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It Was 40 Years Ago: A Mud-Free Woodstock Festival on Rock Band

So you always wished there was more ‘60s music in Rock Band? This week’s package features four '60s icons, three of whom are making their Rock Band debut. Four decades ago this weekend, all four of them were playing at a little music festival in upstate New York, helping a half-million kids get muddy and change the world.

The Who got an overnight slot at Woodstock and grabbed the moment by playing the entire rock opera Tommy, and by getting into a little fracas when activist Abbie Hoffman crashed their stage (and had a close encounter with Pete Townshend’s boot). A few months later - Valentine’s Day 1970 to be exact - they played a more comfortable gig at Leeds University, turned the recorders on and unleashed the ****ing fury. Live at Leeds was one of the most ferocious live albums anyone had yet heard. But you know that, since you already played the same album’s versions of “My Generation” and “Young Man Blues,” so here’s “Magic Bus,” the song that closed that gig.

Big Brother & The Holding Company was a San Francisco band going nowhere fast, until they hooked up with a singer who’d recently moved in from Texas: Janis Joplin. “Piece of My Heart” was a song they borrowed from Erma Franklin (yes, Aretha’s sister, who had an R&B hit with it in 1967), but it became Janis’ first signature song, and a big enough hit to cause her to leave the band.

The whole world got psychedelicized in the summer of 1967, the magical season that began with The Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Suddenly, lots of weird and wonderful songs were becoming Top Ten hits - including Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” inspired by Lewis Carroll and Lord knows what else. But Grace Slick’s siren voice and Jorma Kaukonen’s heady guitar were like nothing the radio had heard before. The Airplane got more political as they went along, cutting the revolution-minded Volunteers album in time for Woodstock.

One mysterious album that came out in 1968 was called Music From Big Pink, and at first the band didn’t even have a name. The first copies just listed the names of the five musicians. Turned out those guys were Bob Dylan’s backup group at the time and people just called them “the band,” so The Band they officially became. The album’s organic, rustic sound became a huge influence - Eric Clapton, for one, was on record as a fan - and The Band became known as a quintessentially American group, even though they were largely Canadian. One of their heavier tunes, “Chest Fever” includes one of the most enigmatic sets of lyrics Robbie Robertson ever came up with.