Hear Edgar Allan Poe Stories Read by Iggy Pop, Jeff Buckley, Christopher Walken, Marianne Faithful & More

In 1849, a lit­tle over 175 years ago, Edgar Allan Poe was found dead in a Bal­ti­more gut­ter under mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances very like­ly relat­ed to vio­lent elec­tion fraud. It was an igno­min­ious end to a life marked by hard­ship, alco­holism, and loss. After strug­gling for years as the first Amer­i­can writer to try and make a liv­ing from his art, and fail­ing in sev­er­al pub­lish­ing ven­tures and posi­tions, Poe achieved few of his aims, bare­ly get­ting by finan­cial­ly and only man­ag­ing to attract a little—often negative—notice for now-famous poems like “The Raven.” Con­tem­po­raries like Ralph Wal­do Emer­son dis­par­aged the poem and a lat­er gen­er­a­tion of writ­ers, includ­ing William But­ler Yeats, pro­nounced him “vul­gar.”

But of course, as we know, a coun­ter­cur­rent of Poe appre­ci­a­tion took hold among writ­ers, artists, and film­mak­ers inter­est­ed in mys­tery, hor­ror, and the supernatural—to such a degree that in the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, near­ly every artist even pass­ing­ly asso­ci­at­ed with dark­er themes has inter­pret­ed Poe as a rite of pas­sage. We’ve fea­tured a read­ing of “The Raven” by the often-sin­is­ter Christo­pher Walken.

At the top of the post, you can hear anoth­er ver­sion of the Queens-born actor read­ing Poe’s best-known work, a poem designed to pro­duce what the author called a “uni­ty of effect” with its incan­ta­to­ry rep­e­ti­tions. This record­ing comes from a col­lec­tion of celebri­ty Poe read­ings called Closed on Account of Rabies, which also fea­tures such unique takes on the clas­sic hor­ror writer’s work as that above, “The Tell-Tale Heart” as read by Iggy Pop.

Just above, hear a less­er-known poem by Poe called “Ulalume” read by Jeff Buck­ley, with an accom­pa­ny­ing sound­track of low, puls­ing, vague­ly West­ern-inspired music that well suits Buckley’s for­mal, rhyth­mic recita­tion. The use of music on this album has divid­ed many Poe fans, and admit­ted­ly, some tracks work bet­ter than oth­ers. On Buckley’s “Ulalume,” the music height­ens ten­sion and pro­vides a per­fect atmos­phere for imag­in­ing “the misty mid region of Weir,” its “ghoul-haunt­ed wood­land,” and the “sco­ri­ac rivers” of lava pour­ing from the poet’s heart. On Mar­i­anne Faithful’s read­ing of “Annabelle Lee,” below, a score of keen­ing synths can seem over­wrought and unnec­es­sary.

The remain­der of the 1997 album, which you can pur­chase here, treats us to read­ings from 80s goth-rock stars Dia­man­da Galas and Gavin Fri­day, Bad Lieu­tenant direc­tor Abel Fer­rara, Blondie singer Deb­bie Har­ry, and grav­el-voiced New Orleans blues­man Dr. John, among oth­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Clas­sic Read­ings of Poe’s “The Raven” by Vin­cent Price, James Earl Jones, Christo­pher Walken, Neil Gaiman & More

Why Should You Read Edgar Allan Poe? An Ani­mat­ed Video Explains

7 Tips from Edgar Allan Poe on How to Write Vivid Sto­ries and Poems

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

How a Bach Canon Works. Brilliant.

Bril­liant. This mov­ing man­u­script depicts a sin­gle musi­cal sequence played front to back and then back to front. Give the video a lit­tle time to unfold and enjoy.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

How Las Vegas’ Sphere Actually Works: A Looks Inside the New $2.3 Billion Arena

If the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca is the Roman empire of our time, sure­ly it must have an equiv­a­lent of the Colos­se­um. A year ago, you could’ve heard a wide vari­ety of spec­u­la­tions as to what struc­ture that could pos­si­bly be. Today, many of us would sim­ply respond with “the Sphere,” espe­cial­ly if we hap­pen to be think-piece writ­ers. Since it opened last Sep­tem­ber, Sphere — to use its prop­er, arti­cle-free brand name — has inspired more than a few reflec­tions on what it says about the inter­sec­tion of tech­nol­o­gy and cul­ture here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, not to men­tion the con­sid­er­able ambi­tion and expense of its design and con­struc­tion.

A $2.3 bil­lion dome whose inte­ri­or and exte­ri­or are both enor­mous screens — vis­i­ble, one often hears, even from out­er space — Sphere would hard­ly make sense any­where in Amer­i­ca but Las Vegas, where it makes a good deal of sense indeed. Its loca­tion has also made pos­si­ble such irre­sistible head­lines as “Sphere and Loathing in Las Vegas,” below which the Atlantic’s Char­lie Warzel gets into the details of this “archi­tec­tur­al embod­i­ment of ridicu­lous­ness,” includ­ing its sur­pris­ing ori­gin: “Accord­ing to James Dolan, the enter­tain­ment mogul who financed the Sphere, the inspi­ra­tion for the build­ing came from ‘The Veldt,’ a 1950 short sto­ry by Ray Brad­bury” involv­ing a fam­i­ly house with giant screens for walls that can ren­der what­ev­er the chil­dren imag­ine.

Nat­u­ral­ly, the kids get hooked, and when Mom and Dad try to inter­vene, the screens send forth a pack of lions to eat them. “Though the Sphere’s mar­ket­ing pitch doesn’t explic­it­ly men­tion being mauled by big dig­i­tal cats,” Warzel writes, “I got the notion that at least part of the allure of com­ing to the Sphere is a desire to be over­whelmed.” How, exact­ly, the venue mar­shals its advanced tech­nol­o­gy to do that over­whelm­ing is explained in the MegaBuilds video at the top of the post. With its form not quite like any event space built in human his­to­ry, it neces­si­tat­ed the inven­tion of every­thing from a cus­tom cam­era sys­tem to audio-per­me­able screen sur­faces, none of which came cheap.

Hence the cost of see­ing a show at Sphere, whether it be the Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s “docu-film” Post­card from Earth, U2’s Achtung Baby-based res­i­den­cy ear­li­er this year, or the now-show­ing Dead & Com­pa­ny, which revives not just the Grate­ful Dead in their var­i­ous incar­na­tions over the decades, but also the sto­ried venues in which they played. Its view­ers could hard­ly fail to be aston­ished by the sheer spec­ta­cle, even if they know noth­ing of the Dead­’s col­or­ful his­to­ry. All of them will no doubt be moved to con­sid­er his­to­ry itself: that of human­i­ty, tech­nol­o­gy, and civ­i­liza­tion, all of which has led up to this rare thing Warzel calls “a brand-new, non-phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence.” Say what you will about the over­stim­u­la­tion and excess rep­re­sent­ed by Sphere; if you can blow a Dead­head­’s mind, you’re def­i­nite­ly on to some­thing.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Absurd Logis­tics of Con­cert Tours: The Behind-the-Scenes Prepa­ra­tion You Don’t Get to See

U2’s Bono & the Edge Give Sur­prise Con­cert in Kyiv Metro/Bomb Shel­ter: “Stand by Me,” “Angel of Harlem,” and “With or With­out You”

A Vir­tu­al Tour of Japan’s Inflat­able Con­cert Hall

Stream a Mas­sive Archive of Grate­ful Dead Con­certs from 1965–1995

Read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, as It Was Orig­i­nal­ly Pub­lished in Rolling Stone (1971)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Patti Smith Reads Her Final Letter to Robert Mapplethorpe, Calling Him “the Most Beautiful Work of All”

If you go to hear Pat­ti Smith in con­cert, you expect her to sing “Beneath the South­ern Cross,” “Because the Night,” and almost cer­tain­ly “Peo­ple Have the Pow­er,” the hit sin­gle from Dream of Life. Like her 1975 debut Hors­es, that album had a cov­er pho­to by Robert Map­plethor­pe, whom Smith describes as “the artist of my life” in Just Kids, her mem­oir of their long and com­plex rela­tion­ship. A high­ly per­son­al work, that book also includes the text of the brief but pow­er­ful good­bye let­ter she wrote to Map­plethor­pe, who died of AIDS in 1989. If you go to hear Smith read a let­ter aloud, there’s a decent chance it’ll be that one.

“Often as I lie awake I won­der if you are also lying awake,” Smith wrote to Map­plethor­pe, then in his final hos­pi­tal­iza­tion and already unable to receive any fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Are you in pain, or feel­ing alone? You drew me from the dark­est peri­od of my young life, shar­ing with me the sacred mys­tery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and nev­er com­pose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowl­edge I derived in our pre­cious time togeth­er. Your work, com­ing from a flu­id source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of hold­ing hands with God. Remem­ber, through every­thing, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let it go.”

Smith speaks these words in the Let­ters Live video at the top of the post, shot just a few weeks ago in The Town Hall in Man­hat­tan. “Of all your work, you are still your most beau­ti­ful,” she reads, “the most beau­ti­ful work of all,” and it’s clear that, 35 years after Map­plethor­pe’s death, she still believes it. That may come across even more clear­ly than in Smith’s ear­li­er read­ing of the let­ter fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture back in 2012. As the years pass, Robert Map­plethor­pe remains frozen in time as a cul­tur­al­ly trans­gres­sive young artist, but Pat­ti Smith lives on, still play­ing the rock songs that made her name in the sev­en­ties while in her sev­en­ties. And unlike many cul­tur­al fig­ures at her lev­el of fame, she’s remained whol­ly her­self all the while — no doubt thanks to inspi­ra­tion from her old friend.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pat­ti Smith Remem­bers Robert Map­plethor­pe

Vin­tage Footage Shows a Young, Unknown Pat­ti Smith & Robert Map­plethor­pe Liv­ing at the Famed Chelsea Hotel (1970)

Pat­ti Smith’s Award-Win­ning Mem­oir Just Kids Now Avail­able in a New Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion

Pat­ti Smith Reads Oscar Wilde’s 1897 Love Let­ter De Pro­fundis: See the Full Three-Hour Per­for­mance

Pat­ti Smith Doc­u­men­tary Dream of Life Beau­ti­ful­ly Cap­tures the Author’s Life and Long Career (2008)

The Life and Con­tro­ver­sial Work of Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Map­plethor­pe Pro­filed in 1988 Doc­u­men­tary

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hear the Song Written on a Sinner’s Buttock in Hieronymus Bosch’s Painting The Garden of Earthly Delights

There’s some­thing unusu­al­ly excit­ing about find­ing a hid­den or dis­creet­ly placed ele­ment in a well-known paint­ing. I can only imag­ine the thrill of the physi­cian who first noticed the curi­ous pres­ence of a human brain in Michelangelo’s The Cre­ation of Adam: God, his ret­inue of angels, and their cloak map neat­ly onto some of the main neur­al struc­tures, includ­ing the major sul­ci in the cere­bel­lum, the pitu­itary gland, the frontal lobe, and the optic chi­asm. It’s hard to gauge Michelangelo’s moti­va­tion for doing so, but con­sid­er­ing his doc­u­ment­ed inter­est in dis­sec­tion and phys­i­ol­o­gy, the find is not par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing.

adam

And then there’s anoth­er find. Sev­er­al years ago, the Inter­net became excit­ed when an enter­pris­ing blog­ger named Amelia tran­scribed, record­ed, and uploaded a musi­cal score straight out of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights, paint­ed between 1490 and 1510. The kick­er? Amelia found the score writ­ten on a suf­fer­ing sinner’s butt.

The poor, musi­cal­ly-brand­ed soul can be seen in the bot­tom left-hand cor­ner of the painting’s third and final pan­el (below), where­in Bosch depicts the var­i­ous tor­ture meth­ods of hell. The unfor­tu­nate hell-dweller lies pros­trate atop an open music book, crushed by a gigan­tic lute, while a toad-like demon stretch­es his tongue towards his tune­ful but­tocks. Anoth­er inhab­i­tant is strung up on a harp above the scene.

bosch-1

The piece, which Amelia tran­scribed and record­ed, can be heard in the video above. It is… unusu­al. Although we can’t ascer­tain why Bosch decid­ed to write out this par­tic­u­lar melody, since scant bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the painter sur­vives, it’s pos­si­ble that he decid­ed to include music in his depic­tion of the infer­no because it was viewed as a sign of sin­ful plea­sure. For those who haven’t yet had a chance to hear it, lis­ten to Medieval-era butt music here.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman or at Google, or read more of his writ­ing at the Huff­in­g­ton Post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Hierony­mus Bosch’s Bewil­der­ing Mas­ter­piece The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights

The Mean­ing of Hierony­mus Bosch’s The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Explained

Watch the Spec­tac­u­lar Hierony­mus Bosch Parade, Which Floats Through The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights Painter’s Home­town Every Year

Hierony­mus Bosch’s Medieval Paint­ing, “The Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights,” Comes to Life in a Gigan­tic, Mod­ern Ani­ma­tion

 

 

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The First Professional Footage of Pink Floyd Gets Captured in a 1967 Documentary (and the Band Also Provides the Soundtrack)

British film­mak­er and nov­el­ist Peter White­head has been cred­it­ed with invent­ing the music video with his pro­mo films for the Rolling Stones in the mid-60s. Accord­ing to Ali Cat­ter­all and Simon Wells, authors of Your Face Here, a study of “British Cult Film since the Six­ties,” White­head was “a trust­ed con­fi­dant of the Rolling Stones… and a mem­ber of the inner cir­cle.” In addi­tion to the Stones, White­head had access to a sur­pris­ing num­ber of impor­tant fig­ures in the coun­ter­cul­tur­al scene of 60s Lon­don, includ­ing actors Michael Caine and Julie Christie, artist David Hock­ney, and a just-emerg­ing (and then unknown) psy­che­del­ic band called Pink Floyd. All of these char­ac­ters show up in Whitehead’s 1968 doc­u­men­tary Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Lon­don. Cat­ter­all and Wells describe the film thus:

If any one film tru­ly reveals “Swing­ing Lon­don,” it is Peter White­head­’s lit­tle-seen doc­u­men­tary Tonite Let’s All Make Love In Lon­don (1968). Beau­ti­ful­ly shot, with a Syd Bar­rett-led Pink Floyd sup­ply­ing the sound­track, it is per­haps the only true mas­ter­piece of the peri­od, offer­ing a visu­al­ly cap­ti­vat­ing win­dow on the ‘in’ crowd. Reveal­ing, often very per­son­al inter­views with the era’s prime movers — Michael Caine, Julie Christie, David Hock­ney and Mick Jag­ger — are inter­spersed by daz­zling images of the ‘ded­i­cat­ed fol­low­ers of fash­ion’, patro­n­is­ing the clubs and dis­cothe­ques of the day.

Depart­ing from typ­i­cal doc­u­men­tary styles, Tonite eschews neat nar­ra­tive pack­ag­ing and voice-over, and opts instead for a some­times jar­ring mon­tage of scenes from the Lon­don clubs and streets, rare footage of per­for­mances by the Stones, the Floyd (in one of their first-ever gigs at the UFO club), and oth­ers, and polit­i­cal ral­lies (with Vanes­sa Red­grave singing “Guantanamera”)–all inter­cut with the above­men­tioned inter­views. One of the best of the lat­ter is with a very young and charm­ing David Hock­ney (below), who com­pares Lon­don to Cal­i­for­nia and New York, and debunks ideas about the “swing­ing Lon­don” nightlife (“you need too much mon­ey”).

Over­all, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in Lon­don is a unique por­trait of the era and its ris­ing stars, and White­head­’s visu­al style repli­cates an insider’s per­spec­tive of watch­ing (but not par­tic­i­pat­ing) as a new cul­tur­al moment unfolds. White­head, who “nev­er missed a 60s hap­pen­ing,” has a knack for record­ing such moments. His 1965 Whol­ly Com­mu­nion (see here) cap­tures the spir­it­ed Albert Hall Poet­ry Fes­ti­val in 65 (presided over by doyen Allen Gins­berg), and 1969’s The Fall doc­u­ments some of the most incen­di­ary polit­i­cal action of late-60s New York.

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Pink Floyd’s Debut on Amer­i­can TV, Restored in Col­or (1967)

Pink Floyd Plays in Venice on a Mas­sive Float­ing Stage in 1989; Forces the May­or & City Coun­cil to Resign

Short Film “Syd Barrett’s First Trip” Reveals the Pink Floyd Founder’s Psy­che­del­ic Exper­i­men­ta­tion (1967)

Pink Floyd’s First Mas­ter­piece: An Audio/Video Explo­ration of the 23-Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971)

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RIP David Sanborn: See Him Play Alongside Miles Davis, Randy Newman, Sun Ra, Leonard Cohen and Others on His TV Show Night Music

It’s late in the evening of Sat­ur­day, Octo­ber 28th, 1989. You flip on the tele­vi­sion and the sax­o­phon­ist David San­born appears onscreen, instru­ment in hand, intro­duc­ing the eclec­tic blues icon Taj Mahal, who in turn declares his intent to play a num­ber with “rur­al humor” and “world pro­por­tions.” And so he does, which leads into per­for­mances by Todd Rund­gren, Nan­ci Grif­fith, the Pat Methe­ny Group, and pro­to-turntab­list Chris­t­ian Mar­clay (best known today for his 24-hour mon­tage The Clock). At the end of the show — after a vin­tage clip of Count Basie from 1956 — every­one gets back onstage for an all-togeth­er-now ren­di­tion of “Nev­er Mind the Why and Where­fore” from H.M.S. Pinafore.

This was a more or less typ­i­cal episode of Night Music, which aired on NBC from 1988 to 1990, and in that time offered “some of the strangest musi­cal line-ups ever broad­cast on net­work tele­vi­sion.” So writes E. Lit­tle at In Sheep­’s Cloth­ing Hi-Fi, who names just a few of its per­form­ers: “Son­ic Youth, Miles Davis, the Res­i­dents, Char­lie Haden and His Lib­er­a­tion Orches­tra, Kro­nos Quar­tet, Pharoah Sanders, Karen Mantler, Dia­man­da Galas, John Lurie, and Nana Vas­con­ce­los.”

One espe­cial­ly mem­o­rable broad­cast fea­tured “a 15-minute inter­view-per­for­mance by Sun Ra’s Arkestra that finds the com­pos­er-pianist-Afro­fu­tur­ist at the peak of his exper­i­men­tal pow­ers, mov­ing from piano to Yama­ha DX‑7 and back again while the Arkestra flex­es its cos­mic mus­cles.”

“San­born host­ed the emi­nent­ly hip TV show,” writes jazz jour­nal­ist Bill Milkows­ki in his remem­brance of the late sax­man, who died last week­end, “not only pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tive intro­duc­tions but also sit­ting in with the bands.” One night might see him play­ing with Al Jar­reau, Paul Simon, Mar­i­anne Faith­full, Boot­sy Collins, the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Dizzy Gille­spie, — or indeed, some unlike­ly com­bi­na­tion of such artists. “The idea of that show was that gen­res are sec­ondary, an arti­fi­cial divi­sion of music that real­ly isn’t nec­es­sary; that musi­cians have more in com­mon than peo­ple expect,” San­born told Down­Beat in 2018. “We want­ed to rep­re­sent that by hav­ing a show where Leonard Cohen could sing a song, Son­ny Rollins could play a song, and then they could do some­thing togeth­er.”

Hav­ing want­ed to pur­sue that idea fur­ther since the show’s can­cel­la­tion — not the eas­i­est task, giv­en his ever-busy sched­ule of live per­for­mances and record­ing ses­sions across the musi­cal spec­trum — he cre­at­ed the YouTube chan­nel San­born Ses­sions a few years ago, some of whose videos have been re-uploaded in recent weeks. But much also remains to be dis­cov­ered in the archives of the orig­i­nal Night Music for broad-mind­ed music lovers under the age of about 60 — or indeed, for those over that age who nev­er tuned in back in the late eight­ies, a time peri­od that’s late­ly come in for a cul­tur­al re-eval­u­a­tion. Thanks to this YouTube playlist, you can watch more than 40 broad­casts of Night Music (which was at first titled Sun­day Night) and lis­ten like it’s 1989.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch David Bowie Per­form “Star­man” on Top of the Pops: Vot­ed the Great­est Music Per­for­mance Ever on the BBC (1972)

Chuck Berry & the Bee Gees Per­form Togeth­er in 1973: An Unex­pect­ed Video from The Mid­night Spe­cial Archive

How Amer­i­can Band­stand Changed Amer­i­can Cul­ture: Revis­it Scenes from the Icon­ic Music Show

All the Music Played on MTV’s 120 Min­utes: A 2,500-Video Youtube Playlist

When Glenn O’Brien’s TV Par­ty Brought Klaus Nomi, Blondie & Basquiat to Pub­lic Access TV (1978–82)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Meet Fanny, the First Female Rock Band to Top the Charts: “They Were Just Colossal and Wonderful, and Nobody’s Ever Mentioned Them”

When the Bea­t­les upend­ed pop­u­lar music, thou­sands of wannabe beat groups were born all over the world, and many of them–for the first time ever, really–were all-female groups. This Amoe­ba Records arti­cle has a fair­ly exhaus­tive list of these girl bands, with names like The Daugh­ters of Eve, The Freudi­an Slips, The Mop­pets, The Bomb­shells, and The What Four. Very few got past a few sin­gles.

Instead, it would take until the 1970s for an all-female rock band to crack the charts. And no, it wasn’t the Run­aways.

Formed in Sacra­men­to by two Fil­ip­ina sis­ters, Jean and June Milling­ton, the group known as Fan­ny would be the first all-female band to release an album on a major label (their self-titled debut, on Reprise, 1970) and land four sin­gles in the Bill­board Hot 100–the title track from their 1971 album Char­i­ty Ball, a cov­er of Mar­vin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Pecu­liar” (as seen above), “I’ve Had It,” and final­ly “But­ter Boy,” their high­est chart suc­cess, at #29 in 1975. That last track was Jean Millington’s song about David Bowie, with whom she’d had a brief fling while tour­ing the UK.

Born to a Fil­ip­ina moth­er and a white Amer­i­can ser­vice­man father, the two sis­ters found refuge in music when life at their Sacra­men­to mid­dle school was intim­i­dat­ing and racist. Rock music, how­ev­er, was a way to make friends and find a sup­port sys­tem. In their teens, they start­ed a band called The Svelts, and watched as var­i­ous oth­er band mem­bers came and went due to mar­riage, or boyfriends who insist­ed they stop mak­ing music. The Milling­tons didn’t stop, and hav­ing gained reli­able band mem­bers in Addie Lee on gui­tar and Brie Brandt on drums, they fol­lowed their rhythm sec­tion to Los Ange­les, changed the band name to Wild Hon­ey, and wound up get­ting signed to Reprise after chang­ing the name one more time to Fan­ny.

Though the man who signed them, Mo Ostin, con­sid­ered them a nov­el­ty act, they were soon sent out on tour to open for groups like The Kinks and Hum­ble Pie. They also backed Bar­bra Streisand on her Bar­bra Joan Streisand album, when the singer want­ed a rock­i­er sound.

In a 1999 Rolling Stone inter­view, David Bowie still sang their prais­es: “They were one of the finest fuck­ing rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extra­or­di­nary: they wrote every­thing, they played like moth­er­fuck­ers, they were just colos­sal and won­der­ful, and nobody’s ever men­tioned them. They’re as impor­tant as any­body else who’s ever been, ever; it just was­n’t their time.”

After five albums and some per­son­nel changes (includ­ing bring­ing in Pat­ti Qua­tro, Suzi Quatro’s sis­ter), the band called it quits. Jean would go on to mar­ry Bowie’s gui­tarist Earl Slick; June came out as gay and lat­er estab­lished the Insti­tute for Musi­cal Arts, which sup­port­ed the women’s music move­ment.

Fan­ny dropped from rock con­scious­ness, more or less, and are rarely brought up when pio­neer­ing women in rock are men­tioned. June Milling­ton still bris­tles about it, telling the Guardian, “All these women carved out their careers and I nev­er once heard them men­tion Fanny…I looked. I wait­ed. I read inter­views. And I nev­er saw it.”

They reunit­ed in 2018 for an album, Fan­ny Walked the Earth, bring­ing back June, Jean, and Brie for a batch of polit­i­cal­ly charged songs and celebri­ty appear­ances by Run­aways singer Cherie Cur­rie, Kathy Valen­tine of the Go-Go’s and Susan­na Hoffs and Vic­ki Peter­son of the Ban­gles.

Rhi­no Records also rere­leased their first four albums in a box set in 2002, for those who would like to inves­ti­gate fur­ther.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Web Project Immor­tal­izes the Over­looked Women Who Helped Cre­ate Rock and Roll in the 1950s

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

How Joan Jett Start­ed the Run­aways at 15 and Faced Down Every Bar­ri­er for Women in Rock and Roll
Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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