Monday, February 21, 2011
KAR SIMONE - I WANT
One of the purposes of this blog is to show why the recording industry just doesn't get it anymore. Everything pertaining to the business of making records has become so ridiculously expensive (studio time, promotion, paying off the right people) that having a shot in the music biz has become akin to hitting the lottery. This isn't 1963 anymore, when a group of guys could walk into a studio with their instruments (and a bottle of Night Train) and cut a couple of sides in an hour or two for next to nothing. When all you needed was something that sounded good, maybe different enough to sell. When a record company was willing to buy the master for 50 bucks and take a chance at the Top Ten. Today, the industry is completely different (except for the corruption, which was always there). Record companies are run by accountants, not music people. An accountant doesn't care how a record sounds; his job is to tally up the sales numbers. He doesn't care if it's a 70-minute CD of a guy vomiting - the more it sells, the more of a hit it is. I knew a guy who was a former accountant for CBS Records in New York in the 1980s whose sole purpose was to take the sales figures of artists signed to CBS Records who didn't sell squat (squat meaning less than 100,000 copies) and add them to Mariah Carey's sales totals to make her look better on the charts. Funny thing, Mariah had like eight straight #1 hits until she and Tommy Mottola got divorced, and how many has she had since? Hmmmm......
Remember the old Gordy Records slogan? "It's What's In The Grooves That Count". Now the opposite is true. Everything counts EXCEPT what's in the grooves. You need the right promotion team, the right management team, the right production team, the right stylists for your "look", the right corporate sponsor - notice I've mentioned everything except THE RIGHT SONG. Because that doesn't matter anymore. Pop records don't have real melodies and "hooks" anymore - now it's some guy rapping over a beat that he ripped off from some LP from the 1970s with a hundred or so guest vocalists (Don't believe me? Go buy a copy of Billboard and look at the charts - every artist will be "So-and-So Featuring MC So-and-So and The So-and-So Mob with Special Appearance by So-and-So and Sting"). I'm not against rap. I'm against BAD rap, like I'm against BAD rock or BAD folk or BAD Adult Contemporary. I mean, c'mon, the first time you heard Puff Daddy (or P. Diddy or Diddy or Piddly or whatever the hell that joker's calling himself these days) and his "remix" of The Police's "Every Breath You Take" called "I'll Be Missing You", didn't YOU think to yourself, "Wow, what a rip-off! Even I could do that!"? YES! Because you COULD do that! ANYBODY could do that! Why was this such a big record? Because Piddly had the right people behind him, and he knew how to play the game. P. Diddy is a great businessman. He's NOT a musician, or a producer, or a singer, or a rapper, or an artist, but a great businessman.
The simple truth is this: the music industry doesn't have the time, or patience, to put up with an artist who may make great music but won't sell in massive quantities. There's no such thing as artist development. If your first LP doesn't sell at least a million copies, you might as well go home. Because there's too much money at stake to screw around with an artist, because of the ridiculous expense of studio time, promotion, etc. Besides, if there's one thing record company heads HATE, it's a pesky artist who - GASP! - wants a say in the music they're making. So it's much easier to get someone who is willing to sound like whatever's popular and is a bit quirky and has their own "fashion sense" and their own "look" which will get people talking about the "artist" and therefore sell LOTS of CDs that are filled with garbage that a computerized drum machine can snore up (if this sounds like I'm talking about Lady Gaga's career, well, that's purely coincidental).
Which brings us to today's selection. I doubt Kar Simone knew anything about the music business or image cultivation or record promotion. He probably didn't know how to tie his shoes properly, at least judging by this record. Listen to "I Want" and dream about what today's music CEO's would think of it - they'd probably run in terror, or laugh poor Kar right out of the room - "We can't possibly release this, it's got the wrong title, it doesn't have the correct bpm for the clubs, we never heard of the producer, and, most of all, even though we pride ourselves as being pacesetters in the industry, it doesn't sound like Lady Gaga! Actually.....it doesn't even sound......uh......human.......can someone call security??"
That's why I love old records. I'm no nostalgia or "oldies" freak. It's just that the record industry was a lot more accessible in those days, and, as a result, a lot of people who had no business being in a recording studio got their chance to put their particular strangeness on tape. The best part was that there was almost always some weird little record company that was willing to put it out on wax.
Cleopatra Records was about as little (and weird) as you could get. Started by an accordion player named Tommy Falcone in 1963, this label/production company produced some of the strangest singles to ever come out of New York, such as "Hong Kong Baby" by The Tabbys (which, like "I Want", has to be heard to be believed) and "For Your Love" by The Reminiscents (on the surface, a doo-wop group doing the old Ed Townsend tune; turns out it was one guy overdubbing himself - badly). Falcone's wife posed for the logo, dressed in an old Halloween costume. Most of the label's production duties were handled by Tommy and his partner, Gino Viscione. The label stopped releasing singles in 1964, but the production company soldiered on for a few more years (producing such singles as "Local Town Drunk" by The Inmates on Columbia in 1966, and "Candy Andy" - the only "bubblegum" song about a child molester - by The Shoestring on 20th Century-Fox in 1968). Unfortunately, none of Falcone's ventures in the music business ever translated to big money, and he reportedly died at the tragically young age of 40 from a heart attack after coming off stage at an accordion concert (!!!).
Of all the 45s Cleopatra put out, none was stranger than "I Want" by Kar Simone. The first time I played it, I just stared at my turntable in shock. I said at the time that it sounded like Lou Christie meets Tiny Tim at a Greek wedding. I still think that's the best description of the sound that emanates from this disk. A few years ago I had the pleasure of corresponding with the daughter of Gino Viscione, who gave me a few interesting tidbits about Cleopatra Records, and she hit me with this wowser - the drummer on "I Want" is none other than BUDDY RICH. Yes, THAT Buddy Rich!!! Seems that the original drummer slated for the session didn't show up, and Buddy was recording in a nearby studio, so on his break he came over and did this session for extra pocket money! Today, two managers, three agents and a team of lawyers would need to "advise" Buddy before he could set foot in the studio.
So today's lesson is: sometimes keeping out the "riff-raff" can also keep out the creativity. Kar Simone had absolutely NO chance of having a hit record, but he tried anyway. Tommy Falcone had NO chance of ever selling this record to anyone, but he tried anyway. The very least you could say is that THESE FOLKS TOOK A CHANCE. Which is way more than can be said about the cowards that run the music industry today.
Kar Simone - I Want (Cleopatra 103) - 1963