March 5 – Kilmer Channeled Morrison To Box Office & Music Gold

Two decades after his death, Jim Morrison suddenly became the cool center of attention again. The passionate and unusual singer’s life was the center of Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors, the soundtrack to which came out this day in 1991 a few days after the movie hit the big screen.

The film starred Val Kilmer as Morrison; The Cult’s Ian Astbury – a singer who took clear inspiration from Morrison in his stage presence and delivery – had apparently wanted the role, but in the end Kilmer did quite a solid job of portraying the Lizard King. His performance was fine but the story itself was perturbing to many of The Doors fans… and the remaining members themselves. Ray Manzarek said it “did real damage to the guy I knew – Jim Morrison, the poet.” Likewise, John Densmore said “a third of it is fiction.”

No matter how many liberties Stone took with the biography of Morrison and his band, one thing it undeniably did was focus attention onto their music again. The band saw a sudden surge in airplay on radio and in the States, their 1985 compilation The Best of The Doors suddenly jumped back onto the charts and went to #32, helping it log enough sales to go diamond status (10X platinum). Meanwhile there was the soundtrack itself.

Although Kilmer did much of the singing in the movie and is the face portrayed on the album cover, the record stuck to the actual Doors (plus an orchestral bit from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and fittingly, “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground.) Some dozen tracks by the band found their way into the 72-minute release, including classics like “The End”, “Riders on the Storm”, “Light My Fire” and a live recording of “Roadhouse Blues”

Although the movie itself initially lost money and garnered only lukewarm reviews, the album was a success. It hit the top 10 in both the U.S. and Canada (curiously it failed to chart in France, where Morrison was living when he died) and went platinum in both, making it one of six different compilation albums by The Doors to attain that status. The resultant resurgence of popularity no doubt also was the final step necessary to ensure their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame two years later.

The astute might note that this story was close to paralleled more recently, with another biopic about a flamboyant singer to a classic rock band who passed away prematurely. Bohemian Rhapsody about Freddie Mercury and Queen won somewhat more favorable reviews and similar to the Doors resulted in a soundtrack. That one contained over 20 Queen songs, including some of the famous live tracks they performed at Live Aid, and it hit #2 in the U.S., #3 in the UK and was the biggest-seller of 2019 in Mexico. One can only guess how long it will be before John Lennon receives the same treatment.


March 3 – Bittersweet Lessons A Quarter Century On

A song with a “bittersweet” backstory involving lawsuits. The Verve release their biggest single by far, “Bittersweet Symphony” in North America (a few months after it was out in the UK t his day in 1998. In Britain, where they were already popular, it was massive. In North America, where they’d been unknown, the song hit top 5 in charts and helped the Urban Hymns album it came off be certified platinum in the U.S. It went on to be the 17th biggest-seller ever in Britain. However, the lush strings that open the single cost the band – big time!

They sampled them from a version of a Rolling Stones song, “The Last Time”, played by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. Oldman had been a manager of the Rolling Stones and even though they thought they’d legally bought the rights to the song for use in “Bittersweet Symphony”, Oldham’s successor with the Stones, Allen Klein sued. Seems along the way, he’d acquired the publishing rights to it. Courts agreed and credited the Rolling Stones as a co-writer and unbelievably, gave Klein all the royalties for the song save for $1000 to the band for playing it! Klein quipped “if The Verve can write a bigger song, they can keep the money.” Keith Richards joked it was his biggest hit since “Brown Sugar” and went out of his way to note it wasn’t him or Mick suing the much-less-wealthy band. Something singer Richard Ashcroft of the Verve acknowledged. “I never had a personal beef with the Stones. They’ve always been the greatest rock & roll band in the world.” But as for Klein, he sniped “someone stole God knows how many million dollars from me in 1997, and they’ve still got it.” Like the band says in the song “It’s a bittersweet symphony, this life/try to make ends meet/ you’re a slave to the money then you die!” 

However, there is a bit of a happy postscript to the story. In 2019, when Ashcroft picked up an Ivor Novello Award for Lifetime Achievement in Britain he announced “Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signed over all their publishing rights to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ which was a truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do.” So it would seem the estate of the late Allen Klein won’t continue to get richer courtesy of The Verve. It isn’t clear however if the band will be able to collect any of the royalties they lost over the past twenty years. Bittersweet indeed.

As for The Verve, they called it quits not long after the single, but Ashcroft has continued on with a moderately successful career since. Chris Martin of Coldplay calls him “the best singer in the world” and Brits will have a chance to find out if that’s true, with Ashcroft playing a number of shows there this summer as well as opening up for Roger Daltrey at the Royal Albert Hall on March 26.

February 26 – Fans Found Smaller Discs Fab ‘Four’ Sure

If you were a Baby Boomer, you were excited 36 years ago. Or at least, the New York Times said so, because the boomers were finally able to finally “use their favorite audio device – the compact disc player – to listen to their favorite music – the Beatles.” On this day in 1987, for the first time fans could buy music by the Beatles on CD. (* Legally that is – a small run in Japan a few years earlier had been quashed by the owners of the Beatles catalog, EMI Records) EMI began a year-long process of releasing the band’s music on compact disc with a quartet of their earliest releases – four fab albums from The Fab Four.

The record company decided to release the albums chronologically, and to use the original British versions. Those familiar with the band’s history know that in their first few years, their music came out in rather a scattershot method, with albums sometimes having different song lists and covers depending on country. While typically we think of the North American market as rather contiguous when it comes to records, with The Beatles, often even Canada and the States had different versions of more or less the same albums. So, the fans first CDs to enjoy, cardboard “longbox” package and all, were the UK 1963-64 albums Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night and Beatles For Sale. Curiously, because the releases were true to the British versions, their early smashes “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were not included, as in Britain they were issued as 7” singles only. Fans would have to wait until compilation CDs were made available to get them on disc. Still, few complained as the four albums included favorites aplenty like “And I Love Her”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, “Twist and Shout” and of course, “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The four were issued initially only in mono, the wish of producer George Martin. “They were going to issue fake stereo – the bane of my life for the last two decades – and I said ‘well, these were recorded in mono, so why?’”.

For many it seemed a long time coming. CDs had been available for about five years by that point, and sales had been doubling annually then. It was two years after the release of Dire Straits great Brothers in Arms which was not only the first release to sell more on CD than LP, but the first million-seller in CD format in the U.S. EMI explained that by saying they wanted to get it right, and also to wait until their manufacturing capacity could accommodate the demand for John, Paul, George and Ringo. The band on the other hand, said the record label was trying to get leverage over them because they (The Beatles) had been suing the company over withheld royalties. If you think the influx of money from the CD sales would put an end to that… well, we direct you over to Aerosmith and “Dream On.” By the summer of that year, they had launched yet another lawsuit against EMI alleging that they were being shortchanged on CD royalties!

Fans didn’t care much about who was getting how much, as long as they could listen to the Beatles on disc. The albums hit the top 20 in some lands, some two dozen years after they first came out, and caused lineups in some American stores. Music Plus reported that the week they hit the shelves was their biggest “non holiday-season” week ever for sales. And the best was yet to come, with Revolver, Sgt. Pepper and the “White Album” coming out on CD later that year. Of course, the irony of it all is that the most recent thing close to matching the excitement has been when they have released newly remastered editions of the albums… on LP again!

February 23 – The Week The Upstart Upended The Boss

A British David vs Goliath battle of sorts this day in 1985 saw the little guy winning. That was the day The Smiths hit #1 on the album charts over there…knocking “the Boss”, Bruce Springsteen off the top. Brits were buying Meat is Murder in bigger quantities than Born in the U.S.A. that week, which is a bigger deal than it might seem at first glance.

You see, while Springsteen was an established superstar on one of the world’s biggest record labels, Columbia, The Smiths were quite new and on a tiny, indie label, Rough Trade. Britain has had its share of little, feisty indie labels as long as there’s been recorded music it seems, but they really took off when punk did, around 1977. Sort of makes sense, punk was supposedly rebelling against the establishment, so why not have a distributor that was doing the same. Or perhaps, many punk and alternative acts simply couldn’t get a deal with the biggies like Columbia, Warner Bros. or MCA. So many artists put out records on these little labels that the Official Charts began a separate chart for “indie singles” by 1980. This because, those little labels often had spotty distribution (some large chains didn’t want to be bothered stocking them, and merely shipping the records out across the whole land might have been difficult for some companies) and vastly smaller marketing budgets than the major labels did. Thankfully, there were a lot of independent record shops as well, and a few prominent media types like John Peel on the BBC who kept an ear to the ground and regularly played and promoted some of the up-and-coming acts.

The Smiths, as noted were on Rough Trade, and for you Canadians wondering, no, it wasn’t associated with Toronto punk-ish band Rough Trade but did take its name from them. It was started by Geoff Travis in 1976. Geoff at the time ran an indie record store in London’s Notting Hill district, and he seemingly had the idea of helping along some of the new acts that were customers of his put out records. Their first release was in early-’77, a single by Metal Urbain. That didn’t exactly set the sales tallies aflame, but Rough Trade was up and running. Soon after, they put out their first whole LP, Inflammable Material by Stiff Little Fingers. That one did catch on, and in fact got to #14 in the UK, a record for an indie release at the time, and sold past 100 000 copies – good enough for a gold record there. Pretty impressive for a company run from a High Fidelity-style shop! Travis also endeared himself to other indie music types by starting a distribution company that got indie records by other small labels like 4AD and Factory to the shops.

Soon after he’d signed Scritti Politti, who shared his leftist political ideas. Travis in fact tried to run Rough Trade as a co-op rather than a traditional corporation. Their fortunes were elevated greatly though when he came across and signed the Smiths in 1983. The Manchester quartet caught the public’s attention right away with the refreshing combination of Johnny Marr’s jangly guitars and Morrissey’s dour lyrics and vocal delivery. The Brit press went crazy for them, and their second single, “This Charming Man” – also on Rough Trade – went platinum.

Of course, The Smiths in-fighting kept their time in the spotlight to a few short years, and after they disbanded, Rough Trade would falter. By the end of the decade, it had gone bankrupt but Travis, never one to give up easily, resurrected it in the ’90s and had The Strokes among other acts on it.

The Smiths would have a couple more big albums, but not #1 ones, although one of their greatest hits albums did do so in 1992, but by that time Warner Bros. had their account. After Meat is Murder, the next indie album to top British charts was The Innocents by Erasure in 1988.

As for the “Goliath”, it’s probable Bruce Springsteen didn’t really notice his album dipping from #1 overseas. Although it spent one short week at #1 in the UK (though later it would return to the top that summer), it had spent seven weeks at #1 in the U.S. and was well on its way towards its 17X platinum sales there.

February 2 – Being Up Late Sounded Better 50 Years Ago

Two things were probably true if you were a cool kid 50 years ago. One, you’d not be up watching TV too late at night. Because most TV stations signed off – simply stopped running any shows – for the night by 1 AM at latest. And two, that if you were lucky, you noticed that changed on this very night in 1973, when the Midnight Special officially began.

The Midnight Special was a pretty revolutionary show therefore, because in most time zones it came on at 1 AM, following Johnny Carson’s late-night Tonight Show on NBC on Fridays. The show’s creator, Burt Sugarman, had the idea that lots of people were up late on Fridays, and Carson drew a huge audience. Why not capitalize on it and run another show afterwards? Especially one that would appeal to teenagers and college kids, most likely to be night owls? He pitched the network the idea of running a music-based show at that time, with various live acts playing. Oddly, despite the seeming soundness of the idea and the idea that they would have no competition at all on air in that timeslot, they didn’t like it. But they ran a one-off special, a sort of pilot, in the fall of ’72 and the reviews of that, coupled with Chevy signing on to sponsor the program, made them willing to give it a try. Tellingly, within months they were so impressed they added another post-Carson late show, Tomorrow, for the other four weeknights.

They got Johnny Rivers song of the same name to be the title theme song, and brought in none other than Wolfman Jack to do the voice-overs. While the idea of a nighttime TV show that had current music had been done before – American Bandstand, Soul Train, Britain’s Top of the Pops, etc – Midnight Special offered up a couple of then-unique things. It had on more rock performers than the competition, and more importantly, it generally had the artists playing live, not lip-synching. It also broke ground by at times running old film footage or early rock videos.

While the ’72 pilot had John Denver as a host and hadn’t quite found its form, the first official episode was hosted by Helen Reddy (who’d be the only full-time host for the show, in 1975-76; typically they had guest hosts changing from week to week.) She did three songs, including her recent #1 hit “I Am Woman”, and she was joined by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, who did “Superfly”, Ike & Tina Turner, the Byrds (who performed “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star”), Don McLean and even George Carlin, who did a standup routine. Throughout its run, it would periodically showcase up-and-coming comedians, including Carlin, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman and Richard Pryor. The second episode, hosted by Johnny Rivers himself, had Wolfman Jack singing. Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

The show ran for an impressive 450 episodes, finally being canceled in spring 1981. It seemed to have lost some of its focus or edge by then; the last show was hosted by the network’s reality show Real People‘s hosts and had less music and more off-music features like an interview with actor Robert Ulrich. Then-president Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, hosted the penultimate episode. But in between, Midnight Special had some of the best, and most varied, musical performances on TV with a bevy of stars ranging from Dolly Parton (who actually hosted a 1978 episode) to Barry Manilow to Gordon Lightfoot to Kiss to Aerosmith to KC & the Sunshine Band to Elton John to Tom Petty to Marvin Gaye to Abba to the New York Dolls to Blondie to David Bowie in his final “Ziggy Stardust” persona appearance to Steely Dan to ELO, who were on it a record seven times , to… well, you get the idea.

Although doubtless there are bits of it lost to history, much of the show ‘s highlights are available, on several DVD releases including an 11-disc offering in 2014.

January 25 – Fans Clash-ed Over Band’s Big Payday

Another day, another Clash story. A few days back we looked at The Clash’s top 10 hit “Rock the Casbah.” But there was a lot involved in getting to that level of success.

The punk movement was in overdrive in Britain and on this day in 1977 there was a bit of a sea change in it – it was according to critic Mark Perry, “the day punk died.” Most would disagree with Perry and point to it as the day it broadened its appeal with The Clash signing a large – 100 000 pound (about $600 000 in today’s values) contract with Columbia/CBS Records. It was remarkable for an underground band that had only played a couple dozen gigs (none as headliners), but it paid off handsomely for all involved. And though it was a big amount of cash, it hardly put the band in the lap of luxury as it specified they had to pay all expenses for their album and tour. Frugal Joe Strummer kept the band living in an old warehouse and drew just a 25 pound-a-week salary while putting together their self-titled debut. 

The debut was put together hastily, arriving on the shelves in their homeland in less than three months, adding to its authentic raw punk appeal. Americans would have to wait a couple of years though, until after their second album, Give Em Enough Rope, was out. That was because CBS and the Epic branch didn’t see them selling well here. One of their execs actually wrote to a complaining American fan at the time that “I personally am an avid Clash fan” but “A&R decisions are not based entirely on taste and musical preference.” He told the punker his “presumption that releasing a Clash record would change the complexion of the American music marketplace…is a false one.”

He was perhaps right. It took three albums and as many years for the band to make any sort of impression on the U.S. market, with the exceptionally well-reviewed, platinum-selling London Calling. Then, just as they were getting hot, they essentially broke up. Strummer later explained that. In 1982 they opened for The Who on an American tour, and “I remember looking at them and thinking ‘God, any day now this is going to be us’…no matter how hard I tried not to be, I was going to become a phoney.” He said they broke up after the big-selling Combat Rock (well, the name was used on one more album, Cut the Crap, but Strummer had fired his bandmates and seemed disinterested in it by that point) because “we could’ve been huge (but) on the one hand, there was our dignity, on the other hand, Aerosmith.” CBS might have preferred the latter, but I believe most fans think he picked the right hand!

January 8 – Saturday Nights Were A ’60s Shindig

If you were going out for a fun Saturday night this night in 1966, it would have been worthwhile to stay in until at least 8 PM…because then you could have seen the final episode of Shindig on TV. And take in performances by The Kinks and The Who while doing so.

Shindig was a short-lived but star-packed American music show that ran on ABC between September 1964 and January ’66. However, it ran regularly without a summer break, unlike many shows, and never re-ran any of its 86 episodes. It was produced by Jack Good, who managed several musicians including Cliff Richard. He managed to sell ABC on the impact that rock and R&B music, and in particular the British Invasion, was having on the younger generation and that as such a weekly show showcasing the hottest acts would be a hit. They got Jimmy O’Neill to host it and ran it on Wednesday evenings. Initially it was a half hour show, then briefly they expanded it to a full hour, before eventually changing it to two half hour shows a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays (they’d decided the Wednesday slot wasn’t good because it was going up against The Beverly Hillbillies.) Although O’Neill and Good did a few comedy skits, the focus of the show was always the musical performances. And while it was shot in the U.S., because so much of what was hot was in Britain, they set up a stage in the Twickenham Studios in London, later famously used by the Beatles to rehearse for Let It Be and their rooftop concert. They recorded bits for the show there regularly, and thus American fans got to see some artists – notably The Who – before they even arrived in America. The Who actually played “My Generation” on it two months before it was released!

Through the less than two years it ran, it showcased a real “who’s who” of music stars of the day including …Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, Temptations, Little Eva (the only known video recording of her doing “The Locomotion”), the Hollies, the Kinks, the Grass Roots, Mamas & the Papas, Moody Blues, Hank Williams Jr., Chubby Checker, Ray Charles and of course, The Rolling Stones and yes, The Beatles. What’s more they had a house band and dancers, the dancers choreographed by Toni Basil and the house band including Leon Russell, Larry Knetchel and Billy Preston!

Shindig also was probably responsible for NBC starting the similar Hullaballoo soon after.

Rhino put released the entire series on VHS in 1991, but it hasn’t been “officially” released on DVD. However, a quick internet search finds that it’s readily available from small labels and is labeled as “public domain.” However, being essentially homemade, one might wonder how good the quality would be. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a power-packed video collection of mid-’60s music, it might be the one to pick up.

December15 – Santa Came Early For Springsteen

Santa Claus came to town a year ago for Bruce Springsteen. It was on this day in 2021 he and Columbia Records/CBS seemed to finalize a deal selling them the rights to his entire music catalog to that point… for a cool $500 million, or perhaps a little more! It capped off a year of spending by Columbia that tallied over $1 billion, with them doing similar deals with Paul Simon and other artists. Meanwhile Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks were among the artists who’d made similar (but smaller) sales to their record companies. The New York Times reported the Springsteen deal was “the biggest transaction ever struck for a single artist’s body of work.”

I am an artist who can truly say that when I signed with Columbia Records in 1972, I came to the right place,” Springsteen said, adding “I’m thrilled that my legacy will continue to be cared for by the company and people I know and trust.”

There were two parts to the deal, Springsteen’s recorded music back catalog and his songwriting/publishing credits. Thus any copies of say, Born in the U.S.A. that sell in the future will give money only to Columbia, not “the Boss”, and every time someone streams “Hungry Heart”, they too get the money. And it gives Columbia the right to license out his music for use in TV, movie and ads and take in the revenue. Potentially insiders say Springsteen could have raked in even more money from those sources, but hey, when you’re 72, financially comfortable (to say the least), why not take the one-time winfall and enjoy it while you still can, not to mention have a lot less paperwork to deal with in the future collecting royalties? Besides, he’ll still make money on any future music he releases and from any tours.

It makes a lot of sense from Bruce’s standpoint, but one might raise an eyebrow over how beneficial it is to CBS. No one doubts Springsteen’s impact and popularity – 17 different platinum-selling albums in the States including Born in the U.S.A., which has sold beyond 17 million there alone – and a great run of songs still popular on rock radio and streaming services from “Born to Run” to “Tunnel of Love” and the perennial Christmas favorite, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town.” But still, in an age of rapidly declining sales of hard copy music like CDs and even LPs and reduced listenership to radio, one might think it seems a quickly declining source of revenue for the large companies. The days of people rushing to stores and buying albums, old or new, in the millions seems long gone. And it takes a lot of plays for streaming services or Youtube to really generate money for the artist – Spotify, for example, pays about half a cent for each time a song is streamed. But, with over 400 million users, most using it daily, that can add up! This deal (and the others, including $300 million for Dylan’s catalog) suggest there is still a lot of money to be made in music. It just arguably is finding its way into fewer and fewer hands.

As for The Boss, he did indeed come up with a new record, Only the Strong Survive, an album of cover songs, last month.

November 23 – George’s First Single Was So Fine, But…

My Lord”… talk about mixed blessings. George Harrison took a giant leap forward and made a massive mistake all at the same time 52 years ago. “My Sweet Lord” was released as a single this day in 1970. It was his first single, from the great triple-album All Things Must Pass, which although his third was his first solo release since the breakup of the Beatles.

Of course, calling it a “solo” is a bit misleading, and probably wouldn’t have been his own description of the record. He had a bevy of friends along working on the record with him. On this song alone, besides George and his singing plus slide guitar, all four members of Badfinger played (three on guitar, one on drums), as did Eric Clapton and Peter Frampton on guitars, Gary Wright and Billy Preston both played keyboards. And that’s only a partial list. It was co-produced by Phil Spector, and even though he was famous for his “Wall of Sound” production, he found it a bit overwhelming. “It took about 12 hours to overdub the guitar solos,” he said, “perfectionism isn’t the word. He was beyond that.” But as demanding as he was, keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, who worked on some other songs on the album, remembers “all the time that I ever knew him, (George) was a wonderful man” and added that various Hare Krishnas would pop into the studio in their white robes at times and hand out cookies.

Of course, the result was well-worth it, a record that seemed worthy of Harrison’s message. He said it was a call to unite religions and have people be thankful no matter how they might worship. “All of us – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jews, Buddhists – can address our gods in the same way, using the same phrase,” he explained. He’d gotten the idea that he wanted to write a spiritual song, and came up with “My Sweet Lord” while in Denmark with Clapton and Preston the year before. He hadn’t even intended to record it, initially, so he let Billy Preston release a version before All Things Must Pass came out. In the end he got a spiritual tune with a pop feel… too much of a pop feel, as it turned out.

Now when his album was ready for release, he wanted no singles. He figured people should experience it all as one work, and perhaps didn’t even want to show favoritism to one of his songs over another. Of course Apple Records saw it differently and needed something to get on radio for Christmas time to spur on sales. Harrison relented somewhat, and “My Sweet Lord” was released in North America, with “Isn’t It a Pity?” on the other side. Although the former was the real hit, he considered it a two-sided single, just as so many of the Beatles 7” records had been. He got his way initially in Britain, with the company waiting until 1971 to release the single there.

Reaction was great. Billboard declared it “a powerhouse two-sided winner.” The UK’s NME said it “establishes George as a talent equivalent to either Lennon or McCartney” , a bit of a radical idea at that time. Later Elton John would declare it the last great song of its era and say the first time he heard it, “you know when a record starts on the radio and it’s great and you think ‘Oh, What is This?’”… that’s what “My Sweet Lord” was to him. “The only other record I ever felt that way about was ‘Brown Sugar’”.

Many people felt that way too. The song quickly hit #1 in North America, and then the next year became the biggest-selling single of the year in Britain. It topped German charts for 10-straight weeks. It won the Ivor Novello Award for most played record of the year. In time, it sold beyond 10 million copies, making it in all likelihood the biggest-selling single ever by a Beatle after that band’s days were done.

So all was great, right? Well, not quite so fast. Just as the reviews loved the song, several of them, notably Rolling Stone and the NME also pointed out that it bore more than a passing similarity in tune to the 1963 Chiffons hit, “He’s So Fine.” One wonders how Spector didn’t notice it and tell George something, or for that mater as Harrison himself would later ask “why didn’t I realize?”

Not surprisingly, he, and Apple Records, were sued. Now the writer of the Chiffons hit, Ronnie Mack, had died young of cancer around the time that song became a hit. So a record publisher, Bright Tunes filed suit against Harrison only weeks after “My Sweet Lord” hit the charts. What followed was…messy to say the least. And complicated and lengthy. It involved different courts and ex-Beatles manager Allen Klein at first representing Harrison, then being replaced… an entire book could be written about the proceedings, which dragged on into 1976. George actually thought if he used any tune for a base, it was the old hymn “Oh Happy Day.”

In the end, Harrison lost. The judge, Richard Owen, himself a composer, said “did he deliberately use the music of ‘He’s So Fine’? I do not believe he did so deliberately. Nevertheless, it is clear that ‘My Sweet Lord’ is the very same song as ‘He’s So Fine’ with different words…this is under the law an infringement of copyright.” Harrison had to pay approximately $1.6 million, which was 3/4 of the North American royalties from the single and some of the album’s sales too. However, the case dragged on more and after appeals, that amount was reduced to approximately $587 000, with other courts finding Judge Owen’s finding overly harsh and also finding that Klein was negligent in his defense of Harrison.

The whole thing left the ex-Beatle understandably upset and “paranoid”. He said “99% of the popular music that is heard is reminiscent of something or other”. He had trouble writing any material for several years as a result. And one would think he worked as a cautionary tale for other artists in the future. Or at least those not called Radiohead or Vanilla Ice.

November 19 – Big Labels Got Bigger Still 35 Years Back

If you’re a record collector, you probably know many different labels by sight. Maybe admire the artwork; there were some cool designs and logos. The colorful sunset design and palm tree on the Island Records’ vinyl. The cool-looking guy in the hat and the shades on IRS ones. The bright Granny Smith-green apple on…yep, Apple.  And you probably think, “man, there are so many record companies!”. Well, yes and no. You might notice that we often refer to record “labels” here instead of companies. And there are a lot of record labels, to be sure. But record companies… well, these days there are really only three that matter, sadly enough. The industry is now down to basically the Big Three. The process has been happening for a number of decades, and it took a big step in that direction in 1987.

That was when, after lengthy negotiations, Sony bought out CBS Records for some $2 billion (equivalent to at least $4b now). CBS of course consisted primarily of Columbia Records but also included Epic Records and several other smaller imprints and at the time was home to stadium-filling acts like Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson and Journey. It accelerated the ongoing trend that’s seen more and more of the music business controlled by a small and decreasing number of mega-corporations. The process of merging and reducing competition in the music market has continued unabated since. Sony merged with BMG in 2004, and is now the second-largest “record” company in the world behind Universal. Universal itself bought out the “music” division of EMI in 2012 for $1.9 billion, although curiously EMI’s music publishing branch was sold to Sony at the same time for about $2 billion more. That branch was not insignifcant when you consider that EMI held the copyright on some 750 000 songs including those of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and literally thousands more artists.

Today the “big three” – Universal, Sony BMG and Warner – make up about 80% of music sales in the U.S. They also have tremendous clout with the media (for example, all three companies also have big movie divisions. Which record companies do you think Sony might like Sony Pictures to highlight in their soundtracks?). Now, when you buy a record or CD (assuming you still like hard copy music), you’ll see any number of different labels. For example, let’s say it might still be MCA, Interscope, Geffen, Island, A&M, Motown or EMI. But those are all a part of Universal Music, rather like how Chevy, GMC and Oldsmobile are all GM cars. As the Balance Careers point out, although some of those labels hire their own office staff and sign their own choice of artists, they answer to , and have their budget set by the big head office. The bottom line is if you’re an artist, even an established one, it’s increasingly difficult to play by your own rules or swim against the current if you want any sort of real sponsorship or promotion. Of course, in this day and age, the internet and particularly Youtube and social media make it pretty easy for you to put music out there without dealing with any record company. But the reality is, if you want to be a big star, you probably will have to do so by going through one of just three big office doors.