1956 - Johnny Cash records "I Walk The Line" at Sun Studio in Memphis. His label boss, Sam Phillips, has him speed up the tempo, which is a good call: The song becomes Cash's first #1 Country hit. One of his most famous songs, "I Walk The Line" details Johnny Cash's values and lifestyle. It was a promise to remain faithful to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, while he was on the road. Regarding the inspiration for the melody, Cash said that when he was in the Air Force, stationed in Germany, his friends borrowed his borrowed his reel-to-reel tape recorder. When he got it back, the tape - a recording by his band the Landsberg Barbarians - was on backwards, and when he played it, he heard a haunting sound that intrigued him. In his autobiography, Cash wrote that it "sounded like spooky church music." (Photo by Stephen Chernin/getty Images)
Marvin Gaye was born on this day in 1939. Before singing his own hit for Motown Records, a young Marvin Gaye spent his early years at Motown as a drummer for The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Marvelettes and more. Although ten albums had established his reputation as The Prince of Soul throughout the '60s, Gaye's private life is a royal mess. His marriage to Anna Gordy - Motown founder Berry Gordy's sister - is in shambles, he is addicted to cocaine, hunted by the IRS, and he watches Tammi Terrell die in his arms (of a malignant brain tumor). His dreams of becoming a professional football player for the Detroit Lions are also shattered.
By 1971, he has every right to ask What's Going On? But his next album is not about his own troubles, but the troubles going on in the world through the eyes of a Vietnam veteran, such as police brutality ("What's Going On"), poverty ("Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)") and environmental issues ("Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"). The landmark album, written and produced by Gaye, proves that soul music can be both sexy and socially conscious.
Few figures in American music in the 20th century can compare to Marvin Gaye. As a singer, he was without peer, possessing a silky voice that could sound either angelic or seductive or, on his biggest hit "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," positively haunted. As a songwriter, he was equally skilled at writing with an eye for the charts and mining the depths of his heart, a combination that created many of the enduring classics of his era: "Hitch Hike," "Dancing in the Street," "Pride and Joy," "What's Going On," "Let's Get It On," "Got to Give It Up," and "Sexual Healing."
1971 - Janis Joplin was at No. 1 on the U.S. album charts with Pearl. The album was designed as a showcase for her powerhouse vocals, stripping down the arrangements that had often previously cluttered her music or threatened to drown her out. The unfinished "Buried Alive in the Blues" features no Joplin vocals -- she was scheduled to record them on the day after she was found dead. Its incompleteness mirrors Joplin's career: Pearl's power leaves the listener to wonder what else Joplin could have accomplished, but few artists could ask for a better final statement.
1987 - One of the greatest drummers of all time, Buddy Rich, died at age 69 due to complications caused by a brain tumor. When it came to technique, speed, power, and the ability to put together incredible drum solos, Buddy Rich lived up to the billing of "the world's greatest drummer." Although some other drummers were more innovative, in reality none were in his league even during the early days.
2014 - Recordings by U2, ('The Joshua Tree'), the Everly Brothers, ('Cathy's Clown'), Jeff Buckley, ('Hallelujah'), Linda Ronstadt, ('Heart Like a Wheel') and Creedence Clearwater Revival ('Fortunate Son') were among those newly selected for induction into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. The National Recording Registry is a list of sound recordings that "are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States."
Serge Gainsbourg was born today in 1928.
Leon Russell, singer songwriter, mult-instumentalist, was born on this day in 1941.
Kurt Winter of The Guess Who was born today in 1946.
Leon Wilkeson, Lynyrd Skynyrd bassist, was born today in 1952.
David Robinson, drummer for The Cars and The Modern Lovers, is 71.
Emmylou Harris is 74.
Keren Woodward of Bananarama is 60.
Clifford Smith (Method Man) is 51.
On This Day In Music History is sourced from This Day in Music, Paul Shaffer's Day in Rock, Song Facts, Allmusic, and Wikipedia.