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Music History #7: "Hurricane"

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“Hurricane”
Written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy (1975)
Performed by Bob Dylan

The Music

In 1974, when Bob Dylan wrote “Hurricane” about Rubin Carter, the boxer had already been in prison for ten years for a murder he supposedly did not commit. But his case had become a kind of cause célèbre for civil rights leaders and politicians. No stranger to topical protest songs, Dylan poured his outrage about racial profiling and what he saw as a false trial into an eight-minute song (“Here comes the story of the Hurricane / The man the authorities came to blame” went the chorus). Lengthy for a single, an abridged version became Dylan’s biggest hit in years, rising to #33 on the charts.

http://youtu.be/LHr6fiyuJJw

The History

In October 1966, while Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was training for the world middleweight boxing title match, he was arrested. The charge was for the murder of three patrons at a bar called Lafayette Grill in Paterson, NJ. Months earlier Carter and an acquaintance, John Artis, had both been arrested on the night of the crime. Though they fit an eyewitness description of the gunmen (“Two Negroes in a white car”), they were cleared by a grand jury when a surviving victim failed to identify them as the killers.

But two new eyewitnesses came forward, and they made positive identification of Carter and Artis. A trial followed. The prosecution had little evidence linking Carter and Artis to the crime, and a shaky motive about it being a racially motivated revenge for the murder of a black bar owner by a white man in Paterson the same day. The two eyewitnesses, Alfred Bello and Arthur Dexter Bradley, both had criminal records, and it was later revealed that they had received reduced sentences and cash in exchange for their testimonies.

Nevertheless, in June 1967, Carter and Artis were convicted of triple murder and sentenced to successive life-in-prison terms.

The Boxer Meets the Folk Singer

In jail, Carter maintained his innocence. He defied authority by refusing to wear an inmate’s uniform. He vowed to kill any prison official who touched him. In solitary confinement, he read, studied and worked tirelessly on his autobiography. The 16th Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472 became a best-seller that attracted attention to his plight.

One of Hurricane’s new champions was Bob Dylan. After visiting Carter in prison and then meeting with some of the boxer’s supporters, Dylan started to write his epic song, collaborating with Broadway director and songwriter Jacques Levy.

The original release of “Hurricane” was halted after lawyers at Columbia Records raised concerns about several lyrical references being potentially libelous. Chief among them, Dylan said that the two eyewitnesses, Bello and Bradley, “robbed the bodies” of the victims.

Because the original recording had too much leakage on the tracks for a vocal punch-in fix, Dylan couldn’t just replace the offending lines. He had to recut the entire song. Even in the new version, the song was controversial. Penny Valentine, one of the other eyewitnesses who’d been name-checked in the song, filed a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed.

Legacy

In 1975, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the convictions, and Carter and Artis were freed from prison. But a year later, deep in debt and with his family on welfare, Carter was accused of assaulting his former parole officer. Shortly after, he and Artis were retried for the murders at the Lafayette Grill and found guilty. Carter was sent back to prison in 1976, and remained there for another eleven years.

He was finally freed in 1988. He now lives in Canada, where he works and lectures on behalf of wrongly convicted prisoners. In 1999, Carter’s autobiography was made into a motion picture The Hurricane, which starred Denzel Washington.

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Pop Culture
How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music
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Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Unless your technical knowledge of music runs deep, you may have never heard the phrase “gated reverb.” But you’ve definitely heard the effect in action: It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first gained traction in music in the 1980s. If you can play the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your head, you know what sound we’re referring to.

But that iconic element of pop might not have emerged if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. As Vox lays out in its new video, the discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (often called Melt because of its cover art). Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as usual when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band. That microphone wasn’t meant to record music—its heavy compressors were designed to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilized a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music.

Gabriel loved the effect, and made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album. A year later, Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb to date.

The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Get the full history of gated reverb below.

[h/t Vox]

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entertainment
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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