Three Useless Things to Know

As the weather turns, the vaccinations increase, and people’s interest turns to. . .outside seating at bars, perhaps a few trivial things may help you win some bar bets:

First musical instrument

Let’s face it: horns are not a big part of rock. There was certainly a period when there were brass-led bands that made some significant music—the prime example of this is the original Blood, Sweat & Tears, formed by Al Kooper, which should not be confused with the Blood, Sweat & Tears of “Spinning Wheel” (although it should be acknowledged that lineup of the band did perform at Woodstock). And for a resonant experience, just listen to the opening of Otis Redding’s cover of “Try a Little Tenderness” (Redding performed at Monterey Pop in 1967 and probably would have played two years later at Woodstock, had he not died in a light plane crash on the way to a gig in ’67).

Turns out that the first musical instrument—one from 17,000 year ago—may have been a horn. Back in 1931 a conch shell was discovered in a cave in France. The cave had various human remains, including drawings on the walls. The shell had a hole in one end. It was thought that the hole, at the end of the shell, had simply been broken off. After all, the thing is 17,000 years old.

Earlier this year a paper was published in Science Advances, “First record of the sound produced by the oldest Upper Paleolithic seashell horn.”

The anthropologists and ethnomusicologists conclude “that the Magdalenian occupants of this site [the “decorated cave of Marsoulas”] transformed this shell into a wind instrument.”

Maybe not brass, but a horn nonetheless.

First recorded music

I will confess to being unfamiliar with The Pirouettes, Fauve, Terrenoire and many other French bands. But it seems that France not only was the home of that early horn, but where music was first recorded.

Seems like the French don’t get the credit they deserve when it comes to music. Of course, who among us didn’t grow up singing “Frere Jacques”?

(And because things like this happen: It is worth noting that on the second, self-titled Blood Sweat & Tears album, one of the better cuts is “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie.” Satie, a French composer of the late 19th-early 20th century, among other things, developed musique d’ameublement, or “furniture music,” which was were ambient music came from. Brian Eno must thank him every day.)

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville invented the phonautograph in the 1850s and at the end of that decade recorded “Au Clair de la Lune,” some 20 years before Thomas Edison recorded “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (1878).

Biggest-selling album

In my recent piece on some music selected by record producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner there were songs by the Eagles, which caused some dyspepsia among some readers. Said readers may be even more disappointed to learn that according to the RIAA, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 is the best-selling album, with 38-million copies sold. While Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1984) had held that position for some years, it is 13% behind, with sales of 33-million. And to add a little bit more stomach acid, in third place is Hotel California, with sales of 26-million.

The Beatles make it into the top five, with The Beatles (a.k.a., “The White Album”), with sales of 24 million.

Fourth? Back in Black by AC/DC. Its sales are 25 million.

In terms of release dates, the Eagles’ greatest hits album came out in 1976; Thriller, as mentioned, 1984; Hotel California, 1976; Back in Black, 1980; The Beatles, 1968.

Which means the most-recent is 41 years old.*

Did I mention the 17,000-year-old-horn?


*Rounding out the top 10 are: Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II by Billy Joel; Led Zeppelin IV; The Wall by Pink Floyd; Double Live by Garth Brooks; Cracked Rear View by Hootie & the Blowfish. The Brooks album is the most recent having been released in 1998.

Still, doesn’t this whole list seem like there’s something wrong?

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