to the war in America. Hersh won a Pullitzer in 1970 for his efforts; Calley was convicted of murder in 1971 for his. He was the only person convicted of any crimes in relation to the massacre.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention liked to say that they brought the house down when they played. One time, they really did.
Montreux Casino’s entertainment complex caught fire during a concert Zappa and the band played on December 4, 1971, when some idiot fired a flare gun into the ceiling, which was covered with a flammable rattan surface. The entire complex burnt down, taking with it all the instruments and equipment belonging to the band. As the smoke billowed out across Lake Geneva, it was observed by the members of Deep Purple, who had arrived in Montreux that evening to begin recording their next album.
The events they witnessed that night led them to write a song about it. Bassist Roger Glover is credited with the song’s title – “Smoke on the Water” – and although all five members of the band are credited as the writers and composers, and Ritchie Blackmore composed what may well be the most recognizable guitar riff in rock and roll history…