Monthly Archives: November 2018

Elton John’s Greatest Hits hits #1

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/elton-johns-greatest-hits-hits-1

On November 30, 1974, Elton John’s Greatest Hits began a 10-week run atop the Billboard 200 pop album chart on its way to selling more than 24 million copies worldwide.

Elton John was born and raised as Reginald Dwight in suburban London, and if you’d rearranged his DNA or his childhood environment just a bit, he might have become an RAF fighter pilot instead of one of the biggest pop stars of all time. His father, Stanley, wanted young Reginald to follow his footsteps into the British military, but his mother Shirley Dwight’s Elvis Presley records sparked his interest in rock and roll, and her uncritical devotion made it possible for the bespectacled boy to pursue his dream of rock stardom without discouragement. And he displayed remarkable tenacity in pursuing that dream, even to the point of ruining his vision by wearing a pair of Buddy Holly-style eyeglasses until his eyes adjusted to their strong prescription.

An accomplished pianist with a gift for composing original melodies, Reg Dwight toured extensively with a band called Bluesology while still a teenager in the mid-1960s, but his path toward stardom really began when he landed a 9-to-5 songwriting job at DJM Records in 1967 and was paired with a lyricist named Bernie Taupin. Taking the stage-name Elton John in 1969, Dwight began recording original material written with Taupin while still turning out bland, commercial ballads by the hundreds as part of his day job. His debut album, Empty Sky (1969) failed to catch on in the UK and was not released in the United States until years later, but his follow-up, Elton John (1970), was a breakthrough smash thanks to “Your Song,” his first top-20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the next four years, John would produce new material at a rate that is utterly astonishing by today’s standards. Prior to the November 1974 release of Elton John’s Greatest Hits, he released six full-length studio albums—Tumbleweed Connection (1970), Madman Across the Water (1971), Honky Château (1972), Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player (1973), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973) and Caribou (1974)—and scored 14 American top 40 hits, 10 of which were included on the greatest-hits album that reached #1 on this day in 1974.

Over the subsequent decades of his phenomenal career, Elton John would release two further volumes of greatest hits, sell tens of millions of albums worldwide and establish an American chart record that may never be equaled by placing at least one hit on the Billboard Top 40 in each of 30 consecutive years from 1970 through 1999.

Winston Churchill born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/winston-churchill-born

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the British leader who guided Great Britain and the Allies through the crisis of World War II, is born at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England.

Churchill came from a prestigious family with a long history of military service and joined the British Fourth Hussars upon his father’s death in 1895. During the next five years, he enjoyed an illustrious military career, serving in India, the Sudan, and South Africa, and distinguishing himself several times in battle. In 1899, he resigned his commission to concentrate on his literary and political career and in 1900 was elected to Parliament as a Conservative MP from Oldham. In 1904, he joined the Liberals, serving in a number of important posts before being appointed Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, where he worked to bring the British navy to a readiness for the war he foresaw.

In 1915, in the second year of World War I, Churchill was held responsible for the disastrous Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, and he was excluded from the war coalition government. He resigned and volunteered to command an infantry battalion in France. However, in 1917, he returned to politics as a cabinet member in the Liberal government of Lloyd George. From 1919 to 1921, he was secretary of state for war and in 1924 returned to the Conservative Party, where two years later he played a leading role in the defeat of the General Strike of 1926. Out of office from 1929 to 1939, Churchill issued unheeded warnings of the threat of German and Japanese aggression.

After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, Churchill was called back to his post as First Lord of the Admiralty and eight months later replaced the ineffectual Neville Chamberlain as prime minister of a new coalition government. In the first year of his administration, Britain stood alone against Nazi Germany, but Churchill promised his country and the world that the British people would “never surrender.” He rallied the British people to a resolute resistance and expertly orchestrated Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin into an alliance that eventually crushed the Axis.

In July 1945, 10 weeks after Germany’s defeat, his Conservative government suffered an electoral loss against Clement Attlee’s Labour Party, and Churchill resigned as prime minister. He became leader of the opposition and in 1951 was again elected prime minister. Two years later, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his six-volume historical study of World War II and for his political speeches. In 1955, he retired as prime minister but remained in Parliament until 1964, the year before his death.

Chinese overwhelm Allies in North Korea

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chinese-overwhelm-allies-in-north-korea

Three weeks after U.S. General Douglas MacArthur first reported Chinese communist troops in action in North Korea, U.S.-led U.N. troops begin a desperate retreat out of North Korea under heavy fire from the Chinese.

Near the end of World War II, the “Big Three” Allied powers–the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain–agreed to divide Korea into two separate occupation zones and temporarily govern the nation. The country was split along the 38th parallel, with Soviet forces occupying the northern zone and Americans stationed in the south. By 1949, separate Korean governments had been established, and both the United States and the USSR withdrew the majority of their troops from the Korean Peninsula. The 38th parallel was heavily fortified on both sides, but the South Koreans were unprepared for the hordes of North Korean troops and Soviet-made tanks that suddenly rolled across the border on June 25, 1950.

Two days later, President Harry Truman announced that the United States would intervene in the Korean conflict to stem the spread of communism, and on June 28 the United Nations approved the use of force against communist North Korea. In the opening months of the war, the U.S.-led U.N. forces rapidly advanced against the North Koreans, but in October, Chinese communist troops entered the fray, throwing the Allies into retreat. By May 1951, the communists were pushed back to the 38th parallel, where the battle line remained for the rest of the war.

In 1953, an armistice was signed, ending the war and reestablishing the 1945 division of Korea that still exists today. Approximately 150,000 troops from South Korea, the United States, and participating U.N. nations were killed in the Korean War, and as many as one million South Korean civilians perished. An estimated 800,000 communist soldiers were killed, and more than 200,000 North Korean civilians died.

The original figure of American troops lost–54,246 killed–became controversial when the Pentagon acknowledged in 2000 that all U.S. troops killed around the world during the period of the Korean War were incorporated into that number. For example, any American soldier killed in a car accident anywhere in the world from June 1950 to July 1953 was considered a casualty of the Korean War. If these deaths are subtracted from the 54,246 total, leaving just the Americans who died (from whatever cause) in the Korean theater of operations, the total U.S. dead in the Korean War numbers 36,516.

Dr. Conrad Murray receives four-year sentence in Michael Jackson’s death

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dr-conrad-murray-receives-four-year-sentence-in-michael-jacksons-death

On this day in 2011, Conrad Murray, the physician convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the 2009 death of singer Michael Jackson, is sentenced in a Los Angeles County courtroom to four years behind bars. The iconic pop star died at age 50 at his California home after suffering cardiac arrest while under the influence of propofol, a surgical anesthetic given to him by Murray as a sleep aid.

Jackson, who was born in 1958 in Gary, Indiana, rose to fame performing as a boy with his older brothers in a music group called the Jackson 5. With his 1982 solo album “Thriller,” Jackson achieved international superstardom. However, by the 1990s, he became known for increasingly eccentric and reclusive behavior, and his physical appearance was radically altered through multiple plastic surgeries. In 2005, amidst intense media coverage, Jackson was tried and acquitted on child molestation charges.

In March 2009, after a lengthy time away from the public spotlight, Jackson announced he would perform a series of comeback concerts in London starting in July. That spring, Murray, a cardiologist raised in Trinidad, was hired at a monthly salary of $150,000 to serve as Jackson’s personal physician while the singer rehearsed for his upcoming shows. Late in the morning on June 25, Jackson was found unconscious in bed in his mansion in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles by Murray, who tried unsuccessfully to revive him. The legendary entertainer was pronounced dead at 2:26 that afternoon at nearby Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office ruled the performer’s death a homicide after lethal levels of the powerful sedative propofol, as well other drugs, were found in his system. In February 2010, Murray, who had given Jackson propofol as a sleep aid almost every night for two months prior to his death, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty. During his trial, which began in September 2011, Murray was portrayed by the prosecution as an incompetent, greedy opportunist who recklessly gave Jackson propofol in an unmonitored setting (the drug typically is administered only in a hospital) and kept no records, among other serious medical errors. Prosecutors said Murray set aside sound medical judgment by relenting when Jackson, one of the world’s most famous men, regularly begged him for propofol in order to sleep. Additionally, Murray was accused of belatedly calling 911 after discovering Jackson had stopped breathing, and with lying to paramedics and emergency-room doctors. The defense argued that Jackson, who was plagued by insomnia, self-administered the fatal dose of the drug.

On November 7, after deliberating for less than two days, a Los Angeles County jury found Murray guilty. Three weeks later, on November 29, the trial judge sentenced the 58-year-old to a four-year jail term, the maximum punishment allowed under law. The judge, in announcing his decision, criticized Murray for his lack of remorse and refusal to accept responsibility for his role in Jackson’s death, and said the doctor became involved in “a cycle of horrible medicine” in his dealings with the pop star.

Johnson advised to bomb North Vietnam

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/johnson-advised-to-bomb-north-vietnam

President Lyndon Johnson’s top advisers–Maxwell Taylor, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, and other members of the National Security Council–agree to recommend that the president adopt a plan for a two-stage escalation of the bombing of North Vietnam.

The purpose of this bombing was three-fold: to boost South Vietnamese morale, to cut down infiltration of Communist troops from the north, and to force Hanoi to stop its support of the insurgency in South Vietnam. While his advisors agreed that bombing was necessary, there was a difference of opinion about the best way to go about it. Johnson’s senior military advisers pressed for a “fast and full squeeze,” massive attacks against major industries and military targets in the north. His civilian advisers advocated a “slow squeeze,” a graduated series of attacks beginning with the infiltration routes in Laos and slowly extending to the targets in North Vietnam. Ultimately, the civilian advisers convinced Johnson to use the graduated approach. The bombing campaign, code-named Rolling Thunder, began in March 1965 and lasted through October 1968.

The Philippines agrees to send troops to South Vietnam

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-philippines-agrees-to-send-troops-to-south-vietnam

President Elect Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines states that he will send troops to South Vietnam, in response to President Lyndon Johnson’s call for “more flags” in Vietnam.

Johnson hoped to enlist other nations to send military aid and troops to support the American cause in South Vietnam. The level of support was not the primary issue; Johnson wanted to portray international solidarity and consensus for U.S. policies in Southeast Asia. The Philippines sent a 1,500-man civic action force in 1966; the United States paid for the group’s operating costs and also provided additional military and economic aid to Marcos in return for sending his troops.

Several other countries–including Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Thailand–responded to Johnson’s call and sent troops to South Vietnam. Collectively, these troops were known as the Free World Military Forces, and they fought alongside American and South Vietnamese troops.

Magellan reaches the Pacific

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/magellan-reaches-the-pacific

After sailing through the dangerous straits below South America that now bear his name, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan enters the Pacific Ocean with three ships, becoming the first European explorer to reach the Pacific from the Atlantic.

On September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific. He searched the Rio de la Plata, a large estuary south of Brazil, for a way through; failing, he continued south along the coast of Patagonia. At the end of March 1520, the expedition set up winter quarters at Port St. Julian. On Easter day at midnight, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain, but Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left St. Julian in August.

On October 21, he finally discovered the strait he had been seeking. The Strait of Magellan, as it became known, is located near the tip of South America, separating Tierra del Fuego and the continental mainland. Only three ships entered the passage; one had been wrecked and another deserted. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait, and when ocean was sighted at the other end Magellan wept with joy. His fleet accomplished the westward crossing of the ocean in 99 days, crossing waters so strangely calm that the ocean was named “Pacific,” from the Latin word pacificus, meaning “tranquil.” By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. On March 6, 1521, the expedition landed at the island of Guam.

Ten days later, they dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebu—they were only about 400 miles from the Spice Islands. Magellan met with the chief of Cebu, who after converting to Christianity persuaded the Europeans to assist him in conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan. In fighting on April 27, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.

After Magellan’s death, the survivors, in two ships, sailed on to the Moluccas and loaded the hulls with spice. One ship attempted, unsuccessfully, to return across the Pacific. The other ship, the Vittoria, continued west under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano. The vessel sailed across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Spanish port of Sanlucar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the globe.

Jeffrey Dahmer murdered in prison

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jeffrey-dahmer-murdered-in-prison

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, serving 15 consecutive life sentences for the brutal murders of 15 men, is beaten to death by a fellow inmate while performing cleaning duty in a bathroom at the Columbia Correctional Institute gymnasium in Portage, Wisconsin.

During a 13-year period, Dahmer, who lived primarily in the Midwest, murdered at least 17 men. Most of these men were young, gay African Americans who Dahmer lured back to his home, promising to pay them money to pose nude for photographs. Dahmer would then drug and strangle them to death, generally mutilating, and occasionally cannibalizing, their bodies. Dahmer was finally arrested on July 22, 1991, and entered a plea of guilty but insane in 15 of the 17 murders he confessed to committing. In February 1992, the jury found him sane in each murder, and he was sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences.

Two years later, Dahmer was killed at the age of 34 by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver, who also fatally beat the third man on their work detail, inmate Jesse Anderson. Scarver’s motive in killing the two men is not entirely clear; however, in his subsequent criminal trial he maintained that God told him to kill Dahmer and the other inmate. Scarver, already serving a life term for murder, was sentenced to additional life terms and transferred to a federal prison.

The Shangri-Las score a #1 hit with “Leader Of The Pack”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-shangri-las-score-a-1-hit-with-leader-of-the-pack

During the early-60s girl-group explosion, the Shangri-Las score their first and only #1 hit on this day in 1964 with the famously melodramatic epic “Leader Of The Pack.”

From its sweet beginnings in a candy store—”He turned around and smiled at me/You get the picture?“—the romance described in “Leader Of The Pack” between the song’s protagonist and her leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding boyfriend, Jimmy, quickly progresses in the face of strong disapproval from her parents—”They told me he was bad/But I knew he was sad.” It was a song, in other words, perfectly calibrated to appeal to the romantic fantasies of America’s teenage girls—fantasies that blended wholesome innocence with hints of danger, rebellion and darkly handsome boyfriends.

But if “Leader Of The Pack” gave the impression that the Shangri-Las themselves were girls of the worldly-wise, gum-snapping, white lipstick-wearing variety, the truth was rather different. In fact, the Shangri-Las were a quartet of clean-cut high school classmates from Queens—two sets of sisters, in fact. And according to “Leader Of The Pack” co-writer and co-producer Ellie Greenwich, the Weiss and Ganser sisters were so inexperienced and so nervous about the subject matter of what eventually become their career-defining hit, that the recording session was fraught with difficulty, requiring “spoon-feeding, mothering, big-sistering and reprimanding” just to get the Shangri-Las through it. 

For Ellie Greenwich and her then-husband/songwriting partner, Jeff Barry, “Leader Of The Pack” was their second #1 hit, following on the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel Of Love,” a song that spun a very different kind of teenage fantasy. Like their former colleagues Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Barry and Greenwich were responsible for many of the classic works associated with the peak of the girl-group era, including the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and the Crystals’ “And Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” (all from 1963). They also wrote later #1 hits for Manfred Mann—”Doo Wah Diddy Diddy” (1964)—and Tommy James and the Shondells—”Hanky Panky” (1966)

Lady Astor becomes MP

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lady-astor-becomes-mp

American-born Nancy Astor, the first woman ever to sit in the House of Commons, is elected to Parliament with a substantial majority. Lady Astor took the Unionist seat of her husband, Waldorf Astor, who was moving up to an inherited seat in the House of Lords.

Born in Danville, Virginia, in 1879, she was the daughter of a former Confederate officer who became a wealthy tobacco auctioneer. She married Robert Gould Shaw II, a Bostonian, in 1897, and they had one son before divorcing in 1903. Soon after, she visited England, where she met and fell in love with Waldorf Astor, the great-great-grandson of the American fur trader John Jacob Astor. In 1906, they married. Nancy Astor became an influential society hostess, presiding at the Astor country estate of Cliveden. The “Cliveden set,” as the Astors’ social clique became known, came to exercise considerable political influence in a number of fields, especially foreign affairs.

In 1910, Waldorf Astor was elected to the House of Commons as a conservative, and the Astors moved to his constituency of Plymouth. Nine years later, Waldorf’s father died, and he succeeded to his viscountcy and seat in the House of Lords. Nancy Astor decided to campaign for his vacant seat in the House of Commons and ran a flamboyant campaign that attracted international attention. On November 28, 1919, she won a resounding victory in the election and subsequently became the first woman ever to sit in the House of Commons. (She was not, however, the first woman to be elected to the Commons; in 1918 the Irish nationalist Constance Markiewicz was elected as an MP for a Dublin constituency but refused to go to London as a protest against the British government.)

Although regarded as a conservative, Lady Astor took an individual approach to politics, saying, “If you want a party hack, don’t elect me.” Her impassioned speeches on women’s and children’s rights, her modest black attire, and her occasional irreverence won her a significant following. Repeatedly reelected by her constituency in Plymouth, she sat in the House of Commons until her retirement in 1945.