SECTION ONE

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COLUMN EIGHTY-FOUR, FEBRUARY 1, 2003
(Copyright 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)

THE PRE-BEATLES POP ERA:
'THE DUMB SOUND'


CAROLE KING AND GERRY GOFFIN IN 1963
(Photo by John Lynch)

[The following, written for The Saturday Evening Post in August 1963, was trimmed down to fit in the pages of the magazine by Bill Ewald, one of the few editors whose genius we salute. Ewald's bosses had little regard for pop  music, however, and were delighted to be able to call what they printed, "The Dumb Sound."]

I.

Once upon a time, in an era during which some looked upon The Pop Record Business as black magic and others saw it as a fairy tale, a seventeen-year-old colored girl named Eva Boyd applied for a job that both she and her employers delicately agreed to refer to as baby-sitter. Under the conditions of her employment, she was to sleep-in, dust, polish, clean, pick up and otherwise maintain an apartment of five rooms and one toilet, but the title of her job, she still insists with a dark, fiery pride, was baby-sitter?at thirty-five dollars a week.

Whether condemned by the ossified as practitioners of black magic or whether characters in a new and emerging fairy tale, the girl's employers were sorcerers?a husband-and-wife team of sorc rers. They made magic by putting her music together with his words.

Right from the start, they enchanted their new baby-sitter.  While the lady of the house, a girl only two years the baby-sitter's senior, walked about the apart?ment bouncing her daughter to the rhythm of new melodies being born in her head, the baby-sitter dusted, polished, cleaned and picked up to the same bounce.  Sometimes she even learned the songs and sang them almost before her employers had finished writing them.

The lady of the house was Carole King and the baby-sitter was Eva Boyd. And one day, as Carole sat conjuring up a new tune, Eva went so far as to invent a dance to it.

"What you're doing reminds me of a locomotive!" exclaimed Carole's 22-year-old husband and songwriting partner. His name was Gerry Goffin and he'd been watching Eva dance.

Then, poof! In a cloud of smoke?because Gerry was chained to cigarettes?he used his magic wand?a pencil'to write words on a pad. Abracadabra! And lyrics appeared describing Eva's dance. Sorcerers Carole King and Gerry Goffin had just conjured up a song called The Loco-Motion.

Next, Abracadabra! Sorcerers Carole and Gerry turned Eva Boyd into Little Eva, a pop music princess. How? They took her to a studio and recorded her singing that very song, The Loco-Motion. The record sold more than a million copies, earning Eva Boyd approximately thirty thousand dollars, her own four-room apartment in Brooklyn and immortality in that chronicle of passing fancies, the record pop charts.

The Loco-Motion also earned her sorcerer employers, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Coffin, approximately half of the sixty thousand dollars they collected for their sorcery that year, enabling them to hire a baby-sitter to replace Eva Boyd.

II.

The moral of this fairy tale is that anybody can become a prince or a princess in The Pop Record Business if he's got the magic. He or she, that is. This is a fairy tale of zipper workers, golden gloves champions, dress rack pushers, schoolteachers, skin divers, plumbers, broncobusters, bus boys, waitresses, ninth grade pupils, and not just baby-sitters.

Into black magic or not, Adam Wade was working as a lab technician for Dr. Jonas Salk when a sorcerer friend asked for help in cutting a demo.  Cassius Clay was the top contender for the heavyweight boxing championship when Columbia Records signed him.  Brook Benton used to think up lyrics while driving a truck. Sometimes he'd double-park the truck outside a music publisher's office so he could rush upstairs with his latest creation. And Fabian, in one of the classic legends of this new and emerging fairy tale, was a duck-tailed juvenile when an aspiring manager heaven-bent on finding what the trade calls a "property," discovered Fabian sulking on a South Philadelphia stoop.

"Can you sing?"' the manager asked.

"No," Fabian replied.

"That's all right," said manager. "You look like a singer," and a singer is what Fabian became.

"The point," explains one record company executive, "is that outside of records, there are no other boulevards to success in show business.  A record is the last launching pad a kid has left if he wants to shoot for the stars.  Vaudeville died and nobody can even find the grave.  I think the nightclub business is buried in the same cemetery.  Burlesque went the way of all flesh, and that used to be a big spawning ground for talent.

'the Borscht Belt was Break-insville for more names than you can shake a marquee at, but now is only interested in big potatoes, name acts, stars.  And even in TV, the screen's becoming too small for new faces.  The weekly variety shows, outside of a few, are going the way of Vaudeville and burlesque.  And even if you want to get on a TV show, any producer worth his shades'the first question he asks a kid is "What you got on record? What records you got going for you?? In other words, the record business has become the quickest and surest way of breaking into show business itself."

Probably the most recent and outstanding example of just such a magical materialization is that of Little Peggy March, who has become certainly as big as Little Eva.

Once upon a time, in fact only several months ago, Little Peggy was a fourteen?-year-old freshman in the uniform of a Philadelphia parochial school, requiring special permission from the nuns every time she was hired to sing at a wedding.  She also, under Pennsylvania law, required a special guardian to collect her fees for her.

And, when she went shopping for a record contract with her guardian instead of her parents, a secretary at RCA Victor mistook her for an orphan. With the word "orphan" shooting into the secretary's heart, the secretary took it upon herself to force Little Peggy through the otherwise impenetrable door of two RCA Victor executives known as Hugo and Luigi, a team of record producers who claim to be so single-?minded in their musical efforts that they refuse to be photographed separately.

The outcome of this confrontation was a two-?minute and twenty-five-second recording of Little Peggy singing a song called I Will Follow Him, which climbed to the No. 1 position on the pop charts and stayed there for many enriching weeks. On the basis of this singular success, Little Peggy found herself the starring guest on two Perry Como TV shows, the object of an assault from Hollywood and the signatory of a promising contract with General Artists Corporation, one of the foremost talent agencies in show business.

She also was invited by RCA Victor to cut an entire album, now selling like the proverbial hotcakes that records so easily resemble?you throw a handful of vinyl into a much more complicated version of a waffle iron and?presto! There's your record.

Little Peggy was also booked on a concert tour of Europe, where I Will Follow Him again became No. 1. And where the Italians swore they would blow their TV tubes if Little Peggy didn't accept an offer to appear on them.

"And it all happened," says Little Peggy, her eyes wide in ninety-day wonderment, "in just three short months."

During that time, incidentally, Little Peggy grew three inches taller.

III.

The list of Little Peggys and Little Evas is as endless as the circumference of a turntable. Suddenly, becoming a Pop Record Business prince or princess is an easy way of becoming a movie king or queen.

"Take me, for instance," says Tony Scotti, a twenty-three-year-old former football star who has been trying for three years to break into pictures only to find himself doomed to an eternal career as a Broadway understudy.  "As an actor, I might have to work for years and years and maybe won't got discovered until late in life.  I want to be a film star, but I don't want to have to wait that long. My friends tell me I have a good voice, a good commercial sound.  So that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to start cutting records.  I'm going to sing my way into the movies."

The chief complaint in Hollywood is that The Pop Record Business has unlocked its gates to nothing more than an epidemic of acne, but then The Pop Record Business has changed Hollywood's complexion, too.  There's no longer a major movie studio that now doesn't own or is about to own a record company, except for Universal International, which somewhat compensates for this lack by being owned by Decca Records.

Fairy tale that it may be The Pop Record Business is still a business, and for every dollar and a half that the public spends for a movie ticket, it also spends an estimated fifty cents for a record.

In 1962, these fifty-cent pieces added up to a grand total of six hundred and fifty-one million dollars, which is another explanation of why a whole generation of stage-struck teenagers is now frantically engaged in recording demos ""dubs," the trade calls them?in such makeshift studios as cellars, attics, garages, gymnasiums, and penny arcade booths, where, for upwards of a quarter, any aspiring singer can have his voice handed back to him on an acetate platter.

"Of course," says disc jockey Scott Muni, one of the pop music purveyors on New York's radio station WABC, "those penny arcade recordings make it sound as if you're singing underwater but don't laugh.  One of the biggest hits around is something called Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport by Australian Rolf Harris, and the main gimmick on the record is a sound that sounds like a bathroom plunger."

The main gimmick on any pop record, in fact, is the sound.

'that's what the kids listen for," says Dick Clark of ABC's American Bandstand, who has been in the business of deciding what the kids listen for since 1957. "What interests them is new sounds,


The kids loved the sound of a record with lyrics they couldn't understand


different sounds. The more different, the more original, the more unique the sound is, the more chance a record stands of becoming a hit."

One of the sensations of the past few months, for example, has been a Japanese recording called Sukiyaki by a rock-and-roller named Sakamoto, billed as Japan's Bobby Darin.  According to a Pop Record Business legend too charming to contradict, a West Coast disc jockey played it on the air in the middle of one night just as a joke and then found himself deluged with requests to play it again.  The record, which had been No. 1 in Japan, quickly became No. 1 in the United States, where it was purchased by at least seven hundred and fifty thousand Americans who couldn't understand a single word of its lyrics.

Unfortunately, the new sounds that Clark says the kids listen for are sounds that many parents still interpret as nothing but noise.  There's even one company that's coined part of its profits by issuing recordings of sports car races and World War I airplanes. While the argument over what is sound and what is noise might lead to many a family disturbance, the Pop Record Business remains comparatively ruffled only by success. Except in those instances where the parents have cut off the kids' allowance.

IV.

Because the sounds of popular music are not designed for the parents, they are designed for the kids. Or, more specifically, for that girl at the counter of The Pop Record Business?a sometimes tomboyish and sometimes entirely feminine creature with an identity as vague as her years and as elusive as her tastes.

Billboard, one of the chief trade publications of the business, figures her to be about fourteen or fifteen years old.  Other market surveys show her to be thirteen and getting younger.  Time magazine describes her as "desperate, unhappy, twelve years old," adding, "She is cursed with the catastrophe of parents and her boy friends complete her misery by being too young to drive."

Desperate, unhappy, cursed, miserable and young as she might be, she still spent much of the one hundred and sixty-one million dollars that The Pop Record Business collected for the 210 million 45 r.p.m. 'singles? it sold last year. But she didn't buy ALL the 210 million. Adults dance to rock and roll, too. New York's WMCA claims almost half its listeners are adult. The adults say rock and roll makes them feel young again.

In other words, the young always come up with their own version of culture and rock and roll is, despite a number of hopeful obituaries, is entrenching itself rather than digging its own grave.

Rock and roll got its name from Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed, who became its champion after Bill Haley and his Comets? Rock Around The Clock electrified the kids of the world. Freed also lays claim to having been the first DJ to introduce to the airwaves a record by Chubby Checker describing a dance called The Twist.

'the Twist," says Freed, 'suddenly made rock and roll acceptable and respectable. And I think it's funny that the adults who made The Twist an "adult? dance are the same ones who used to go home and beat the hell out of their kids for doing exactly what they started doing themselves."

In addition to making cultural history, The Twist, or at least Chubby Checker's recording of it, also made history in The Pop Record Business. The record, first issued in the summer of 1960, quickly revolved its way to No. 1 on the pop record charts, elevated Checker to princehood in the fairy tale and then died a natural death.

But that was before the nation's adult population discovered The Twist. When it did, Parkway Records immediately resurrected the record and, a year after The Twist's demise, it was back on the charts again, climbing to the top. Chubby Checker's The Twist now remains as the only record in history to have lived a normal lifetime as No. 1 on the charts and then to have had a hereafter in that position.

Otherwise, The Twist as a dance can be done to most songs with a rock and roll beat. The patrons at such clubs as The Peppermint Lounge and The Wagon Wheel are still waiting in line to dance to it. They're also doing such footwork variations as The Chicken Back and The Wobble. Both of which have yet to be discovered by the nation's parents but which, nevertheless, help prove that rock and roll will long outlive the people who dismiss it.

V.

Every generation adds its own rung to the ladder of culture's unending climb to perfection. And from the preceding rung comes the cry:

"No! Stop! We've already reached perfection!"

America's great parental discovery of The Twist wasn't necessary to assure rock and roll its due place in American music.  It was the "adults? who put down Frank Sinatra's bobbysoxers, too. Now, the bobbysoxers are adults. Eternally, the world keeps dancing to new rhythms. Eternally, the lazy and unthinking insist on remaining hidebound to the past.

Dazzled by teenage culture's oneness with rock and roll, pundits in and out of The Pop Record Business also seem baffled by it. They call it a phenomenon and they try to analyze it. They theorize that rock and roll, with a throb that reaches openly for the libido, is a syndrome of the younger generation's reaction to impending thermonuclear annihilation.

They speculate that in a world where the life expectancy extends no further than tomorrow's headlines, youth's mass consciousness has decided that there's not enough time to spend dawdling with society's pretensions.  Life has become more basic for America's youth and so has the music?no matter what the name callers call it?"raunchy," "earthy," and even "dirty."

"If the establishment knew what today's popular music really is saying," explains one musician, "not what the words are saying, but what the music itself is saying'then they wouldn't just turn thumbs down on it, they'd ban it, they'd smash all the records and they'd arrest anyone who tried to play it."

VI.

American Popular music for the most part has always filtered into America's mainstream through a place that came to be known as Tin Pan Alley.

Originally, the home of the moon-and-June school of songwriting, Tin Pan Alley is not really an alley but actually it's a heart. The heart of a building. New York's legendary Brill Building. 1619 Broadway. Traditional home of the music publishing industry. Once ruled by balding men with cigars in their mouths, Tin Pan Alley is packed with so many kids, they've started calling it Teen Pan Alley. The Brill Building is where Carole King and Gerry Goffin got their start.

New York ranks first as America's musical capital. After New York and Los Angeles, Nashville ranks as America's third most important musical capital. So diversified an artist as Peggy Lee, one of the highest- ranked of the female jazz singers, records in Nashville and so does Connie Francis, born and bred in Newark, New Jersey.

"I always go to Nashville for my recording sessions," says Connie, "because you, can't get musicians like that anywhere else."

If there is a New York sound or a Los Angeles sound, or a Nashville sound, then every city has one. Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Boston'they all boast recording studios where their sounds are being born.

VII.

Even the so-called "majors," established record companies such as RCA Victor, Columbia, Capitol and Decca?at first they tried to ignore rock and roll. But now they've refurbished their offices with kids still in or barely out of their teens. Who knows what the kids want better than the kids themselves? The companies are hiring their recording stars as A&R men'the persons entrusted with finding and producing new talent.  

A twenty-one-year-old singer named Dion, for instance, is the new A&R man for Columbia. And five Brooklyn boys called The Tokens?with one of them still in high school, have been signed to produce records for Capitol. Executives there tell the story of how one of the Tokens jumped atop a desk and demanded:

"
Where's our money??

Kid stuff, eh?
 

VIII.

It's not really a fairy tale so much as it's a cultural revolution?a cultural revolution on the back of a technological revolution: the advent of the long-playing record.  Until 1948, when Columbia introduced the 33 1/3 r.p.m and RCA Victor countered with the 45 r.p.m., the recording industry con'sisted of the four majors that accounted for some 75 per cent of the total U.S. record production plus about two hundred independents, who split the remaining 25 per cent.  Today there are about five thousand labels with new ones going into business or going out of it at the rate five or six a week. Anyone with three hundred dollars can put out a record and, if it's a hit, his investment can bring him a return of many thousands.

It was the success of the rock and roll independents and one-shot labels that forced the majors into plunge into The Pop Record Business. Because, along with a technological revolution, there came a revolution in the merchandising of records and a revolution in radio programming.

In merchandising, the sale of records no longer was confined to record shops but soon spread to supermarkets, drug stores and. dis?count houses.  In radio, the station managers decided that if consumers were spending all that money to listen to pop records on their phonographs then they might rather want to listen to them free on the air.  And in the music business, the publishers found that not a lot of people were buying sheet music any more.

In the old days, music salesmen were called song-pluggers. A song-plugger visited successful singers, sat down at a piano and sang the song that the song-plugger's song-publishing boss wanted the song-plugger to plug. Came this revolution, and song-pluggers were out of a job. Today, songs are brought to hit singers on a platter'the aforementioned demo or dub.

According to old-timers in the music business, several music publishers, faced, with vanishing sheet music sales and not content with the prospect of existing performance royalties alone, decided to produce records in their final forms and then try to sell the master tapes to record companies for distribution.  Other music publishers soon began to follow that pattern on a limited scale, but it was left to a young and patently unsuccessful songwriter named Donnie Kirshner to develop the technique to a point that really revolutionized the business.

IX.

Today, at twenty-nine, Kirshner is hailed as 'the Man With The Golden Ear."  He also has a Midas Touch. Almost everything he tries ends up a success. The son of a Bronx tailor who seemed to make it largely on unemployment checks, Kirshner only several months ago sold his music company to Columbia Pictures for more than three million dollars.  As part of deal, he also became executive vice president of Columbia Pictures and all its subsidiaries at a salary of one hundred thousand dollars a year.  Now he lives in a two hundred and twenty-five-thousand-dollar palace in suburban New Jersey, complete with a hi-fi system hooked up to a jukebox in almost every room.

There were several ingredients for Kirshner's success, not the least of them being a personal touch as golden as his ear. But the most important ingredient has been his uncanny ability to determine what lyrics and what tune and what sound will make a hit record.

"Donnie Kirshner is responsible for putting intelligence back into lyrics," says Bobby Darin.  "Donnie took music with a beat and insisted on writing words to it with much more body and depth than anybody had been doing.  The funny thing is he's not even a musician, and yet he has a fantastic ear, probably the greatest ear in the business.  Last year alone, he produced forty-one records that ended up in the 'Top Ten," 80 per cent of them written by his staff."

It was by teaming up with Darin, as a matter of fact, that Kirshner got his start in the music business.  Kirshner was twenty-one.  Darin was nineteen. They met over a couple of egg creams in a Washington Heights candy store.

"I was a big man in the neighborhood because I had a publisher's contract for a song I wrote," Kirshner remembers. 'that's all I had was a contract, the song never went anyplace.  I didn't even know what lyrics were. But Bobby, he became the brother I never had. He could sing, he could play instruments, he could act, he could do everything that I couldn't do that I wished I could.  I used to split my allowance with him."

Together, they tried writing jingles for radio commercials, with Kirshner lugging a tape recorder from store to store, trying to market their handiwork.

"We couldn't sell a thing!" Kirshner says.  "We couldn't get arrested."

Then, after helping Darin in his race to stardom, Kirshner aligned himself with an older musician named Al Nevins to establish his own music publishing business, eventually called Aldon Music.

"I used to go around to these other publishers and they used to tell me, 'You'll never be any


Kirshner was
less of a songwriter
and more of an editor


good,?" Kirshner says.  "But whenever they turned down one of my songs, I wanted to know why, and they couldn't tell me. I knew they didn't have the ears, I knew they were wrong, I knew they were bluffing.  I knew I was better than they were. I know I bad the knack of picking hits, and I'd tell them, "Well I'll show you, I'll be a bigger publisher than you.""

Actually, Kirshner concedes that his own songwriting talents were less than notable.

"I was more of an editor," he says.  "I could take someone else's material and see what was wrong with it, rewrite it, fix up the story line.  The material is the most important thing.  More important than the artist is the song'the material and the proper interpretation.

"I believe a great song is basically a great idea, a message.  I don't think today's music is 'junk' songs or rock and roll, per se. People buy feels, ideas, sounds. They want a great story line, a fresh melody line."

As a publisher, Kirshner vowed he would not treat other songwriters the same way that he had been treated by publishers.  Instead, he accepted and encouraged almost every songwriter who walked through the door of his two-desk office until today he has forty-five of the leading pop music composers in the country under contract to him, the largest so-called "stable" in the business. Even Paul Anka, who himself now heads his own million-dollar music venture, has joined Kirshner's group to write songs in collaboration with Howie Green?field, a twenty-seven-year-old former messenger boy whose lyrics earned him seventy thousand dollars last year.

Kirshner's dynamism in the music business actually has carried him far beyond his original goal.  As a music publisher, he became an independent record producer, the first to sell master tapes to the major record companies. And as an independent record producer, he established his own independent record company, Dimension Records.

"In the same way that I found a lot the old music publishers were wrong, I found a lot of the A&R men at the record companies were wrong," Kirshner says.  "I would have a hit record standing there and they would turn it down.  Some of my demos were good enough to be masters, and they would still turn them down."

Little Eva's recording of The Loco-Motion, for example, originally was intended as a demonstration record to try to interest Dee Dee Sharp in singing it. A record by an established recording star like Dee Dee would always stand a better chance of becoming a hit simply because she has at least a better chance of getting airplay and a promise of minimum sales among her fans. Dee Dee Sharp already had won her wings as a princess in the fairy tale.

"But when Donnie heard Eva's demo," says Gerry Goffin "he said, "Why go any further? That's it!?? The record sold a million on Donnie's Dimension label.

X.

It wasn't long before Kirshner's example as both a music publisher and an independent record producer began to be imitated on wholesale scale within the industry and the majors have begun to fear that they will lose their original purpose and become nothing more than distributors.

'that's why companies like Columbia and Capitol are signing up these young producers like Dion and the Tokens," says Ed Burton, a veteran in the publishing business.  "And anyway, these artists don't mind turning into A&R men because producing has become the most lucrative part of the field."

Bob Crewe, for example, is a hit singer, an expert photographer, an accomplished interior decorator, a handsome acting student, a respected painter and a successful songwriter, but he has found that the bulk of his income comes from producing records. Which he does under the trade name of Genius Incorporated.

Even Bobby Darin abandoned his personal appearance tours to establish his own record-producing firm, with deep-carpeted offices in the Brill Building.

To the highly appalled entrenched, the spectacle of all these kids making millions from what the entrenched considered nothing but noise resembled little more than a gang of teenagers playing kick-the-can in church. When The Tokens produce a Chiffons record in an $80-an-hour studio, it turns out to be not so much a recording session but five boys and four girls having a party. The entrenched didn't go for that kind of expensive horseplay. As for the The Tokens, they agree with Donnie Kirshner that some record company A&R men know too little and get paid too much.

"Like, in August of 1962, we produced a record with The Chiffons called He's So Fine," says twenty-one-year-old Philip Margo, a member of the group.  "First of all Capitol turned it down.  They wrote us a letter to tell us how bad it stunk.  Then Victor turned it down, Columbia turned it down, ABC-Paramount turned it down. The master stayed in the can for six months before a small, independent company named Laurie took it. The record ended up on the charts for fifteen weeks.  It was No. I for four weeks."

XI.

Although singers and musicians seem the most natural choices as A&R men, a technical knowledge of music is not necessary to go into the business, as proved by Kirshner.  Another example is twenty-six-year-?old Nick Venet, whose musical training is that of a listener. Beginning when, as a five-year-old boy, he used to sit next to the jukebox in his father's Baltimore diner.  With a sixth-grade education, Venet is now an independent producer under contract to Capitol, which pays him a base salary in the vicinity of fifty thousand dollars a year, a two per cent royalty on every record he sells and a yearly budget of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

"Do you want to know about the record business?" says Venet. "It's a business where you can start out with nothing, a twenty-dollar bill, and a couple of months later, with a certain knowledge of what you're dealing with and with a lot of luck, you can be a millionaire.

"In other words, it's a get-rich-quick business, it's a crap game.  You can also lose your shirt.  It's a business where you have to be a genius, even a magician?because, look!  It's the only business in the world where you have to sell a product that they can hear it for free for months and months and you can still make them plunk down their money for it. You have to a magician to make them do that."

Abracadabra! Venet has produced several million dollars' worth of pop hits for Capitol. Venet also impressed his colleagues with what he found out when asked to learn why hit records that might have sold a million copies at one time were beginning to sell no more than seven hundred and fifty thousand.  Because of the influx of inexpensive Japanese transistor radios, that's why, he said.  The kids were finding it cheaper to listen to records on the radio.

"The record businesses," Venet says, "is where you can take a group like The Beach Boys and in eighteen hours they become stars.  I found them, they had made one record on a one-shot label.  It had been a local hit, but all they got for it was a thousand dollars. This happens a lot of times in the business.  A group walks into some small company, makes a record, it sells, the guys who own the company splits with the loot, the company goes bankrupt and the group doesn't even end up with union scale.

"Eighteen hours after I found them, I A&R'd them in a session, we produced a record called Surfin' U.S.A. and it was a smash.  So right away, they became stars, they started talking big money, their hats couldn't fit on their heads.

"When I found them, it was 'Mr. Venet this' and 'Mr. Venet that.' Eighteen hours later, you can't even talk to them, you've got to talk to their manager.  What they don't realize is that?well, take The Weavers, The Letterman and The Kingston Trio.  They're like copper, bronze and gold. The Beach Boys? They're plastic!  That's what so much of the record business is, it's plastic.  Copper, bronze and gold, it lasts a long, long time.  Plastic, you keep it around for a while and then you throw it out."

XII.

A swelled head is an occupational hazard in the music business. As a singer's record climbs the charts, so does the singer's ego climb. Sometimes the singer's ego keeps climbing long after the record has flopped.                       

"It's like, wait'll they hear about room service," says another old-timer. 'they come in, they're still in their teens, they're scuffling. They're so nice and polite and grateful.  They cut a record and to push it, they go out on record hops with disc jockeys and do 'lip synchs'?in other words, the jock will play their record at a teenage dance and they'll move their lips and make believe they're singing it.  They don't get paid for these appearances, it's all part of the promotion for the record, but they're glad as hell to be out there.

"And then the record starts moving up on the charts and they start making a little loot and they're booked into clubs on the strength of the record and they start to travel and they stay at good hotels and then they find out about room service.

'then they want to know why they didn't got paid for the lip synchs and they ought to have as good a contract as Ray Charles and they want their own music publishing company and if the contract doesn't allow it they start their own music publishing company anyway and they start writing songs under different names to evade the contract.

"And the guys who discovered them and got them started are bums and exploiters living off their fat.  Talk about room service.  There was one fourteen?-year-old kid who was booked into a top New York nightclub after he got a couple of hit records going for him.  So he's up in the dressing room and he starts screaming 'I want broads! Bring me broads!"

So these jerks around him, what do they do? After all, he's a star now, so they bring him broads."

XIII.

"The old-time songwriters like Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen sit there collecting their ASCAP royalties, saying, "Wait till melodic music comes back,?" says Barry Mann, the twenty-four-year-old composer of some five hundred songs, thirty of them hits since he gave up his aspirations as an architect.

"Well, melodic music the way they mean melodic music isn't coming back, not the way they used to write it.  I don't want to knock Cahn and Van Heusen because they're great writers.  But I do knock them for knocking rock and roll.  What the Sammy Cahns and the Jimmy Van Heusens don't realize is that it's harder for us?it's harder for the average songwriter today to write a good commercial song than it was for them in their day.  These old-time songwriters put down rock and roll'they say it isn't music.  But let me see them try to write it.  I could write music the way they wrote it, but could they write it the way I do? I'd be able to do both, but they don't understand it."

Mann himself started out to be a recording star. Now he hopes to write a Broadway musical.

"I guess that's the dream of every songwriter,"' he says.

With his twenty-two-year-old lyricist wife, Cynthia Weil, Mann has written a string of hits that includes On Broadway and Uptown, both of which have been acclaimed by music critics such as Ralph Gleason, who thinks that the 'top-Forty" on the pop record charts ought to be recognized as the folk music of today.  

Many of the lyrics in popular contemporary music deal, in fact, with social issues that might seem to be far beyond the comprehension of a twelve-year-old love-struck girl.  Detroit City, for instance, is the story of poor white southerners who have migrated to Detroit to work on the assembly line. Spanish Harlem deals with the congestion and squalor of that particular New York ghetto.  Blowin' in The Wind is a lament over the way things are in this age of the H-Bomb. And the words for Uptown, which is the way black New Yorkers refer to Harlem, was inspired by Cynthia Weil's image of a dress rack pusher in the Garment District.
 
He gets up each morning and he goes downtown,
Where everyone's his boss and he's lost in an angry land.
He's a little man.
But he comes uptown each evening to my tenement,
Uptown where folks don't have to pay much rent,
And when he's there with me
He can see
That he's everything.
Then he's tall,
He's so tall,
He's a king,
Downtown he's just one, of a million guys.
He don't get no breaks and he takes all they've got to give,
Cause, he's got to live.
But then he comes uptown where be can hold his head up high.
Uptown he knows that I'll be standing by.
And when I take his hand
There's no man
Who can put him down.
The world is sweet,
It's at his
feet,
When he's uptown.*
(* Courtesy of Screen Gems-Columbia Music Inc.)

XIV.

"As a matter of fact," says disc jockey Scott Muni, "the only other thing besides the sound that can possibly sell a record is the story line. A good story line, a good set of lyrics, can overcome even a mediocre sound and make the record a hit."

The story lines of the majority of pop records don't, of course, concern integration, poverty and war.  In its effort to cater to that teen girl at the record store counter, The Pop Record Business to a great extent tries to capture what it calls "the teen feel," and there also are songs with lyrics much closer to her heart such as:

I've waited so long for school to be through
Paula, I can wait no more for you

Or

My name is Oliver Cool
I'm the most swingingest boy in school,

"The 'teen feel,"' says lyricist Goffin, whose idol is Lorenzo Hart and who shudders at lyrics like My name is Oliver Cool, "is a term used to describe a small amount of hit records that sneak into the Top Ten. When I write, I don't consciously try to appeal to the kids, but I try not to exclude them. If the lyrics are too clever without having any soul, then they make a song sound insincere and phony and the kids recognize it right away."

XV.

A better term than 'teen feel," perhaps, is what is known in The Pop Record Business as 'the dumb sound."

"'the dumb sound,?? explains one record company executive, "is the teenage sound, the kid


Fabricating
the
'Dumb Sound'


sound, the sound that lets a kid identify with a record because it sounds like himself, it's innate, it's natural, it's real.  It doesn't have that technical perfection which, in older music, can sound so glib without any heart, without any soul.

"Oh, sure, there's a lot of fabrication the business, people trying to fabricate the dumb sound, people trying to fabricate a lot of sounds.  Even a good singer like Connie Francis sometimes comes out with a fabricated sound. For instance, she's not a country artist.  But she sings songs with a country beat'songs written, incidentally, by writers in New York?and she records in Nashville, and her records go to No. 1 on the country music charts, but it's not real country, it's fabricated."

Some analysts in The Pop Record Business feel that the true dumb sound is a quality attainable only by youth, accounting for the abbreviated longevity of recording stars. By getting on in years, a singer simply outgrows the dumb sound and its audience. Mitchell Margo, who started singing with The Tokens when he was twelve, once complained to a record company executive, for example:

"You know I'm getting so good it's beginning to scare me.  We keep playing and practicing so much that we're really getting good on our instruments."

"Dumb? in musician's hip talk also means great. To the more cultivated ear, the dumb sound is something less than smart.  Although pop music is becoming chic and acceptable in some intellectual circles, the main tendency is to equate pop songs in music with comic books in literature.  This creates some paranoia among the more serious composers in the pop music field. They sometimes take time out from their intensity to laugh at themselves.

"A lot of these guys don't know what they're doing," says singer-songwriter Hank Ballard. "They sit down and write a song in two minutes, but they don't know what they're saying, it's just a lot of silly words."

Barry Mann once even wrote and recorded a satire of pop music called Who Put The Bomp In The Bomp Bomp Bomp? The record rose to No. 5 on the charts. Another time, he satirized himself by recording another of his songs, I'm a Teenage Has-Been.

"I started getting letters from fans," he recalls, "saying, 'Oh, Barry, you're not a has-been, we still love you, you're still a star to us."

XVI.

Pop records may very well be the comic books of American music, but even such characters as The Shadow and Captain Marvel have made it to the higher echelons of literature. The fairy tale has already given Ray Charles and Elvis Presley to American culture and there are prodigious talents on the way. One is Timi Yuro, a twenty-two-year-old singer who started out as a waitress in her mother's Los Angeles spaghetti restaurant, who has had eleven years of voice training, who originally studied opera and who is especially prized in The Pop Music Business because she sounds like a black girl.

"Many artists in the pop field are Negro," explains one record company executive. "Call it a subconscious desire for miscegenation in America's psyche if you like, but blacks have become the dominant sellers of records.  With Timi, they deliberately set out to give her a black sound, but she can sing anything."

Signed as a pop singer by Liberty Records, she became so disgusted, with the material she had to sing that she stormed into a meeting of Liberty executives, confronted the president and exclaimed:

"I'm Timi Yuro and I want my contract back! All you've given me to sing is horrible rock and roll and you haven't even released a single one of my records."

At this point, the president, Al Bennett asked her to come into his office.

"OK, Timi," he said, 'tell me what you want to sing."

Unaccompanied, she then burst into the first six words of an old ballad called Hurt. She recorded it two days later and in three weeks it began a climb to the Top Ten of the pop charts.

Another example is Barbara Lewis, who sounds black because she is black and has a voice that could easily transcend the pop field to reach more esoteric audiences?especially those that buy albums instead of singles. Not only does she have the same distinct and original manner of creating music as, say, Ray Charles, but, at the age of nineteen, she also sings with technical perfection, a little of the vibrato and a hint of the emotion present in the more established female stars. She also caresses her lyrics, all written by herself, in the manner that made someone say of Sinatra:

"He really believes those silly little words he's singing."

A newcomer to the fairy tale, Barbara is the daughter of a mother and father who were both bandleaders and who are elated to Sheldon Brooks, who wrote Darktown Strutters? Ball and Some of These Days. A native of Detroit, she began writing songs when she was nine but really intended to become a nurse.

"Her first hit was Hello, Stranger," says Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records, which has Barbara Lewis under contract. "As soon as we heard it, we knew it was going to be a smash. But the funny thing is the record was out three months before it started doing anything. We had difficulty getting radio exposure, but as soon as it got some air time, it went right to the Top Ten on the charts."

XVII.

Stardom in the record business is often as fleeting as the record itself.

"If a record is over two minutes and fifteen seconds long, its radio exposure will be cut by 50 per cent," explains RCA Victor's Robert Yorke. "We've got to get radio exposure to sell a record, and with today's tight programming, the disc jockeys can't play anything too much longer than that."

According to estimates by radio station librarians, between two hundred and three hundred new singles are issued each week, all of them competing for the air time necessary to stimulate sales. Because most stations don't have enough programming time to introduce more than fifteen or twenty records each week, record companies sometimes have to resort to what the trade calls "payola" to induce a disc jockey to play a release.

Payola consists of expensive gifts, free records or outright bribes, and it is also used in attempts to influence the various trade surveys that determine which records are selling well enough to deserve a place on the pop charts. The charts themselves have become buying guides for record consumers, and, with some record departments refusing to stock any singles except those in the Top Forty, a place on the charts is itself a guarantee of sales.

"For every step a record goes up on our charts," says Tom Noonan, research director for Billboard, 'the manufacturer can count on an additional two thousand sales."

By 1960, the accusations of payola had become so widespread that a congressional committee launched an investigation that ended with commercial bribery indictments against a number of disc jockeys and federal restraint decrees against some fifty record companies, including the majors. 

Since then, many radio stations have tried to eliminate the opportunity for payola by prohibiting any individual disc jockey from choosing what new records he will play.  Instead, on many stations the new records are chosen by the vote of all the disc jockeys on the station staff.  Other radio stations have tried to eliminate payola by simply refusing to play any records at all except those in the Top Forty, a fact that has further reduced the opportunity to 'break" a new record.

"These Top Forty stations, these formula stations, they're playing it cagey," says B. Mitchell Reed, WMCA's staccato-tongued disc jockey, known to his fans as Your Leader. "They wait and see what the other stations are doing before they do any'thing.  Up until recently, New York was that way, too.  Six or seven years ago, New York had 10 per cent of the market.  A record had to happen in New York before it could happen in the rest of the country.

"In those days, there were what you call 'regional' hits?a record would break in a certain part of the country and nowhere else and it would stay there.  The West Coast was so far behind that it took three or four months for a record to get over the Rockies.  Today all the stations watch what the other stations are doing, and if it happens in Detroit or Chicago or Philadelphia, which are all big record-breaking centers, or if it happens in any other section of the country, then it'll happen in New York, too.

"Now we're breaking records in New York again and the other stations are watching us. The New York market is down to seven or eight per cent, but it's going back up again."

In any event, payola continues to thrive in various old and new forms.

"Listen," says one record company executive, "business is business, whether it's the record business or any other business.  Take some guy who's a DJ on a small station in Oshkosh or somewhere.  It's like putting a key in the door.  He only makes a hundred and twenty?-five dollars a week, and if he breaks a record for you, you stand to make hundreds of thousands.  So you give him fifty dollars."

XVIII.

In addition to having princes and princesses, then, the fairy tale has its ogres.  It also has its witches, its jesters, its elfenfolk and its gremlins.  Lou Christie, for instance, claims to go into a s?ance with a Pittsburgh gypsy in order to write his songs.  Drowned out by the sound of riveting while at a New York recording session, Perry Como had to walk to the construction site next door to appeal personally to the workers to lay down their tools. Cashbox, another trade publication, once printed a record review that mistook Donnie Elbert, a boy vocalist, for a girl. And, on another occasion, it hailed the "comeback" of a recording star that happened to be all of seventeen years old at the time.

"There's nothing deader than a dead rock and roll singer," says Gloria Stavers, Editor of 16, a fan magazine.

Often, a record company will try out a singer under a new name after he has flopped several times under his real name.  And when The Chiffons recorded their second song, it sounded so different from their first that their producers, The Tokens, decided to release the record under an alias, calling the group The Four Pennies.

'there's no parallel in this business except possibly the produce business," says Robert Yorke. "Because their produce spoils in approximately a week, and if we're not on the market when our head of lettuce is ripe, then nobody wants it."

XIX.

Stardom often lasts only as long as youth.

"You see them coming from the cities, mostly groups off the streets, hanging around Tin Pan Alley on Broadway near the Brill Building," says Phil Specter, the twenty-three-year-old owner of Philles Records.  "They're usually between sixteen and nineteen, usually Negro, anxious to record, anxious to make a hit.  A singer doesn't last long, three years, maybe?Presley's the exceptional phenomenon.  A group, you can keep it sustained close to three years if you handle it properly."

Spector has kept one group sustained simply by owning its name.  The group is the Crystals, which keeps coming up with hits even though it has experienced several changes in membership.

"One reason the groups disappear," Specter says, "is that they record on one-shot labels and the labels disappear.  A one-shot label usually has trouble getting paid from the distributors, so it goes bankrupt and everybody ends up in court.  And the artists are signed up at a very, very low rate cause they're right off the street, and before you know it, there's lawyers and a mother and the artists are unhappy and they break up.

'take the group I was in, The Teen Age Teddy Bears. We had a No. 1 record four weeks, To Know Him Is To Love Him, a typical rock and roll song. I wrote it and sold the master for forty dollars to a label and the record sold over two million. I received a writer's royalties of twenty, twenty-five thousand dollars, but I could have gotten another thirty or forty thousand dollars as a producer.  Well, the same things broke us up as everyone. Stardom, money, it goes to your head?pride, the label cheating on you."

Specter, with long hair and an Assyrian beard, owns a company that does two million dollars worth of business a year. But Spector is not the best example of what happens to a member of a group that disappears.

"What happens to them?" says Jerry Wexler, executive vice president of Atlantic Records.  "They just disappear. We had one group'the Chords'that had a hit record for us in l955 or 1956.  It was called Sh-boom. It was No. 1. But of all their subsequent records, none sold. Now, I think one is a house painter, one is a pants presser, one is writing songs and one is trying to get back into the business as a singer."

No matter how many princes and princesses The Pop Record Business creates, a fairy tale is no more than a fairy tale.  Or, as Wexler puts it:

"Do you know how many kids there are in this business who make a record or a dozen records and nobody even heard of them?  Or how many kids there are who make a hit record that sells for a few weeks, and then they disappear?  There are thousands.  You can't even remember the names after a while.  They're here today and gone tomorrow."

To which Donnie Kirshner adds somewhat wistfully:

"These kids, they love to sing, they don't care about money.  When they do make money, they blow it.  What happens to them when they drop out of sight?  They go home, they find jobs.  Around their block and in their neighborhood, though, they're stars, they're still important.  They once made a record, maybe a couple, maybe even had a hit or two.  But it's a flash-in-the pan type of glory.  Inside they're empty, they're never satisfied to go back to that kind of existence.  They're always regretful they never were able to make it or keep on making it."  

The point is that The Pop Record Business may be a fairy tale but not everybody in it lives happily ever after. ##


OLD FRIENDS AL ARONOWITZ (LEFT) AND
GERRY GOFFIN AT GERRY'S WEDDING|
TO MICHELLE CONAWAY IN 1995

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