The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand

I get a lot of positive feedback here at Hack’s Back Pages when I publish a Rock Lyrics Quiz or a Rock Trivia Quiz. Let’s face it, most of us love to test our knowledge when magazines and websites publish quizzes on various topics. So here I go again, gauging my readers’ abilities at recalling and/or guessing the answers to 15 quiz questions about rock artists and music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s!

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

You needn’t feel bad if some of this stuff is too obscure. I’m a self-professed classic rock nerd, and I go deeper than your average music fan in ferreting out what I consider interesting factoids about the albums and the songs, and the people who made them.

If you scroll down a bit below the questions, you’ll find the answers and some back-story information that might shed some light on the subject matter.



1. Which mid-’70s classic rock album did Todd Rundgren produce?

“Toys in the Attic,” Aerosmith

“Welcome to My Nightmare,” Alice Cooper

“Bat Out of Hell,” Meat Loaf

“Run With the Pack,” Bad Company

2. What job did Art Garfunkel hold before joining Paul Simon to become pop stars?

Newspaper reporter

Algebra teacher

Park ranger

Advertising copywriter

3. Stevie Wonder won the Album of the Year Grammy three times in the 1970s. Which album was NOT a Grammy winner for him?

“Talking Book” (1972)

“Innervisions” (1973)

“Fulfillingness’ First Finale” (1974)

“Songs in the Key of Life” (1976)

4. What is the meaning behind the band name Lynyrd Skynyrd?

It’s a fictitious name

It was the name of a high school gym teacher

It was the name of a popular local head shop proprietor

It was the name of a modestly successful welterweight boxer

5. What was the original title of The Beatles second film, “Help!”?

“Ticket to Ride”

“Eight Arms to Hold You”

“Save Ringo!”

“The Night Before”

6. Which group’s debut was a double album?

The Doors


Emerson, Lake and Palmer


7. When Brian Wilson quit touring with The Beach Boys in 1964, who briefly took his place?

David Crosby

Glen Campbell

Neil Diamond

John Denver

8. When The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones died in 1969, where was his body found?

in the band’s tour bus

in his swimming pool

in the VIP Room of a London club

in his girlfriend’s bed

9. Which legendary blues artist successfully sued Led Zeppelin for partial credit and royalties related to their unauthorized use of his songs on two tracks from the “Led Zeppelin II” album?

Muddy Waters

Willie Dixon

John Lee Hooker

B.B. King

10. Which city is NOT mentioned in the lyrics of the Huey Lewis & The News hit “The Heart of Rock and Roll”?



San Francisco


11. In 1985, which rock musician performed at Live Aid in London, then flew across the pond on the Concorde in time to perform on Live Aid’s Philadelphia stage later the same day?


Freddie Mercury

Phil Collins

Eric Clapton

12. Which of these four James Taylor hit singles is the only one he composed?

“You’ve Got a Friend”

“Handy Man”

“Your Smiling Face”

“How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You”

13. Four members of The Band are Canadian. Who is the only American?

Robbie Robertson

Garth Hudson

Levon Helm

Rick Danko

Richard Manuel

14. Which of these musicians did NOT participate in the recording sessions for George Harrison’s 1970 solo debut LP “All Things Must Pass”?

Billy Preston

Steve Winwood

Gary Wright

Dave Mason

15. What is the only Joni Mitchell album to win a Grammy?

“Court and Spark” (1974)

“Blue” (1971)

“Turbulent Indigo” (1994)

“The Hissing of Summer Lawns” (1975)

















1. “Bat Out of Hell,” Meat Loaf

Rundgren, a formidable recording artist and songwriter, was also highly sought after as a producer during his long career. Although he never worked with Aerosmith, Alice Cooper nor Bad Company, he manned the boards for albums by many other bands, including Grand Funk, Badfinger, Hall and Oates, The Tubes and, most notably, Meat Loaf’s mega-platinum 1977 LP “Bat Out of Hell.” Once he heard songwriter Jim Steinman’s operatic songs and the way Meat Loaf sang them, he thought it could be recorded as a spoof on Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” LP. The result was one of the biggest selling albums of the 1970s.

2. Algebra teacher

Garfunkel and Simon met in their Queens middle school, formed a duo named Tom and Jerry, and had one modest hit in 1957 with “Hey Schoolgirl.” They went their separate ways but reunited as Simon and Garfunkel in 1964 to record their first full LP, “Wednesday Morning 3 AM,” which included an acoustic version of “The Sound of Silence.” The album stiffed, so again they parted, and while Simon headed to England to write songs and play small clubs, Garfunkel earned a degree in math education and then taught high school algebra…until “The Sound of Silence” became a #1 hit in early 1966.

3. “Talking Book”

In 1971, Wonder turned 21 and won his freedom to cut a new contract with Motown Records that gave him total control over his records. After a couple of false starts, he hit pay dirt in 1972 with the critically acclaimed “Talking Book,” which yielded two #1 hit singles, “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” It won him his first Grammys in minor categories but wasn’t nominated in the Best Album category. His next three LPs, “Innervisions,” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Songs in the Key of Life” all won Album of the Year in a four-year span, an unsurpassed Grammy achievement.

Leonard Skinner

4. a high school gym teacher

Singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Gary Rossington and drummer Bob Burns all attended the same Jacksonville high school in the late ’60s where a strict gym teacher named Leonard Skinner rigidly enforced the school’s policy regarding long hair on boys. When the guys decided their fledgling band, The One Percent, needed a new name, they decided to name themselves Lynyrd Skynyrd in mocking tribute to their rigid P.E. teacher. Skinner was none too pleased about it, but as the band became national rock stars, he grew to appreciate the attention. They even invited him on stage once to introduce them at a concert.

Mock-up of original film soundtrack

5. “Eight Arms to Hold You”

(Note the fine print)

When the movie eventually titled “Help!” was first being discussed, director Richard Lester, who had also directed “A Hard Day’s Night,” wasn’t sure what the film’s title ought to be. “Beatles Phase II” was suggested. Producer Walter Shenson proposed “The Day the Clowns Collapsed.” George Harrison offered “Who’s Been Sleeping in My Porridge?” Lester instead chose “Eight Arms to Hold You,” which alluded to the eight-armed bronze idol used as a backdrop in several scenes. Pressings of the 45 single “Ticket to Ride,” released a month earlier, said “from the UA film “Eight Arms to Hold You” on the label. At the last minute, Lester decided “Help!” was more marketable. John Lennon then wrote the song the same night.

6. Chicago

It was incredibly bold for a recently discovered band to insist that Columbia Records let them release a double album right out of the gate, but “Chicago Transit Authority” became Chicago’s stunning debut in 1969. Even more daring was that their compelling second LP, “Chicago,” was also a double album…and so was “Chicago III,” although their luck ran out with that one. The Doors , Santana, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer all eventually released double albums in their careers, but their debut LPs (all superb, by the way) were the more traditional single albums.

Campbell on tour as one of The Beach Boys

7. Glen Campbell

Wilson always preferring writing and recording songs, not performing them. Once the band started touring internationally in 1964, he had a breakdown and declared he would no longer go on the road, remaining in the studio. With tour dates already scheduled, the group had to act fast to fill the void on stage, and were lucky to have Campbell at the ready, who had been playing guitar and singing on several Beach Boys recordings. At that time, Crosby was in The Byrds, still waiting for their big break; Diamond was a Brill Building songwriter, hoping for his first single; and Denver had just joined The Mitchell Trio.

8. in his swimming pool

Frankly, any of the four choices listed would be a plausible answer. We’ve all read about rock stars and the excesses that might occur in luxury coach buses, backstage parlors, ladies’ bedrooms and the like. But Jones was, at the end, more reclusive, depressed about his diminishing influence in The Stones’ juggernaut. He preferred staying home at his estate with just a friend or two, partying to his heart’s content. He ended up in the pool on July 2, 1969, where the coroner said Jones drowned, labeling the cause as “death by misadventure,” a phrase British authorities employed to describe fatally risky behavior involving drugs.

Sheet music giving partial credit to Willie Dixon

9. Willie Dixon

One of the architects of the Chicago Blues sound, Dixon was a bassist, songwriter and producer, working with virtually every major blues artist in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. He wrote “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Spoonful,” “Little Red Rooster” and many others. Lyrics and musical passages from Dixon’s “You Need Love” were prominent in Led Zep’s #4 hit “Whole Lotta Love,” and the band recorded an altered version of Dixon’s song “Bring It On Home” without giving even partial credit. Dixon won a 1987 judgment. Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King had a few unsuccessful plagiarism suits of their own.

10. Atlanta

Lewis and his band had just played a high-energy show for an enthusiastic Cleveland audience and were headed out of town when the lead singer, still buzzed from the vibe, told the band and crew, “You know what? The heart of rock and roll is in Cleveland!” He wrote a song about it, but he was persuaded to broaden its appeal by including other cities in the verses, ultimately focusing on New York and L.A., as usual. In addition to Cleveland, you can hear references to Austin, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Oklahoma City, Detroit, Philly, D.C., San Antonio, Tulsa, Baton Rouge…but not Atlanta.

11. Phil Collins

In 1985, Collins was so omnipresent, you could barely swing a cat around by its tail without hitting him in the head. His solo material was in heavy rotation, duets with Marilyn Martin and Philip Bailey went to #1, and songs he sang with Genesis were always cropping up as well. So it’s not at all surprising that this triple threat overachiever would attempt this crazy feat: For the historic Live Aid concert in August, he performed four songs alone and/or with Sting at Wembley Stadium, then whisked off on the Concorde to Philadelphia, U.S.A., to perform two solo songs, and also play drums for Clapton’s and Led Zeppelin’s sets.

12. “Your Smiling Face”

Throughout his career, Taylor has made a habit of recording stirring, convincing covers of other people’s songs: Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” his only #1 hit; “Handy Man,” the 1959 Jimmy Jones tune that went to #4 for Taylor in 1977; “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic popularized by Marvin Gaye. But Taylor is, of course, a mighty fine songwriter himself, composing great stuff like “Carolina In My Mind,” “Fire and Rain,” “You Can Close Your Eyes,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and his Top Twenty hit “Your Smiling Face,” from his wonderful “JT” album in 1977.

13. Levon Helm

The Band were originally The Hawks, a backup group for Toronto-based rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, who had handpicked the best musicians from other Canadian bands to join him. That’s how guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson, bassist Rick Danko, and keyboard players Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson first came together. Drummer/singer Levon Helm, on the other hand, was Arkansas-born, like Hawkins himself, and had migrated to Ontario with him in 1957. Ten years later, The Band went out on their own, recorded “Music From Big Pink” and “The Band,” and became a major musical influence.

Musician credits for the “All Things Must Pass” LP

14. Steve Winwood

When George Harrison was at last free to record his own songs without John Lennon and Paul McCartney around, he reached out to a broad spectrum of mostly British musicians to add their chops to various tracks on his sprawling “All Things Must Pass” triple album. Billy Preston provided piano parts on many songs; Gary Wright was invited to play organ on several sessions; and Dave Mason pitched in on acoustic guitar on a couple of tunes. Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Gary Brooker and others were there, too…but not Steve Winwood, who was busy recording the next Traffic LP at the time.

Joni Mitchell, 1994

15. “Turbulent Indigo”

How extraordinarily screwed up it is that a one-of-a-kind talent like Joni Mitchell had to wait until her 15th album, 25 years after her debut, before voters at The Grammys figured out she was worthy of a major award. Her magnificent confessional LPs like “Blue,” “For the Roses” and “Court and Spark” and bolder jazz excursions like “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” and “Hejira” were all more than worthy of such accolades, but in fact, it wasn’t until her return to introspection in 1994 with the subtle “Turbulent Indigo” LP that she won the “Pop Album of the Year” Grammy.


If only you believe in miracles, baby, so would I

(Please note: I’ve made a pretty big mistake. I saw more than one posting this week about the passing of Marty Balin, so I devoted this week’s essay to a tribute to him. Somehow I inadvertently overlooked the fact that these posts were referring to his death THREE YEARS AGO this week. How embarrassing! Ah well, we can still celebrate Balin and his contributions…)


Mention the name Jefferson Airplane and the first thing that comes to mind is fiery lead singer Grace Slick. At a time when female rock stars were virtually nonexistent, Slick had a high profile, thanks to her indelible vocal contributions to the Airplane’s 1967 hit singles, “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit,” and her arresting visual presence on stage and in TV appearances.

Truth be told, though, the world might have never heard of Slick if not for the group’s founder, singer/songwriter Marty Balin. He may not have the name recognition, but he played a pivotal role in putting the various players together, writing many key songs in their catalog, and bringing his strong tenor to bear on lead vocals and harmonies. He proved to be the level-headed leader of one of San Francisco’s best known bands of psychedelic experimenters.

Balin became yet another famous member of the Sixties counterculture generation to pass away when he died this week at age 76.

“Marty and I were young together in a time that defined our lives,” wrote Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen on his blog. “Had it not been for him, my life would have taken an alternate path I cannot imagine. Marty always reached for the stars, and took us all along with him.”

Balin had a passion for folk music and love songs. He grew up in the Bay Area and, at age 18, founded and led The Town Criers, a folk-singing outfit modeled after The Weavers and The Kingston Trio. They had a modest West Coast following (the first two tracks on my Spotify playlist below are from that early period), but the folk movement was on its last legs once The Beatles and others showed up to lead a revolution in popular music. The Town Criers disbanded in 1964, and Balin set his sights on forming a rock band.

He turned first to Paul Kantner, a visionary songwriter and rhythm guitarist, who shared his interest in the burgeoning folk rock scene exemplified by The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful. “Balin and Kantner came together and, like plutonium halves in a reactor, started a chain reaction that still affects many of us today,” said Kaukonen. “It was a moment of powerful synchronicity.” Balin and Kantner recruited other area musicians, most notably Kaukonen and singer Signe Anderson, and although the group’s original drummer and bass player didn’t last, their replacements — drummer Spencer Dryden and bassist Jack Casady — both became mainstays in the group’s classic lineup.

At the beginning, 1966. (L-R): Marty Balin, Spencer Dryden, Signe Anderson, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady

“I knew I wanted to play with electric guitars and drums,” Balin said in a 2000 interview, “but when I mentioned that notion in clubs where I had played, the owners would say, ‘We wouldn’t have you play here. This is a folk club.’” Balin’s solution? With three other business partners, he opened the Matrix Club in San Francisco, down the street from what would soon become the famed rock venue The Fillmore Ballroom. The Matrix would become an important part of the burgeoning San Francisco music scene, and would host performances by the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Santana, Janis Joplin and many others.

When it opened in August 1965, The Matrix’s first concert was by Balin’s new band, which they had dubbed Jefferson Airplane, named after bluesman Blind Lemon Jefferson and the idea of taking flight. The group’s performing skills improved quickly and, with Balin writing compelling folk-oriented songs for rock band arrangements, the band got the attention of San Francisco Tribune music editor Ralph Gleason, whose complimentary reviews helped them win a contract with RCA.

On the Airplane’s debut LP, “Jefferson Airplane Takes Off,” eight of the 11 songs were penned by Balin, including the first single, “It’s No Secret,” featuring Balin’s strong tenor voice, and other seminal tracks like “Blues From an Airplane” and “Come Up the Years.” While Anderson did a decent job on vocals as well, she chose to leave once her first child was born in 1966. Her replacement was Slick, who had been singing with The Great Society, often as a warmup act for Balin and company.

Jefferson Airplane became a national act in 1967 with the classic album “Surrealistic Pillow,” which brought Slick’s powerful vocals to the forefront as an effective counterpoint to Balin’s lighter tone. Their vocal blend, with Kantner often adding a third harmony, became the Airplane’s most identifiable sound.

Balin was eager for the group to succeed and willingly let Slick become the focal point and even the spokesperson for the group he founded. As Kantner put it, “Marty was quite the businessman. He was the one who pushed us to keep an eye on all the business stuff, orchestrating, thinking ahead, looking for managers and club opportunities when we were still young and new. He was very good at it.”

Grace Slick and Marty Balin, 1968

Balin’s knack for irresistible melodies provided a crucial contrast to the group’s sometimes meandering instrumental outpourings. He co-wrote the fan favorites “She Has Funny Cars” and “Plastic Fantastic Lover” with Kantner, but even more noteworthy was his gentle, trippy ballad “Today,” which got plenty of airplay on the underground FM radio stations that were sprouting in major markets at that time.

Jon Pareles of The New York Times came up with the best description of Jefferson Airplane’s oeuvre I’ve ever read: “They play a molten, improvisatory mixture of folk, rock, blues, jazz, R&B, ragas and more, sometimes adopting pop-song structures and sometimes exploding them. The songs were about love, freedom, altered perception, rebellion and possibilities that could be transcendent or apocalyptic.”

Balin, Kaukonen, Kanther, Slick, Dryden, Casady, 1967

The Airplane’s next three LPs — “After Bathing at Baxter’s” (1967), “Crown of Creation” (1968) and “Volunteers” (1969) — saw fewer and fewer Balin love songs and more Kantner explorations of science fiction themes and radical politics. Simultaneously, the group was leading the way in psychedelic drug use, which Balin didn’t particularly care for. The Airplane played all the milestone concerts — Monterey, Woodstock, Altamont — but Balin somehow felt out of place. By late 1970, he withdrew from the group.

“I don’t know, I’d say Janis (Joplin)’s death around then really struck me,” Balin said in a 1993 interview. “Those were dark times. Everybody was doing so much drugs and I couldn’t even talk to the band. It was getting strange for me. I was into yoga and health foods and I’d given up drinking. Cocaine was a big deal in those days, and it made people crazy and very selfish. I couldn’t talk with everybody who had an answer for every goddamn thing, rationalizing everything that happened. I thought it made the music really tight and constrictive and ruined it. So after Janis died, I thought, I’m not gonna go onstage and play that kind of music anymore.”

The group soldiered on without Balin for a couple more ho-hum albums (1971’s “Bark” and 1972’s “Long John Silver”) while various members concurrently recorded solo projects, like Kaukonen’s and Casady’s splinter band, Hot Tuna, and Kantner’s sci-fi project, “Blows Against the Empire,” credited to “Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship.”

It’s not surprising to me that, when Kantner and Slick regrouped in 1974 with new backing musicians to officially launch Jefferson Starship as a more mainstream “next-generation” offshoot, Balin was persuaded to participate. For “Dragon Fly,” the Starship’s first official LP, Balin wrote and sang lead on just one track, “Caroline,” a remarkable seven-minute power ballad. It’s arguably the best song on a very solid album.

That worked out so well that Balin joined full-time for the next project, “Red Octopus,” which turned out to be the most successful album in the entire Airplane/Starship catalog. Balin co-wrote and sang lead on four tunes and was the sole writer of the dreamy ballad “Miracles,” which peaked at #3 on US charts.

Jefferson Starship, circa 1976. Top row: Johnny Barbata, David Freiberg, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner; Middle row: Marty Balin, Pete Sears; Bottom: Craig Chaquico.

Diehard fans of Jefferson Airplane didn’t like the decidedly slicker, more commercial approach of Jefferson Starship’s music, but it appealed to the 1970s pop-rock audience. “Red Octopus,” “Spitfire” (1976) and “Earth” (1978) all reached the Top Five on the album charts, due in large part to Balin’s melodic hit singles, “With Your Love,” “Count on Me” and “Runaway.” Kantner and Slick and guitarist Craig Chaquico played important roles in the group’s success, but without Balin’s songs and vocals, I don’t think they would’ve achieved as much as they did.

Tired of touring, Balin bailed again in late 1978, and while the band continued on with singer Mickey Thomas at the mic, Balin took a stab at a solo career, releasing a solo album (“Balin”) in 1981 that branded him as a power balladeer, with the #8 hit “Hearts” and #27 “Atlanta Lady” giving him chart cachet.

The 1989 reunion LP (Balin in center)

The original classic Jefferson Airplane lineup of Balin, Slick, Kantner, Kaukonen and Casady (but not Dryden) buried hatchets and reconvened in 1989 with a new album (“Jefferson Airplane”) full of songs originally recorded on various solo works but re-recorded by the band. It didn’t sell well, but they played to full houses on tour, playing many old Airplane tracks, a few Starship tunes and a handful of the newer stuff like Balin’s sentimental reverie about 1967, “Summer of Love.”

“We went out and did 36 shows, and I thought we were dynamite,” Balin said. “At the end, we finished, and everyone said, ‘This was great,’ then split apart. Everybody went home. Nobody calls anybody, nobody says anything. Same old band.”

In 1996, this lineup of Jefferson Airplane was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Balin spent the last 20 years periodically performing and recording, both on his own and with Kantner in various iterations of Jefferson Starship. I only recently learned that he was also a painting enthusiast, doing sensitive treatments of many major musicians of the rock era, which remain on display at his art gallery in St. Augustine, Florida.

“R.I.P. Marty Balin, fellow bandmate and music traveler,” Casady said upon Balin’s passing. “He was a great songwriter and singer who loved life and music. We shared some wonderful times together. We will all miss you!”

I suspect many readers weren’t really aware (until now) of Balin’s name or his contributions to making Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship what they were. Now you can hear precisely by listening to my Balin-oriented playlist on Spotify below. Thank you, Marty, for your songs, your singing and your devotion to your craft.