Programmer Payola

Music News, Tid-Bits and Other Morsels

Aug 3, 2005 at 2:06 pm

From Kickbacks To Payoffs

We all kind of knew and assumed it was the case anyway (and it was barely a secret in industry circles), but New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's successful probe of record label-to-radio programmer payola gives us firm evidence that commercial radio sucks because music corporations pay for it to suck. Actually, Spitzer's investigation focused on one label conglomerate — Sony BMG — uncovering e-mail exchanges that promised gifts and trips for airplay (no cocaine anymore?). The company agreed to pay $10 million to settle the case. How times have changed: Pioneering DJ Alan Freed's career was killed by payola accusations, while Sony gets off with a "$10 million? Yeah, I think I've got that in my sock" payoff.

Killing Queen

If we want to hear note-for-note versions of the classics, we'll just listen to the classics, thank you very much. The new Killer Queen tribute to Freddie Mercury and Co. features a laundry list of today's hit-makers doing their best hammy impersonations. But a fun point/counterpoint game can be played by spinning the two versions of "Bohemian Rhapsody" back-to-back. American Idol loser Constantine's rendition is a schmaltzy, Las Vegas-style revue version, featuring the cast of the musical, We Will Rock You. Constantine's pure mimicry suggests that unlike most Idol failures, he may actually have a career in music ahead of him (albeit one as a lounge singer).

Jump ahead to the "Rhapsody" version by The Flaming Lips. Bolder and unavoidably more unique (though relatively faithful), the Lips' slanted take is a more playful romp, painted with the colors that have made the band's more symphonic work so successful. Burn the Lips track into your iPod. And then burn the rest of the disc in a bonfire.

Mental for iPods

The iPod revolution is subtly changing the music industry (see: the death of the "album" as a piece of art and the preponderance of "mix" radio stations pimping the anything-goes "shuffle" playlist philosophy across the country). But a new study suggests that it might also be creating a confused generation of Pod people, who — if you buy the research — will all be walking around like zombies and asking each other, "Did you hear that?" British psychiatrist Dr. Victor Aziz says that excessive headphone use can cause "musical hallucinations," whereby listeners hear phantom music in their heads even when there's nothing playing (the good doc says this leads to sleeplessness and general annoyance, we're guessing particularly if the ghost music is of the Young Country variety). It's bad news for people who listen to a lot of music, but presumably good news for the music industry: This could be the greatest promotional tool since the Volkswagen commercial! Look for a Billboard "Audio Hallucinations" chart in the near future.

ABC: Fucked

With the exception of perhaps the Parents Yummy Cookie Council, any organization with the words "Parents" and "Council" in its title reeks of foot-soldiering for the neo-conservatives' war on culture and free speech. It also insures an audience with the government's henchmen at the FCC. The Parents Television Council has filed a complaint with the airwaves' watchdog over ABC's failure to censor The Who's performance during the Live 8 benefit concert in early July. The network missed the lyric "Who the fuck are you?" during the band's rendition of their hit "Who Are You," poisoning the minds of those three or four kids under 18 who even know what "The Who" is. It's taken them long enough. Since the song's original release in the late '70s, FM radio stations across the country (including local station WEBN) have aired the expletive-included version. And look what's happened to this country!