In 1980 Pink Floyd had the number one album “The Wall” and the number one single “Another Brick in the Wall, According to the book Hit Men: “Pink Floyd opened the Wall tour in Los Angeles. Given the mad scramble for concert tickets, the barrage of media attention, and the undiminished sales strength of the Wall album, one might have expected Los Angeles stations to flood the airwaves with ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’ But for some mysterious reason, L.A.’s four big Top 40 stations, which collectively had over 3 million listeners, refused to play the song at all. It was nothing less than a blackout” Why? Because Columbia Records wouldn’t pay for play with the big boys and the radio stations wouldn’t play them.
That’s from a non-fiction book about record promotion called “Hit men”. I’m sure there are a million stories just like it. In the UK -where selling 10K copies can get you in the Top ten and so lotsa radio and TV play there is an infamous story of the record company buying up copies of The Pretenders so the album would chart.
Money corrupts, power corrupts, rock and roll is corrupt to the depths of its soul. From day one black blues songwriters had to give up their song royalties to record execs. Hell, white rock and country songwriters were giving up theit song royalties to the Alan Freeds of the world so there songs could be recorded. These guys, some a generation removed from slavery, were writing songs and being ripped off from the get go. Even the people who should have known better, even Chess records were taking other people’s works and stealing them. Chuck Berry should be the riches man on earth, it is baffling that the Beatles didn’t pay him rpyalties for “Back In The USSR”.
So at the start of rock and roll black men were being stolen from by white businessmen. As the business continued and radio play became more and more important black men were being stolen from by white DJs, further along everybody was paying record pushers to pay off radio stations for everybody. As radio lost its influence, the obvious arm of corruption was mooted to a degree.
But corruption was still around. I have been sneering at Rolling Stone for giving false reviews to big stars. This is corruption at its heart and its hard to sideswiped and endemic in the business. Bad boy rock critics might have sneered at the mechanism of the record promoter but even if Lester Bangs (patron saint of rock critics) wrote what he believed to be the truth about rock bands he has been invited to listen to at junkets in Las vegas, just by him mentioning the name of a band he wouldn’t have reviewed he has been corrupted. This is a sort of quantum theory of music reviewing: we corrupt the music by reviewing the music. A month or so ago I wrote a negative review of a live performance by a band I like a lot, Los Campesinos. In the give and take in the comments section I was told to start writing about bands and just listen. My reply is: the unexamined music is not worth listening to. But the guy was right and I was wrong. By examining music I love I am corrupting music I love… by judging I am, at least for me, changing the music I am writing about.
From time to time I get freebies from PR agencies and my name on guest lists. I, myself, would either not write about if I didn’t like, or write positively if I did like, bands I am invited to see. It is simple good manners but it is also a corruption. Forger about RS giving 5 stars to piece of crap albums by U2, the Stones, Springsteen. What choice does Wenner have? He is so deeply in bed with these cats he has no choice but to fellate them. Springsteen’s manager began his career writing for RS. Where are the lines drawn. And me… my ambitions, silly as they might be, is to turn my blog into a website. How can I start a fight with the business even if I want to.
Rock mags, AP’s and Pitchforks, rely on advertising from the record companies. They’re fucked. And even smaller mags are doing the same thing in a tiny pond.
Let’s define our term: corruptness: lack of integrity or honesty (especially susceptibility to bribery); use of a position of trust for dishonest gain putrescence: in a state of progressive putrefaction. If I say I like music and I really don’t like it, I’m corrupt. If I play music at a radio station that I don’t like, am I corrupt? What about itunes? Who decides what is “hot”? Who at itunes knows enough about music to do so. When I say Itunes don’t know a damn thing about music, Itunes say they are somewhere between a warehouse and a retail outlet, but when they are tipping songs, tipping players and thereby influencing purchases, how are they making that decision?
Is the relationship between record company and itunes not unlike, say, Casablanca Records, making the rounds of the radio stations with cash and cocaine in the seventies. We are know that the new Beyonce will be
hot but why is the freebie La Roux? Is somebody paying somebody for it and if the decision is financial and not due to intrinsic value, than shouldn’t it be noted somewhere?
If rock isn’t corrupt what is it? If a band with four sold concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and the # 1 album and the single in the country can be black balled off L.A. radio, where does the business in business end. Columbia folded and paid off the radio stations and all four stations immediately began playing the song. The rock business is a business and it’s not meant for the faint of heart it is meant for what Lennon called “the biggest bastards in the business”. A friend of mine just won a ton of money from a court case and the rate people had their hand in her pocket was repulsive, it stinks, and it is no different, it might be worse, in the music biz, for every sharp shooter like Mick Jagger there is a thousand idiots like MC Hammer going into bankruptcy at the flip of a switch. Rock is made to the “young generation” but it is really Columbia in the 60s saying “They can’t bust out music”. They? Ours?
Punk is romanticised because punk worked outside the system but money corrupts at its core and from the black blues singers of the 40s and 50s thru the punks of the 70s to the alt rockers of the 00s, drugs, sex and money are changing them the way they write music and respond to music just the same as simply reviewing music changes the way I respond to music. I stopped writing about music for twenty years because I thought it was counter productivity to spend my life judging stuff and now… now I write about music because I think I know a lot about it but I still feel just by looking at it I corrupt it and I corrupt myself.
There are two things that should be, if not beyond reproach than at least reproachful in a different way, they are religion and pop music. Good luck with that.
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