“A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

Last week I had an encounter with someone whom I never imagined that I would meet—not that I ever even thought about meeting with him. Ever.

I was flying from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas. While in the scrum-turning-into line to board, I paid no attention to the person in front of me until I heard the woman who was scanning the tickets say to him, “I saw your show last week.  I really liked it!”

His back was to me. He was about 5’10”.  Medium build.  Wavy reddish-brown hair.  I glanced at his bag and saw a monogram: “DCO.”

And given where I was and where I was going, it struck me that I was next to Donny Osmond.

As a colleague had been upgraded to first class, and as I was boarding, as was Osmond, in coach, I said to Osmond that I was surprised that he wasn’t flying in the front of the plane. Which led to a bit of good-natured banter between the two of us about flying.

Osmond, of course, is an entertainer. He has been for the greater part of his 59 years, having appeared at age 5 on the “Andy Williams” show.

Continue reading “A Little Bit Rock and Roll”

2016 Soundscan Data: Total Music Sales and Consumption

2016 was a hell of a year, huh?

Music sales continued to fall, streaming continued to climb. Apple Music still kinda sucks. Spotify is just alright. Not a lot of excitement around new album releases. For me at least. I didn’t get into too much new stuff this year. The new release I was most excited by was the Monkees’ Good Times and seeing Mickey and Peter on their 50th anniversary tour was a thrill; I even bought a replica of the poncho from the “Randy Scouse Git” video! Other albums I enjoyed were new ones by Andrew Bird, Robbie Fulks, Wilco, the Handsome Family, Regina Spektor, and Two Cow Garage. I didn’t hear about Car Seat Headrest until they started showing up on everybody’s year-end lists, but I’m liking what I’ve heard of that, too.

I’m bummed about Prince and Leonard Cohen dying, regretting having blown multiple opportunities to see them in concert. George Michael, Sharon Jones, George Martin, Scotty Moore, David Bowie, Bernie Worrell, Glenn Frey, Leon Russell, Paul Kantner, Merle Haggard, Maurice White, Vanity, Phife Dawg, Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Jerry Heller, Fidel Castro, Nancy Reagan, Abe Vigoda, Garry Marshall, Garry Shandling, Grizzly Adams, Mrs. Brady, Schneider, Father Mulcahy, Big Ang… A lot of people died in 2016. A lot more are going to die in 2017. The Baby Boomers are in their 70s now. We can expect classic rockers to start dropping like flies. Prepare yourself. Let people know you care about them when you have the chance.

Until then, let’s look at the data from Nielsen Music via Billboard

Total U.S. Album sales (physical + digital in millions)

Total Album Sales (physical + digital albums)

2016: 200.54 million
2015: 241.39 million
2014: 257.02 million
2013: 289.41 million
2012: 315.96 million
2011: 330.57 million
2010: 326.15 million
2009: 373.9 million
2008: 428.4 million
2007: 500.5 million
2006: 542.4 million
2005: 618.9 million
2004: 667 million
2003: 687 million
2002: 681 million
2001: 763 million
2000: 785 million
1999: 754.8 million
1998: 711 million
1997: 651.8 million
1996: 616.6 million
1995: 616.4 million (I’ve heard the figure is 616,957,000)
1994: 614.7 million (I’ve heard the figure is 615,266,000)
1993: ~573 million (1994 was 7.4% increase over 1993)

Continue reading 2016 Soundscan Data: Total Music Sales and Consumption

Remastered, expanded edition of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or coming in March

Either/Or was the first Elliott Smith album I bought. Like a lot of people outside the Pacific Northwest my first exposure to Elliott Smith was the movie Good Will Hunting. Or maybe a pal put something on a mixtape. I can’t remember why but at the time I was opposed to buying soundtracks, so I picked up Either/Or essentially as a way to get my favorite song from the film: “Say Yes.”

I immediately became obsessed. Songs like “Ballad of Big Nothing” and “Rose Parade” had a melodic sensibility that appealed to the Beatles fanatic in me and the dark, clever lyrics were right up my Tom Waits-loving, low-life alley. The recording sounded like it was made by people who reeked of stale cigarette smoke and beer sweat. This was the 90s and bars couldn’t be divey enough for people like us. The dirtier and cheaper, the better. Elliott Smith sounded like a guy we might see in the corner booth at Teazer’s, sipping something in a rocks glass and nodding along and smirking when a not-too-terrible song got played on the jukebox. This what I projected onto him anyway from listening to the album and looking at the cover photo.

We didn’t have wikipedia in those days so I had to gather clues by scouring the liner notes: “recorded at joanna’s house, my house, the shop, undercover inc., heatmiser house, and laundry rules.” The label was Kill Rock Stars, the home of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney. This was all we had to go on, to make up narratives of our own.

Years later, I’d finally get a chance to see him in concert, but the show was a disaster and he was a mess. A year and a half later, he was dead.

Since then, there have been a number of posthumous releases. First there was From a Basement on the Hill, a collection of the stuff he was working on before he died. In 2007 there was New Moon, a compilation of 24 outtakes mostly recorded between 1994 and 1997. I interviewed archivist Larry Crane back then about putting together that release. A couple years later I interviewed Crane again about what he found in the archives since New Moon. He said there probably wasn’t enough unreleased stuff to release another album, but “There are a lot of interesting alternate and live versions of songs though. I could see doing ‘bonus disc’ versions of the proper albums as a possibility.”

Continue reading Remastered, expanded edition of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or coming in March

Queen Elizabeth Catches a Cold

Let’s face it: given that dragons have, so far as we know, all been slain, there isn’t a whole lot left for knights to do. And given that there aren’t a whole lot of functional tasks left for royalty, there are basically symbolic actions for them to perform, such as participating in parades and making unusual hand gestures that are interpreted as waving.

So knights: not a whole lot of call for defense of the realm.

Queens: not much more to do than being royalty.

One thing that has been occurring in Great Britain for nearly 100 years is that the person wearing the crown celebrates the new year with honors—or honours—during which time people who are otherwise known as “commoners” get elevated in rank.

Some people become knights.

Nowadays, it seems, defending the realm of Great Britain is all about financial defense. Sir Paul McCartney is probably not going to be called upon to draw his sword. Chances are, it is more about how he’s helped out the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the past many years.

Let’s face it: when it comes to popular music, the Brits have clearly been doing a better job of coming up with new acts, and sustaining old ones, than any other country on earth, at least from the standpoint of their having achieved popularity and/or visibility. That is, based on statistics alone there are probably Chinese analogues of the Beatles and the Stones, though those of us in the west don’t know about them.

Continue reading Queen Elizabeth Catches a Cold

Yes, People Still Listen to the Radio

While I anxiously await Nielsen’s year-end music sales report, I thought I’d share a few highlights of their recent recap of the state of the radio industry at the end of 2016:

• “radio’s reach is larger than any other format [TV, PC, devices] and only continues to grow year-over-year”

• “radio reaches 93% of U.S. each week” (That’s 225,207,000 adults!)

• Old people (55+) love the “News Talk Information” format. Overall, it was #1 with a 9.6% share.

• Young people love Pop Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR). It was #1 among both 18-34 year olds (with 12.2%) and 35-54 year olds (with 8.8%).

The way the radio industry describes its formats is weird and creepy though. You’d think I’d be used to it after 20 years of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, but I’m not. I still get skeeved out when I read about “Hot Adult Contemporary” and “Urban Adult Contemporary” which are different from plain old “Adult Contemporary” and, of course, “Urban Contemporary.” But what can you do?

Drive: John Lennon’s hearse up for sale

With the exceptions of Jan and Dean (well, Dean, anyway, as Jan moved on in 2004), The Cars, Gary Numan, and Sammy Hagar, I find the seeming fascination with and apparent love of automobiles and rock musicians to be somewhat incongruous. Sure, the Futurist Manifesto hailed the automobile as the symbol of something that is more dynamic that those things preserved from the past and would leave them covered in its dust—“We declare that the world’s wonder has been enriched by a fresh beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car with its trunk adorned by great exhaust pipes like snakes with an explosive breath … a roaring car that seems to be driving under shrapnel, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”—but (1) Marinetti wrote that in 1909, years before Bill Haley saw the light of day in Highland Park, Michigan (which, curiously enough, is where the second Ford Motor factory was located) and (2) there is evidently a deep longing for many rock musicians, both practicing and arthritic, to be entombed in a museum near Lake Erie.

We recently saw that Roger Daltrey is working with Rolls-Royce. And we cited a Rolls that had been owned by John Lennon.

Now we learn of another Lennon automobile, a 1956 Austin Princess Type A135 that will be going on the auction block at the 46th Annual Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction, to be held Jan. 14-22, 2017, which is essentially the auto auction of all auto auctions.

The vehicle was extensively used in the 1972 documentary Imagine.

It is a somewhat bizarre car in that unlike most ordinary Austin Princesses (note: Austin was a British car manufacturer; this is not a reference to some cotillion in the capital of Texas), this one was fitted out by coachbuilder Arthur Mulliner Ltd. of North Hampton (if you were to draw a line like this: \ from Birmingham to London, North Hampton falls in the middle). . .with the body of a hearse.

Mind you, this wasn’t some Lennonian prank or tweak; the vehicle was built as a hearse and operated as one by Ann Bonham & Son mortuary.

Continue reading Drive: John Lennon’s hearse up for sale

Great ideas in record label marketing: Free Dirt

It must have been fun to work at Warner/Reprise in 1969. There were so many great groups on their roster: Joni Mitchell, Van Dyke Parks, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead… They were the cool label. Selling those records to all the hip kids must have been a piece of cake.

Or maybe not.

Because when it came time to come up with a campaign to promote Neil Young’s first album with his new band Crazy Horse, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, they ended up with a novel idea: free dirt. That’s not a euphemism for anything. You could send in a form and they’d mail you a baggie of dirt from Topanga Canyon. No self-addressed stamped envelope or anything!

“Miss Penny in shipping has demanded tranquilizers, overtime, and an Easter bonus for her boys if they have to bag dirt. But what the hell. Nobody understood Galileo either. Read on.”

Continue reading Great ideas in record label marketing: Free Dirt

Yes, People Still Buy Discs. Millions of Them.

In March 1958 Elvis’ Golden Records album was released.

“Heartbreak Hotel.”

“Love Me Tender.”

“Don’t Be Cruel.”

“All Shook Up.”

Those and other tracks are on the disc.

And it, itself, became a Gold Record in 1961. (It eventually racked up status as 6X Platinum, which sounds like a score on a pinball machine.)

But let’s face it: this first volume of complied Gold Records has a horribly weak name.

When volume two was released in November 1959 it was unimaginatively titled Elvis’ Gold Records—Volume Two, but it gained a name that is arguably one of the best album titles of all time: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.  (What’s amusing about volume two is that the cuts it contains are not the audio icons that many of those on volume one have become, so those 50,000,000 fans were not quite as right as the ones the year earlier.)

Elvis comes to mind because of Garth Brooks.

Continue reading Yes, People Still Buy Discs. Millions of Them.

Shocker: Rock Hall inducts terrible bands

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its 2017 class and–as usual–it’s disappointing. In a year when musical revolutionaries such as Bad Brains, Kraftwerk, Jane’s Addiction, and the MC5 were nominated, we somehow ended up with guilty pleasures Electric Light Orchestra, Journey, and Yes.

“Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

Sure, I suppose you could made drunken arguments that those three bands are worthy of respect. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have made those arguments myself after a few too many rum and cokes. But they suck. It’s cheese. It’s garbage. And even if those bands had an influence on other performers, the performers they influenced sucked even harder.

Of those three, ELO is obviously the least awful and Yes is the worst. And just like in real life, Journey is the mediocre one in the middle. I mean, come on. I enjoy Journey as much as the next guy who grew up in the arcade era. “Wheels in the Sky” is a badass jam and I can still close my eyes and picture Steve Perry’s pixelated head bouncing from drum to drum in the videogame. [It was actually the drummer’s head on that level, not Steve Perry. -ed.] But they’re fluff. Just because you have a song featured in a key scene in an “important” tv show doesn’t make you an important band.

Other performers inducted in this class were Joan Baez, Pearl Jam, and Tupac Shakur. Fine. Whatever. I don’t listen to any of that stuff, and in the case of Pearl Jam I don’t even like it, but I recognize the “musical excellence and talent” blah blah “impact” blah blah blah.

Continue reading Shocker: Rock Hall inducts terrible bands

Can’t Explain: Roger Daltrey Designs Rolls-Royce for Charity

Roger Daltrey was a member of The Who, a band that he fundamentally established in 1964 with John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Pete Townshend.

Some people might argue that Roger Daltrey is a member of The Who, given that at the recent Desert Trip concert (a.k.a., Oldchella), a band named “The Who” performed.

Without going all Abbott & Costello (or a Hortonesque Dr. Seuss) about it, how can there be The Who when 50% of the band no longer exists: who’s left? Keith Moon died in 1978. John Entwistle died in 2002. (Daltrey had a bad case of meningitis last year and it almost seemed as though he’d be the answer to who’s next; fortunately he recovered and seems to be back on his game).

If we look at the band that is masquerading as The Who, know that Keith Moon was replaced by Kenny Jones, who was with the three original members starting in 1978. He was replaced in 1988 by Zack Starkey.

As for the bass position, that was taken up in 2002 by Pino Palladino.

So when does a specific “band” stop being that band in more than a marketing sense?

Isn’t the elimination of 50% of the musicians—especially musicians of the caliber of Moon and Entwistle, and with all due respect, does anyone actually think that Jones, Starkey and Palladeno are as good as those two were?—good enough to argue that it is something other than it once was?

After all, if you heard that a band was “decimated,” you’d probably think, “Geeze, there must not be much left.”

But that would mean that only 10% was eliminated, a far cry from the 50% of The Who (and it could be reckoned that with the replacement of Jones by Starkey, it would be a change of on the order of 65%).

Would Paul McCartney and Richard Starkey—I mean Ringo Starr—constitute “The Beatles”? Even at his most mendacious, it seems that McCartney doesn’t think so, either.

But now in their 52nd year of playing together, Daltrey and Townshend soldier on.

To be sure, they’ve done things other than play in the cover band known as “The Who.”

Ever since he appeared in Ken Russell’s 1975 film Tommy, Daltrey has been an actor, a performer on stage and screen (Who music isn’t just used as theme music for the various C.S.I.s; Daltrey has performed on the show as many characters, including playing, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, a middle-aged African-American woman).

Perhaps even more remarkable than that bit of acting is the fact that in 2008, late-middle aged American president George W. Bush awarded Daltrey and Townshend with the Kennedy Center Honors.

My interest in Daltrey was piqued by the recent announcement that he is collaborating with Rolls-Royce on the car manufacturer’s “Inspired by British Music” vehicles. It won’t be a “Roger Daltrey” edition, but “The Who” edition.

Continue reading Can’t Explain: Roger Daltrey Designs Rolls-Royce for Charity