Thursday, April 26, 2012

One-Mind Tracks: The Music Industry

It's no secret that there's as much politics to the music industry as there is to the government. Frequently, artists end up expressing their annoyance at the bastardization of the good art in the form of a song. Most times, the record executives don't even notice.

The Fear by Lily Allen
Lily examines the ugly lust for fame many people have, along with the idea that we are all conditioned toward the rich and sleazy archetype.

So You Want To Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star by The Byrds
The Byrds delivered this wonderful how-to song in 1967, during the hey-day of five-minute fame.

Frankly, Mr. Shankly by The Smiths
The sickening side to a life as a rock and roller is outlined. "Mr. Shankly" is also rumored to be Geoff Travis, the head of Rough Trade Records.

The Compromise by The Format
The Format used this song to express their anger at record labels. Elektra, the record label for their first album, failed to give it any kind of marketing or promotion. Elektra was bought out by Warner Music Group shortly after the release of their first album, meaning they ended up releasing Dog Problems on their own label.

The Moneygoround by The Kinks
All of Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One is about various parts of the music industry, including the people that populate it. This is by far the most cynical song on the album, discussing how everyone connected to the business side of music, despite their level of involvement, divides the majority of the money up, with very little reaching the artist.

You and I by The Monkees
Davy Jones and Bill Chadwick wrote this tune about the temporal nature of fame. It was written and performed near the end of The Monkees' career, after Peter Tork had already left the group.

Blood From a Clone by George Harrison
The song that gives this blog its name was written in direct response to Warner music rejecting Harrison's first version of Somewhere In England. Mo Ostin told him it "contained no hits," implying that Harrison was out-of-touch with the world of modern music saleability. Hence, in the re-do of the album, Harrison created this rant-filled opener with a ska beat and off-beat drums*, making a statement in the song that anyone can produce a soulless hit, but that doesn't make it good. Harrison was strongly opposed to the formulaic process executives wanted to apply to music and I think this song does a perfect job wording his concerns.

It's Still Rock and Roll To Me by Billy Joel
Like Harrison, Joel was asked to change to appeal to larger audiences. He responded with this uncharacteristically poppy tune with a new wave sound, arguing that music is still music no matter what the singer looks and dresses like.

Grace Kelly by Mika
A record executive reportedly asked Mika to be more like Craig David and change his sound to better fit the pop music arena. Mika was angered, and wrote this song in response, implying that he could try to be anyone to win approval but he's not willing to do that and lose himself.

Pork and Beans by Weezer
Geffen asked Rivers Cuomo to produce more commercial work, which angered him into writing a song about how he was going to do whatever he wants to do. Ironically, the song was quite a commercial success, getting great reviews and debuting at number 19 on the Billboard modern rock chart. But I think by now, the world is aware that Weezer really do only what they want to do, with complete disregard of approval from record companies, radio DJs or their fans.

Only a Northern Song by The Beatles
George Harrison has always been fairly cynical about the music industry. This song was a denouncement of The Beatles as a group and of Northern Songs, Ltd., the publishing company that all Beatles songs belonged to. Northern Songs was started by Dick James, Brian Epstein, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon, but after Epstein's death, James sold his shares to ATV, resulting in The Beatles no longer owning their own songs: even the ones that had yet to be written. Harrison had begun to feel fairly meaningless in the music creation process.

Ditty Diego (War Chant) by The Monkees
Written by Jack Nicholson and Bob Rafelson, this track from Head is about the lack of freedom The Monkees had, not only from their producers and from their TV show, but from their image and the position they developed in society. I'm not sure whether it's fitting or sad that they didn't get to write this song.

Radio Radio by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Costello wrote this song as a protest about the way radio was run. Costello was angered by the fact that radio was so commercialized and that broadcasts were essentially owned by record studios and larger radio corporations which decided which songs were to be played. On a 1977 Saturday Night Live appearance, the band were pressured by their record company to play "Less Than Zero" instead of this, a more recent song. A few seconds into the song, Costello made the band stop and they started over with "Radio Radio," a song Costello also felt was more relevant to American audiences. The song change did not go over well, and in fact resulted in a twelve year ban from the show for Costello and co.

Panic by The Smiths
Morrissey and Johnny Marr were listening to BBC Radio One when they learned about the Chernobyl disaster. The presenter moved on immediately from the news report to "I'm Your Man" by Wham!, juxtaposing disaster and whimsical pop songs with no apology.

Hey, Mr. DJ, I Thought You Said We Had a Deal by They Might Be Giants
As usual, They Might Be Giants use lyrics and music that sound slightly insane to get their point across.

Got any more? I'd love to hear them!

*These facts come from While My Guitar Gently Weeps: The Music of George Harrison by Simon Leng.

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