Vintage Voltage

"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?"

Art Neville's life in music can be described as a straight line, connected directly to rock and roll's first notes. In the first half of the 1950s, musicians were recording R&B tracks — the foundations of rock and roll — at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios, led of course by Fats Domino, who recorded his first record there in 1949. Art was never a Fats, but nonetheless was foundational to helping shape the contours of popular music.

This month marks 60 years since the very first Newport Folk Festival. NPR has been covering the event since its rebirth in 2008. Jay Sweet, now the executive producer, was mostly responsible for the festival's revival, booking unexpected bands and reinvigorating the spirit of the annual gathering. It's long been a place where musicians would collaborate and make music often steeped in social justice.

Dating back to 1986, a recently unearthed video offers a rare glimpse of Freddie Mercury performing without a full band behind him. In the video, the famous Queen frontman sings "Time Waits for No One" from the concept album of the musical Time, accompanied only by a piano.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


There's a certain kind of song you just want to crank up after a bad breakup or a rough day at work. In 1963, a young singer renowned for a hit about getting ditched at a party unleashed just such an anthem.

The music legend, guitarist, piano man, jive talker and psychedelic godfather Malcolm John Rebennack – better known as Dr. John – died "towards the break of day" on Thursday, of a heart attack, a statement has confirmed. He was 77.

When, exactly, was disco born? Was it when Billboard magazine began tabulating a chart devoted specifically to dance music in 1974? Or is that the tail wagging the dog, since armies of club DJs had been playing dance-conducive rock and pop music in discotheques since the '60s? And to put a finer point on it, what was actually the first disco song? We know all the big artists and hits of the original disco era, from The Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff." But where did that sound come from: those sweeping strings, the lush funkiness, the hi-hat-heavy beat?

After more than 20 years, the Rolling Stones and The Verve have resolved a sour dispute over the authorship of the song "Bitter Sweet Symphony." The Verve's frontman and co-founder, Richard Ashcroft, announced on Wednesday that the situation has finally been laid to rest.

May 14 is my "Deadiversary." It's the first time I saw the legendary group Grateful Dead. It was on that date in 1970 at what was then-called Meramec Community College, outside of St Louis. It wasn't until years later that I went back and found that show in the extensive Grateful Dead archive and checked out the set list.

In 1972, Marvin Gaye began recording a follow-up to his megahit album, What's Going On. He eventually laid down over a dozen new tracks, but personal and professional conflicts derailed the project. Most of the songs were never released except as bonus material on later anthologies. Now they've been assembled into one album called You're the Man, out Friday.

On Feb. 3, 1959, at only 22 years old, Buddy Holly left this world as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. Now, 60 years after the crash that killed Holly, Mexican-American star Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper — or "the day the music died" — Holly's high school classmates from Lubbock, Texas, remember the young musician in the years before his rise to fame.

This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.


By the early 1960s, Nina Simone was well-known to the world as a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist. But around 1963, as race relations in America hit a boiling point, she made a sharp turn in her music — toward activism.

Elvis Presley's image has been used to create action figures, reading lamps and Christmas ornaments. His likeness has adorned socks, slippers and soap – and countless other products over the decades since the American rock legend first got audiences all shook up.

Why not traffic lights?

"[Bob] Seger's absence from digital services, combined with the gradual disappearance of even physical copies of half his catalog, suggest a rare level of indifference to his legacy," Tim Quirk wrote for NPR Music in late March in his feature, "Where Have All The Bob Seger Albums Gone?"

On this episode of Air Check:

Jake, Jeff and Vicky present their favorite new songs of the season, Vicky has a chat with legendary soul, rhythm and blues artist Booker T. Jones, Vintage Voltage host GT dissects four patriotic pop songs from the past, Rence Liam discusses his new Dear Rabbit album They're Not Like You, and Jake tells the story of Ulysses Baxter, a rock-and-roll musician who pushed a peanut up Pikes Peak--with his nose--in the summer of 1963.