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Monday, December 11, 2006

Music - Want or Need? 

Heard part of Adam Carolla's Free FM show this morning. The bit that I heard involved the banning of songs from the radio that either
  • never were good to begin with, or

  • sounded good the first twenty-five times that radio played them, but became tiring with repetition.

During the course of the discussion, the following songs were mentioned:
  • Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven"

  • Depeche Mode, "People Are People"

  • Bob Seger, "Old Time Rock N Roll"

  • Eagles, "Heartache Tonight"

  • Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the USA"

  • Billy Idol, "Mony Mony"

There were several others, but I guess Carolla's citation of "People Are People" got under my craw. Carolla stated that he knew of no one who would play that song at home. Carolla must have selective memory, since he did work at KROQ around the time that Richard Blade was there, and I personally suspect that Blade has "People Are People" permanently loaded in every CD changer he owns.

For the record, I do not own "People Are People." For some reason, this song was not included on "Catching Up With Depeche Mode", which is a pity. There are times when a band just gets into a groove, and everything that they release turns to gold, or platinum. Take a look at the singles that Depeche Mode released in 1983 and 1984:
  • "Get the Balance Right!" 13 on UK singles chart

  • "Everything Counts" 6 on UK singles chart

  • "Love, in Itself" 21 on UK singles chart

  • "People Are People" 4 on UK singles chart, 13 on US Hot 100

  • "Master and Servant" 9 on UK singles chart, 87 on US Hot 100

  • "Blasphemous Rumours / Somebody" 1 on UK singles chart

Similarly, look at New Order's singles released between 1983 and 1987.

But Depeche Mode and New Order, hot as they were, were not the top musical artists of the 1980s. This article illustrates who the 1980s triumvirate really was:

It's difficult to get across to students the full impact of Michael Jackson in the early 80s. They've all grown up in a post-Michael world ... they've seen the moonwalk a thousand times ... and Michael himself has gotten a bit weird over the years. And so students bring their preconceived notions of Michael Jackson to the table, and they don't get the revolutionary nature of his work, and they see elements of today's Michael whenever they watch early-80s Michael, and so they think "yeah, I remember back in the day when Michael Jackson was the shit" as if he was just the R. Kelly of his day.

Well, that's not true. The early/mid-80s were, among other things, one of the key periods in recent American pop culture not just for stars, but for SUPERSTARS. There were artists like Prince and Bruce Springsteen, transcendent figures, for better or worse. Bruce sold 15 million copies of Born in the USA, then released a live box-set that at the time was claimed to have kickstarted the CD revolution (people bought CD players just to make it easier to listen to Bruce Live). Prince sold 13 million copies of Purple Rain, the movie grossed $68 million in the States, and Prince got himself an Oscar in the process.

And yet these guys were pikers compared to Michael Jackson. Thriller has sold something like 26 million copies. Michael Jackson was the crossover act supreme, arguably the last such musician America has seen. His music was popular with a diverse audience.

For another view of Jackson, Nelson, and Springsteen, take a look at the top albums of 1984, week by week. The "Footloose" soundtrack held the top spot for ten weeks, and Huey Lewis & the News held the top spot for one week. For the rest of the year, the top spot was oocupied by Thriller, Born in the U.S.A., and Purple Rain.

But Depeche Mode did have one thing in common with the 1984 triumvirate - none of them played at Live Aid.

Several major artists did not perform at Live Aid for a variety of reasons. Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Michael Jackson, who were the three hottest stars at that time, did not participate at Live Aid. Springsteen was touring England even up to seven days before the concert, but as he was in the middle of an eighteen month tour and had just got married, he couldn't work it in. Geldof keep working on Springsteen, and even had dinner with him as an effort to get him to play. Even hours before the finale in Philadelphia rumors were circulating that he was going to show up; it never happened. Prince had just retired from public performance; however, he would return to the stage soon after his retirement. "Michael Jackson just didn't seem to want to do it."

This reminds me of a Saturday Night Live sketch with, if I recall correctly, Billy Crystal, Mr. T., and Hulk Hogan, in which Crystal (as P.R. Nelson) sang "I Am Also the World." (I did recall correctly.)

Which gets us to the story of Band Aid and Live Aid:

At a time of famine in Africa, you see, and Midge Ure and Bob Geldof didn't like the idea of people starving in Africa while people were getting fat in England. So they wrote a nice Christmas song and they called up their friends to help them record it, and the money they made went to African famine relief.

Thing was, they didn't invite the Americans to help, which is odd because the Americans are notoriously fatter than the English. Not to be outdone, a bunch of American singers got together and recorded their own African famine relief tune. They called themselves USA for Africa - the USA officially stood for United Support of Artists, but after being excluded by the Brits everyone knew exactly what the USA really stood for.

To make a short story slightly longer, the song - which was not even almost as good as Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" - was a really big hit and sold a lot of copies. The combined success of both tracks was so impressive that a big concert was held, simultaneously here in the States and in London. All the big names showed up, Bowie and Jagger made a cheap video, people phoned in contributions, advertisers coughed up for commercial spots, and a mountain of money was made.

A lot of money. Loads of money. Heh.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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