Chart-Topping Highlights from A Rock & Roll Anthology: From Folk to Fury

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From John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper’s-era piano to Jim Morrison’s Paris notebook, the array of memorabilia and rare manuscripts in Sotheby's upcoming sale A Rock & Roll Anthology: From Folk to Fury brings to life the motley story of rock & roll, pop, folk and punk. Here, we have chosen nine pieces from more than 130 fascinating objects in the sale that reveal the quirks of fate, happy accidents and lesser-known backstories that have inspired such icons as David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Robert Plant to create unforgettable musical experiences. Click ahead for hard-rocking highlights from the 10 December sale. –Bill Crandall

Chart-Topping Highlights from A Rock & Roll Anthology: From Folk to Fury

  • John Lennon, Sgt Pepper’s Piano. Estimate $1,200,000–1,800,000.
    The Beatles needed nine takes to create the closing piano chord of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The nearly minute-long E major that famously follows the orchestra cacophony in “A Day in the Life” required four people (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Beatles associate Mal Evans) to play simultaneously at three pianos – and then producer George Martin added some organ. Luckily, it took fewer people to write the song. With a copy of the Daily Mail in hand (featuring headlines about the death of a Guinness heir and pothole repairs in Blackburn, Lancashire), Lennon began “A Day in the Life” on this very piano at his Kenwood estate, before finishing it with McCartney. The piano also birthed “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “Good Morning, Good Morning,” “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and, as Lennon states in the plaque he affixed to it, “many others.”

  • The Sex Pistols, Golden Jubilee Boat Banner, 1977. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    In 1977, on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee, the Sex Pistols chartered a boat to serenade her (or at least the Houses of Parliament) with their scathing new single. The boat brandished this fluorescent yellow banner, reading, “QUEEN ELIZABETH, THE NEW SINGLE BY THE SEX PISTOLS, GOD SAVE THE QUEEN.” When the band and guests docked, the police were looking for singer – and polite society’s public enemy #1 – Johnny Rotten. “He’s up there,” Rotten said, as he fled the scene. Following the tip, the police instead surrounded and mistook now famous billionaire Richard Branson, then head of Virgin Records. Branson did manage to get the last laugh, as the Queen invited him to Buckingham Palace in 2000 to knight him.

  • Bob Dylan, This Wheel's on Fire Working Manuscript, 1967. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    The music to “This Wheel’s on Fire” was written by a guy who did not know how to play piano. As evident from 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” whose signature organ part is performed by novice Al Kooper, Bob Dylan valued musical soul over virtuosity. This may explain why, two years later, he handed these typewritten lyrics to Rick Danko, bass player for the Band, Dylan’s frequent collaborators. “At that time I was teaching myself piano,” Danko recalled. “Some music I had written on the piano the day before just seemed to fit with Dylan's lyrics.” In fact, it fit so well that the Byrds, Elvis Costello and Julie Driscoll recorded their own versions of “This Wheel’s on Fire,” with Driscoll’s serving as the theme to TV’s Absolutely Fabulous.

  • David Bowie, Stage Suit from the Glass Spider Tour, Signed by Bowie, 1987. Estimate $20,000–30,000.
    David Bowie’s massive Glass Spider Tour stage set is hiding in a land far away. Billed as the “largest touring set ever,” and seen by three million fans, the set for the 1987 tour was cast as an enormous spider, and the show began with Bowie being lowered from the web-like ceiling. To enhance the theatrical experience, Bowie threw in some spoken word to go along with the elaborate choreography. Naturally, for the man who scored a hit with “Fashion,” the costumes had to be as big as the show. Designer Diana Moseley delivered with this reptilian gold leather jacket and matching shirt and pants. Althoughn exhausted Bowie was happy to see the set destroyed at the tour’s end, former roadie Peter Grumley could not bear to see it perish. After Bowie’s death, he revealed that he keeps it in his New Zealand warehouse.

  • Led Zeppelin, Kashmir Original Working Draft. Estimate $120,000–180,000.
    Led Zeppelin had never been to Kashmir. Although the band’s eight-minute orchestral rock opus evokes the feel of its namesake Asian region at the foot of the Himalayas, singer Robert Plant actually conceived of it on another continent: Africa. “The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on,” Plant said, describing a drive he shared with guitarist Jimmy Page in the Moroccan desert. “Kashmir” would appear in Led Zeppelin’s live set a full year before the band recorded it for the 1976 Physical Graffiti album. Plant’s manuscript coincides with the live version, and he drafted it when the band was on the road in yet another continent, at Houston’s Whitehall Hotel. “I wish we were remembered for ‘Kashmir,’” Plant later said, “more than ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”

  • Velvet Underground Archive, ca. 1964/1965. Estimate $150,000–200,000.
    Although the Velvet Underground is synonymous with New York City’s art rock scene, some of their most iconic works were spawned 250 miles north. Singer-songwriter Lou Reed was a student at Syracuse University during the period in the early 1960s when he penned “Heroin.” As an English major, Reed aspired to write the great American novel, but later as a songwriter, he grew frustrated that people did not accept subject matter that was commonplace in novels. “I wrote a song called ‘Heroin,’” he reflected in 1987, “and you would have thought I murdered the Pope or something.” It would all come full circle in 2007 when Syracuse invited him back to campus and gave him their most prestigious alumni award.

  • Jim Morrison, Handwritten Notebook Containing Over 100 Pages of Musings. Estimate $180,000–220,000.
    Just before Jim Morrison’s final trip to Paris, the album cover for L.A. Woman foreshadowed his death. By the Doors’ sixth studio album, the embattled singer had grown weary of his rock-star image. Bearded and bloated, Morrison insisted on an egalitarian full-band cover photo, but, unfortunately, bashfulness was the least of his concerns. “He was sitting down because he was drunk,” said keyboardist Ray Manzarek. “There was a great weight on him.” In March of 1971, while the band mixed the album, Morrison retreated to Paris for what would be the final four months of his life. This handwritten notebook captures the troubled artist’s thoughts during the Paris period on everybody from Marcel Proust to Lee Harvey Oswald. “Beauty is therefore an absolute,” reads Morrison’s final entry, “rooted in disinterested perception – objects devoid of all purpose & meaning.”

  • Original Awning for Punk Mecca CBGB's. Estimate $25,000–35,000.
    CBGB, the place to see punks, was once the place to see birds. More than 150 years ago, 315 Bowery was the site of the Bird Fanciers Exhibition. As reported in the New York Times, William Manson took first prize with his yellow hen. The building transformed into a flophouse and then a biker bar before Hilly Kristal reimagined it as “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers.” Admittedly a mouthful, Kristal shortened the name to CBGB OMFUG, the iconic letters painted on this, the original vinyl awning.

  • The Eagles [Don Henley and Glenn Frey], Original Autograph Draft Manuscript of Hotel California, 1976. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    At the Hotel California, technically, you cannot check out any time you like. Of course, the setting of the Eagles’ most iconic song is a metaphor, one that has been interpreted more than the Mona Lisa. As you can see from this original 14-page manuscript, featuring revisions by both Don Henley and Glenn Frey, all the best theories are in there: the music business, hedonism, the American dream, the end of innocence. The members of the Eagles were outsiders in Los Angeles, and it swallowed them. “It gets a hold on you,” Henley said. “You love it and you hate it. It’s a whore, but it’s a fertile mother.” For the Hotel California album cover, the band chose the Beverly Hills Hotel, where for decades, Hollywood stars had lived glamorously and scandalously. Check out time is noon – we called to confirm.


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