Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Louis Armstrong's Hard Promises - Artist vs. Label on Pricing

Businesspeople know that a pricing exercise is tough. If you price a product too high, you may possibly alienate your customers or provide opportunities for competitors. If you price your product too low, you leave money on the table.

Pricing can also affect the image of a product, for good or ill. When dealing with rock musicians, a high price for a product could alienate fans.

This is probably part of what concerns Elvis Costello about the record company's pricing of his latest box set (H/T Robert Patton). In a blog post, Costello discourages fans from buying the box set, which has been priced at over 200 British pounds.

Unfortunately, we at find ourselves unable to recommend this lovely item to you as the price appears to be either a misprint or a satire.

All our attempts to have this number revised have been fruitless....

Costello's camp then recommends that people instead purchase a Louis Armstrong box set that is much less expensive, or wait to purchase the Costello product until after the New Year.

If on the other hand you should still want to hear and view the component parts of the above mentioned elaborate hoax, then those items will be available separately at a more affordable price in the New Year, assuming that you have not already obtained them by more unconventional means.

Those unconventional means are outlined in the blog's title, a play on the name of a famous book by Abbie Hoffman.

But this whole episode between Costello and his label reminds me of another artist-label fight - one that happened thirty years ago. And my younger readers should note that the prices quoted in the excerpt below are NOT a misprint or a satire. That was really how much albums cost back then (although the albums were typically shorter, often not topping thirty minutes of music).

MCA executives planned to capitalize on the popularity of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers by raising the price on the band's fourth album, Hard Promises, from $8.98 to $9.98. An angry Petty refused to allow it and even threatened to rename the album $8.98. After a month-long standoff, MCA finally agreed to release the album at the lower price.

Monday, November 28, 2011


I haven't really kept up with the doings at EMI - the last story that I read about them was when Mute was spun off from EMI (although EMI retained some of the more popular Mute acts). So I didn't realize that EMI is slated to be broken up and absorbed into two other companies:

Assuming it all clears the European Commission, US antitrust bodies and the aggressive lobbying of the independent sector, EMI's record music arm could now be folded into Universal Music (giving that company a global market share of over 40%) while EMI Music Publishing is absorbed by Sony/ATV to create a new publishing powerhouse.

Of course, that EC clearance is a big if, as recent events on this side of the pond have demonstrated with the AT&T/T-Mobile proposed merger.

Be sure to read the Guardian article to find out how EMI found itself on the chopping block.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

We didn't forget about Dre, but we forgot about Mike Jones

There have been numerous examples of musical admiration societies. Gene Simmons admired Van Halen. Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and Prince all admired Joni Mitchell. Eminem, Dr. Dre, and others formed a mutual admiration society both in the recording studio and outside it.

Of the various musical genres, rap seems to lend itself best to collaboration. It seems that most rap artists have appeared with at least one other rap artists at some point in their careers, and some artists continue to work together for years.

But in some cases, there is neither mutual admiration nor continued collaboration.

To me, Mike Jones is just a part of a ComaR mashup. But at one point, Jones was a big deal. Emerging from Houston, Texas, he scored some big hits on local label Swishahouse Records.

But then he left the label. Jones' story: Why did you leave Swishahouse?

Mike Jones: You see a lot of people give them too much credit. They say that Swisha’s the reason that I blew up. But it’s talent. There’s a whole lot of talent there that ain’t moving nowhere. It started out with Ice Age Entertainment. I was already big off the strip-club scenes, and they came to me. They had a bigger machine at that time, and I got down with them.

Swishahouse artist Paul Wall has a different take:

When he left Swishahouse, he was dropping salt on everybody from Swishahouse and not giving us any credit at all. He was talking down on a lot of us and he would never directly say our names, but he was still hating. There were times when I felt disrespected and I would call him out on it, and he’d be like, “Nah, I wasn’t talking about you. I would never do that.” I’m sure there’s a psychological term for this problem that Mike Jones has. He has a problem. His perception of reality ain’t the real perception of reality. In his mind he feels like he hasn’t done anything wrong to me, Trae, or Chamillionaire. He feels like everyone else is trippin’ and he’s the victim. But that ain’t how it happened. We always say there’s three sides to every story. There’s your side, the other person’s side, and then there’s the truth. But in his mind, he’s the victim and he never did anything wrong to anybody.

In the end, all that's left is the music.

In ComaR's mashup, Jones' lyrics are paired up with the melody from the Cure song "A Forest" - a song that I've liked for years.

Oh, and Jones' "American Dream" movie did come out - but perhaps the less said about the movie the better. Here's part of a review:

The scenes involving the chess match were especially pathetic. The chess boards are clearly set up wrong with pawns beside castles, they are moving the pieces all wrong also if you look. If you are trying to develop a character in a movie and show him as smart, don't make him move a bishop straight downwards through a pawn....This movie was actually hilarious but it's sad it was supposed to be serious.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Important people in musical history - Paula Vance

When a songwriter writes a song, he'll sometimes write it about the people around him. As a result, some people who would not otherwise be famous suddenly gain some level of fame - even if you don't know their names.

Perhaps you read about the recent death of composer Lee Pockriss. Pockriss wrote the music for the song "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," a 1960 hit for Brian Hyland. The lyricist for the song was a man named Paul Vance, who was inspired to write the lyrics after watching his two-year old daughter, Paula.

Well, time passed, and the seemingly innocent early 1960's gave way to the seemingly guilty mid 1970's. However, there was one thing that the two decades shared in common - death songs. While the '60s certainly had its share of death songs, culminating with the over-the-top "Dead Man's Curve," the '70s certainly had its share, between "Seasons in the Sun," "One Tin Soldier," "The Night Chicago Died," et al.

Paul Vance was still writing songs and partnered with Jack Perricone to write a much darker song than "Itsy Bitsy." In this song, a young girl gets in a fight with her dad over something that couldn't be explicitly stated, even in the relatively free 1970s:

Daddy please don't, it wasn't his fault, he means so much to me
Daddy please don't, we're gonna get married...just you wait and see.

The plaintive plea, repeated at the end of the song when the girl's dad accidently shoots her, was sung by Paul's daughter Paula, now 15 year old. There's a picture of Paula recording the song on Paul Vance's website. However, a male voice was needed to sing the majority of the song, so Paul Vance contacted a law student, David Cole Idema, who had left the music industry (where he worked under the name David Geddes). Adrian Qiana describes what happened:

Imagine that you’ve given up on your musical dreams, you’re knee-deep in habeas corpus and a successful songwriter calls you up out of the blue to sing on one [of] his songs. But that’s what happened to David. I wonder if after he recorded Run Joey Run, he said, ‘Uh, yeah, thanks Paul.”, rolled his eyes and muttered, what a piece of crap.

Idema went back to law school, but when the song was actually released, it turned out that David Geddes had a top ten hit.

I'm not sure what happened to Paula Cole after "Run Joey Run" charted in 1975, but whatever did happen, she has her place in musical history.

P.S. If you're interested in such songs, check out the story about how Jack Lawrence ended up writing a song about the daughter of his lawyer. Lawrence's friendship with the lawyer ended when he found out that the lawyer ended up with the copyright on the song, simply entitled "Linda." Well, Linda grew up and had more songs written about her, but these were written by her husband, a musician named Paul McCartney.

Oh, and Jack Lawrence's song was eventually recorded by Jan & Dean - the same people who would record the parody death song "Dead Man's Curve" that I previously mentioned.

The music industry is small and incestuous.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yes, fan is short for fanatic - Lady Gaga fans trash Adele

At times we become fans - perhaps rabid fans - of particular musicians, and perhaps believe that our favorite musicians are the absolute best musicians in the whole wide world.

So what happens when people champion another musician instead?

Pamela Owen of the Daily Mail recently reported that some Lady Gaga fans think that Adele needs to be knocked down a peg in the popularity department.

Twitter is filled with crude jokes, one of the most popular being: 'Confirmed: Gaga will not be wearing her meat dress because she is afraid Adele will eat it.'

Significantly enough, the title of Owen's piece uses the word "bully" to refer to the fans' treatment. Minic Rivera of the Inquisitr explained the significance:

In September this year Lady Gaga turned to Twitter to rally a call for the end of bullying.

She tweeted her call, saying:

“Bullying must become illegal. It is a hate crime.”

Unfortunately, recent actions by some of Gaga’s fans do not seem to fit with their idol’s call for end to bullying.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This one really was an "Oww!"

In my never-ending attempt to find some type of transcript of Dana Carvey's appearance as Neil Young in a fake Super Bowl halftime performance, I ran across a partial transcript of Dana Carvey as Neil Young at Oracle OpenWorld 2005.

I didn't see this particular performance, unfortunately.

"I've seen Larry Ellison and the damage done.
First to PeopleSoft and now to Siebel.
There's a little hostile take over in everyone
Every deal is like so much fun."

Yes, I wrote about Carvey's/Young's appearance in 2008. And 2004.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Try to categorize "Whiplash Smile"

In a previous post, I implicitly stated that Billy Idol both was a rocker and was not a rocker.

Allow me to explain.

Billy Idol was, in several ways, a punk. He emerged from the punk scene, a former Sex Pistols fan and former leader of the band Generation X. He was noted for castigating old stalwarts Led Zeppelin in a recording studio (the incident is recorded in at least one Led Zeppelin biography). And, of course, Idol had the spiky hair, the leather, and the punky pseudonym.

But when you start actually listening to his third album, Whiplash Smile, there's nothing punk about it.

For starters, punks usually don't align themselves with guitar heroes. But for a good chunk of his solo career, Billy Idol sought active collaboration from ace guitarist Steve Stevens.

Did that mean that Idol was going to rock out? Hardly. Take a listen to the songs on "Side Five" of Whiplash Smile. The punker and the rocker start with "Worlds Forgotten Boy," filled with drum machine beats and synths overlaid by Steven's solos. Then they move on to dance music with their remake of "To Be a Lover." The live/synth overlay formula continues on "Soul Standing By," except that this time the result is much more metallic. Then Idol and Stevens take a grand detour into my favorite Idol song of all time, "Sweet Sixteen," in which Idol sneers over a type of electro-folk. By the time the somewhat more traditional "Man for All Seasons" comes along, you've reached the conclusion that Idol/Stevens is the antithesis of punk. Move on to "Side Six," and just imagine Idol playing "Don't Need a Gun" or "All Summer Single" sandwiched between some Ramones and Pistols songs - he'd be booed off the stage.

However, it seems that "Whiplash Smile" is kind of like "Total Devo" - I seem to be the only person who actually likes the album. Allmusic's Johnny Loftus:

There's plenty to listen for on Whiplash Smile, and Idol's attempt to expand his palette is admirable. Unfortunately, there's nary a memorable hook here outside of the single and whatever mileage can be gained from his trademark sneer. In that sense, Whiplash Smile is similar to so much music of the decade, which got by with rayon flash and giddy video posturing but little in the way of reality.

Yes, I am at war with the professional reviewers. Some things never change.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


As time passes, your favorite songs from any particular band change.

When I first heard Foreigner, around the time of their first album, Dean Caulfield and I were listening to hits such as "Feels Like the First Time" (not that we knew how that felt) and "Cold As Ice." I also had a particular fondness for another Foreigner song, "The Damage is Done."

By the 1980s, my favorite Foreigner song had become "I Want to Know What Love Is" - an incredible performance. Although I wish that the Altar Boys (a Christian punk-ish band) had covered the song - they could have come up with a great version.

As I thought more about Thomas Dolby's place in music history, I started gravitating toward "Waiting for a Girl Like You." And as a marketer, I've had an admiration for "Juke Box Hero," which (intentionally or not) ended up appealing to Foreigner's target audience.

But if you were to ask me today to name my favorite Foreigner song, I'd go with "Urgent." Why? Because, in my mind, it combines all the best of Foreigner (at least from the Lou Gramm era).

First off, you have Lou Gramm. I confess that I haven't listened to the subsequent vocalist or vocalists in Foreigner, but Gramm has a good voice for either the hard stuff or the soft stuff.

Not that this is soft stuff. "Urgent" is an odd song because it's supposedly a hard rock song, but in reality it's nothing like a hard rock song. Compare to Billy Idol's songs or to Depeche Mode's "I Feel You," songs that similarly have a hard feel, but would be very offensive to rock purists who run in horror when the synths come out.

Yes, the synths. Thomas Dolby had a hand in this song.

But there's one thing in this song that, to my knowledge, is not in any other Foreigner song - a sax solo. Think about it. You have Lou Gramm singing, and the rock sound going on, and Thomas Dolby dropping science everywhere (yes, Dolby was the original Louis Gray), and then all of a sudden a saxophone is added to it. From Junior Walker, no less, although to my mind the sax solo reminds me of guitar soloists such as Bob Mothersbaugh and Martin Gore - not your traditional solo, but it fits well into the song in question.

You can read about the song in Songfacts, which also includes an interview with Mick Jones. (No, not that Mick Jones.) Or you can see what Eric Andrews said:

The first single was the scorching rocker "Urgent", with a smoking saxophone from Motown legend Junior Walker & a vocal from master Lou Gramm that literally oozes sexual frustration. The unholy trinity of AOR [Styx, Journey & REO Speedwagon] could only dream of creating a song this delightfully raunchy. Peaking at #4, the stage was set for 4's full-scale assault on the pop charts for the next year or so.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Whatever happened to Deney Terrio?

Back when I was growing up, there was no MTV. If we wanted to see music on TV (other than the Partridge Family), we'd have to watch shows such as "American Bandstand," "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert," and (drop your voice down a couple of octaves) "Soul Train." Toward the end of the decade, a new music show emerged called "Dance Fever."

Here's how host Deney Terrio describes the impact of Dance Fever:

The [show's] format was the first competitive dance show to utilize celebrity's judges and award a weekly winner. This show is credited with being the show that inspired and helped bring Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and others into the recent limelight.

Well, Terrio is still dancing, and now you can participate via the Deney Terrio Dance Party.

The Deney Terrio Dance Party is an exciting new concept in the entertainment industry. Backed by a dynamic 10 piece live band, Deney Terrio, the man who taught John Travolta how to dance in the classic film "Saturday Night Fever", leads an interactive Dance Party that gives people a chance to dance with the man who pioneered the
Disco Dance era.

While The Deney Terrio Dance Party Band performs club classics, Disco and R&B hits, Deney takes the crowd on an up close and personal Dance journey. A journey back to the days of Soul Train and Saturday Night Fever. A journey back to the days when people went to night clubs and discotheques like the infamous Studio 54 and danced the night away. A journey back to when couples got dressed up and spent the evening dancing to the sweet sounds of artists like, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Earth Wind and Fire, The Jackson 5, Donna Summer and many many more. This is the concept of The Deney Terrio Dance Party.

So where is the Dance Party being held? In Manhattan? Not exactly:

This high energy, LIVE! Dance experience is a great fit for any venue. The Deney Terrio Dance Party is now available for corporate events, fund raisers and parties, fairs and festivals, casinos, cruise ships, theme parks and anywhere else people want to get up and dance.

For example, Terrio and the band were at the Kowloon Restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts on September 25, 2010. (More pictures here.) On October 22, 2011, they were at the Wonderland Entertainment Complex in Revere, Massachusetts. (More information here.)

However, I suspect that Terrio's parties do not include the BEST DISCO SONG EVER - Devo's "Disco Dancer" from Total Devo. Unfortunately, I couldn't find an online version of the original video (one of my favorites), but here's a live version.