Monday, 4 February 2013

The 10 Youngest AAA Stars At The Time Of Their Debut Release (News, Views and Music Issue 181)

The other week I rashly stated that Lulu must surely have been the youngest of any AAA stars when she released her first single ‘Shout!’ at the age of 15. As two of you pointed out, I was wrong: two of the Beach Boys were even younger than that when they released their debut single ‘Surfin’!’ in 1961, even if it was only for a small local record company. In penance I’ve spent this week scouring Wikipedia and various official AAA sites to find out who exactly were the youngest AAA stars on the date of their first single. Please note that I’m going here for the records that most fans and scholars generally accept as a band’s ‘debut’ single so I’m not counting demos, unreleased tracks or songs given a limited release (to take an example we’re counting the first Beatles release as ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962 – making George Harrison a comparatively elderly 19 years and eight months – not the German-only ‘My Bonnie’ single or any of the Quarrymen/Silver Beatles recordings never intended for release. Each entry for this top 10 features the artist’s date of birth followed by the release date of the first single, with their age at the time in brackets afterwards. The list seems nicely balanced to me, including three drummers and four guitarists though interestingly no bass players (who are, by tradition, the oldest members of any group!) For the record a list of the ‘oldest’ AAA musicians by the time of a debut record would feature Byrd Skip Battin (34 by the time of ‘Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde’) and Mark Knopfler (29 at the time of ‘Sultans Of Swing’) but be dwarfed by Jefferson Airplane violinist Papa John Creach (who was a staggering 54 when he made his musical debut on the band’s LP ‘Bark’ in 1971).

David Marks (22nd August 1948 – 15th November 1961) (13 years 2 months 24 days)

David Marks was eventually kicked out of the Beach Boys after just four albums because he fell out with the Wilson brother’s manager-father Murray and, I quote, ‘messed around too much’ (you can hear evidence of this on the infamous ‘rehearsal’ tape of 1960 when a then-12 year old Dave says to Mike Love ‘don’t pop me in the mouth!’ every time he messes up). To be fair, though, what 13/14 year old in the same position wouldn’t be doing the same? There Dave was still at school, expecting a future consisting of double maths and PE lessons when out of the blue he’s invited to join the most hip and happening band in the whole of California for no other reason than he lived across the road from the Wilsons and they need a second guitarist. I mean his friends are all out having fun while he’s travelling the world – who wouldn’t be celebrating the fact? By his own admission Marks only got into music seriously after leaving the band anyway (at the age of 16!), turning into a fine guitarist, although Marks never contributed to their vocals until the recent 2012 reunion tour. Life must have been very difficult for him, working with three brothers and a cousin and managed by their father/uncle, and Marks was perennially the outsider, never as much a fixture in the group as his predecessor and successor Al Jardine (who toured with the band but didn’t appear on any of their records until 1964). Perhaps with good reason, Marks turned down an offer to rejoin the band in 1971 after Bruce Johnston quit the band (the Beach Boys’ reputation had never been lower, with Brian Wilson at his lowest ebb). Still, Marks was as talented a musician as any 13 year old I know and deserved better than to become a footnote in music history, with any of his post-Beach Boy bands (‘The Moons’ ‘The Band Without A Name’ and ‘Colours’) possessing the talent to show off his skill in his own right. As of 2013 the reunited Beach Boys are on hiatus and Dave Marks – part of the band since Carl Wilson’s death in 1998 – has his own health problems with Heptatis C. However it was a joy to see him back standing proudly at the front of the reunited band after all those years.

Carl Wilson (21st December 1946 – 15th November 1961) (14 years 11 months 6 days)

Carl, the youngest of the Wilson brothers, wasn’t all that much older than Dave, but believe it or not he already had the best musical pedigree of any of the band. Carl was passionate about music from an early age – and not in a detached way like elder brother Brian, Carl having taken lessons from a talented kid down the end of the road John Maus (later to become the guitarist in the Walker Brothers). Carl was, naturally, chosen as the lead guitarist on the band’s early rehearsals and this first single, Carl showing off his love of Chuck Berry and rock and roll in general despite being made to play like a ‘surf band’ (ie Jan and Dean). Whilst for Brian music was a spiritual guide and to Mike it was an expression of self, Carl was always a music fan first and foremost and kept his ear to the grindstone, falling in love with The Beatles long before 99% of America did and spending his time away from the Beach Boys nurturing and producing records for other bands. Carl died of lung cancer at the terribly young age of 51 whilst still a Beach Boy, even if the band had been quiet for a good six years before his death.

Lulu ( 3rd November 1948 - 17th April 1964) (15 years 5 months 14 days)

As we mentioned last week, ‘Shout!’ was such an unexpected and sudden hit that most people in the music world didn’t even know what Lulu looked like! Was she a blues singer who’d been struggling in isolation for years? Was ‘Lulu’ a pseudonym for a known legend whose name was fading in the mists of time? Even if she was a young and unknown then surely she must be in her 20s or 30s to have a voice like that – and have at least a little African-=American ancestry to match, this female reincarnation of Little Richard?! The truth that Lulu was a 15 year old schoolgirl who’d never travelled out of Scotland came as a shock to many, especially the men in music in the 1960s who were faced with a power and grit they could only dream of. Like our earlier entries, Lulu should have still been at school when she went on her first tours and somehow no one at her school thought to the local truant officer who paid Lulu’s mum and dad a visit asking why she hadn’t been in for six months. ‘Don’t you watch Top Of The Pops?’ her mother exclaimed, ‘she’s had a number one hit!’ Lulu remembers now in mock-horror how she used to be treating like a kid on tour, with the likes of John Lennon ‘taking care’ of her and making sure she was kept away from the swinging side of the sixties that rather passed Lulu by. After ‘Shout!’ Lulu spent her 16th year struggling without any chart entries at all, before finding her feet again at the still tender age of 17 with her work with Mickie Most. A genuinely sweet and adorable clean-cut kid, with the voice of a grizzled veteran, was a hard thing to market and all of Lulu’s records up to as late as 1990s struggle with coming to terms with Lulu’s image: was it the sweet lass who sang old musicals and music hall standards on her TV show or was it the r and b soul sister who sang from the heart and tackled some of the then-hardest hitting songs ever written? In truth Lulu was a little of both, a genuinely nice and caring person but with the need to sing out her soul at any costs and its to her credit that Lulu continued to push for more from her time at Decca, through to London and Atco, even if the sheer range of styles and standards makes your head spin listening to it all today.

Art Garfunkel (November 5th 1941 – November 27th 1957) (16 years o months 22 days)

This and the next entry on the list are a bit of cheat really – Simon and Garfunkel’s earliest songs were miles away from the passionate mature pop and rock songs of the following decades and the duo didn’t even use their own names (calling themselves ‘Tom and Jerry’ after the cartoon series). Debut single ‘Hey Schoolgirl’ was too important not to mention here though: the earliest self-written song on this list (by Simon and Garfunkel jointly in those days) and a pretty big hit, turning what would undoubtedly was a bit of a sideline interest for both men into a lifelong passion for music. Art (then using the surname ‘Garr’) wanted to become a graphic designer (like a surprisingly large amount of musicians it seems) and used to trace the movement of the pair’s half a dozen singles on graph paper, tracing their movement up and down the charts. ‘Hey Schoolgirl!’ was the first and the biggest, by the duo’s 1969 tour a joke to be rattled off in self-deprecating style but back in 1957 as good as any rock and roll single in the charts, cute and fun with a catchy tune. The later singles aren’t bad either, although they were the start of a drought that took nine years to break in any major way, by which time Garfunkel had given up on his musical dream and was back to studying graphic design at college...

Paul Simon (October 13th 1941 - November 27th 1957) (16 years 1 month 14 days)

Simon and Garfunkel had thus started a long-standing tradition of breaking up every few years. However Paul was still desperate to make a living from music and did two major things that stood him in good stead for his later career. One was that he, along with Carole King, recorded ‘demo’ singles for struggling songwriters, showing off how hit records could sound if a ‘name’ artists decided to record them (Paul also made another 20 or so singles under various names and in bands with various friends, ‘Tico and the Triumphs’ releasing the best of Paul’s work). Paul also undertook solo tours, often ones that took him far away from home such as a lengthy tour of England, which Paul had flown back to finish when he learnt the news that Simon and Garfunkel’s formerly flop single ‘The Sound Of Silence’ had been given an overdub of electric instruments by producer Tom Wilson and had become a surprise hit. The rest of the story is a rollercoaster ride for both men of success and failure, both of which these first recordings as Tom and Jerry paved the way for and which they offered a greater understanding of the music world than any amount of training would have taught them.

Kenney Jones (16th September 1948 – 6th August 1965) (16 years 11 months 20 days)

All the Small Faces were young (in the first line up Steve Marriott and Jimmy Winston were 18 and Ronnie Lane 19 at the time of their first single) but drummer Kenney Jones was still by far the baby of the group. However even by the time of the band’s first single Kenney had been in and out of groups for a while, starting a lifelong friendship with Ronnie Lane who was then an assistant in a London music shop and enthusiastic about the local music being played. The Small Faces’ debut single ‘What’cha Gonna Do ‘Bout It?’ made quite an impact and was followed by a staggering three year run of success, ending when Kenney was only weeks out of his teens. Kenney stayed with the band when Steve Marriott left and they became the Faces, backing Rod Stewart throughout much of the following decade before Kenney got the call to join The Who in the wake of Keith Moon’s death. Kenney – a big friend of Moony and the logical choice for the band - was still just 31 when he joined the band in 1979, staying with them for three years before the quartet finally called it a day in 1982. He still plays with his own band ‘The Jones Gang’ as well as the recent Faces reunion with Mick Hucknall the only person they could find who was even worse at singing than Rod Stewart!

Dennis Wilson (4th December 1944 – 15th November 1961) (16 years 11 months 20 days)

Our third Beach Boy on the list, Dennis only made it to the band’s debut recording reluctantly, the Wilson’s mother having asked son Brian if there was anyway he could include his brother and ‘keep him out of trouble. Not yet a drummer (Brian tapped a cymbal with his index finger to keep rhythm) Dennis was just a singer but became more and more into making music as the band’s records got better and their success and fame began to grow. Of course, the Beach Boys only existed in the first place after Dennis urged his songwriting brother to put his experiences at the beach into words and music (Dennis was famously the only member of the band who could surf). Despite making this list Dennis was what you might call a late developer, not writing his own songs until Brian’s bed-bound days in 1969 when the band had been going eight years and arguably reaching his peak on his two wonderful solo albums ‘ Pacific Ocean Blue’ and the originally unfinished ‘Bambuu’, both the equal of any Beach Boys album. By then Dennis was a frazzled, prematurely aged 33 whod’ been married six times (twice to the same person) and whose songs wound like the last gaps of a man whose seen everything in life and experienced all there is to know. It somehow makes a sad kind of sense that Dennis died in 1983, at the early age of 39, drowning in the sea around his yacht (Dennis was diving to retrieve precious objects he’d thrown overboard in a rage) – Dennis always did things fast and left his teenage years behind him much faster than most of the musicians on this list.

Dave Davies (3rd February 1947 – 7th February 1964) (17 years 0 months 4 days)

Even compared to their contemporaries the first line up of The Kinks were young and the other three (Ray Davies, Pete Quaife and Mick Avory) all nearly made this list in their own right too. Dave was still the youngest by far though, so young that his contribution to the band’s early sound was overlooked for years (many assuming that someone like Jimmy Page – present on many Shel Talmy produced recordings - must have invented his distinctive blistering guitar sound). However, Dave had lots of time on his hands – he’d been expelled from school for getting his 15 year old girlfriend pregnant and had lost his job at a guitar shop after sleeping in. Around 1962/63 when The Kinks were still mainly known as The Ravens it was Dave who was the central force, the lead singer and guitarist and the figure all the girls had come to see with his long hair and rebellious ways and the transition from him to Ray only took place near to the release of ‘You Really Got Me’ when Ray’s songwriting began to dominate the band’s sound. The listing here isn’t for ‘Got Me’ by the way but for the Kinks kover of ‘Long Tall Sally’, a flop on its release. Dave continued in the band right up until 1993, although he did have three stabs at a solo career, beginning with a storm with ‘Death Of A Clown’ at the age of 20 (when his songwriting began in earnest) and reviving it again in 1977 at the age of 30 when the ‘heavy metal’ sound Dave invented was suddenly the height of fashion.

Cat Stevens (July 21st 1948 – September 30th 1966) (18 years 3 months 9 days)

Some people are just born with too much talent. Cat didn’t even pick up the guitar till aged 16 but less than two years later his writing, singing and guitar playing impressed Decca enough to sign Cat up to a recording contract. First single ‘I Love My Dog’ is followed by an amazing year full of hits (‘Matthew and Son’ ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ ‘I’m Gonna Get Me A Gun’) in which Cat outsold everybody singles-wise in the music milestone of 1967 except for Englebert Humperdinck. Unfortunately Cat’s one man band talent caught up with him and by 19 he was at death’s door, collapsing from TB and exhaustion and forced to retreat from the music world that had offered him so much just a short time before. Unable to promote his last two singles and second album Decca figure Cat’s magic has lost its power and drop him from the label, leaving Cat all washed up at the age of 20. When Cat eventually returns (record label Island taking a chance on his new, more humbled acoustic sound) Cat has aged an awful lot more than just the 18 months he was out of the public eye and having grown his beard physically looks much older than his age too. Childhood and frivolity was over – by his third LP ‘Mona Bone Jakon’ Cat has souls to save and it’s hard to reconcile the two extremes together ...

Keith Moon (27th August 1946 – 15th January 1965) (18 years 4 months 18 days)

Moony seems to keep cropping up at the end of a lot of these lists – as if he can’t bear the thought of not joining the party! Compared to the rest of this list 18 seems awfully old (!) and yet Keith was adamant that whatever life threw at him that he would never grow up and that all of life is a game, however dark the rules might be sometimes. Indeed, fans sometimes struggle to reconcile the faded, jaded Keith of 1976-78 with their hero at all, with Moon just 32 at the time of his death but looking at least 20 years older after a lifetime of booze, drugs, rock and roll, devastated hotel rooms and limousines driven into swimming pools. We all remember him as the cheeky-grinned mod who always looked younger than his age anyway, the buffoon at the back keeping Pete Townshend’s loftier concepts weighted to the ground and living out the adolescent’s dream lifestyle. Despite being 15 months younger than Pete, the next youngest member of The Who (an absolute lifetime given the age of the band in the first place) the ‘Orrible ‘Oo never quite flew till the day Keith joined the band and the drum-seat was so obviously his that the group didn’t even bother telling him he’d joined until the mid 70s!
That’s it for another week – we hope to see you here again soon!

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