Vanity Projects

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(Pictured: King Crimson, 1969; L to R: Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, Ian McDonald, and Peter Sinfield.)

Odds and ends from here and there:

—After finishing up that great Jimmy McDonough biography of Al Green, I moved on to David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Weigel, whose day job is national reporter for the Washington Post, based the book on a series of articles he wrote for Slate. I read those articles, and I liked them. But I liked Weigel’s book a lot less. It felt disjointed to me, leaping from act to act, generally in chronological order, but sometimes in confusing fashion. Pivotal acts like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer get less space than Soft Machine and Marillion—the latter band gets almost an entire chapter toward the end of the book. Weigel’s time might have been better spent writing a biography of Robert Fripp, originally of King Crimson, whose career is traced from the 60s through the present day, a treatment no other individual in the book receives. The book takes a weirdly dismissive tone toward prog in some spots; so much so that I ended up unsure whether Weigel even likes prog rock, at least until he came out and said so in the last chapter.

Prog rock certainly deserves a full-length history. But I’d like to read one by an actual music historian instead of a guy for whom it was basically a vanity project.

—I have written a lot about rock festivals over the years (and I’ve got another post in that series scheduled for next week), so a piece published at Consequence of Sound about festivals of the 70s and 80s was highly interesting to me. The author dug into the archives of the New York Times to find articles written about various famous and not-famous fests at the time they occurred, to understand how they were reported and perceived, and to get some insights into why the festival era petered out in the 70s, bounced back in the 80s, and petered out again before Lollapalooza rejuvenated it in the 90s.

—I picked up an interesting bit of trivia about the American Top 40 special of July 4, 1976, from William, who writes a blog called The Music of My Life. William says that when Casey announced “Says My Heart” by Ozzie Nelson as the #1 song on July 4, 1938, he actually played something else. William didn’t say what, and I don’t know, but I’m certain both of us (and maybe you) would really like to know.

(You should be reading The Music of My Life. Start with this first-anniversary post, a selection of greatest hits.)

—Another thing I learned, via a different source: throughout the American Top 40 era, issues of Billboard were dated to the Saturday of the issuing week. In the case of the Bicentennial, that should have been July 3, 1976, but given that Billboard was publishing a special commemorative issue on the history of the music industry, they couldn’t pass up the chance to date it July 4.

—In 2015, Nashville radio consultant Keith Hill caused a stir by suggesting that female artists are a turn-off for the typical country radio listener, and that stations wanting ratings success should limit female artists to something like 19 percent of the playlist. He referred to them as the “tomatoes” in the radio salad, which is properly composed of male artists otherwise. Recently, Hill got into it again with some people on Twitter who insisted that, sexism aside, the methodology by which he claims to prove his assertion is flawed. This piece is inside baseball and maybe not for everybody, but it does a pretty good job of refuting Hill. As I read it, his attitude struck me familiar, based on my dealings with some—not all, but some—radio consultants over the years: they believe that their opinions are equal to empirical data, and they think that the most effective way to get you to buy what they’re selling is to be a jerk about it.

I have a post in my drafts file about an experience I had with one of those guys. Someday you may get to read it.

—Last but not least: thanks to all for your interesting responses to my post about instrumentals last week. Reader David has compiled many of them (and some others you didn’t mention) into a Spotify playlist. It’s got everything from Van Halen and Pink Floyd to Martin Denny and Ramsey Lewis, and you can find it here.

9 responses

  1. I apologize for not supplying what I’ve read Casey mistakenly played on the July 4 76 special instead of “Says Her Heart.” According to mkarns on an AT40 message board I read, it was “Whoa Babe,” an instrumental. I have no idea about the reason for the mistake–perhaps they were on the same side of a single? Here’s a link; it’s the second entry on the page:
    http://at40fg.proboards.com/thread/205/at40-70s-weeks-show?page=559

    1. No worries, sir. I suspect there aren’t a lot of Ozzie Nelson Orchestra fans left in the world anyhow.

  2. Maybe my library has Weigel’s book – I’ll read anything Fripp, and this sounds interesting.

  3. “Nashville radio consultant Keith Hill caused a stir by suggesting that female artists are a turn-off for the typical country radio listener, and that stations wanting ratings success should limit female artists to something like 19 percent of the playlist.”

    My first radio job was in 1990 at a small country station. They told me to never play female artists back to back for a similar reason like this. My next job was at a slightly bigger country station. I asked them about this practice. The PD gave me (with no malice whatsoever) a look like I had come down from the mountains for the first in my life and said “that’s not really a concern here.”

    I didn’t realize it was still even considered a thing in the 21st century..

  4. I gave my advice at country radio seminar. If folks don’t want my advice they can just continue to call me a jerk. I know the metric is correct. Go ahead prove me wrong. Run a station with 50% females… let’s watch the ratings. Keith Hill

    1. There’s a fair amount of room between 19% and 50%, Keith.

      1. I can’t honestly tell you what the percentage of females is at the country station I work for. I suspect it’s higher than 19%, but I haven’t done the math. I am sure people have argued to Hill that listeners can’t like something they never get a chance to hear, but gatekeepers gotta gatekeep.

  5. I suppose the obvious joke is that Weigel should have written a four-volume tome analyzing a single couplet from Tales from Topographic Oceans … that would have been the true progressive-rock spirit.

  6. Alvaro Leos Jr | Reply

    I’ve got a few books about the business side of country music, and it’s interesting they noted Music Row has always believed 70% of their market was female. They also swore female fans preferred male artists. Never mind CMA research showed it was a 50/50 split, or that a higher percentage of women than men had gold records–they had their mind set, and nothing would change it.

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