By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
The underlying cause is obvious: recorded music makes mo-mo-mo money when it receives radio play, MTV screen time, and other hype. Some record companies allegedly cough up more cash to buy airplay for potential hits than they spend cultivating or fostering the talents who make up and make good the actual songs. The monied masses buy music based on familiarity. This is why, commercially at least, REO Speedwagon rolled to the top while the Clash slid to rock's bottom. (Ironically, the Clash finally charted with "Train in Vain," which is on the London Calling album but is not mentioned anywhere on the record jacket or liner notes.) Perhaps because of Epic's promotion, perhaps not, REO got played on the radio, the Clash did not. Neglect of the music goes beyond radio, to the very way record companies operate. As more than one musician has pointed out, the people behind popular music are accountants and lawyers, people without soul.
Popularity increasing the financial base is cool, but it seems plenty of rock's best songwriters would like to cut out the insidious middleman by eliminating radio, with all its limitations and outright corruption, from pop's success formula. Others go so far as to denounce their industry, baring their teeth and chomping heartily on the hand that feeds them.
The idea of kicking the gift horse - the record company sharks along with the radio remoras - isn't new. But it seems to be growing more common. Lately the Top-40-as-God bashing has gone from foot to mouth in a 13EEE way. Maybe this shows great courage and gumption on the part of the artists, maybe it's hypocritical. Either way, it has almost evolved into a genre unto itself. Here's our list of the twenty all-time best songs that bash the biz:
"So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" by the Byrds
The standard-setter. Included here because it's a great song, and so you get the idea.
"Hit Single" by Joe Jackson
Jackson's always maintained a cockeyed view of himself and his place in the pop lexicon, and the radically split vote on Laughter & Lust is probably a result of interpretations rather than intent. This cut is written from the point of view of the song, which has led to critical confusion over lines such as "Before you know it I'll be there right under your skin." Some critics call that egomania, when in fact it's a simple slant on the way hit songs work on the psyche.
"Hitsville UK" by the Clash
More than an industry protest, but proof the Clash didn't take rejection well. And it includes the classic lyric, "No slimy deals with smarmy eels." Sign here and have a cigar, boy.
"Radio Song" by R.E.M.
The Athens gods are so clever - they waited until they signed to a major-major-major label (Warner Bros.) before expressing their discontent musically. From Out of Time, which contains plenty of commercialism ("Shiny Happy People," for example), this tune features KRS-1, which makes sense only in the sense that rap in general defies every rule of commercialism and sells like mad. Then again, maybe R.E.M. just likes Kris Parker's initialized stage name. But they're right - the world is collapsing.
"T.S.D.H.A.V." by Loudon Wainwright III
The initials stand for "This Song Don't Have a Video." This is the only Wainwright song that does, in fact, have a video.
"Wake Up All You DJ's" by Rock Michaels Pastorius and the Warning
Groovy bass lines, wild tempo shifts, and sarcastically soft vocals mentioning corporate-sponsor types ("we eat our Life like Mikey") makes this ultrasmart and confidently sassy track a total winner. Any DJ who doesn't play the hook-loaded infecter is an idiot. No DJs play it.
"EMI" by the Sex Pistols
Such well-behaved lads. The punk progenitors were a contradiction of themselves - how could an act whose stance was essentially fuck-everything sign a recording contract? Well, they signed to EMI on October 10, 1976, and were immediately lambasted for doing so. "Anarchy in the U.K." so shocked the tea drinkers across the pond that EMI had second (and third) thoughts. After much bickering between band and label, EMI dumped the nascent act. So the Pistols wrote a song dumping on the label.
"Workin' for MCA" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
"This Is Not a Love Song" by Public Image Ltd.
Years after the EMI war, Pistols front man Johnny "Rotten" Lydon and PiL struck again with "This Is Not a Love Song," which used general and subtle language to say that artistic compromise sucks.
"Music for Money" by Nick Lowe
Just one of the Nickster's swipes at an industry that keeps people like him out on the fringes. The American version of the album was called Pure Pop for Now People. In Britain the title was Jesus of Cool. 'Nuff said.