Monday, September 6, 2010

Is the Hit Parade Over?

"The reliance on album sales is very 20th century."
--Cliff Chenfeld, owner of indie label Razor & Tie

I remember when I was in fifth grade my friend and I used to quiz one another on the top 10 hits of the week. We'd list them on a blackboard down in her basement. Guessing the label the single was on was part of our game.

Of course, this is back in the day when I probably also carried around my 45s in a neat plastic canister or carrying case. Ah, such innocence!

I'm sorry in a way that my children will not have the same pleasure. As an article in The New York Times made resoundingly clear, there are many revenue streams to consider before you can honestly declare a single a hit. It's all very complicated. I imagine Billboard Magazine has expanded their lists to accomodate every scenario.

It's funny, though, that vestiges of the 20th century metric still remain. According to the Times article, album sales are still an industry shorthand for success. Makes me think about what I read about the movie business in the paper this morning. It's another industry that is too heavily wedded to the old metric. Films like Kick-Ass are declared flops based upon their opening weekend box-office take, when in reality if you look over the long-term they return handsomely on their investment.

Also, in today's Times is an article about a song introduced on YouTube that's racking up sales as a single.

It's a fascinating time for the music business. I marvel at how quickly someone can now have a "hit". I wonder openly how much longer anyone can have something even remotely able to be called a career.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Glen Campbell: A Voice I Can't Forget

Glen Campbell has always been one of my favorite pop singers. He delivers a lyric with such clarity and authority. Recently I've been revisiting a 1974 album he did of mostly Jimmy Webb songs. It's a majestic collection, and there's something about his voice that is timeless. I've been thinking about his career lately.

Many people first got to know Campbell through his first hit, "Gentle on My Mind" (written by John Hartford). Once he'd scored with that song, the hits just kept on coming from 1967 to 1969: "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", "Galveston" and "Wichita Lineman" (all Webb songs). Let's not forget "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife" either, or his wonderful album of duets with Bobbie Gentry. (Check out "Little Green Apples)".

As these hits rolled out, Campbell also had a successful variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. He also co-starred with John Wayne in True Grit. Quite a heady time!

In the 1970s Glen Campbell managed to record two best-selling singles: "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Southern Nights". As the decade closed, though, it was clear that his 15 minutes had passed.

Somewhere around this time I heard of Glen Campbell in the tabloids--mainly about his troubled relationship with Tanya Tucker. Apparently Glen had abused alcohol and drugs. Looking up his biography on Wikipedia, it's clear that his personal life was a royal mess. He's been married four times. (He's been with his current wife for the last 28 years.)

Glen Campbell recorded many terrific albums for Capitol, but he left the label after a disagreement over Jimmy Webb's "The Highwayman", a song he recorded and thought (quite rightly) should have been released as a single. Several years later he put out an album of Jimmy Webb songs on Universal that I adore. If you want to revisit Glen Campbell, I cannot recommend enough Still Within the Sound of My Voice.

He returned to Capitol in the late 1980s and put out a string of wonderful albums. You can't go wrong purchasing any of them. But somewhere in the mid-1990s he seemed to have dropped out. I don't know, maybe he was recording for the Christian market, or maybe he was working hard at his theater in Branson, but I didn't hear of him.
I did get to see him, though, at Foxwoods Casino. (That's as close to New England as he'll probably get!)

A couple of years ago Glen Campbell put out a new album of material, Meet Glen Campbell. It was a stellar collection of songs by rockers such as Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, and Travis. At 72 he was still in superior voice. I hope the release met his expectations, and that he'll record again.

So here's to Glen Campbell! An incredible singer and guitar player with a storied career that dates back to rock's early days. Lend him your ear once again!

Click here for Glen's interview with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air".