‘Groundhog Day’ Roundtable: Which Day in Rock History Would You Like to Live Over and Over?
In honor of Groundhog Day, and inspired by the movie of the same name, we asked our writers which day in rock history they’d like to live over and over again. In the classic 1993 comedy Bill Murray plays Phil Conners, a cynical big-city weatherman who is forced to repeat the same 24-hour period -- on a dreaded assignment covering Groundhog Day in small town -- until he learns how to find true happiness. Luckily, our classic-rock version of this exercise eliminates the existential hell Conners endured, and focuses squarely on the fun part. So which day would our writers want to enjoy on a constant loop -- the night the Beatles conquered America? Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix at Monterey or some other famous show or festival? The formation of one of rock's most impressive supergroups? Let’s find out.
Michael Gallucci: If we're talking about reliving, for eternity, one day in classic-rock history, it would have to be one of the landmark moments, right? The Beatles on Sullivan, the first time Hendrix burned his guitar, Woodstock. All of these are great moments, no doubt, but I'd probably have to go with the day Bob Dylan plugged in in front of an audience for the first time. I love when artists break from expectations, and few events in rock history were as divisive and as electrifying, and changed the current of an artist's career, as the time Dylan played an electric set at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24,1965. It would be an infinitely replayable moment to watch audience members' faces, one at a time, as Dylan switched from the acoustic set that opened his show to the electric one that ended it. It shouldn't have been too shocking, though; "Like a Rolling Stone" was released a few days earlier. So the move wasn't totally unexpected (there were electric tracks on Bringing It All Back Home, which came out in March), but Dylan's last-minute decision to go electric in front of a folk crowd was. There are conflicting reports about whether or not they actually booed Dylan for plugging in that day. Either way, that historic moment would be worth revisiting again and again.
Nick DeRiso: On that otherwise nondescript Tuesday, Harrison ducked into the Abbey Road studios alone and proceeded to record run-throughs of a No. 1 hit, a propulsive Beatles B-side and the title track for his solo debut. This incredible outburst of pent-up creative activity would be witnessed only by engineer Ken Scott. “Old Brown Shoe,” which Harrison recorded first, was relegated to the flip song on the 1969 single "The Ballad of John and Yoko.” (Paul McCartney ended up mimicking Harrison’s low-slung original second guitar part on the bass for the completed Beatles version.) Next, Harrison demoed two takes of “All Things Must Pass,” though he was never able to convince the others to officially take up the song during the protracted Get Back sessions. Finally, Harrison taped a solo rendition of “Something,” later adding a piano overdub. In that moment, all at once, Harrison had finally come into his own.
Matthew Wilkening: In strictly historical terms, the answer would be Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles first performed on Ed Sullivan, just to live through the exact moment that inspired so many of the bands we write about to pick up their instruments. I would also love to see ZZ Top share the stage with Buffalo, steer, rattlesnakes and a vulture on their 1976-77 World Wide Texas tour -- especially since apparently nobody thought to professionally film any of those shows. But my first choice would be Jan. 26, 1969, to see Led Zeppelin play what John Paul Jones would later refer to as "the key Zeppelin gig, the one that put everything into focus," at the Boston Tea Party. After playing their usual hour-long set, focusing on their recently released debut album, the band was confronted with a crowd that simply wouldn't let them leave the stage. "So we’d go back on and play things like 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Please Please Me,' old Beatles favorites," Jones told NME in 1973. "I mean, just anything that would come into our head and the response was quite amazing." After more than four hours, Led Zeppelin finally left the stage, greeted by rib-crushing bear hugs from their uncharacteristically and tearfully joyous manager Peter Grant. As Jones concluded, "I suppose it was then that we realized just what Led Zeppelin was going to become."
Jeff Giles: It's easy to be cynical about supergroups — we've all seen how often they come together as industry-driven marriages of convenience, and been underwhelmed by the end results. But putting a crowd of supremely talented people in the same room should yield incredible dividends if it happens for the right reasons, and the Traveling Wilburys are proof: a glorious accident that came together when George Harrison told his producer Jeff Lynne — who also happened to be working with Roy Orbison — that he needed a B-side for a European single. The trio dialed up Bob Dylan to see if they could use his studio, and Harrison invited his pal Tom Petty to chip in when he stopped by Petty's house to pick up a guitar. That session produced "Handle With Care," and the rest was rock 'n' roll history — not to mention the final flowering of the music-for-music's-sake ethos that defined Warner Bros. Records before the lawyers and accountants shoved out the old guard in a mid-'90s coup.
Matt Wardlaw: I think I'd have to go spend Groundhog Day eternity at Live Aid if I could. That left me with a tough choice --- would I be hanging out forever at Wembley Stadium watching the British Live Aid lineup? Or would I be in Philadelphia? Wembley was pretty impressively stacked with names: Paul McCartney, David Bowie, Elton John, the Who, Dire Straits and U2! And that's just the heavy hitters! But the Philly lineup wasn't too shabby either when it came to breaking out the musical big guns. There was the Led Zeppelin reunion, which famously had its rough spots (and that's being pretty kind). But if I was witnessing that over and over, day after day, maybe they'd eventually get better? Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, Bob Dylan with Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. Neil Young doing both a solo set and one with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Eric Clapton -- the list goes on and on. Can I survive forever on stadium concessions? I guess we're about to find out!
Annie Zaleski: David Bowie was an incomparable live performer who managed to make even huge arenas feel like tiny clubs, thanks to charming stage banter and a larger-than-life presence. On Oct. 8, 1997, however, Bowie outdid even himself by playing his longest show ever. According to the fan site Teenage Wildlife, the concert -- which took place in a Fort Lauderdale venue called the Chili Pepper -- clocked in at three-and-a-half hours over three sets. Ever mischievous, Bowie apparently planned the stunt in advance. "Do you want a short set or a long set?" he reportedly asked the audience, which (of course) supported the latter scenario. With a laugh, he responded "Good, 'cause we feel like being here for a long time, so call your mothers and tell them you'll be late." The set drew heavily from recent albums Outside and Earthling, but also featured plenty of older gems, such as Hunky Dory's "Quicksand" and "Queen Bitch," Lodger's "Look Back in Anger" and an updated take on the Heroes deep cut "V-2 Schneider." According to reports, Bowie was in good spirits and in a playful mood, even introducing one song with, "This is 'Seven Years in Tibet' now a major motion picture called 'Seven Years With Brad Pitt.'" As the final set wound to a close with a performance of "All the Young Dudes," Bwoie reportedly said, "We're never going to do anything like this again." He kept his word.
Bryan Wawzenek: Okay, so I have to relive the day over and over again – not just time travel for a one-time experience. That’s an important distinction, because as much as I’d love to hang with Pink Floyd in the studio or witness Cheap Trick conquer the Budokan, I fear I would tire of the endless loop treatment – and the Japanese girls’ screams. If I’m going to be stuck somewhere while I attempt to attain human perfection/make Andie MacDowell fall in love with me (oops, spoiler alert!), then I’m picking Manchester, England, on May 17, 1966. Why gloomy Manchester? Because Bob Dylan and the Hawks are booked to play the city’s Free Trade Hall. Historically speaking, there are more significant dates in Dylan history. I could’ve picked the night he went electric at Newport (though I don’t need to hear Cousin Emmy over and over and over). And the rubber-band pickup group hastily assembled for the 1965 festival gig is wonderful, but I prefer 1966’s roaring carnival of sound emitted by Dylan and the soon-to-be-christened Band. Robbie Robertson spins tangles of barbed wire for Garth Hudson’s Lowrey organ to peak through, which are freed when the threads are sliced by Dylan’s flaming dagger of a harmonica. Richard Manuel plays boogie woogie at a proto-punk pace set by the propulsive pounding of Mickey Jones. If it’s this brain-scrambling on the recording, I can only imagine how the raw intricacy would feel in person. And that’s not even addressing Dylan’s magical acoustic set of gems from his most recent three LPs. Plus, we get our own Ned Ryerson in the “Judas” shouter. Every night he bellows from the balcony. And every night he’s knocked to the ground by the most righteous and cathartic version of “Like a Rolling Stone” that will ever exist. “Play it f---in’ loud,” indeed.
Martin Kielty: Dec. 5, 1967: Green’s Playhouse, Glasgow, Scotland –– The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, the Move, the Nice, Amen Corner, Eire Apparent, Outer Limits and Pete Drummond. The closing years of the '60s are where all the best rock music came from. It was an era where bright young things tried bright young ideas, and the west was still wild enough to encourage creativity without forcing too many contractual restrictions all over it. I get energized just thinking about the electricity that would have been on that tour bus, never mind the sparks that would be generated onstage that night in Glasgow. Hendrix at the top of his game; the Move and the Nice offering their own takes; a fetal Pink Floyd just beginning to explore what was to come next. It’s almost illegal. Not only that, but Green’s Playhouse was later to become the venerated Glasgow Apollo, a venue so beloved by bands in the '70s and '80s that everyone from AC/DC to Frank Zappa played there, and artists including AC/DC, Rush, Paul McCartney and Status Quo recorded live there. Yes’ Rick Wakeman once explained that bands would start their tours at the Apollo because the audience was so honest that the group could tell which songs to keep and which to lose for the rest of the road trip. All that, taking place at a moment in time that was still musically unbridled, with so many people expressing so many ideas and creating so many more in the minds of others … all going down in a 3,000-capacity room. Twice – once at 6.15PM then again at 8.45PM; ideal for even modern attention spans. Aye, I could do that every Groundhog Day. And I can’t help wondering which Scottish stars of the future I might have met down the front. I’ll even dare to suggest that, if I’d been alive and around my mid-teens, that night would have encouraged me to aim for the stars.
Michael Christopher: Some great acts played at the four-day US Festival event over Memorial Day weekend 1983, but it was Van Halen on Sunday, May 29 – “Heavy Metal Day” – that I’d love to relive over and over in person. Having spent my teens relying on traded 18th- or 19th-generation VHS tapes before finally nailing down a passable grainy quality DVD bootleg during college, the performance was at the top of the drunken movie checklist. I’ve lost count of how many friends have been indoctrinated into the world of Van Halen live after a long night out. The excitement from the announcer as the group warms up with the lights down is palpable and contagious. “Hello Southern California! Are you ready to get down? I give you … the mighty Van Halen!!” Then the band explodes onto the stage in a sloppy mess with the Women and Children First chestnut “Romeo Delight.” Simply put, no one in Van Halen was sober that night, as they were the last to go on and it was a hot day for drinking and whatever else in San Bernadino’s Glen Helen Regional Park. David Lee Roth was a spectacle beyond belief. While it became shtick in later years for him to forget “the f---in’ words,” it was the real thing at the US Festival. The frontman was at his finest, most outrageous, trashed and embarrassing all at once. He extended the mic stand to the audience when there wasn’t a chorus to sing and made up lyrics to full verses on the spot, all of which were hilariously incorrect. The two-hour set marked the last time many songs would be played live by Van Halen for almost three decades or ever, making it time capsule worthy above all else.
Eduardo Rivadavia: Choosing a single incredible day in classic-rock history that one could live out over and over and over inevitably brings several mega-music festivals to mind. Live Aid or one of several days from the Woodstock, Monterey or US festivals would do quite nicely, don't you think? But all of these would be too easy, so I’m going to go with a day from the 1985 Rock in Rio Festival, which not only brought together hundreds of thousands of music fans to witness some of the era’s greatest rock superstars, but symbolized freedom for Brazil, a country emerging from a 30-year military dictatorship. If you also factor in the fact that major rock bands rarely ventured south of the equator until the latter half of the '80s, it’s hard to imagine a crowd so vast consisting of – not just Brazilians – but South Americans of all nationalities who got their first exposure to these artists that developed countries took for granted. But Rock in Rio 1985 was held over 10 consecutive days and nights, so pick one day – any day – and you'd find yourself locked into a loop in the space-time continuum with Queen, Iron Maiden and Whitesnake (Day 1), Rod Stewart and the Go-Go’s (Day 3) or, if you like your hard rock (as I do), AC/DC, Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne and Whitesnake (Day 9). All this classic-rock royalty underscored by the indescribable feeling of freedom? Now that’s a Groundhog Day I’d like to experience as many times as possible…