February 2 – Maybe Queen Really Are Champions Of The World

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character famously wakes up every morning (which is in fact the same morning) to the sound of Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” Well, if you ever put on the car radio, or have it on at your work, you might think every day is Groundhog Day…but Queen has replaced Sonny & Cher. Because apparently the Brit rockers are the most-played rock artist on radio world-wide.

That according to a much quoted recent report by Viberate. I wasn’t really familiar with Viberate, so I turned to musicologist Alan Cross who calls it “a new way for artists to both keep track of their music and to make vital connections within the music business.” Essentially, it’s a gigantic database which tracks music radio play, streaming, downloads and even appearances on social media, rating songs social media performance, radio performance and even “respect.” It’s fascinating…but altogether too big a rabbit hole to fully explore here! However, their 2021 report had some interesting observations, including “rock is resurrected.”

They looked at radio stations from 150 countries around the globe and list “Pop” as being the most-played genre, with 141 million total spins from tracked stations, followed by “rock” with about 80 million. Hip-hop then Latin Music follow, each with less than half the prominence of rock. Now, how they exactly draw the line between pop and rock is unclear (Billy Joel – rock? pop? who’s to say), but we can see that rumors of rock’s death have been greatly exaggerated. On Spotify, the presumably younger base still pick Pop the most (145 billion streams) but hip-hop is next, then Latin and then Rock, with about 32 billion streams.

Back to radio, world-wide, Ed Sheeran is becoming one very wealthy young man. His music was played more on radio than anybody else, over four million times last year. He was followed by Dua Lipa, the Weeknd…and then Queen. Queen tracks were played just under three million times worldwide. If you’re at all like us, it might seem that about two million of those airings were on stations that you happened to be tuned into at the time! I-heart Radio report that “Another One Bites the Dust” was the #1 played song by Queen on the Viberate report, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” couldn’t have been far behind. More surprising – the fifth most-played artist, worldwide was… Maroon 5.

So, there you go. The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” might be the most-played song ever on radio, but Sting and friends apparently have to curtsy to Queen, when it comes to total radio attention these days.

April 9 – Fleetwood Pulled Off A 2-For-1 With Lineup 19

Fleetwood and “Mac” remained, but Fleetwood Mac took on a different look this day in 2018 when they fired long-time guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and brought in two talents to replace him – Neil Finn (best known for being the leader of Crowded House) and Mike Campbell (guitarist for Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and renowned songwriter.)

Ostensibly they brought in Finn for his vocal abilities and Campbell to replace Lindsey’s guitar prowess although both men have done a bit more than just that so far.

It came as rather a surprise to fans, although perhaps it shouldn’t have. The 2017 lineup that had been used for a few years was, from what we can tell, the 18th different lineup in Fleetwood Mac over their 50 year history. What’s one more change? Still, one couldn’t help but be a bit surprised. Buckingham had been added into the group soon after they moved to the U.S., around the end of 1974. He replaced guitarist Bob Welch who went solo. Besides about a decade’s absence in the late-’80s to mid-’90s, he’d been an integral part of their sound and songwriting all the way. Those who know the story of their mammoth ’77 album Rumours – in which the band were all at each other’s throats, taking far too much cocaine, and Lindsey himself was breaking up with bandmate Stevie Nicks – would assume that if they could get through that, they could get through anything. Apparently not.

The band were planning a major tour for late-’18 and onwards, and did a show at the MusicCares benefit. Apparently Stevie and Lindsey still hadn’t kissed and made up after all those years. They had an argument, Lindsey hated that they played “Rhiannon’, a Stevie signature song, in their short set then apparently was seen “smirking” while Stevie was talking to the crowd. She wanted him gone.

There was a bit more to it than that, not surprisingly. Mick Fleetwood, the constant center of the band, they and Buckingham “hit a brick wall, a huge impasse” over plans for the tour. Among the main disputes was that the guitarist wanted them to play a lot of lesser-known songs, album cuts and b-sides etc., while all the rest wanted to deliver what the fans wanted, a set of non-stop hits from their best records. The drummer noted that when it came to Lindsey’s departure, “well we don’t use the word (fired) because I think it’s ugly…Lindsey has huge amounts of respect.” Apparently that wasn’t satisfying for him, because he sued the band for breach of contract among other things. The two sides reached an out-of-court agreement.

Still, that left them with a hole to fill. Buckingham was a great guitarist who featured into many of their hits and sang lead on a handful of songs (“Go Your Own Way” and “Second Hand News” for example) and did harmonies on most of the others. Enter Campbell and Finn.

Not a great deal has been written about why Campbell was chosen, but he was a great pick given his guitar talents and unemployed status since Tom Petty passed away (thereby ending The Heartbreakers) . Finn also was an obvious choice. He and Mick had been close friends for years, and Fleetwood had sat in on drums for Crowded House during a 2018 benefit concert in Hawaii – his adopted home. At the time of the announcement, Finn said “two weeks ago, I received a wonderful invitation to be part of a truly great band. A few days later, I was standing in a room playing music with Fleetwood Mac. It was a natural fit. I can’t wait to play.”

And play they did. They toured quite extensively before the pandemic shut down most live music, usually including his “Don’t Dream It’s Over” in the set list. That was, according to the Boston Globe (who reviewed one of the first shows with the new lineup) “a true highlight of the night”, suggesting “the band could’ve done a whole lot worse than recruit Neil Finn and Mike Campbell to fill Buckingham’s shoes.”

They could have indeed. It leaves one with conflicting emotions – partly hoping this will be the final and definitive lineup for the band and partly hoping it drives them along enough for there to be a 20th!

February 17 – AC/DC Records Like Money In The Bank

Yesterday we looked at an Australian band who broke through to the international market in a small way – The Church. Today we look at a different style of Australian rock band who broke through in a much bigger way – AC/DC. They got started on this day in 1975 with the release of their debut album, High Voltage. At least at home.

The band put together by brothers Angus and Malcolm Young a year or two earlier had set out with a goal in mind. Angus says, looking at the contemporary music scene back then, “it was obvious what was missing : another great rock band.” They set out to fill that void. They’d signed to Albert Records, an Aussie indie label, and put out one single “Can I Sit Next To You Girl?”, in ’74, with singer Dave Evans (not to be confused with the Dave Evans in U2, better known as The Edge.) He didn’t seem to fit in though, so their older brother George brought in a friend of his, Bon Scott to take the mic. “Scott moulded the character of AC/DC,” says Angus.

Although not a member of the band, George Young co-produced their debut album and played bass on many of the eight tracks. His younger brother says “it was recorded in 10 days, in between gigs (and) working through the night after we came off stage…there was no thought put into it.”

Perhaps, perhaps not. The rather spontaneous, imperfect sound arguably enhanced the type of music they were making. As allmusic suggest, it began “the blueprint they’ve followed all their career”, in particular “riffs so simple they’re often dismissed as easy, that give the music its backbone.”

High Voltage had eight songs, seven originals with titles that also set the blueprint for AC/DC writing to come, such as “She’s Got Balls” and “Soul Stripper” plus a cover of an old Big Joe Williams blues tune, “Baby Please Don’t Go.”

The album eventually took off Down Under, reaching #14 on the charts. It now sits at 5X platinum there. They soon signed to an international deal with Atlantic Records, who introduced them to the world in ’76 with an album also called High Voltage, but one which contained tracks from their debut plus their next Australian album, TNT, including “It’s a Long Way to The Top” and “TNT.”

If you’re a big fan of Angus, Malcolm and the lads, you might want to pick up a different sort of collectible souvenir. To show big and famous AC/DC have become, Australia released coins honoring them last year! The Royal Australian Mint released seven limited edition coins last year, six 20-cent coins with album covers, and a silver dollar coin with a picture of Angus Young playing guitar behind the band’s iconic logo. The 20-cent ones each are made to look like LPs, with black outer rings and an album cover picture in the middle, with High Voltage being one of the six, as well as TNT, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, Back in Black, For Those about to Rock and Ballbreaker. Of course, being part of the commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth’s picture is on the back of all of them. Viewers of The Crown might think that Prince Phillip might have a bit of a chuckle seeing HRH on a coin honoring a “ballbreaker.” The whole setis available in a neat little box made to look like a band crate, but they’re not quite dirt cheap. They sell for $110 Australian.

December 18 – Fab Two Still Beatlin’ Along Too

So the Stones’ guitarist is 77 and still rockin’? “Hold my beer,” say the Beatles! As old as Keith Richards is, there are older rock stars around, from even more famous bands… and they’re keeping busy! Believe it or not, this week we have new music from both remaining Beatles – a new song from Ringo Starr, and an entire album from Sir Paul McCartney!

The two have similarities and huge differences. Both were created at the rockers’ own homes and seem to have been partly inspired by boredom resulting from the pandemic and subsequent “lockdown”, keeping Ringo, 80 years young, and Paul, 78, from being out and about or socializing much this year. That’s where the similarities end though, with Ringo’s song “Here’s to the Nights” being a veritable musical all-star (or “All Starr”) team effort, while Paul’s, simply entitled McCartney III, is a truly solo effort. Mind you, the number of people involved with Starr’s single doesn’t equate to a big party or crowded control rooms. He told NBC’s Harry Smith yesterday that he moved his drums into his bedroom at home, and played them there while he converted his guest house into a studio and had other musicians come in to play there individually. He says he’s not seen more than eight people in person since March due to the virus.

Among the guests who took part in “Here’s to the Nights” were Dave Grohl, Sheryl Crow, Lenny Kravitz, Corinne Bailey Rae and one…Paul McCartney. He had Steve Lukather of Toto on guitars and Benmont Trench, formerly of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers on keyboards for the song primarily written by Dianne Warren. Warren rose to songwriting prominence in the ’80s penning such light pop hits as “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge and Laura Branigan’s “Solitaire.” The song may not match his best works of four or five decades back, but is a likable enough little tune that could well be a closing time sing-along with lines about “here’s to nights we won’t remember, with friends we won’t forget.” Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is how fine a form Starr’s voice appears to be in.

McCartney’s venture is a bit more ambitious. McCartney III he says is the finale of a trilogy of albums he envisioned long ago, following, logically enough McCartney I (in 1970, which featured the original version of “Maybe I’m Amazed”) and McCartney II (from 1980 with its lively hit “Coming Up”.) Those two resulted from his reactions to the demise of Beatles and Wings, respectively, while this one is simply him playing music, seemingly for himself. He played all instruments and produced it himself, in contrast to his last effort, Egypt Station, two years ago which had extensive outside help and production designed squarely with the idea of having him back on the charts.

The 11 song Capitol Records album contains a mix of songs, tempo and mood wise, with a variety of titles that would sound at home on old Beatles albums – “Winter Bird”, “Lavatory Lil”, “Seize the Day”, “Deep, Deep, Feeling”…

Initial reviews are quite good for it. Entertainment Weekly grades it a “B” while Rolling Stone gives it 4-stars, the same as allmusic and Britain’s The Guardian. The latter note that it does seem like a follow-up to the other two because they garnered mixed reviews due to them being “moments where he temporarily forgot his commercial impulses, but not his innate gift for melody.” This they considered “personal and hugely enjoyable,” with “Deep Deep Feeling” “the best song to bear McCartney’s name in over a decade”, although they lament “Lavatory Lil” is best flushed… “the best thing you can say about it is it isn’t quite as awful as its title.” Allmusic say that it doesn’t have “the shock of the new” the way I and II did, but with “arrangements so uncluttered” and “nods to sadness and loneliness on ‘Deep Deep Feeling’” as well as “the sweet ‘The Kiss of Venus’”, the album is enjoyable and better than his 2018 work.

If you want to find out for yourself, McCartney III is available today digitally or in small quantities as an LP. Real hardcore fans might want to search out one of the limited edition colored vinyl editions – Jack White’s Third Man Records (Detroit and Nashville) have some 333 yellow albums with black dots, Target stores will carry green ones and some retailers will have pink.

July 24 – Cue Up The End Of Q

Covid claims another music victim, but at least this time around it’s not a beloved musician. Rather, say goodbye to the excellent Q magazine. The British mag had been publishing monthly back to 1986, but in a news release this week, editor Ted Kessler said “the pandemic did (it) for us and there was nothing more to it than that.” He added, “I must apologize profusely for my failure to keep Q afloat.”

Like many of its human victims, Q wasn’t entirely healthy when the pandemic struck. The drop in advertising and reduced sales (both from fewer trips to stores that stock publications and less disposable cash) were the final nail in the aging magazine’s coffin. Indeed, circulation at the start of the year had dropped to a rather meagre 30 000 copies per month or so, down by a third since 2015 and only a fraction of the glory days of 2001, when nearly 200 000 copies of each issue circulated. The internet got a lot of the blame for that; Q was slow hopping on the “online” bandwagon and when it was there, found most of its younger readers stopped buying the paper version; meanwhile older readers were starting to drift away too. Few Baby Boomers have much interest in today’s hottest new band and there are only so many times you can interview David Gilmour about Dark Side of the Moon, apparently.

Q was begun in 1986 by Mark Ellen and David Hepworth, two music-lovers who’d worked on the BBC music show Old Grey Whistle Test. They noticed that as CD sales were beginning to soar, the majority of the sales seemed to be re-issues. Older fans were replacing their vinyl copies of Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Rod Stewart more than they seemed to be buying the latest Cocteau Twins or ABC. They realized people were talking more about tired old Queen at Live Aid than young Nik Kershaw. They reasoned there must be a legion of “fans wondering what happened to their old heroes,” and set about telling them in a magazine. As Alexis Petriadis of the Guardian put it, “Q went where other titles were too cool to tread.”

The magazine was large, glossy and featured long interviews and dozens of record reviews monthly. Even the name reflected that; it was originally going to be called Cue, as in “cue up the cd player”, but friends suggested it would get mistaken for a pool enthusiast magazine if that word appeared in big font on the cover. The majority of the reviews were of old albums rather than new releases. However, Q didn’t want to be exclusively the bringer of musical cobwebs, so it did spotlight a number of new, up and coming stars as well. It created an unusual blend where on one cover you might see Paul Weller featured, with blurbs about content on Elvis Presley, the Prodigy, Echo and the Bunnymen and Ringo Starr inside. In the ’90s, it was a champion of Britpop – Oasis, Blur, Pulp and the like – without forgetting about Elton and Elvis. As the Guardian say, for awhile it was “the cornerstone of the British music press.” Nearing the height of its popularity, it began its own awards show in 1996 and had the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair as a presenter. It was also known for periodically including a mix-CD with the magazine; the discs became collectors items and were known for having known artists, unlike some other magazines that did the same. One Tweet this week said the “first time I heard Pearl Jam was from that CD.”

The magazine sold at high prices in limited quantities in North American bookshops. Except for one month in 2010, when they considered a topless photo shoot of Lady Gaga accompanying an interview with her too racy for American eyes. (How they reached that conclusion isn’t clear.)

Tim Burgess of The Charlatans says of the magazine’s end, “sad news. Q was good to us over the years. I learned much from its pages.” I think even those of us who were only infrequent buyers would agree with that, Tim.

The last issue is expected to ship this weekend.

June 7 – Fans Will Have To Wait For Bonnaroo – Booo!

Under normal conditions, it’d be getting on towards Bonnaroo time down Tennessee way! Inspired a little by Woodstock, a little by Phish and Grateful Dead shows and a little by Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo is now one of the longest-running and most important annual music and arts festivals. Today marks the eighth anniversary of the kick-off of the festival’s best-attended year, 2012.

Begun in 2002, Bonnaroo is a four-day event which features a number of stages providing all sorts of live music (“gospel to jazz to hip hop to alt rock” ) focusing largely on newer, up-and-coming musical acts, as well as other arts displays, a movie tent and various special interest cause booths. It takes place in Coffee County, a bit southeast of Nashville, and many of the attendees camp out for the whole long weekend. Over the years the lineup has been impressive and included showings of movies like Stop Making Sense and Rattle and Hum, stand-up routines from famous comedians, and concerts from U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eminem, Tom Petty, a Buffalo Springfield reunion, Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top and more.

While most years attendance has been in the 70 000 range, the 2012 version topped the 100 000 mark for the only time to date. Among the highlights of that year’s festival were Dale Earnhardt Jr. (the Nascar race star is the next thing to royalty in parts of the South), breakdancing demonstrations, a tent with dance DJs all weekend, and musical performances from Kathleen Edwards, Ben Folds Five, Colin Hay, Radiohead, Alabama Shakes and Red Hot Chili Peppers to name just a few.

The event of course is a big boost to the local economy, bringing in an estimated $14 million or more annually in tourist spending for the county and it also donates millions annually to charities like the Sierra Club and Doctors without Borders. Thankfully, there’ve been few big problems through the years. CNN describes it as “music and sub-culture melted together into a pot of creative, bubbling energy,” so no wonder Rolling Stone called it the “Best Festival” in 2008, and Spin concurred in 2012.

This year’s version should’ve been kicking off this Thursday, but due to the pandemic it’s been re-scheduled for late-September. A drag for those who had already made plans and purchased 4-day passes (for about $319) but a necessary change in the name of public health. On the plus side, early fall in that area tends to be a bit drier and not as hot. The lineup promises “10 performance stages, entertainment that goes all night long” so “you will NOT be bored”. Highlights include a tribute to the Grand Ole Opry, Miley Cyrus, Tool and Jack Black’s Tenacious D, for those interested!

June 1 – Universal Losses To The Music World

Chicago had Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. L.A. – and music – had the careless welder. On this day in 2008, a lot of history went up in flames, which we only found out about in the last couple of years. The Universal Music Fire burned a dozen years back.

Universal of course is a gigantic, almost “universal” entertainment company. You see their logo at the start of movies, but in the past few decades they’ve expanded and branched out into almost every other sector of entertainment including TV, theme parks… and music.Universal Music is the world’s largest “record” company, having vacuumed up a litany of smaller companies through the ’90s and 2000s including MCA, Geffen and A&M.

They have a huge lot in Los Angeles County that contains sets for all sorts of movies and TV shows. And, until 12 years back, a non-descript 22 000 square-foot metal warehouse. Here they stored all sorts of archival movie reels, and as it turned out thousands upon thousands of music master tapes from their various labels. They stored the originals from companies dating back to WWII on metal shelving 18 feet high.

Around 4:40 in the morning a dozen years back, a security guard noticed flames shooting up into the sky on the lot. He checked and found a building on an old movie lot (“New England Town”, a street designed to look like a quaint Vermont town center) on fire. Workmen had been repairing the roof of it that night, using torches to heat tar. They stopped around 3 AM, figured all was safe by 4, when they left. But it wasn’t. A hotspot flared up and caught the roof, and gusty winds quickly spread it down the “Street” and into “Manhattan” – a New York set. By the time firemen arrived,dozens of buildings were ablaze. By one point in the morning, over 500 firefighters were attacking the blaze but winds and low water pressure were helping the fire win. Two helicopters were brought in to water bomb the site, which helped. By the time a rep of Universal Music was able to get on site and near the warehouse, the metal building was an inferno. One fire truck parked outside it had the plastic warning lights on it melt! By the end of the day, they couldn’t entirely shut down the fire in it and brought in bulldozers to destroy the remaining framework – and anything that hadn’t melted inside already, By the time it was contained early on the 2nd, several full acres of buildings were in ruins and 17 people were injured (none fatally at least.) And according to Universal at the time, though some originals of TV shows like I Love Lucy and The Office might have burned, but there was little mention of any music and their reports that even did touch that subject said “in no case was the the destroyed material the only copy.”

A confidential corporate memo said otherwise. They admitted “118 230 documents” were destroyed. Insider Randy Aronson would later say it was about 175 000 music masters, covering over half a million songs. The masters, as NBC clearly suggest are the “audio equivalent of the original negative to a photo.” They were the best quality, originals of the music as it was recorded, pre-mixing. Thus, if it was a 16-track recording, there’d be all 16 separate tracks – say guitar, drums, piano, backing vocals, lead vocals, cowbells , etc – individually as well as in most cases the mix used for the record release. This of course was important, since if a record or CD had good music but didn’t sound “right”, the artist or producer could go back, use the originals and re-mix it to get the sound just perfect. This became especially important when transferring to new media… making LPs available on CD, then as downloadable mp3s and on and on. As The Beatles have shown with updated releases of their albums, the mix is very important in making new releases of their old material that sound as good as possible. This sort of remixing isn’t going to be possible in the future for the 118 000 to 175 000 albums that were burned.

The artists who saw all, or part of their catalog destroyed is as vast as music itself and includes old labels like Chess and Decca as well as the more modern rock era ones. The list of artists effected number into the thousands and include a cornucopia of tastes and genres from Dizzy Gillespie and Muddy Waters to Aretha Franklin and the Four Tops to Elton and the Eagles to Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. Krist Novoselic of Nirvana says “I think they (the original tapes of Nevermind) are gone forever,” while a representative for Steely Dan said “ we have been aware of ‘missing’ originals of Steely Dan tapes for a long time. We’ve never been given a plausible explanation.” Until the full details of the fire came to light.

It’s perhaps not directly Universal Music’s fault but it surely shows the value of making many backup copies of anything important and not having all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. As NBC – a division of Universal – put it, it was “the musical equivalent of the Library of Congress”. On May 31, 2008 it was. 48 hours later, it was a huge smoldering pile of ash.

April 2 – Cockburn Sums Up These Times

Bruce Cockburn‘s 12th studio album, The Trouble With Normal, hit the Canadian charts this day in 1983. The album would make it into the top 20 there and go gold, not that unusual a situation for the folky sometimes compared to Bob Dylan and referred to by allmusic as “Canada’s best-kept secret.” He had a minor foray into American success in 1979 with the single “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and by that time had had middling radio success in his homeland with songs like “Tokyo” and “the Coldest Night of the Year.”

Cockburn came out of the Toronto folk scene of the ’60s (rather like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot) and was known for his songs of anger directed towards the establishment. A couple of years after this album, he’d have another minor American hit with “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”, about his take on U.S. intervention in Central American politics. (Ironically enough, the angry young, then middle-aged man’s biggest selling album is a Christmas one which is 6X platinum in the Great White North.)

Anyway, while the album was fairly well-reviewed and a decent success in Canada, we mention it today because of the title track, “The Trouble With Normal (Is It Always Gets Worse.)” He might have been writing about corporate power and rampant consumerism but boy… that title kinds of sums up these times doesn’t it?

That in mind, today we offer something a bit different: a playlist for these virus-ridden times, something to while away the time while stuck at home under Shelter in Place orders. Cockburn’s summary of “normal” might be a good place to start, then …

Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police. Kind of the new rule of thumb isn’t it, especially now that some grocery stores even have security guards to enforce customers not get within six feet of each other!

Modern Love” by David Bowie. “I know when to go out/ I know when to stay in,” he sings. Right now, it’s mostly stay in…go out, not so much!

Fell on Black Days” by Soundgarden. Springtime might be in full effect, birds are singing and flowers blooming but it still seems like it is black and bleak days, doesn’t it with news of sickness and death crowding out everything else in the media?

Shake the Disease” by Depeche Mode. What we’re hoping this whole planet is able to do just that … and soon.

Night Fever/Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Apparently the latter has been banned by a number of radio stations right now. But the disco duo sure reminds us what we don’t want (fever) and what we are going to do (stayin’ alive.)

Destroyer” by the Kinks. “Paranoia, they destroy ya’”. Good reminder from Ray and the boys. It’s hard not to worry these days and a high level of caution about germs is warranted but don’t forget to go on living life. Paranoia isn’t going to help you.

Hand in Glove” by The Smiths. Yep, don’t be paranoid, but don’t be silly either. Plastic or rubber gloves when you’re shopping help keep your hands happy, and safe.

Curfew” by The Stranglers. “Be off the streets by nightfall! Be off the streets by nightfall!” Actually, be off the streets anytime if you can. Call it “curfew” or call it a “shelter in place order”, it’s not advisable to be out in public these days.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M. Michael Stipe joked a bit about this one in a serious message. It maybe the end of the world as we know it, but that doesn’t mean that the new version won’t be ok in weeks to come. Feel fine!

Stand Tall” by Burton Cummings. That title kind of says it all, doesn’t it…

I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. or if Cummings’ didn’t, this one does!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. These are the strangest and crappiest times most of us have lived through. But we’re in it together and we’ll come through it together. Be careful, be safe but enjoy the little things we still have and can enjoy easily… your garden, the birds at the feeder, endless amounts of movies and TV shows online to watch, and of course, our loved ones, even if they are at arm’s length these days.

Wishing you all good times and good health!

March 18 – A-ha! I Thought That Was A Popular Video

At times it can be easy, over here, to forget there’s a whole big world of music outside of the U.S. and UK. The non-British European market, for instance is home to something like 700 million people, and they love music like we do. Although not always the same music. Case in point – A-ha.

Of course, the Norwegian lads scored a major hit here in 1985 with “Take on Me”, one of the top 10 singles of the year in both the States and Britain. But over there,in continental Europe,  it was massive and the band continued to do well long after the smaller follow-up hit, “The Sun Always Shines on TV”. To date they’ve sold in excess of 50 million albums, most of them not in North America or even the UK. An indication of their popularity came this winter, with their biggie – “Take on Me” – hitting the one billion view mark on Youtube. As such, it’s only the second song put out in the ’80s to garner that many eyeballs online. Curiously, “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns’n’Roses was the first to hit the plateau.

Now, granted the video which morphs from B&W sketches into real life was watchable and clever, but still… would you expect it to be the second-most sought out song of the ’80s on the site? By way of comparison, Peter Gabriel’s extraordinarily creative “Sledgehammer” (the most played video on MTV) has garnered a paltry 33 million views and even Michael Jackson’s much-ballyhooed “Thriller” one has in the range of 650 million. Mind you, the numbers probably also reflect who spends the most time on Youtube. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” from a couple of years back is over 4 billion and two weeks in, Taylor Swift’s latest, “The Man” is cresting the 30 million mark. Clearly Millennials and Generation Zzzzzz love their Youtube, as well as streaming music services. What they don’t love is buying hard copy music, save for one or two hipsters who collect vinyl. Which made me wonder – are the artists getting rich from it?

Well, there’s no one answer to that, but suffice to say it’s going to be harder to buy a private jet or a Joe Walsh-style Maserati with a hit song these days than it was three decades back.

Stats came out last month listing how much various streaming and online services pay artists for each song streamed or viewed. Although getting an exact number is evidently a bit of a challenge. Ditto Music suggests that the amount paid varies depending upon the user’s country, the type of account they have (full price, free or discounted like a student’s) and sometimes even individual contracts with artists or publishers. They and Sound Charts both examined the data and published lists… and they are different. However, they aren’t poles apart and they make it clear…you’re not going to become a millionaire by having a kinda popular tune on Spotify.

Napster, once the mortal enemy of the recording industry, now pays the most. Metallica must be stoked about that, although methinks the number of Napster subscribers now probably isn’t that different than number of guys in Metallica. Anyway, Napster reportedly pay just over 1 cent per play. Spotify pays something less than half a cent per stream, Apple about .8 of a penny. And each time you play MTV VJ and watch a video on Youtube, (or just listen to it, for that matter) they pay out the princely sum of .16 of a cent, per Sound Charts, or about half that according to Ditto. To put it another way, you’re going to need at least seven people to watch your Youtube video to earn one penny.

So if you’re doing the math, that means that to date, A-ha have been paid between $800 000 and $1 600 000 for having that fun video on Youtube. Which is pretty good, but sounds quite a bit less than the amount they’ve received through the years for the 7 million copies of the single sold. Dire Straits, for comparison’s sake, would have made less than $125 000 worth of “Money for Nothing”for their most famous video there. And when you think of all those little ads you have to wait 15 seconds to skip, sounds like a good reason for Youtube pulling in $15 billion last year and being described by the Royal Bank as “one of the strongest assets online.” And a good reason a lot of oldies acts will be very happy to get back on stage playing live once this virus scare is over.

March 13 – Austin City’s No Limit To Talent

If you were one of a small crowd at the Cave Club in Austin watching Go Dog Go and Surina & the Daves, this day in 1987, you might have thought you were seeing the next big thing. And you were- sort of! Go Dog Go may have gone, but the festival the show was kicking off is still going strong.

South by Southwest, or SXSW for short, has put Austin on the global music map, introduced a host of new stars to the musical world’s movers and shakers and lately added some $315M a year to the city’s economy. It’s also spun off a movie and an “interactive” festival. In 2001, over 1000 artists were playing SXSW and through the years highlights have been aplenty, from Metallica showing up and playing an unscheduled gig in a small club in 2008 to a free show for 25 000 by hometown heroes Los Lonely Boys in ’04 to keynote addresses by Bruce Springsteen, Ray Davies and Dave Grohl, who did so in 2013 then took off for Stubbs BBQ where he played an impromptu set with John Fogerty, Rick Springfield and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick.

Arguably it is the single most important music showcase in the world these days. Wonder who’ll show up there this March?  Unfortunately, the answer is ‘nobody.’ For the first time since it’s inception, SXSW has been canceled this year due to worries of the corona virus.