Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Johnny Cash and friends vs The Record Industry

This is an archive piece written and posted on LiveJournal in 2006, albeit slightly edited and re-published in 2013: 

How high's the water mama?
I watched the Johnny Cash biopic last night entitled "Walk The Line" and that song didn't even make an appearance: "Five Feet High and Rising".

I didn't know that June Carter was such a tough nut to crack - she didn't want to have a bar of poor old Johnny for ages! I have to applaud him for his tenacity. I would have given up ages ago if it was me, no matter how great the girl was.

The thing that struck me though was, and like the Ray Charles biopic I saw last week, is how clueless record company execs can be. Columbia Records didn't see any merit in Johnny recording a live album at a prison. The "Live at Folsom Prison LP" turned out to be his biggest selling record ever, closely followed by its sequel "Johnny Cash at San Quentin". These are the same people who didn't see any faith in releasing Dave Brubeck's landmark 1959 LP "Time Out" because it wasn't "commercial" enough. Those bean-counters were eating their words when that album became the first ever jazz LP to chart in Billboard top 40 LPs and the first jazz album to spawn a hit single ("Take Five"). Go figure.

History is littered with stories like these. Around the same time as Johnny was arguing with Columbia's record execs, they passed on signing Frank Zappa and the Mothers.

We all know the story of the Beatles being snubbed by Decca in London in 1962. They were so annoyed with their decision they signed the Rolling Stones immediately after hearing their demo.

Ray Charles had the same problem. Atlantic didn't want to release "What'd I Say" as a single because it was over 6 minutes long. When they did, it was a massive hit - the biggest in the company's history.

Same deal with James Brown and his landmark album "Live at the Apollo" - the record company vetoed the idea. James funded the recording himself and it was the biggest selling LP record of his career (and it still is).

I wonder if these experiences have hardened the record company people now so that they don't take any risks on new talent or new ideas. Maybe that's why a lot of modern music on the radio sucks and all the good stuff is on the internet or on indie labels that get no media coverage. 

Or maybe i'm a curmudgeon. I dunno. Meh. Bah humbug. Turn the record over...

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