Cameron Carpenter – 10 CC – Vinyl Season One

Cam as Chip

Well I had to wait for the DVD to be released but I have finally seen Season One of Vinyl. I first heard about the HBO series a couple of years ago as Nigel Grainge and I grabbed lunch at the Imperial Pub after his keynote address at Indie Week. We were catching up on each other’s careers as we had not seen each other or worked together for years. At MCA I was the Marketing Manager for Nigel’s label Ensign and looked after everyone from The Waterboys and World Party to Sinead O’Connor, The Blue Aeroplanes and Stump. I immediately liked Nigel on first meeting and he taught me a lot about marketing and the music industry (as well as Arsenal). Before he started Ensign Records he worked at Phonogram in London and signed Thin Lizzy, 10 CC and The Boomtown Rats. He is a true music man.


Casually over a post meal pint he told me he was going to be hired as an Advisor on a new HBO series involving Marty Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter (The Sopranos/Boardwalk Empire). Also on the consulting/advising team would be manager/label executive Danny Goldberg (his book “Bumping Into Geniuses” should be mandatory reading for any wannabe manager), Sonic Youth’s Lee Renaldo and my old A&R pal Kate Hyman.  It was pretty obvious we traveled in very different circles. I started to see the commercials for the series before its premiere last February. The first thing that caught my eye was the obvious David Johansen (New York Dolls) character.


Alas, with no cable the series would have to wait as those around me (both in the music business and casual observers) quizzed me on the authenticity of the show. I also read all of the negative comments on-line and the bitching about the historical accuracy of the events portrayed.  Everyone had an opinion and most of them were negative with the few positives coming from those not directly involved in the biz.

Vinyl_S1_DVDWell the DVD arrived late last week and we dove right in. I knew I was watching historical fiction, and knowing the subject matter, had a little more insight into what and who was real and who was fictitious or a composite of various real life characters. From the start I knew American Century Records was made-up but Polygram was not. At one point I believe a cemetery joke was made, and, having once worked for MCA (Music Cemetery of America) I knew most of the references were going to be spot on. I was a huge fan of Bobby Cannavale in “Nurse Jackie” and “Boardwalk Empire” and he was a perfect choice to play the show’s lead character Richie Finestra. It’s hard to say who the character is based upon but he certainly looks like dance music record king Ray Caviano (who once had a label with us at Quality Records back in the late seventies) but, as the series progressed, they seemed to be turning him into Neil Bogart (who founded Casablanca Records – although Bogart was name-checked in a scene at a charity dinner).

I was expecting the series to deal exclusively with 1973 but I love the way they went back to look at the early roots of rock’n’roll as they re-traced Richie’s career. One fictional character, Richie’s early boss Maury Gold, is pretty blatantly based on the infamous Morris Levy (who’s label Roulette was distributed by Quality Records back when I first worked there), a record executive known to have ties to the mob and some dice-manpretty unsavory business practices. It is through Maury that Scorsese and Winter U-turn away from the music business and head off into “Goodfellas / Sopranos” land. The Andrew Dice Clay character is great but the whole subplot is a little bit over the top. By looking back they are able to introduce music and references by the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Little Richard and the early days of Atlantic, Motown and the other labels that were the original pillars of the business. I quite liked the perfectly placed “performances” by Conway Twitty, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and a host of others.

On the acting front the real surprise for me was Ray Romano. I really couldn’t stand the show “Everybody Loves Raymond” (along with “King of Queens”/”Home Improvement” or other hit shows from that era) but Romano shines as promotion head Zak Yankovich (on the left).


At the end of the season it looked pretty obvious that Season 2 will have a lot to do with the direction that Richie wants to take the label and his relationship with Zak with whom he built the company.

plantSome of the interactions with the stars of the day are great (Robert Goulet) while others (Robert Plant) are pretty weak. It’s funny as they totally nailed the demeanor of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant (less about 4 inches and 200 pounds) but missed the boat on Robert Plant. Bonus points for the wardrobe department for faithfully recreating the Zeppelin look in 1973 right down to the dragons on Page’s pants. I thought they did well with the Alice Cooper interactions and even had him drinking his correct beverages of choice for that time Budweiser and VO. When showing Alice perform it would have been easy for them to show him playing “Eighteen” or “School’s Out” and I appreciated they showed him performing “Unfinished Sweet”.  The Bowie bits where interesting and authentic looking and it was nice they dedicated an episode to his memory. I also like some of the cover versions that were introduced with modern artists covering some of the classics.

hercAs well as rock the show begins to show the early roots of punk, disco and hip-hop. When Richie hears a DJ playing two records simultaneously the DJ is correctly identified as Kool Herc who was the precursor to the likes of Grandmaster Flash. In the background of one scene you can hear Sylvia Robinson’s hit “Pillow Talk” and, in a few short years Sylvia would go on to found Sugarhill Records which would bring rap to the mainstream. Those are the kind of details that make me smile and appreciate all of the work and research going on behind the scenes. “Vinyl”, much like “Mad Men”, starts to show the rise of strong, intelligent woman in their respective fields while at the same time showing the blatant sexism that was running rampant simultaneously.

giphy-1The Nasty Bits sub-plot seems a little bit out of context as they are more like The Strokes than the MC-5. Jagger’s son James does a good job as lead singer Kip Stevens. The fourteen year old in me lights up at the mention of Queen, Mott the Hoople, The New York Dolls and all of the other bands that I heard for the first time during the era portrayed. C’mon how can you not appreciate a tip of the cap to the band The Good Rats?  I love the references to the clubs, records, radio stations and labels that influenced everything I ever did in the music business. It is pretty obvious I enjoyed the series and am very much looking forward to see where they take it next.

Uh oh….

9780679644156Well, apparently it is going to the scrap heap. Some 30 minutes after I submitted this column the show was cancelled much to the glee of many who could not stand it. I stand by my words. It will now join “Freaks & Geeks”, “Undeclared”, “Carnivale” and “Rome” on the “sorry we couldn’t finish the series” pile. Thankfully we will have another season from the brilliant Larry David.

If you had any interest in Vinyl (RIP) perhaps you will consider picking up the fine Michael Walker 1973 tome “What You Want Is In The Limo“.

Here are ten songs that I love that were highlighted in season one.

  1. “Hocus Pocus” – Focus 
  2. “Rock and Roll Queen” – Mott the Hoople 
  3. “With a Girl Like You” – The Troggs 
  4. “Hey Joe” – Patti Smith 
  5. “It’s Only Make Believe” – Conway Twitty 
  6. “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” – Hurricane Smith 
  7. “Will It Go Round In Circles?” – Billy Preston 
  8. “Frankenstein” – The Edgar Winter Group 
  9. “Thirteen” – Big Star 
  10. “Ride Captain Ride” – Blues Image 


Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

Follow Cam on Twitter @CC59, Instagram @Cambo1959 and Spotify @Cambo59

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dbawis-button7Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music, NXNE Magazine and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter – 10 CC – Vinyl Season One”

  1. Strummer Says:

    Hey Cam, there is a soundtrack out now from the series.
    As well, I don’t recall Unfinished Suite, but do remember I Love The Dead being played during the rehearsal with the guillotine scene with Alice Cooper Band. I read where Shep said the bands guillotine was loaned for it.
    Was looking forward to Season 2. Rats

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