It's impossible to overstate just how gigantic a star Billy Joel was at his peak. The piano playing star managed to crank out hit after hit of his unique blend of piano-based rock that managed to split the difference between Tin Pan Alley songwriting, '50s rock posturing and the ever-evolving sounds of the '70s. Joel was no stranger to chart-topping success, as he played piano on the Shangri-Las' massive hit "Leader of the Pack" when he was only 16 years old, but one of his solo albums found itself at the top of the Billboard album chart on this day in 1978 when his sixth LP 52nd Street climbed to the top of the mountain.
52nd Street was an eagerly anticipated follow-up to Joel's breakthrough 1977 album The Stranger, which contained some of his biggest hits so far (including "Only the Good Die Young" and "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)"). Despite the fact that most of his albums had spawned big hits and his concerts were quickly becoming a huge draw, Joel had always managed to narrowly miss the top spot on the album chart. But 52nd Street was a new beast entirely, and it expanded his sound to include bigger rock moments and more eclectic instrumentation (especially on "Rosalinda's Eyes").
The album was a massive success, remaining at the top of the charts for seven weeks, eventually going platinum seven times and earning a distinction as the top selling album of 1978 despite the fact that it came out with only a few weeks left in the year. It also won the Grammy for Album of the Year and was the first CD ever produced by Joel's label Columbia Records. In honor of one of the huge star's biggest moments, check out "Big Shot," a signature hit in the Joel oeuvre.
When Green Day ushered in the next wave of punk with Dookie back in 1994, they opened the floodgates for a number of bands who broke through to the mainstream. In addition to Rancid and (later) Blink-182, by far the biggest success of that next wave was the Offspring. Built from the wreckage of Los Angeles hardcore and stoned California skate punk, the Offspring crashed radio and MTV with head-banging shout-alongs like "Self Esteem" and "Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)," which pushed their 1994 album Smash to multi-platinum status. After signing to a major label and stumbling a bit with their 1997 follow-up Ixnay on the Hombre, the band returned to the upper echelons of the Billboard charts with Americana, which was released on this day in 1998.
Americana saw the Offspring expanding on their core sound and adding elements of metal and prog rock to their buzzsaw approach. The clearest expansion came on the massive single "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," a punchy, funky blast of sneering bile aimed at wannabe gangsters (who at the time were threatening to take over all of popular culture). Lead singer Dexter Holland used his adenoidal wail to paint a picture of a kid hopping on ever hip-hop trend available, and the video (directed by McG) furthered the image by dressing up a pasty loser in a Fubu jersey and baggy pants while he danced around his suburban wasteland. It was a pretty sharp piece of satire dressed up as a novelty song, and it ended up being the Offspring's biggest hit (and their most profound impact on popular culture). Ironically, the very kids Holland was mocking seemed to dig the song the most, but that doesn't stop it from remaining bratty and punchy today.
Back in 1999, it could be reasonably argued that, for at least a brief period of time, Korn were the biggest rock band in the country. Their songs were all over rock radio (with the occasional crossover tune storming the pop chart) and their visually intense videos were all over MTV. The fall of 1999 was full of high-profile rock releases from Foo Fighters, Counting Crows and Rage Against the Machine, but Korn's fourth album Issues — released on this day in '99 — may have been the biggest of them all.
Korn had scored their biggest smash yet with their third album Follow the Leader, which turned them from an underground favorite into arena-filling superstars with high-profile singles like "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash." Though they had been slowly purging the hip-hop influences from their music (the most embarrassing song on Follow the Leader was a relatively straight hip-hop duet with Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst called "All in the Family"), the band decided to almost completely purge those sounds for Issues. What's left was their most raw, metal-sounding album yet, full of dark riffs and even darker lyrics courtesy of frontman Jonathan Davis. Issues even has an MTV connection, as the album covers were designed by fans in a contest hosted by the network.
Though it received mixed reviews when it was released, Issues was still a massive seller and was launched in incredible style: The band played the album in its entirety at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem and broadcast the concert on radio stations around the country. They also had a big coming out party for the first single "Falling Away From Me," which made its debut on an episode of "South Park." The video is a delightfully weird bit of heavy cinema directed by Durst.
Ask anybody old enough to be cognizant of pop music what they couldn't get away from in the fall of 1994, and it's likely that the conversation will eventually come around to TLC. The R&B trio's second album — released on this day in 1994 — was beyond ubiquitous, with singles all over pop and urban radio and the videos in heavy rotation on MTV. But even down-the-line rock fans would have to admit that they sort of didn't mind, as the album delivered cool melodies, rugged beats and just enough winking to keep even the most jaded music fans nodding their heads.
While TLC (consisting of Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes) had had produced a certified smash with their 1992 debut album Ooooooohhh ... On the TLC Tip (the singles "Baby-Baby-Baby" and "What About Your Friends" had been particularly popular), 1994's CrazySexyCool put them on a whole different level. The songs on the sophomore LP are far more mature both sonically (with nods to both the ever-evolving New Jack Swing sound and the growing Atlanta hip-hop movement) and lyrically (the relationships addressed on these songs are exceptionally "adult," with all the complications of modern living).
CrazySexyCool also turned TLC into one of the most definitive video makers of the '90s. With the help of some top-shelf directors, they produced instantly iconic clips like "Red Light Special" (with its black-lit strip poker sequence), "Creep" (with those instantly-recognizable silk pajamas) and "Waterfalls" (which featured three narrative threads about AIDS and some very James Cameron-esque water effects). The latter netted them a load of MTV Video Music Awards in 1995 (including Video of the Year). The video still hits hard today, and if you listen closely, you can hear Cee Lo (yes, that Cee Lo) providing backing vocals.
Beyoncé Knowles has had an astoundingly full career, first as a member of Destiny's Child and also as a solo artist. Between those two outlets, she has racked up an astounding number of huge hits, big-time videos and gigantic sales. She has been to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 a total of nine times, but the biggest single she has ever been a part of has been "Independent Women Part I," Destiny's Child's contribution to the soundtrack from the hit 2000 movie "Charlie's Angels." On this day in 2000, "Independent Women Part I" ascended to the top of the Hot 100, where it would stay for an astounding 11 weeks.
"Independent Women Part I" was an important single in the evolution of Destiny's Child, as it not only provided the entry point for the group's third album Survivor (the album that elevated the group from merely great to undeniably dominant) but it also was the first Destiny's Child release to feature new group member Michelle Williams (the group had also scaled back from a quartet to a trio; though they only started recording together on the third album, most people consider the Survivor arrangement — featuring Williams, Knowles and Kelly Rowland — to be the "classic" lineup). They couldn't have picked a better track, as "Independent Women Part I" contains everything a great Destiny's Child track needs, including a hot beat, an infectious melody and a healthy dose of girl power.
The success of "Independent Women Part I" was undoubtedly helped out by the box office dominance of "Charlie's Angels," and the video — which was in ultra-heavy rotation on MTV — didn't hurt either, as it borrowed the movie's adrenaline junkie approach to sexiness quite well.
Some might say it's premature to call an album that is only two years old a classic, but is it possible to treat Taylor Swift's Fearless any other way? Though there was a bit of excitement surrounding its release on this day two years ago, it grew continuously into one of the biggest albums of the decade and allowed Swift to make the transition from bright eyed country favorite to international pop superstar. Fearless won just about every award an album can win (including Grammy Awards for Best Country Album and Album of the Year) and broke five big singles (including her smash hit "You Belong With Me," which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100).
Fearless sold nearly 600,000 copies in its opening week, and it only got larger from there. It became the first album to move one million copies in 2009 and ended up being the biggest selling album from that year. It has been certified platinum six times and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Swift's sales impact is overwhelming — a trend she recently continued with the first week success of her third album Speak Now.
In addition to putting up big sales numbers, Fearless provided a great deal of cultural impact for Swift. Her songs managed to cross over all sorts of genre boundaries (to give you an idea of her universal appeal, her songs tend to be the only English tunes on all-Spanish music radio stations) and she has played just about every awards show possible (including memorable turns at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009 and 2010). For an album that is so gigantic, it's also pretty raw and honest (while there are a lot of pop generalities, it's a rare thing for a song as personal as "The Best Day" to make it onto an album this mainstream).
Fearless is an album that just about everybody can agree on, and the title track is one of the album's best singles.
Human beings love a good comeback story. Tales of redemption help fuel sports fandom, fill cineplexes with countless films and inspire thousands of pop songs. The bigger the underdog, the better the story, which is why Vanilla Ice might be the best comeback story of all time. It cannot be understated how incredibly gigantic the guy was at his peak and how unbelievably far he fell when he hit bottom. Now that he is back making music and making money in real estate (as told on his TV show "The Vanilla Ice Project"), we can look back and recognize the highs and lows of his career. Those highs were extremely high, and he hit one of those peaks on this day in 1990, when his debut album To The Extreme hit the top spot on the Billboard albums chart, a place he would stay for an astounding 16 weeks.
Robert Van Winkle became Vanilla Ice when he was a teenager growing up in Dallas. He was known as an excellent break dancer and developed his rhyming skills enough to sign a record contract. He released his debut album Hooked on the independent Ichiban Records in 1989. The album contained "Ice Ice Baby" (which was actually the b-side to his first single "Play That Funky Music"), which picked up a ton of radio and video support even before the album. Ice signed a better deal with SBK Records, who reissued Hooked as To The Extreme, which became an immediate smash. It ultimately sold 11 million copies and, as mentioned previously, was on top of the Billboard chart for 16 consecutive weeks (it wouldn't budge until it was forced out by Mariah Carey's self-titled debut in March of 1991).
Ice's fall from grace has been well documented: He was exploited, lost a ton of money and ended up a series of commercially invisible albums. But he's back and better than ever now, with a refreshingly upbeat philosophy on life ("Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery"). And admit it — despite the clothes and the bad hair, "Ice Ice Baby" still kind of rules.
Taylor Swift is enjoying an incredible amount of success at the moment, as she not only has a firm grip on the country music world (expect her to steal the show at Wednesday night's CMA Awards) but also on the larger pop music landscape. While nobody has ever done it quite as big as Swift, her success is not entirely unprecedented. A handful of female country artists boldly kicked the door down to score mainstream radio play and to permeate the larger cultural landscape. Shania Twain certainly took care of business at the end of the century, and on this day in 1999, Faith Hill released Breathe, one of the first great pop-country crossovers.
Though Hill was new to most non-country fans in 1999, Breathe was actually her fourth album. She had already established herself as a player in Nashville, as her first three releases — 1993's Take Me As I Am, 1995's It Matters to Me and 1998's Faith — were all rousing successes in the country music universe, and she had become famous not only for her excellent delivery but also for her striking good looks (even for a country music diva, she was especially foxy). Faith began her push toward the mainstream, as the single "This Kiss" (and its dictionary-friendly chorus) gained some traction outside of Nashville.
Though Breathe wasn't necessarily a conscientious crossover, it happened anyway. The title track (and first single) scored instant success and nearly topped the Billboard Hot 100 (it was blocked by Santana's "Maria Maria," of all things), and the follow-up single "The Way You Love Me" also made a big splash (it got up to number seven on the same chart). All told, Breathe went on to sell eight million copies and, perhaps most importantly, made Hill the first female country star to debut on top of the Billboard album chart. Given how lovely and catchy "Breathe" is, it's no mystery.
He can't celebrate because he has been dead for nearly a century, but that doesn't mean we can't pay tribute to the birth of Bram Stoker. Though he is really only known for a single creation — that being his book "Dracula," published in 1897 — Stoker's influence on pop culture has been far-reaching and massive. His novel about the definitive vampire, Count Dracula, established most of the common pieces of vampire lore that are now a part of the larger pop culture fabric.
Stoker was a sickly child, but managed to overcome his health problems and became interested in horror writing. He published a handful of novels before "Dracula," but that was the title that made him a legend. Though vampire lore had been around for quite some time (English writer John William Polidori's short story "The Vampyre," published in 1819, is considered the beginning of vampire fiction), Stoker's story helped make vampires into common characters. After its publication, everybody seemed to know that vampires cast no reflections or shadows, fed on blood and could only be destroyed via direct sunlight or a stake through the heart. Though Stoker's vampire borrowed heavily from a lot of other vampire folklore (and directly contradicted some of it), his "Dracula" became the vampire by which all others were judged.
"Dracula" has been adapted for the screen many, many times, including the legendary Universal version from 1931 (which made Bela Lugosi into a star) and the extra-faithful "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (directed by Francis Ford Coppola). Vampires are now legally bound to be in every third movie released thanks to the success of the "Twilight" series (which has in turn given us successful soundtrack tunes like Death Cab for Cutie's "Meet Me on the Equinox").
A few weeks ago, this space declared Kanye West to be the greatest pop star of this generation, an assertion that we here in the MTV Newsroom are sticking to. But when that conversation came up, somebody brought up the fact that if Justin Timberlake was a little more prolific, he could certainly stake a claim to that throne. Though he has made himself a staple of the film world, has a knack for comedy and (perhaps most impressively) plays a great golf game, his output has been sparse (for a recording artist as beloved and revered as Timberlake is, it's strange to think that he has only released two solo albums). On this day in 2002, he dipped his toes into the solo world for the first time when he released his first LP Justified.
It's strange to think about now, but the idea of Timberlake embarking on a successful solo career was sort of strange eight years ago. Boy band members didn't necessarily score great victories away from their core groups, and by the fall of 2002 the pop wave that had so engrossed everybody two or three years prior was quickly drying up. But Timberlake was savvy. Rather than just record a bunch of *NSYNC tunes by himself, he brought in some of the hottest producers in hip-hop and R&B (most notably Timbaland and the Neptunes) and carved out an entirely new place for himself. Tracks like "Like I Love You" and "Rock Your Body" split the difference between futuristic pop and modern hip-hop-inflected R&B, and Justified became an instant smash. Perhaps the album's most headline-worthy song was "Cry Me a River," which everybody assumed was about Timberlake's failed relationship with Britney Spears (and after the video came out, he left no doubt).