Apr 30, 2013 4:59:33 AM
Top 40 rock ‘n’ roll travel sites countdown (20-1)
On the rock ‘n’ roll tour, we’ve rolled through half of the list and we’re getting close to the end of the road. What’s the #1 rock ‘n’ roll destination in the world? Read on to find out…
In 1966, the Beatles broke the martial arts/music barrier at this judo hall by playing five nights. But it wasn’t until Cheap Trick came off the back of their ‘I Want You To Want Me’ single that playing the Nihon Budokan became a badge of honor for rock bands. Since then Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, Chic, John Hiatt, Oasis and many others have recorded live albums there.
19. Waterloo Bridge at dusk, London
Watching a couple meet at Waterloo at sunset, the sad narrator of the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ from 1967 makes a walk in a gray dusk over the gray bridge a mandatory London ritual. Ray Davies would tell Rolling Stone, who put the song as #42 of their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list, that he was embarrassed with how personal the song was. He said, ‘It was like an extract from a diary nobody was allowed to read.’
The road to American hearts passed through grumpy Ed Sullivan’s stage. It was here the Beatles launched the British Invasion in 1964. Other famed moments were when Jim Morrison of the Doors ignored censors by saying ‘girl we couldn’t get much higher’ in ‘Light My Fire,’ and Mick Jagger rolled his eyes when changing ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’ to ‘Let’s Spend Some Time Together.’ Since 1993, it’s been home to the Late Show with David Letterman.
You can watch original Beatles performances at the nearby Paley Center for Media (a less memorable name of the former Museum of Television & Radio).
17. Hotel California, Beverly Hills
Ah, the place ‘you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.’ It’s a metaphor, people. Some have tried to link it to the Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico. But if you want a literal hotel linked to the 1976 song, Beverly Hills Hotel is an all-time classic that’s featured on the Eagles’ album cover. It’s often linked with the glamor Don Henley laments in the song lyrics, like this photo of an exhausted pool-side Faye Dunaway celebrating her Oscar amidst newspaper accounts of her win. Just don’t ever question Henley on the wine not being a ‘spirit’ (see this interview).
16. Freddie Mercury’s birthplace, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Faroukh Bulsara was born in Stone Town, the cobbled-alleyway core of Zanzibar in 1946. You probably know Faroukh as in Queen’s Freddie Mercury. He left for India when he was eight, then London at 18. Gallery Tours will rock you. They offer a custom Freddie tour that starts with Freddie t-shirts at the Zanzibar Gallery (Kenyatta Rd & Gizenga St), once home to his family, plus visits of the Zoroastrian temple where his family worshipped and a drink at the seaside Mercury’s (Minzingani Rd), full of Freddie pics. Their video is charming.
Grunge and Hendrix came from Seattle’s streets – then again, so did Heart – but Seattle’s biggest contribution for rock fans is this rival to Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Inside a shimmering abstract building designed by Frank Gehry, it contains 80,000 music artifacts including handwritten lyrics by Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and of course a Jimi Hendrix smashed guitar in the stand-out Hendrix Gallery.
14. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram, Rishikesh, India
What ’60s rock ‘n’ roll spoof movie neglects to put its stars in the hands of an Indian guru for mind-opening meditation? In Uttarakhand in north India, you can find in the ‘Yoga capital of the world’ the original south of Swarg Ashram, where Beatles sat with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in early 1968. The guesthouse, where the Fab Four wrote songs for The White Album (perhaps even John’s angry ‘Sexy Sadie’, which is pointed at the Maharishi), was abandoned in 1997 and is being overtaken by forest undergrowth.
13. Gram Parson’s cremation site, Joshua Tree, California
U2 isn’t the only band that eyed the great southern California national park Joshua Tree. The band named their 1986 album for it, and stayed at the Harmony Motel in nearby 29 Palms for their photo shoot here. Before that, the country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, who taught the Byrds and Keith Richards a thing or two about twang, came here for acid trips and eventually died here from a drug overdose in 1973. And then things got weird. Two friends stole his body at the LA airport and returned it to the Cap Rock part of the national park, where they lit his remains on fire, fulfilling Parsons’ wish. The national park has no official memorial for him, but makeshift ones appear.
12. Buddy Holly’s hometown, Lubbock, Texas
One of the first rock stars to write his own music, Buddy had only a couple years to record the hits that influenced British Invasion bands a few years later (the Stones’ first single was Buddy’s ‘Not Fade Away’). He grew up in Lubbock, and the panhandle town has a few attractions. You can see his famed glasses and Fender guitar at the Buddy Holly Center, music venues on Buddy Holly Ave, and his grave at the Lubbock City Cemetery.
The Lizard King could do anything but survive Paris in 1971. Jim, face it, is dead. Somehow, though, he made the cut at Paris’ who’s-who of cemeteries, Père Lachaise in the Marais, which opened in 1804 and features the tombs of Chopin, Balzac, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Gertrude Stein. But it’s Jim that gets the most attention. Try to be respectful – and not carve ‘Jim’ into trees or neighboring tombstones (or have sex over him either, as some claim). And you’d do well to linger a bit in the hilly, woody cemetery – a place that Parisians stroll to relax. Balzac, now buried here, once wrote, ‘I rarely go out, but when I do wander, I go to cheer myself up in Père Lachaise.’
10. The Beatles’ Liverpool
Go on. You have to do it. The Cavern Club has been rebuilt. There are Fab Four Taxi Tours of Beatle childhood homes and places like Penny Lane. Plus you can get t-shirts. But most memorable is John Lennon’s beloved park in Liverpool, Strawberry Field on Beaconsfield Rd, which Lennon called ‘Strawberry Fields’ in the 1967 song. Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone recently about visiting it, reflecting on the song’s line ‘it’s nothing to get hung about,’ perhaps as inspiration for his 2012 dedication song, ‘Roll On, John.’
Los Angeles’ iconic rock club – the birthplace of ‘go go’ dancers – has been a launching pad and point-of-entry for visiting big-name bands since its opening in 1964. Frank Zappa met his wife here. Van Morrison’s Them played two weeks in 1966. The club even fired the Doors as house band because of Jim Morrison’s profane Oedipal complex in ‘The End.’ The club closed for a few years in the early ’80s, and lives on mostly by reputation (and a heavy dose of metal riffs), but occasionally to host events like the Ozzy-is-back Black Sabbath announcement on 11/11/11.
8. Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ alley, London
Some say it’s the first video – certainly one of rock’s most classic ones. Dylan casually flipping through cards with some of the lyrics of his first defiantly electric song in 1965, used as the opening of DA Pennebaker’s superb film Don’t Look Back from 1967. You can find it near the Savoy Hotel, on a simple dead-end alley called Savoy Steps off Savoy Hill. Have 11 dollar bills handy in case there’s a bloke in a coon-skin cap asking for it. This website shows how to make Google work for you to see it.
7. The Dakota, New York City
Legend says the Dakota, built in the 1880s, was so named because it was so far removed from New York City life that it seemed as remote as the Dakota territories. It would have been just another fancy building, at the corner of W 72nd St and Central Park West, if not for the events of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was gunned down by Mark David Chapman. You can’t go in. But you can see the building and make the walk to Central Park to see the ‘Imagine’ mosaic in Strawberry Fields. Yoko Ono still lives here.
Afterwards, go two blocks north to the two-towered San Remo, where residents Billy Squier and Bono got into a tussle over fireplace rights a few years ago.
6. Abbey Road, London
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who go to Abbey Road and act ‘local’ or above it all and leave without a photo; and those who shamelessly stop traffic for a few moments to recreate the Beatles’ album cover. Either way, everyone goes. And you should too. The zebra crossing is where Abbey Road meets Grove End Rd, a block southwest of the tube station St John’s Wood (mentioned, with a smirk, in the Rolling Stones’ song ‘Play With Fire’). Meanwhile, for mesmerizing voyeurism, check out Abbey Road Studios’ live webcam of the crosswalk on its website.
5. The Crossroads, Clarksdale, Mississippi
There is no rock ‘n’ roll without blues, and myth or not, all roads lead back to the delta crossroads, where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil for guitar prowess in the 1920s (revised by Ralph Macchio in the ridiculous 1986 movie Crossroads). Aim for April, when the town of Clarksdale sets out pit barbecue stands and blues bands on its appealing cracked-sidewalk downtown during the Juke Joint Festival, centered around Morgan Freeman’s bar Ground Zero.
Cry, dear reader:
Elvis’ kitschy masterpiece mansion wasn’t his first home in Memphis. He grew up here, going to Beale St clubs to listen to blues music. Rich at 22, Elvis bought this mansion in 1957 for $100,000. It was fully redecorated in 1974, three years before his death, and shows off that era’s extremes in all the right/wrong ways. Elvis’ grave is here too. It’s nine miles south of downtown on US 51, best reached by the Sun Studio free shuttle.
3. Sun Studio, Memphis
Ground zero for rock music, and one of the reasons some thought Memphis should be home to the Hall of Fame. In 1951, Sam Phillips recorded Ike Turner (as Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats) doing ‘Rocket 88,’ often considered the first rock ‘n’ roll song. Others that got their start here include Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and, of course, Elvis Presley. The $12 40-minute guided tour includes a listen of original tapes of historic sessions.
So many wonder why Cleveland, of all places, is host to the holiest rock ‘n’ roll site. Easy. The hall – overwhelmingly the most fun any rock fan can ever have in a museum – resides in an IM Pei pyramid in a Rust Belt survivor because it was Cleveland that named rock ‘n’ roll (by DJ Alan Freed in 1952) – and because it was the first city to put up $70 million to build it. Doesn’t hurt that the city really does rock, with more live venues than famously music-filled Austin. A visit to the hall starts with a moving 14-minute film tracing rock’s origins, then moves on to Elvis cars, Beatles suits, Beastie Boys’ handwritten lyrics written on a Tide detergent notepad and Jimi Hendrix’s drawings of football players. If you look closely there’s oodles of fun finds, like a 1966 piece of hate mail to the Rolling Stones from a cursive-writing Fijian who swears, ‘I’m writing on behalf of 640 kids who all HATE you.’
Did you know Chuck Berry plays a 300-capacity basement stage every second or third Wednesday in his hometown St Louis? This is a gift to rock fans, and considering he’s 85, you should plan a visit to the Loops’ iconic Blueberry Hill soon. Chuck shouldn’t require an introduction, but here’s one. He was the first person inducted to the rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame. He pioneered guitar style, by playing it like a piano, all the time singing his own hilarious pre-Dylanesque lyrics while duckwalking across the stage – an inverse to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. The $35 tickets go on sale at 5pm the day after the previous month’s show and sell out in a day or two. Never mind that the set is short and a bit sloppy. Chuck’s still got his quick wit and his vocal delivery is spot on, even if he hits a wrong note on his guitar now and then. Just as fun is his daughter, Ingrid, who wails a harmonica riff and vocal line along with her dad.
The Blueberry Hill is a great spot too, with all sorts of memorabilia on the walls, local beers and great burgers.
And if you doubt Chuck’s worth, please shut up and go watch Hail Hail, rock ‘n’ roll,the superb documentary of the concert Keith Richards put together for Chuck’s 60th birthday in 1986. Chuck wins.
Robert Reid is Lonely Planet’s US Travel Editor and resident obsessive music lover. Robert recently devoted nearly 7000 words to listing and defending the Top 50 Rolling Stones songs.
This article was first published in February 2013 and was refreshed in April 2013.
Have these rock n’ roll destinations set your toes tapping? We have created a Spotify list of great songs by some of the artists featured in this article. Why not have a listen and see if they inspire you to travel? Click here and then click on the ‘Listen in Spotify’ button, which should launch Spotify. You can also add your own favourite travel tracks by clicking on the ‘Add Track’ button at the top of the list.