Frank Gutch Jr: We Are the World Done Local, Mining 45s, and Notes…..

Quick!  Without searching, answer a few questions.  Who recorded We Are the World?  Who benefited?  Who wrote it?  Was there a B-side?  Were there other projects similar?  Does anyone care?  Did anyone care?

For those born after the fact, it may surprise you to know that plenty cared.  Over 20 million people worldwide bought the record.  I mean, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, the writers of the song, were huge at the time.  So were producers Quincy Jones and Michael Omartian, though Jones significantly more than Omartian.

The names appearing on the song were a Who’s Who of Music at the time.  It gained massive airplay everywhere, even on stations that did not play music!  I mean, it was a record which purportedly devoted all of its profits to charity (they were trying to feed the world, mostly Africans, who were starving in unheard of numbers), so why not?  I was even more of a cynic in those days.  My question was why?

Well, the why was obvious.  People were starving and Harry Belafonte didn’t like that.  He had heard of Band Aid‘s 1984 effort, Do They Know It’s Christmas?, and its success spurred him to gather together an agent and a few superstars in the hopes of something even bigger.  It was bigger, all right.  Way bigger.

The thing is, if it was so goddamned big, why do so few know about it today?  I have my thoughts, which is that it was musical pap.  I get that when there is a disaster, people want to help.  I think that is a good thing.  I just don’t think that music written for such a reason can last.  Music should be written for the music first and when it’s not, even from-the-heart doesn’t make it.

I knew it when I first heard Do They Know It’s Christmas?.  A decent song written and performed by decent musicians put together by decent people, but certainly not a chart-topper.  Not even close.  Like a stripper with weather balloon mammaries, such projects usually end up made-you-look more than wow.  I knew it when I heard We Are the World, too.  I know why radio put it in the closet and forgot about it.  Because everyone else did, too.

And by the way, there was a B-side.  And an album.

Seattle Helps the Hungry….

Not to be outdone, Seattle came up with its own little fund raiser for the food-impaired, as did I suppose a number of other cities.  It came in the form of a picture-sleeved 45 which sold for $1.99, all of the proceeds going to Northwest Harvest, a food sharing organization, and USA for Africa.  There is a story behind this project, I am sure, but one to which I am not yet privy.  I do remember the 45 being brought in the door of the store I worked at and handled on a consignment basis.  Did it sell?  Some.  Did we have leftovers?  Yup.

Again, it wasn’t that the song was bad.  The buying public was just a bit burned out by that point.  Everyone was fundraising for something, it seemed.  The song was Give Just a Little and was a fairly good song, though pretty mainstream.  The production was slick and the results impressive, truth be told.  The same song was placed on each side (one, the “care version”, the other the “share version”) but the vocals were different.  The lineup of musicians involved a wide range of artists including Duffy Bishop, Annie Rose de Armas, Ned Neltner, Carolee Mayne, Daryl & Renee Redeker, Danny O’Keefe, Ginny Reilly, Merrilee Rush, Eric Tingstad and Michael Tomlinson as well as celebrities (on a Seattle scale) like Jim Zorn and the round mound of sound, sportscaster Wayne Cody, among others.  Flipping the 45 over is a trip, in fact, one side being more soul and R&B oriented, the other leaning toward musical theater.

Now, if collectors didn’t glom on to fundraisers as a niche, they blew it.  I know people who have collections of radio station oldies albums which are appraised at a small fortune.  Fundraising vinyl?  There’s gold in that thar vinyl.

Salting the 45s Mine…..

This whole 45-as-fundraiser thing got me to thinking about how many different ways the industry has tried to capitalize on oddities.  When I was a kid, there was a whole label (and maybe more) which lived on cover versions of hit songs.  It was subscription, meaning that you paid upfront for X number of EPs (there were four songs on a record), to be sent every couple of months or so.  I think the label was Tops, but I can’t remember exactly.  I do remember checking the mailbox anxiously every afternoon when it came time for a new EP to arrive and when it finally came, it was into the bedroom to spin it a few times before dinner (then usually a few thousand more times until the grooves wore through to the other side).  When I realized that the songs were knockoffs (cover versions), it didn’t affect me in the least.  By that time, I had heard Green Door by the artist on the EP so many times that Jim Lowe‘s version became a disappointment by default.

Covers were a way of life back then.  Sometimes you got four or five different versions within a couple of months time and who had the hit depended upon which part of the country you lived in.  Why, Fats Domino charted with Ain’t That a Shame within a week of Pat Boone doing the same.  How was that possible?  Pat Boone was played by all the white bread stations, Fats Domino by all the rest.  Seriously, children, it was that bad.

It wasn’t always race that made the difference.  A lot of palms were greased in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and it was always easier to not only grease them but to get product to the market if you were local. Whether the label was based out of New Orleans or Los Angeles or New York made a huge difference to the success or failure of a single.   Sometimes, as many as three or four large cities had the same hit by different artists at approximately the same time.  Hard to imagine but true.

But I’m getting in a whole ‘nother aspect of things.  Let’s talk about marketing.  Let’s talk about getting the music to the consumer.

Some of the older people out there might remember the Warner/Reprise promotions involving what they called Loss Leaders.  Basically, they were samplers containing single tracks by the labels’ latest artists.  They sold them cheap (two bucks a pop, if I remember correctly) and most were double albums, though there were a few single albums and one three-LP package.

CBS decided to do a similar thing, but smaller.  They put out a series of 7-inch EPs over the years, each geared toward their marketing strategy of the time.  The very first time I heard Blue Oyster Cult, in fact, was on one of their samplers.  Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll, in fact.  Little did I realize…..

By 1979, CBS was trying to upgrade their lineup, hoping to capitalize on the youthful power pop-oriented craze.  One of their samplers they named The Now Wave Sampler, an obvious takeoff on the New Wave genre.  Whereas I kept only a few of the various samplers, one of my treasures is the Now Waver.  It features The Sinceros, Jules & The Polar Bears, The Beat (later called The Paul Collins Beat), and The Hounds.  I’m sure each of these acts scored on a regional scale, but none hit it big nationally.  Paul Collins had, of course, come from the cult band The NervesJules Shear is most known for having written the Bangles hit, If She Knew What She Wants.  I am familiar with no other names from the four groups, but do have The HoundsUnleashed album, an out and out rocker.

There are few bands which impressed me more over the years than Gruppo Sportivo.  They were from The Netherlands and had an amazing ability to combine punk and pop with bits of jazz to make what I consider classic music.  Classic!In 1979, after having made waves in The Netherlands and the UK, Sire Records in the US took a chance and signed them for one album which they titled Mistakes.  Rather than leave it at that, they decided to include an EP of six tracks from their European albums.  Titled More Mistakes, it was a good idea gone bad when they scotch-taped the seven-inch EP to the album jackets before they shrink-wrapped them.  The result was a whole warehouse full of warped records and an opportunity missed.  After all the returns, no one wanted to stock the album, assuming it would be just mean more returns.  It didn’t matter much anyway as Sire’s effort to promote the band failed miserably.   Too bad.  This period was the band’s best.  Few artists have impressed me more.

Want to pretty much kill a band out of the box?  Release their stuff as promo-only 45s, hoping radio stations can do your job for you.  While this has been great for collectors over the years, it killed artists who might have otherwise had a shot.  If you have a few weeks, I could run down a number of acts dead on arrival due to this, but let’s just go for the obvious and best.

April Wine/Weeping Widow—  Sure, you know these guys.  They had hits, right?  If you’re from the States and don’t live in the Midwest, name one.  I didn’t think so.  They were big, though, even if on a small scale in the States, and had a modicum of success after they signed to Capitol Records.  Before that, they were on Bell Records which, despite being a division of mighty Columbia Pictures Industries (What the hell?), pretty much dropped every ball they were handed.  Okay, there was Manilow, but he doesn’t count.  Every song he ever recorded sounded like it belonged on a soundtrack, so maybe Columbia Pictures Industries knew what to do with him.  They sure didn’t with April Wine.  Result?  A few promo 45s made it out of a few stations alive.  I luckily found one.  Should have been a hit.  Should have been a lady, too.   Don’t get it?  Don’t worry.  Unless you’re over fifty and are Canadian.  Then, maybe you should schedule that neurological scan you’ve been thinking about.  If you can remember.

Rockin Foo/Rochester River—  While there are a few surefire ways to kill a band or album or song, the easiest and most sure way was to release the product on a very very tiny, almost nonexistent label and set up distribution through a company which has absolutely no credibility with radio.  Thus, when Rockin Foo’s Rochester River 45 came through the radio station door, it was assured an ass-kick into good ol’ File 13, usually without a listen.  We’re talking miniscule Hobbit Records, handled by GRT Records.  Never heard of them?  I might not have either, if I hadn’t been so damned obstinate about the oddballs.  Actually, I saw these guys at the Eugene Pop Festival the summer of 1969, so I was looking for them.  Found their album either at White Front in Tacoma or at the Fort Lewis PX (Post Exchange).  I consider it a score.  If they had been signed to Warner Brothers or Columbia, they would at least have had a chance.

Timberlake’s Shot at Hisspace…..

It’s here, supposedly.  After all of the bitching and moaning and murderous threats spouted by more than one and a half musicians, the new Myspace has hit the Net.  Well, the introductory video, anyway.  (Click here)  Is it better?  More user friendly?  Faster?  No one knows yet.  The video at this point is just that— a video.  Anyone can make a video look good.  Okay, not anyone, but you get my drift.  Look at Romney.  He looks pretty good when all of his errant comments (there has been a raft of them, hasn’t there?) are edited out.

Sure, Timberlake isn’t Romney, but he should be under the same pressure.  He and his partners have taken on a monumental task— taking MySpace from its deteriorating position and failed format to a new and more acceptable format.  Right now, it looks like a platform for promoting everything the entertainment rags promote, but it doesn’t have to be.  It could be a new streamlined music and video outlet.  It could be another way to not only promote music but to take it to the next level.  Why, with the bells and whistles you can install these days, it could be a godsend for those who have already tired of Facebook’s Timeline (I personally don’t see what the hub bub is about— I have had no problem adjusting).  The question is, will they be installed?

The one problem I have with the old MySpace is the bulky music player.  In an attempt to compete with the MOG‘s and Pandora‘s and Spotify‘s out there, they installed what they thought would be the answer to all.  A “radio” concept which picks music for you after your selections have ended and the ability to pluck individual songs at will from the Myspace “library.”  Well, on the whole, I hate it.  I don’t need to hear Grizzly Bear after my Research Turtles tracks are done.  Hell, it’s not like their music is even in the same ballpark.  Junk that, make the music more free-flowing and add video capabilities right up there with Youtube and Vimeo and I’ll be happy.  Well, I won’t be unhappy.

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m done with MySpace.  They had their chance.  They suck.  And I will say this.  If you are a musician, you cannot afford to close doors on a whim.  You cannot afford to be close-minded.  You need the Myspaces out there.  No one site will take care of all your needs, not when it comes to marketing your music.  Check it out.  Maybe they have something.  If they don’t, what have you lost?  A handful of minutes you could have used surfing for porn or playing video games?  I’m just saying.

The reason I myself am not at this time sure is that I have yet to receive my “evite.”  At the end of the video, it gives you a link to ask to be connected.  I followed that link and plugged in  my email address.  They assured me that the evite was on its way to my inbox.  That was five hours ago.  Now, I know that all new sites have their problems.  I’m just hoping that this is not a harbinger of things to come.

Why I Repeat Myself…..

I thought I would take this little moment to explain why I repeat myself so often when it comes to music.  Some people have, I know, wearied of my constant mention of certain artists and bands.  Well, there is a reason.  Let me try to explain.

I work hard at finding the music I listen to.  I am constantly surfing the Net, following links and asking people for information about bands or artists I should be hearing, so when I do find someone I think is more than deserving, I take it personal.  I fall in love with music on a daily basis and, just as with love, I feel isolated when I can’t listen to it as much as I would like.  I feel guilty.  When I don’t mention an artist on a regular basis.  When I can’t find the time to listen whenever I would like.  When I realize that my bands aren’t being accepted the way I think they should be.  I don’t hate that people love Cold Play or even (shudder) Nickleback.  What I hate is when they don’t like Research Turtles or Picture The Ocean.  Because I know that most people haven’t even tried.

So I mention artists a lot.  It’s mostly because of me— my insecurities and passion for what I call “my” music.  But it is partially because of you.  Those of you who don’t follow the links at all and yet profess to love music.  Those of you who would rather listen to Pink Floyd ten times a week or month rather than try something fresh and new.  Those of you who profess to care but mostly don’t.  See, I don’t hold it against you.  I just wish I could break through on occasion so you could hear what I hear, so you could feel what I feel when the music takes me away.

If you can’t, I can dig it.  We all have our own little lives.  But if you can and you don’t, well, that hurts you and the artist both.  You lose the adventure of the music.  They lose the support you could have given.  Lose-Lose.  Or is that Loose-Loose?  I’m on Facebook so much these days, I’m beginning to question everything.

I’m exhausted.  I drove back from Monterey last night and haven’t been able to rest.  So I will put this to bed.  I’ll head there myself when this is in Bob Segarini’s capable hands.  So, until next time, here are a few notes you might want to browse through.  Some cool stuff there.  Click a link or two.  You might not feel better about it, but I will.  I don’t put links in for the hell of it, you know…..

Notes…..  The Minnows are back (they never really left) and are stronger than ever.  They have been releasing a string of live videos to support their impending live album (title to be announced as soon as they come up with a good one— send them your suggestions).  This morning, I woke up to an inbox of Minnows gems including September 25th (that is lead vocalist Michael Rafferty‘s birthday, folks, so it wouldn’t hurt if you sent him birthday greetings by watching the video here) and Rainy Day (click here).  I don’t know why I’m surprised they are so good live.  They’ve been playing together, off and on, for a good twenty years or so.  If you don’t think it’s live, think again.  Rafferty tells me that the background instruments were tapes they had to use to recreate the sound of the studio.  I’m impressed…..  Stealing Janewas a favorite find from back in 2009, I believe.  Their Signals EPcompletely knocked me out, though it was not quite what I’d been used to.  Lead voice and songwriter Bryce Larsen has recently been in the studio putting together a new solo project.  Whereas I don’t expect it to be quite another Signals, I expect a lot.  The man is talented.  Here is a preview of the album in collage video form.  More to come…..  From The Icons‘ (and also head Green Monkey his own self) Tom Dyer, this video— the first track from his upcoming (due October 1st) I Ain’t Blue Anymore album:  The Witch.  (Click here)  More Screaming Jay Hawkins and Elvira than The Sonics.  Just in time for Halloween.  Check out this and other items at Green Monkey Records.  A hell of a label and good people too…..  Here they come!  The Soundcarriers are releasing a new single and it’s a killer!  Check out this animated video featuring Elija Woods narrating and Jesse Chandler filling in the keyboard holes.  It’s like the opening credits for the Pink Panther cartoons all over again!  If you haven’t given The Soundcarriers a shot, you’re just not trying.  Outstanding band in a place few others dare to tread…..  There are few artists I will support at the major label level, mainly because they don’t need me, but I have been in love with Aimee Mann since the second ‘Til Tuesday album, Welcome Home.   Here is a track from her new album, Charmer.  This could very well be the best thing she’s done as a solo artist…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

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