Friday, September 24, 2010

Rewriting history

I'm playing at a Class of '65 reunion tomorrow night at one of the best resort hotels in this city- very POSH! I've been preparing my music for the event based on a music survey function that the class committee put on their website that would collect up the most requested songs to be played- if class mates would just take a minute to request a few while they checked for details of the various activities planned for the reunion weekend.

I compiled the list and noticed there wasn't any music listed from Bob Dylan, The Doors, The Mamma's and Papa's, The Beatles or Elvis Presley yet they want music from the entire decade representing their high school and college years. I would have thought those artists would feature a little bit more prominently. There was one song by The Beach Boys and one listed from The Rolling Stones. I was born in 1965 and I was hardly a gleam in my fathers' eye while these classmates were in high school, but I've been a DJ for nearly 31 years now and I think I know what to play for this occasion.

Does anyone ever notice that when there is a late night infomercial selling a Time-Life music collection of "The Definitive 70's Collection" that there is no Queen or Aerosmith or Elton John included? Do you know why that is? It's about licensing the rights to sell that song. Queen has no problem selling their body of work packaged any way they want it. If you want "Bohemian Rhapsody" you can buy one of the greatest hits packages or find it on A Night at the Opera and you'll pay for the other songs on there whether you want them or not because they are Queen and "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a great song and they can do that! (you can steal it from various nefarious sources on the Internet)

Itunes is changing the landscape as the years go by but there are several artist who still won't license their music to be sold that way. If Pepsi suddenly said, we are no longer selling single cans, you have to buy at least a 6 pack, there would be rioting in the streets. The music industry tried to hold on to that dream of only selling albums and full CDs for some time even alienating what should have been their next generation of customers who just wanted to buy one song. They fought it so long and hard that there is a whole generation of people who were teens in the 90s who still think that music is free.

I think the big Beatles remastered boxed set that came out a couple of years ago will be the last major CD release of any consequence and it kinda signalled the end of CDs. The Beatles only sell CDs and I think that the bulk of their audience would still purchase them that way. Strangely, there are several "tribute" bands that sell crappy cover versions of Beatles songs on Itunes. Kid Rock had a hit song a couple of years ago called "All Summer Long" and since he wouldn't license it to Itunes, there was a horrible karaoke version of the song that went to number 1 on the Itunes chart for a few weeks. Itunes is the #1 retailer of music in the world now. There are teens discovering music now that have never known anything but their ipod or their iphone for music.

I haven't used CDs in over a decade now. I use a music service for professional DJs so I can keep current with the music I need and find songs for occasions such as this if I don't already have the requested songs. (I already had about 85% of their list)

I have a hunch that any classmates that took the survey probably did a google search for music of the 60s to jog their memory and several Time-Life collections came up along with some Amazon suggestions and people didn't really search their memory to think of the songs that meant something to them or try to remember the theme song from their Senior Prom. They just accepted what was given as the truth and accepted that the list they saw really was the " 16 Most Beloved Songs of the 60's" or the "Most Requested Songs of the 60's" when clearly the Beatles probably outsold every artist on those collections combined. If the Beatles didn't, Elvis did.

15 years ago, my favorite act "Styx" went to put together a greatest hits package. Their first hit song Lady was with one record company called Wooden Nickel Records and then they had a dozen more top ten hits when they left Wooden Nickel for A&M Records. Upon creating the greatest hits package, A&M asked Wooden Nickel in 1995 if they could license the song Lady but Wooden Nickel refused. That was one of the few things they had of any value to sell. So Styx went and recorded a clone version of Lady using the same arrangement and instrumentation and called it Lady '95. This version had the added bonus that Tommy Shaw was included in this recording when he hadn't been on the original; he joined the band later and wrote several of the other hit songs.

I think that most music fans could spot the differences between the two versions and certainly the recording quality- 1995 technology had marched on substantially from when the original was recorded in the early 1970's. I also have a hunch that most casual Styx fans would have purchased the Greatest Hits CD anyway- without Lady on it- and just enjoyed the other songs and would NOT have purchased Styx II that contained the original version of Lady. The gods of rock smiled on Styx as their music was featured in a popular Volkswagen TV commercial and in some Adam Sandler movies at the time and the Styx Greatest Hits package sold several thousand copies every week for almost 5 years. Wooden Nickel guessed wrong and they got nothing from those sales as they would have if the original recording of Lady had been included.

I know that retail sales and radio play and the impact of a given work on the art form or on society as a whole don't always coincide with each other and that some songs may grow over a period of time, when we get some hindsight on them and can see their place in a larger whole even though maybe they didn't mean as much at the time they were released. Journey's Dont' Stop Believin' is bigger now than it was nearly 30 years ago when it came out. Come Sail Away by Styx is a good, solid song but it probably didn't change the world. It arguably changed my life though.

So, congratulations Class of '65! That's a lot of years. I'm sure it will be great for you to see each other this weekend. It's going to be a great night and we'll dance to The Newbeats, The Dixie Cups, The Shangri-las, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five and maybe I'll throw in some Herman's Hermits for good measure.

1 comment:

sarah said...

hey curtis! i love your blog! your a great writer! yeah come sail away changed my life too! (: look how smart you are!..... blessings....s....