Episode #12: The Birth of the 1979 No Nukes Concert
“While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Live)” by George Harrison (1971)
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Live) by Bob Dylan (1971)
“It Don’t Come Easy” by Ringo Starr (1973)
“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” by Rod Stewart (1978)
“September” by Earth Wind & Fire (1978)
“Refugee (Live)” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1979)
“The River (Live)” by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band (1979)
00:49 It is almost the one-year anniversary for For the Record: The 70s! Amy sincerely thanks all of the listeners, including the many new listeners who have become part of the FTR70 community this summer.
01:19 The 40th (!) anniversary of the MUSE No Nukes concerts will be September 19 - 23. Five concerts in New York’s Madison Square Garden were held to raise money for anti-nuclear and pro-solar energy organizations. However, the idea for music benefits was hatched in 1971 by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar.
02:06 Amy gives a brief history lesson about Bangladesh’s fight for independence from Pakistan. While Bangladesh did achieve independence, it was not without being terrorized by the Pakistani military. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people were killed or were left starving and homeless.
03:30 George Harrison told Dick Cavett that they did not give the money from the Bangladesh concerts to the Red Cross because of stories Harrison about racial discrimination by the Red Cross. You could see that Cavett didn’t want a controversy with the Red Cross and was trying to be diplomatic, as was Harrison. The video is below and the attempts to make it better with the Red Cross is around the 27-minute mark. Harrison went with UNICEF but in retrospect, it would have been better if Apple — the Beatles’ Apple — had just donated to UNICEF instead of financing the concerts and then donating the profits. The IRS got suspicious that this really was a benefit and not a business venture and kept the money tied up for 10 years. You can read more about that here: “The Benefit that Almost Wasn’t.”
06:00 The Concert for Bangladesh album (and the movie) made a lot more money than the concerts. Ravi Shankar assumed that the album would make more than the concerts, which is one of the reasons he wanted to make an album. He thought that an album would have more impact than yet another headline about something bad happening somewhere.
07:10 You could see a line-up of rock and roll legends at the Concert for Bangladesh for less than $5.
07:45 George Harrison’s former bandmates were not too interested in a little song he wrote called While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” so Harrison asked Eric Clapton to play on the record. Clapton wasn’t sure at first if he should because who plays on Beatles records other than Beatles? However, Harrison told his friend that it was his song and he wanted Clapton to play on it.
09:45 Clapton played lead guitar on the record but he was suffering from a severe heroin addiction in 1971 and was so strung out that he could barely stand at the Concert for Bangladesh. In fact, Clapton later wrote in his autobiography that he would only agree to play the benefit if Harrison agreed to keep him supplied with drugs. Harrison said that it being in New York and all, that would not be a problem. Amy plays the song, which still sounds great because Harrison took over the lead guitar part for this performance.
11:10 Bob Dylan was as good as Clapton was bad at the Concert for Bangladesh. It was hard to know what to expect because Dylan had not performed for two years and was a bit of a recluse. It was hard to blame him for being a recluse when he had a guy digging through his trash every day looking for “memorabilia” and proclaiming himself to be some kind of Dylan expert. Amy plays a bit of his live performance of “A Hard Rain’s A -Gonna Fall.” Dylan’s voice can be an acquired taste but he sounded good — maybe as good as he ever sounded — on this night.
13:40 Ringo Starr was there, too. McCartney and Lennon declined. Harrison all but wrote “It Don’t Come Easy” but Ringo sang it and it is his song. It peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 the week of June 12 197? It is a catchy song and Amy remembers calling a radio station to request it many many years ago.
15:35 None of this sounds controversial so far. It is important to keep in mind, though, that the benefit was specifically framed to be a benefit to help children because the U.S. did not recognize the government of Bangladesh. It is not insignificant that Harrison made a political statement this way, even if it was one with which it was hard to find fault (unless you were one those people who wondered why anyone other than Americans were helped with American money.)
17:10 Amy discusses the Music for UNICEF concert on January 9, 1979. It was also in New York. Many popular musicians and bands participated in this and donated the royalties from one of their songs. Amy finds it a little odd that Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” raised money for starving children but then again, it was a good choice from the monetary perspective.
19:05 Amy plays a bit of “September” by Earth Wind and Fire, which likely made a ton of money for UNICEF.
20:30 The No Nukes concerts were September 19 - 23 in, you guessed it, New York. MUSE was founded by some heavy hitters in the music world, like Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Graham Nash. Harvey Wasserman is a journalist who was also a founder of MUSE. He currently has a podcast called Solartopia.
21:30 Amy gives another mini-history lesson, this time about meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. She played a news clip from ABC’s national news broadcast that reported on the incident. It was reported that some “radioactivity escaped” from the Number 2 generator, which was alarming to say the least.
23:09 Speaking of radioactivity, Amy explained what happened to Karen Silkwood, who died under mysterious circumstances after claiming her employer (a plutonium plant in Texas) engaged in unsafe practices.
25:00 Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen were among the performers at No Nukes. Tom Petty was on the verge of becoming a superstar in 1979. Damn the Torpedoes, which has the Tom Petty classic, “Refugee.,” came out about a month after this show. However, fans at No Nukes got a preview of “Refugee.” Amy plays a bit of it. We miss Tom Petty.
28:00 Springsteen fans also got a preview of a future classic. Amy plays a if of the live performance of “The River.”
30:19 Springsteen gave it his all, per his usual. See the evidence below…
30:57 The people behind No Nukes learned from the Concert for Bangladesh and avoided much of the financial drama, although the festival did not come close to achieving its goal. Still, $600,000 got into the right hands. This leads to many were many benefit concerts in the 1980s. Amy quoted journalist Anne Kolston, who said it was (is) easier to get people to play a benefit for dying babies that to make a controversial political statement. True. There is also a difference between playing a benefit for money and making political statements at your own show, but this sounds like something that will need to be addressed in a future podcast episode.
SOURCES USED TO CREATE THIS EPISODE
ABC News. “3/28/79: Three Mile Island,” ABC News Video, https://abcnews.go.com/Archives/video/march-28-1979-three-mile-island-nuclear-reactor-12982112
The Beatles. “Concert for Bangladesh.” YouTube video, 05:12. Posted [August 1, 2019]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tby39qh9Lts
Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. “The River,” No Nukes Concert for a Non-Nuclear Future, Asylum Records, 1979.
Clapton, Eric. Clapton. New York: Crown Archetype. 2007.
Dreifus, Claudia. “Bob Dylan in the Alley: The A.J. Weberman Story,” Rolling Stone, March 4, 1971. https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/bob-dylan-in-the-alley-the-alan-j-weberman-story-189254/
Drummond, William J. “Bangladesh Relief: The Concert’s Impact,” Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, NJ), June 13, 1972.
Dummett, Mark. “Bangladesh War: The Article that Changed History,” BBC, Dec 16, 2011, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-16207201.
Dylan, Bob. “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” No Nukes Concert for a Non-Nuclear Future, Asylum Records, 1979.
Earth, Wind, & Fire. “September,” Columbia Records, 1978.
Greene, Andy. “Flashback: Bob Dylan Returns to the Spotlight at the Concert for Bangladesh,” Rolling Stone, December 14, 2012,” https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/flashback-bob-dylan-returns-to-the-spotlight-at-the-concert-for-bangladesh-50775/
Harrison, George. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” No Nukes Concert for a Non-Nuclear Future, Asylum Records, 1979.
John Lennon (YouTube User). “George Harrison on the Dick Cavett Show, 1971, Full Interview.” YouTube Video, 35:27. Posted December 12, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RoVDLMfkU0
Johnston, David. “The Benefit that Almost Wasn’t.” Los Angeles Times, June 2, 1985, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-06-02-ca-14889-story.html.
Kolson, Ann. “Rockin’ for a Cause,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1985.
Latson, Jennifer. “Karen Silkwood: The Nuclear Safety Activist Whose Mysterious Death Inspired a Movie,” Time, November 13, 2014, https://time.com/3574931/karen-silkwood/
Lewis, Barbara. “Ravi Shankar Defends ‘Bangladesh’ Promoter,” Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, NJ), April 3, 1972.
Mendoza, Henry. “Only One Dealer Sells Album at $10 Price Set by Harrison,” San Bernardino County Sun, January 6, 1972.
Morse, Steve. “Singers Fight Nukes,” Boston Globe, June 3, 1979.
Steward, Rod. “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Blondes Have More Fun, Warner Brothers Records, 1978.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “Refugee,” No Nukes Concert for a Non-Nuclear Future, Asylum Records, 1979.