Browsing Tag

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Career Killers: “Talk Show” by The Go-Go’s

I’m not the biggest Billy Corgan fan, but there are times where he can be very insightful and thoughtful. For instance, in a 2017 interview with Joe Rogan, Corgan talked about how the original Smashing Pumpkins imploded and why a lot of it stemmed from the fact that he, as the main songwriter, made a lot more money than his bandmates.

According to him, one day, early in the band’s history, some record label folks took Corgan to breakfast and explained to him some of the realities of the music business. “They said: ‘Songwriters in bands make a lot more money, so our suggestion is you should share your songs with your bandmates to keep a democratic stasis.’ I was like ‘Hell no, I’m not giving them my work.'” he said. “Fast forward four years later, I’m making a lot more money than them, and that sews discontent.”

According to Corgan, being the main songwriter had another effect besides the financial — he was now seen as the genius auteur and his bandmates were seen as nothing more than his backup. “We’d get into a room with journalists and they would just talk to me. Then we would get out of the interview and the band members would yell at me for them not being asked questions,” he said. “It’s like an erosion factor. You don’t appreciate it from within, there’s a lot of compression and money and stuff going on, then one day it hollows out. And then it’s too late and you can’t just sit down and have a meeting because the wounds are too deep.”

Perhaps if he had taken a page from R.E.M.’s book, things would have gone better. When R.E.M. first started out, Peter Buck insisted on splitting the songwriting royalties equally. According to Band Together: Internal Dynamics in U2, R.E.M. Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, by Mirit Eliraz, Buck didn’t want the band to end up like Creedence Clearwater Revival and others and recognized that this was the best way to ensure no one got the short end of the stick. Plus, in his mind, the band’s songs were just that — even though members composed songs individually, they would work together to improve them and make sure they met the band’s high standards. Other groups have taken a similar approach, including U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who write songs that arise out of group jam sessions), and Radiohead and Coldplay, where one person dominates the creative process but willingly shares credit to keep the peace.

Instead, the original Pumpkins joined a long list of bands that have split up because of songwriting royalty disputes. CCR famously imploded after the other three members got fed up with John Fogerty writing all of the songs and wanted some of that credit (and publishing money) for themselves. Levon Helm went to his grave believing Robbie Robertson had cheated him and the others in The Band out of songwriting royalties. Jane’s Addiction almost broke up before its debut album was released because of a royalty dispute. Spandau Ballet spent most of the 90s in court after three members of the band claimed they had an agreement with guitarist and main songwriter Gary Kemp to split the royalties, something Kemp, obviously, denied.

And then there’s The Go-Go’s. The band was barely hanging on by a thread by the time of its 1984 album Talk Show. A songwriting dispute proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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Farewell Fletch

“Martin’s the songwriter, Alan [Wilder]’s the good musician, Dave’s the vocalist and I bum around,” Andy Fletcher on his role in the band, taken from the Depeche Mode concert film 101.

“Depeche Mode’s unique division of labor has been long established, with each of the three remaining members having a distinct role: Martin Gore writes the songs, Dave Gahan sings them and Andy Fletcher shows up for photo shoots and cashes the checks,” Gavin Edwards, wrote in Rolling Stone in 2005. 

That wasn’t entirely true.

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Career Killers: “Around the Sun” by R.E.M.

Some bands like to celebrate 20th anniversaries. Some like to wait for 30. Some, like U2, do both (Achtung Baby got a 20th anniversary rerelease in 2011 and a 30th anniversary one is scheduled for December).

For R.E.M., 25 seems to be the magic number. To date, the band has issued special commemorative 25th anniversary versions for each of its first ten studio albums. The most recent one was for its 1996 classic, New Adventures in Hi-Fi (I bought the vinyl version).

It’ll be interesting to see whether their next five albums will get the same anniversary treatment. Released after drummer Bill Berry’s departure, the last five albums of R.E.M.’s career (Up, Reveal, Around the Sun, Accelerate, Collapse Into Now) are not widely loved or respected and clearly show a band in decline. No longer the creative or commercial force they once were, R.E.M.’s Three-Legged Dog Era (after lead singer Michael Stipe’s quote describing the state of the band after losing one of its founding members) still produced some good music and memorable performances.

Unfortunately, it also produced Around the Sun.

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Career Killers: “Door to Door” by The Cars

Many artists have done the “back to basics” album at some point in their careers.

Sometimes, there are legitimate artistic reasons for this. Maybe they’ve been experimenting with new sounds for too long and felt like there was nowhere else to go. For instance, U2 seemed to hit the electronic wall following Pop, resulting in their back-to-basics follow up, All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

Or maybe they veered too hard into commercial territory, got backlash from their hardcore fans, and decided to get back to their roots. This was the stated purpose for Metallica’s St. Anger album, until lots of other things got in the way. Ultimately, their follow up albums, 2008’s Death Magnetic and 2016’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct were more in line with their 80s classic sound.

But sometimes, a “back to basics” album is a “Hail Mary” — a desperate ploy from an artist to stop his or her decline, or from a band to paper over some cracks and avoid a breakup. The proposed Get Back album and movie project for the Beatles turned out to be examples of this, as the band broke up before either were released (we’ll get to see some of that footage in November, when Peter Jackson’s documentary is released on Disney+).

Likewise, Door to Door (1987) marked the moment The Cars broke down and got put on concrete blocks, ending their run as hitmakers and exacerbating personal conflicts between members that broke them up for the better part of two decades.

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Career Killers: “Summer in Paradise” by the Beach Boys

To borrow a pro wrestling term, Mike Love has long been one of the best heels in rock ‘n roll.

Widely hated by critics, fans, media, liberals and even fellow Beach Boys (actual headline from Vice.com: “Mike Love is Kind of an Asshole”), Love is so despised that it’s arguably more rock ‘n roll to defend him rather than pile on with his many detractors. Indeed, if anyone could have an entire arena full of people chant “asshole” at him a la Vince McMahon or Roman Reigns, it’s Mike Love. A relentless self-aggrandizing self-promoter, the only thing you can say about him is that he’s not dripping with phoniness or fake sincerity like Brother Love.

In fact, like the best heels, he believes he’s justified in behaving the way he does — especially in his eternal quest for the credit he feels he deserves for the band’s success. Brian Wilson may have been the creative genius behind the band, but Love will argue that he should get as much, if not more credit than the erratic Wilson for keeping the band going and co-writing some of their best known songs. Whether it’s suing Wilson for royalties in court many times; inflating his role in the band’s great moments and minimizing his role in the less successful ones (sometimes doing both on the same thing – like criticizing Pet Sounds or Smile when they seemed like they’d be failures and then taking credit for both when they became acclaimed); or going Vince McMahon and firing Wilson and Al Jardine from the band in 2012 after what was otherwise a successful reunion tour, Love gets very little of his namesake emotion from critics, commentators and even fans of the Beach Boys. Heck, he once used the staid and formal atmosphere of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony to deliver a WWE-style promo talking trash about a bunch of bands and musicians that, until then, probably had nothing but respect for his band and everything it has accomplished.

And much like how WWE treats certain non-PG segments from the past like they never happened, that’s how the band views the Love-led 1992 album Summer in Paradise. I guess that’s understandable, considering Summer in Paradise ended the band as a creative force and turned it into a full-time touring/oldies act.

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Career Killers: “Calling All Stations” by Genesis

In honor of Genesis’s recently announced reunion tour, let’s take a look at the band’s most recent (and in all likelihood, final) studio album, 1997’s Calling All Stations — an epic flop that broke up the band and is considered to be the red-headed stepchild of its discography. In other words, it’s no son, it’s no son of theirs. (Sorry. That’s the last pun, I promise. That’s all.)

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Career Killers: “On Every Street” by Dire Straits

There are two types of “one man bands” in rock music. There are literal examples like Nine Inch Nails, World Party or Five For Fighting, which each consist of one permanent member and are, essentially, solo vehicles in all but name. Foo Fighters started out as a one man band before Dave Grohl decided to make it into an actual group.

Then there are the bands where one member does, virtually, all of the work. John Fogerty was the primary songwriter, lead singer and lead guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival. Same with Kurt Cobain for Nirvana, Billy Corgan for Smashing Pumpkins and Syd Barrett for Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, The Cure’s Robert Smith sings, writes, plays guitar, bass, keyboards and other instruments, produces the albums, and decides who will stand with him on stage. Usually what happens is either the other members of the band get fed up and quit or the person in charge realizes he or she doesn’t need the others and goes solo.

For Dire Straits, both of those things happened.

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Career Killers: “Synchronicity” by The Police

Most of the time, an album that kills off a career is either a critical failure, a commercial flop, or both. Rarely is it a smashing success that captures an artist or band at their absolute peak. And it’s almost never an album that establishes an act as the biggest in the world – putting them at the level of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin or even The Beatles. After all, that kind of an album usually prolongs rather than shortens careers.

That makes Synchronicity by The Police the rare example of an album that both made, and destroyed, a band.

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The Power of Lowering Expectations – A Concert Review of The Police at MSG

Adapted from my initial concert review on my Livejournal site. The original piece was more of a play-by-play of each song at the show.

Concert Review:

The Police

August 3, 2007

Madison Square Garden

Maybe when Stewart Copeland is done being a drummer, he has a possible career as a political spin doctor.

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Hello Old Friends? – A Concert Review of Cream at MSG

Concert Review:

Cream

October 25, 2005

Madison Square Garden

Irony must have played a part in Simon & Garfunkel’s decision to call their 2003 reunion tour the “Old Friends Tour.” After all, it was clear that, despite agreeing to work together once again, the pair hadn’t completely moved on from their decades-long feud. Concert reviewers detected a lack of warmth between the two, forced humor that was repeated at multiple shows (they did the “this is the 50th anniversary of the year we met, but the 47th anniversary of our first fight” joke in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., among others), and noted that Paul Simon looked like he’d rather sink another $6 million into a disastrous Broadway musical than give Garfunkel any praise or credit for his contributions to the group. The only way these two were really “Old Friends” would be if you used the word “old” to mean “former.”

Those shows were a veritable love-in compared to the Cream reunion.

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