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Love For Sale

Pop Music In America

David Hajdu

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Lovin' Spoonful named after a line in a song by John Hurt (he was referring to semen).

Early 1963 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, already stars in Britain but not yet world famous, visited the Rolling Stones at a recording session. They showed the Stones a scrap of a song that Paul had started called I Wanna Be Your Man. They said they liked it, then watyched in awe as Lennon and McCartney retreated to a corner of the room to finish the song. Then they realised that they too, should be writing their own material.

A public persona is what performing artists perform - not something to be criticized; it's their job. Bob Dylan was a master of many different personas. Started out as a rocker in high school, and then essentially just evolved faster than most of his audience. From folk rock protester to lighter pop to country then to gospel, until (finally?) to a 2015 album at age of 73 of Frank Sinatra style crooners.

John Lennon a similar changeling, consciously writing songs for different audiences - from light pop to self expression.

It was a transformation over the sixties, from groups performing songs crafted by pro writers to the expectation that if you didn't write your own tunes, you weren't proper artists.

Tom Jones might be one of the few successes who just performed and never wrote.

Until the early 50's, everyone recorded new music - seemed no point in recording stuff that had already been popular, bc everybody had already bought it. But as LPs became popular, producers started looking for more material to fill them. So they came up with the idea of The Great American Songbook: new versions of songs from past. Frank Sinatra one of early pioneers - all his albums have "fillers" of songs from old movies or shows.

Paul McCartney was stunned by BB's Pet Sounds album - both the inventiveness of the concept, and the sophistication of the music, especially bass guitar playing. He thought that was Brian Wilson but in fact it was Carole Kaye playing.

Beatles, of course, produced Sgt Pepper as a response. Rolling Stone voted it best album of all time. It was originally intended to be a story album - the life of Sgt Pepper - but so many diversions that Beatles eventually changed the concept to "as the Sgt Pepper band we don't have to be the Beatles; we can be anyone we like - the BB or Stockhausen or whoever. (It was left to the little known Pretty Things to produce S.F. Sorrow as first child-adult-oldie life cycle album.

In space of less than 5 years the subject matter of pop music went from simple songs about everyday people to grandiose projects about everything - God included (Jesu Christ Superstar).

Disco not an aberration but a return to the norm of public music being for dancing rather than for passive consumption. But also disco came at the same time, and helped enable, the great gay coming out. Gays could dress and dance flamboyantly as part of a community.

MTV reckoned that the film A Hard Days Night was first music video, and the director, Richard Lester, should be regarded as the father of MTV. (He wrote to them demanding a paternity test).

In 1980 Mike Nesmith started a company building a catalog of video clips for a cable TV series he was producing which would just show music videos. (Backed by his mother, inventor of Liquid Paper, the white-out typing aid.) The CEO of Warner thought it was a great idea and tried to buy company but Nesmith refused. So Warner started their own channel, MTV. Problem that the TV company thought they were running a 'radio with pictures' and so expected the record companies to provide them with clips for free, while the record companies saw MTV as a TV channel and wanted them to pay for the content.

MTV debuted with Buggles "Video killed the radio star". Record companies started to notice that fringe groups such as Duran Duran, Devo, Billy Idol were seeing sales upticks in markets where MTV broadcast, despite any other promotion.

Thriller proved conclusively that video sold records. The album was already a big hit in the year before MJ's MTV clip, but it had definitely peaked. But after the video, sales doubled, and it became the best selling album of all time.

YouTube has a copy of every song ever made, certainly anything after 1945. And though most of the songs are illegally uploaded, YouTube is the 400lb gorilla that does what it wants. In 2007, it was using more bandwidth than the whole Internet was using in 2000.

The writer of a hit song (1 million copies) in 2000 would have earned about $45,000 in royalties. But a songwriter who had 1 million plays on Spotify would earn $35.

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