Frank Sinatra, Hoboken Union Club, New York, 1935
Sinatra’s ‘big break’ came in 1935 when his mother persuaded local singing troupe The Three Flashes to let the 20 year old sing with them onstage at the Hoboken Union Club. Renamed as the Hoboken Four, the band were seen by talent scout, Edward ‘Major’ Bowes who offered the group a spot on his talent competition, Major Bowes Amateur Hour. Attracting 40,000 votes from listeners, the band won first prize in the contest – a six month contract to perform on stage and radio across the US.
Moondog Coronation Ball, Cleveland Arena, 1952
The brainchild of Alan Freed, the Cleveland DJ who first coined the term Rock and Roll, The Moondog Coronation Ballstands in history as the world’s first rock concert and featured a bill that included Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, The Dominoes, Tiny Grimes, The Rockin Highlanders and Paul ‘Hucklebuck’ Williams. However the show never took place. Overselling of tickets meant 25,000 young Americans turned up to the 10,000 seat venue and in the ensuing riot, police and fire marshals shut down the show after just one song.
Elvis, Overton Park Shell, Memphis, 1954
Another strong contender for the title ‘World’s first Rock and Roll Show’, Elvis’ first paid performance at the Overton Park theatre on 30 July 1954 was as support for Slim Whitman – until he stole the show with his rendition of That’s All Right. Legend has it that Elvis was so nervous onstage that his legs started to shake uncontrollably. The effect, exacerbated by the wide flairs he was wearing, had such an effect on the audience’s young women that it remained part of Elvis’ stage show for the rest of his life.
The Beatles, Cavern Club, Liverpool, 1961
The band who invented pop music, The Beatles had been playing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool since 1957 as The Quarrymen, however it wasn’t until the legendary jazz club started experimenting with lunchtime rock and roll gigs in 1961 that The Beatles found their spiritual home. In the autumn of 1961 the band had just returned from a stint in Hamburg, Germany playing the clubs along the Reaperbahn and recording their first single, My Bonnie, with singer Tony Sheridan. They had been asked to play at the Cavern at lunchtime on 9 November to a crowd that included Brian Epstein, a Liverpool music shop owner. After the show, Epstein went backstage to meet the band in their ‘broom cupboard’ dressing room and a partnership was formed that would forever change the history of popular music.
Bob Dylan, Newport Folk Festival, 1965
On 25 July 1965, Dylan’s conversion to an electric band, with the first ‘plugged in’ show of his career, was met with boos from a hostile, folk-orthodox crowd. Having won over Newport audiences in both ’63 and ‘64 with rootsy, acoustic sets, Dylan’s perceived betrayal of his fan base at this show marked his cross over from folk to rock music, heralding a new direction for both musical styles.
Rolling Stones, Altamont, 1969
The free San Francisco show that closed the 1960s ended with the stabbing of fan, Meredith Hunter by Hells Angels, invited by the Stones’ to provide security for ‘Woodstock West’. Chronicled in the harrowing road movie, Gimme Shelter (1970), Altamont was the nightmare that killed the Hippy dream.
Jimi Hendrix, Isle of Wight Festival, 1970
Hendrix’s infamous guitar burning performance, late on Sunday 30 August 1970, effectively marked the end of the era of the free music festival that had been characterised by US shows like Woodstock and Altamont. An estimated 700,000 people showed up on the tiny British island, mostly without tickets, to see a line up which included Joan Baez, Free, The Doors and The Who. The chaos caused by marauding fans and the complete commercial failure of the concert ensured it would be the last event of its kind for almost 30 years.
Sex Pistols, Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester, 1976
If everyone who later claimed to have attended the Sex Pistol’s first show at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976 had in fact been there, the band would have easily been able to fill Madison Square Gardens. In truth however only around 40 people attended the show that changed music forever, although they included the next generation of Manchester music luminaries: Morrissey (The Smiths), Mark E Smith (The Fall), Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle (The Buzzcocks), Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook (Joy Division) and Tony Wilson (Factory Records supremo and Hacienda club owner).
Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, 1985
Organised by Bob Geldof (Boomtown Rats) and Midge Ure (Ultravox) to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, Live Aidwas the biggest music show in history. With concerts held simultaneously in London, Philadelphia and a host of other destinations around the world, the show was broadcast live to an estimated 400 million viewers, in 60 countries via satellite for 16 hours and raised over £150 million for NGOs in Africa.
Nirvana, MTV Unplugged, Sony Studios New York, 1993
The band which brought music back to basics after the electronic over indulgence of the 1980s, Nirvana’s Unplugged session was the very antithesis of the contemporary rock show. Playing mainly lesser known material and a few obscure covers, with an entirely stripped back, acoustic band, while front man, Kurt Cobain, howled his death rattle vocals from an old rocking chair, this was the show that cemented Nirvana’s position as the most influential rock band since the Beatles. Six months later Cobain was dead, having committed suicide at his Seattle home.
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