The Ongoing History of New Music, Episode 728: 60 Mind-Blowing Facts About Music in 60 Minutes

Yes, it’s a listicle. Sorry, but I need the traffic to this site and I’m not above doing a little trolling and click-baiting.

At the same time, though, I also love sites that promise X cool stories or X weird facts or better yet, X mind-blowing facts, so I thought it was about time that I created one of my own. I went back through all my notes to come up with sixty mind-blowing (or at least really cool) facts about music that you can share with friends and enemies. And I want this post to be SEO’d up the ying-yang so it will get a constant stream of traffic until the heat death of the universe.

Ready? Here are your 60 mind-blowing facts about music.

On the Road

1. The tradition of holding up your lighter at a concert began on September 13, 1969, at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival at Varsity Stadium. Weirdo manager and producer Kim Fowley was the guy who convinced promoter John Power to invite John Lennon to perform his first solo gig outside the Beatles at the event. When Lennon accepted, Fowley was appointed MC of the event. When Lennon stepped on stage, he encouraged the audience to welcome him with flames from their cigarette lighters held aloft. People have been doing it ever since.

2.  At some point, you’ve probably heard some idiot at some concert scream “Freedbird!” at the stage—as if whoever is playing is going to launch into that Lynyrd Skynyrd song on request. What’s the history of that? A Chicago radio dude named Kevin Matthews claims to have started the joke in the 80s when Florence Henderson—Mrs. Brady on The Brady Bunch—was giving a concert. He asked his listeners to break up the monotony by shouting “Free Bird” during the show. The gag caught on and soon people were shouting at everything from Barry Manilow shows to performances by symphony orchestras. Now everyone does it.

3. Who came up with the idea of saying “Elvis has left the building?” That was a guy named Al Dorvin who MCed an Elvis Presley show in Minneapolis in 1954. To get rid of the screaming kids still in the venue, he let everyone know that his boss was no longer around. From then on, all shows ended with Al saying that. It’s now a worldwide meme.

4. David Bowie was once almost blinded when some idiot threw a lollipop at the stage. On June 18, 2004, Bowie was performing in Oslo when something came flying out of the audience. The stick of the lollipop managed to lodge itself in between his left eyeball and the eye socket.  A week later in Germany, he had a heart attack onstage and needed an emergency angioplasty. Coincidence?

5. Green Day’s first tour bus was an old bookmobile driven by Tre Cool’s father.

6. The biggest attendance at any concert ever was a gig by Rod Stewart on Copacabana Beach on December 31, 1994. Officials swear that 3.5 million people were there.

7. Slipknot used to carry around a dead, decaying bird in a jar when they went on tour to supposedly remind them of death. The thing was so putrid just one sniff would make anyone immediately throw up. It became a thing for fans to demand a chance for them to smell it during shows. There was lots of vomit.

8. The only known incidence of a concert being cancelled because of bird poop happened on July 23, 2012 at the Verizon Amphitheatre in St. Louis. A bunch of pigeons had roosted in the rafters above the stage and as Kings of Leon started to play, the poop began to fall. When singer Caleb Followill looked up to see what was hitting him in the head, he had the misfortune of having his mouth open. The band walked off stage after three songs.

 

Weird Relations

9. Chris Martin’s great-great grandfather was named William Willet. He was the guy who basically invented the idea of daylight savings time.

10. Still on the subject of relations, Moby’s real name is Richard Mellville Hall. He calls himself Moby because his parents told him that Herman Meville, the author of Moby Dick in 1851 was his great-great-great-granduncle.

11. The daughter of Joe Strummer of the Clash is named Jazz. Her passion is knitting. She even wrote a book on the subject called Queen of Crafts.

12. Thom Yorke of Radiohead has a younger brother named Andy. Not only was he Russian translator for Greenpeace, he was also in a well-regarded indie band called Unbelievable Truth which sold several hundred thousand records in its existence.

13. Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was brought up mainly by his father, a bit-part actor and sometime drug dealer to the stars who goes by the name Blackie Dammet. When he son became famous, Blackie was the president of the Chili Peppers fan club, running the website and maintaining all the connections with the band’s followers. His official title was “Head Honcho.”

14. Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo of Daft Punk is said to have an aristocratic bloodline with his ancestors having once fought against Henry V at Agincourt in October 1415.

 

Technology

15. If you have a vinyl record, the music is stored in one long continuous vinyl groove. How long is it? The average length is 500 meters or 1,500 feet.

16. Well, what about CDs? The binary bumps on the surface of a CD are also arranged in a spiral, although CDs play from the inside out. A typical CD spiral runs almost five kilometres.

17. Music was first sent down a telephone line in 1876, the same year the phone was invented.

18. You’ve probably heard how the MP3 algorithm was perfected by using Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” as a baseline recording for all the various trials. “Tom’s Diner” was written in the same restaurant that we saw on Seinfeld for all those years.

19. Getting the MP3 algorithm right was tricky because the compression often introduced all kinds of glitches and artifacts that marred the sound. Vocals and music were relatively easy when compared to real-world sounds. For a variety of really complex technical reasons, the engineers used the sound of a hockey game as a way to perfect the technology.

20. If you ever downloaded musically illegally, chances are the ultimate source of those files was one guy: Dell Glover, an employee at a CD pressing plant in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. He smuggled out thousands of CDs and posted them online with a serious of co-conspirators. For years, he was the biggest enabler of piracy on the planet. For example, if you downloaded Blink 182’s 2001 album, Take off Your Pants and Jacket, Dell was the guy who stole it and posted it before it even had a change to leave the pressing plant.

 

The Record Industry

21. In the 1920s, record labels were furious when radio stations started playing records as part of their broadcasts. “If people can hear our recordings for free, who’s going to buy them?” Labels lobbied very, very hard to make it illegal for radio to play records. Fortunately, they lost that battle.

22. Think the record industry went through some bad times over the last fifteen years? In the early 1930s, the number of records sold dropped by more than 90% as a result of the depression.

23. The concept of the greatest hits album came from Mitch Miller, a rock’n’roll hater who ran the A&R department of Columbia Records in the 1950s. The first-ever greatest hits album came from Johnny Mathis. After it came out, it spent 491 consecutive weeks on the Billboard album charts. No wonder the industry embraced the idea.

24. There used to be no such thing as a major record label. That term didn’t start catching on until the 1980s when there was a period of consolidation. Back in 1960, there were more than three thousands record labels across North America .Today we say we have three major labels: Universal, Sony and Universal.

25. Name the artist with the most appearances on the Billboard Top 100 Singles Chart. The Beatles? Nope. Elvis. Nope. Michael Jackson. Nope. The answer is the cast of the TV show Glee. They made the singles charts 109 times, more than anyone else ever.

26. Yes, vinyl records are doing better than they’ve done in a long, long time but still comprise around 6% of all physical sales. The rest of the physical market belongs to CDs.

27. When it comes to all the digital downloads that are available, 98.9% sell less than a thousand copies. In 2011, when digital music sales were still on the rise and before streaming really started to take off, 73.9% of tracks sold fewer than 10 copies. Still want to be a musician?

28. The oldest record store in the world is Spillers Records, which has been in business in Cardiff, Wales, continuously since 1894.

 

The Law

1. The Clash were once sued by the manufacturer of a toilet boil cleaner after they alleged the band plagiarized their jingle for the song “Innoculated City.” The CEO of 2,000 Flushes was the father of KISS star, Paul Stanley.

2. At a U2 show in Marseille, France in 1993, a fan snuck around a barrier to be closer to the speakers. He got so close that he lost 75% of the hearing in his left ear and 49% of the hearing in his right, rendering him legally deaf. He then sued U2 and the promoter for ruining his hearing. His defence was that security should have done a better job of keeping him out of a restricted area. And get this: he won a $34,000 judgement.

3. Vampire Weekend got sued over the picture on the cover of their 2010 album, Contra. You know the one with the woman wearing the Ralph Lauren shirt? They bought it for $5,000 from the photographer who took the picture. But when the woman involved saw the album, she freaked. Apparently the photographer forged some kind of release, so it wasn’t his photo to sell. It took almost two years to settle the situation.

4. Johnny Lydon of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited was supposed to be on Pam Am Flight 103 that was brought down by a terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. He and his wife Nora missed the flight because she took too long to pack and then they got stuck in traffic.

5. A psycho named Ricardo Lopez was so obsessed with teaching Bjork a lesson about dating black men, he sent her a packaged booby-trapped to spray sulphuric acid in the face as it was opened. Fortunately, cops were able to intercept the package after they found Lopez’s suicide video message.

6. Ex Smashing Pumpkins bass player D’Arcy Wretzky (who left the band under mysterious circumstances in the late 90s) was ticketed when some of her horses escaped from her Michigan farm and ran loose through town. After refusing to pay the ticket and failing to show up in court four times, she was put in jail for a week.

 

Songwriting

35. The opening drumbeat of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Closer,” is actually a sample of the drumbeat of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” with the waveform turned upside down

36. Auto-Tune—the software that can tune away imperfections in a vocal performance or, at worst, turn singers into robots—was derived from software used in searching for oil deposits.

37. The shortest song ever recorded and released came from Napalm Death. It runs exactly 1.316 seconds. It goes like this:

38. The first sound to be sampled by an electronic device was a barking dog. It belonged to one of the employees of Fairlight, the company that made the world’s first digital sampler.

39. Where do a lot of those isolated vocals that show up online come from? Many are from tracks that were used to create the songs in games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. If you know what you’re doing, you can rip these isolated tracks and put them on YouTube.

40. We’re back to the subject of bird poop for this one. When the Red Hot Chili Peppers wanted to remix the song “Give it Away,” they hired Ministry’s Al Jourgensen. He showed up in the studio with a chicken under his arm. He put the chicken on the mixing board, rolled a job, took a deep hit and then blew pot smoke in the chicken’s face. The chicken quickly got stoned and started staggering all over the mixing board. Wherever the chicken pooped, that was a track that Al emphasized in the remix. And yes, this remix was released.

 

Medical Issues

41. Joey Ramone suffered terribly from obsessive compulsive disorder. It was tough to get him out of his apartment building because he felt compelled to go back to check if his door was locked. He sometimes was paralyzed by stepping off a curb because he needed step on and off the curb a specific number of times.

42. Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is dyslexic, suffers from anxiety and has to deal with dyspraxia, which is a neurological issue that impairs motor skills, memory and judgement functions.

43. Beck’s mother is Bibbi Hansen and is a registered midwife. One of her patients was a certain Mrs. Ribisi. She had twins, Giovanni and Marissa. Giovanni Ribisi grew up to be an actor and Marissa grew up to be Beck’s wife.

44. You can get a brain injury from headbanging. The medical journal The Lancet published the cae of a German man who presented with a terrible headache which turned out to be a chronic subdural hematoma. Doctors drilled into his skull and drained the bleed to relieve the pressure. A follow-up scan showed a benign cyst in his brain. When questioned, the man confessed to being at a Motorhead concert several weeks earlier. The diagnosis was that his enthusiastic headbanging at the show caused his brain to bump up against his skull, causing the cyst which in turn led to the hematoma. They’d never seen anything like this before, which is why the doctors decided to publish.

45. We’ve all seen TV shows where surgeons operate on patients while listening to music. A lot of surgeons do operate this way because they say it helps them relax and focus. But a study out of the UK finds just the opposite. Their conclusion is that music in the operating theatre can interfere with team communication. By film 20 operations over six months, they identified more than 5,000 instances in which a request had to be repeated by someone involved in the operation. Does this mean music in the operating room is a safety hazard? Maybe.

46. Think those sunglasses are just an affectation? Actually, Bono really needs them. He’s been suffering from glaucoma for more than 20 years. He takes medication to regulate the pressure in his eyes, but they’re still overly sensitive to light. The sunglasses are necessary to guard against further damage to his vision.

47. Dave Grohl is incredibly self-conscious over what he considers his overly-large nostrils.

48. Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age takes vitamins every day, washed down with some vodka.

 

Random Facts

49. Termites will eat wood two times faster when listening to heavy metal. Cows will produce more milk when listening to Celine Dion.

50. There was a female Rock Band name ‘Rockbitch’ which was famous for throwing ‘Golden Condoms’ at their audience and whoever got it, male or female, was taken backstage to have sex with band members.

51. The original drummer of the Offspring quite the band to become a gynaecologist.

52. Before the Black Keys became famous, Patrick Carney made ends meet by working as a telemarketer.

53. When Bob Marley was a kid, his nickname was “White Boy.” That’s because his father was a white British naval officer.

54. The Beastie Boys Adam Horovitz has been involved with Kathleen Hanna, a former member of the pioneering riot grrrl band, Bikini Girl. She was also the woman hanging out with Kurt Cobtain the night she said he smelled like a girly deodorant called “Teen Spirit.” Kurt, who didn’t wear deodorant, didn’t get the reference, wrote a new song and changed music.

55. Melba toast was named after an Australian opera singer named Nellie Melba. She died in 1931.

56. When the Velvet Underground broke up in the 70s, drummer Moe Tucker found work as a Wal-Mart greeter in Georgia.

57. Creed has sold more music than Jimi Hendrix.

58. Before he was in Muse, drummer Dominic Howard used to pack concert t-shirts for the Spice Girls.

59. Guitarist Jim Martin left Faith No More in 1993 to become a competitive giant pumpkin grower. He’s very good at it, too. At the 2006 Safeway World Championship Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay, California, Jim blew away all previous records by exhibiting a pumpkin weighing 1,524 pounds. Prize money was $6 per pound, so he walked away with $9,144.

60. And before Billy Talent took off, Ben Kowalewicz had a $10 an hour job watching over me in a storefront radio studio to make sure the crazy people on Yonge Street in Toronto and attack me. He was very good at his job. I sent him for coffee many times and he never once got my order wrong.

I have more, but we’ll save those for another show.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “The Ongoing History of New Music, Episode 728: 60 Mind-Blowing Facts About Music in 60 Minutes

  • October 2, 2015 at 3:39 pm
    Permalink

    Stuff like this doesn’t make it by coincidence. You must have dug deep in the crates over many years to amass all of these cool facts. Great job!

    Reply
  • October 3, 2015 at 8:37 am
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    Wow. The thing I’m amazed by is really just how much of this must’ve been “surface facts” that you didn’t really have to do much digging for, you just knew it. I bet any stranger could come up to you on the street and say: “give me a weird fact about _____” and you could easily sprout one of these off.

    Reply
  • October 3, 2015 at 11:22 pm
    Permalink

    And I thought I was the only one who was interested in this kinda thing…..
    Awesome Job again!!!!

    Reply

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