Universal Music Group has provided a formal divestment plan to the European Commission aimed at winning approval of its acquisition of EMI Music, according to a Billboard.biz report. Details of the plan were not revealed, but Billboard.biz has also reported that BMG Rights Management is in talks with UMG to acquire EMI's Parlophone label, which is home to acts such as Coldplay, Kylie Minogue and the Beatles, though sources say the Beatles catalogue would not likely be part of the deal. Earlier reports had UMG divesting the Virgin Records America and EMI Classics labels. The next step is for the commission to market test the proposal with UMG competitors, which could begin as early as today. (7/27)
What can we learn from an artist's first album? In the case of singer/songwriter Elvis Costello, as it turns out, quite a bit.
He recorded his debut album, My Aim Is True, for a cost of £2,000 in only 24 hours, leveraging his sick days and holidays from his job as a computer operator. On paper, it was not an auspicious start.
My Aim Is True arrived in 1977 while music was in the midst of a punk-rock revolution courtesy of the Clash, Sex Pistols, and Ramones, but Costello borrowed from a different wellspring.
The son of a musician, the Englishman poured more material into his debut than his pigeonholed "new wave" label could hold, and he's spent the next 40 years revealing the seemingly endless depth of influence his music has conjured.
By 2007, My Aim Is True was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in recognition of its standing as one of rock and roll's greatest recordings.
With that in mind, and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the classic album's original U.K. release, here are five moments on My Aim Is True — and select tracks left from its cutting-room floor — that set the tone for Costello's prolific career.
The first 14 seconds of pleasure in "Welcome To The Working Week"
In the first line of the first song of his first album, Costello came out swinging with a crafty musical and irreverent lyrical phrase that landed a stiff punch: "Now that your picture's in the paper being rhythmically admired/And you can have anyone that you have ever desired."
The dreamlike reverie album opening paints a crude picture of fame and privilege before jolting it all back into the blue-collar worker's harsh reality.
Just 14 seconds into "Welcome To The Working Week," Costello demonstrates the genius and snarl he's capable of: a gorgeous key-borrowing modulation (tossing in a "II major" chord for those theory types keeping score at home) under a sly, taboo lyrical reference turned into a snarl of "why, why, why, why."
Costello would incorporate these devices in many of his greatest songs throughout his career, from the delicately intricate "Almost Blue" to the venomous "20% Amnesia" and everywhere in between.
A dark take on tenderness in "Alison"
The lone ballad on an album known for its wound-up velocity, "Alison" has somewhat ironically become My Aim Is True's most enduring song.
In both construction and execution, "Alison" is as unsettling as it is graceful. The song provided a glimpse of Costello's harmonic touch, lucid vocal delivery and artistic range that teased a bevy of beautiful ballads to come, including "Shipbuilding, "Favourite Hour" and "I Want To Vanish," each with its own searing streak of darkness.
While "Alison" never charted for Costello, it did for Linda Ronstadt, who recorded a trifecta of Costello songs for her 1980 album, Mad Love, including "Girls Talk," "Party Girl" and "Talking In The Dark." Over the years, he's would also be covered by Aimee Mann, Johnny Cash, Fiona Apple, and his wife, Diana Krall, to name a few.
Calling Mr. Oswald on "Less Than Zero"
At 22 years old, Costello demonstrated a sharp social consciousness. "Less Than Zero" took on a former British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, who had re-emerged in British media to try and clear his name. According to Costello, "The song was more of a slandering fantasy than a reasoned argument."
But the track's passion and anger were very real. "Less Than Zero" itself became a pawn in a different sort of protest match when Costello lashed out against the imposed constraints of corporate controlled broadcasting, stopping a performance of the song mid-verse on live TV in favor of a blistering version of another statement song, "Radio Radio." The stunt resulted in a ban from "Saturday Night Live," the show where the whole fiasco went down.
Sinister imagery and the genius of Steve Nieve on "Watching The Detectives"
Although not included in the original album release in the U.K., "Watching The Detectives" was added to the U.S. release of My Aim Is True. Producer Nick Lowe, an influential artist/songwriter in his own right, went with a different rhythm section for "… Detectives," calling upon the aptly named young classical keyboardist, Steve Nieve.
The signature organ parts and eerie sounds Nieve added to the song were tip of the iceberg to the dressing he lavished on subsequent Costello numbers such as "Shot With His Own Gun" and the mad and moody masterpiece, "I Want You."
In his GRAMMY-nominated 2015 autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Costello attributed the inspiration for "… Detectives" to a cinematic influence: the noir films based on Raymond Chandler stories, especially 1944's Double Indemnity.
"The shorthand of cinematic directions in 'Watching The Detectives' lyrics came pretty easily after memorizing all those films," Costello explains.
The country song that didn't make the album, but surfaced later
One of only three outtakes from the My Aim Is True sessions, "Stranger In the House" never had a chance at making the cut. According to the Costello-penned liner notes for the album's 1993 Rykodisc re-release, "The inclusion of a 'country song' was thought to be commercial suicide in 1977."
But the echoes of "Stranger …" refused to fade. Costello's country hero, George Jones, recorded a cover in 1979, on which Costello guested. Costello's version of the song appeared later on a 1980 B-sides collection, Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your Fathers.
Costello's knack for collaboration and genre dexterity have served him well throughout his career, as he recorded full albums with a variety of musicians and styles, including classically trained mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, R&B legend Allen Toussaint and songwriting mastermind Burt Bacharach. (Not to mention the fabled co-writing he did with Paul McCartney).
Alison Krauss is the top female GRAMMY winner of all time with 27 wins. She is one of only five women to win Album Of The Year twice: Raising Sand with Robert Plant (2008) and the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2001).
Six-time GRAMMY-winning producer Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, headed home with another golden gramophone after the the 59th GRAMMY Awards. This year he earned Album Of The Year honors as a producer on Adele’s multi-GRAMMY-winning 25. His previous wins include a 2010 nod for Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical and a slew of multigenre best performance, album and song wins reaching back to 2007.
In her tweet announcing the then-forthcoming album, Adele referenced her approach to the writing of 25 with a nod to the bittersweet nostalgia and subtle self-loss often felt amidst the struggle to navigate the transparent border crossing between the early and the late 20’s: "I'm making up with myself. Making up for lost time. ... I miss everything about my past, the good and the bad, but only because it won’t come back."
— Adele (@Adele) October 21, 2015
Applied nostalgia is an increasingly common theme in contemporary projects and releases, perhaps speaking to a shared sense of navigating a similarly transitional time and space.
Alongside his work on 25, Burton has been busy with projects of his own — most recently a forthcoming series of covers and reimagined arrangements of notable tracks from the early 1960s titled Resistance Radio. It is a conceptual project both inspired by, and tangentially in collaboration with, the Amazon Studios original series "The Man In The High Castle," which is based on the 1962 dystopian novella of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Artists signed on for Burton’s project include GRAMMY winners Beck and Norah Jones, and GRAMMY-nominated indie-rock band the Shins, among others.
In a recent sit-down with NPR for a +1 edition of "All Things Considered," Burton discussed his approach to re-interpreting these '60s songs, framing the album conceptually as a fictional "pirate" radio station. "Based on the subject matter of the show, it worked. You could do a dark record, because it was a dark time. It's resistance radio ... so that's what helped us pick the songs."
Burton will co-produce the album with Sam Cohen, the former Yellowbirds and Apollo Sunshine member behind some notable early releases on Burton's Columbia imprint label 30th Century. The production and arrangements on Resistance Radio perfectly match the bleak, dystopian vibe of "The Man In The High Castle," creating a complete musical period piece.
While analysis of the album's dual service as a legitimate creative work and a practical piece of conceptual marketing for a TV show could fill an article of it's own, the album's place among the ongoing resurgence of the 1960s sound and increasing preference for the aesthetic warmth and feel of vinyl recordings within the music industry merits equal interest.
GRAMMY winner Jack White's own Third Man Records opened its doors in February on a brand-new 10,000-square-foot vinyl pressing plant capable of churning out 5,000 records per hour and operating continuously 24/7 if demand requires. Reportedly, production pressing requests are already streaming in from artists and labels worldwide.
In his recent speech at the 2017 Producers & Engineers Wing GRAMMY Week celebration, White expressed sentiments that mirrored Burton’s approach to Resistance Radio, saying simply "You let the music tell you what to do. You don’t tell the music what to do."
Amid a slew of shout-outs to family, friends and supportive team members, Chance The Rapper's acceptance speech for Best New Artist at the 59th GRAMMY Awards was punctuated by a memorable statement of gratitude for the city that raised him. Met with immediate cheers and applause, the heartfelt thank you to "all of Chicago" doubled as a subtle unifying statement in the face of the city's storied regional divisions.
Chance The Rapper has a commendable track record as a public champion for his hometown. In the past year he was named a member of the Board of Trustees for the city's DuSable Museum of African American History, he met personally with Gov. Bruce Rauner to discuss potential avenues for improvement in the Chicago Public School system, and he launched a major music festival on the South Side.
On March 6, during a widely publicized press conference, Chance The Rapper unveiled his latest effort to bolster Chicago. The rapper announced the donation of $1 million to Chicago Public Schools Foundation to help enrich local arts and educational programs. In addition, Chance will make individual gifts of $10,000 directly to select schools, including Westcott Elementary School, located in his former neighborhood of West Chatham. Furthermore, SocialWorks, a nonprofit group co-founded by the GRAMMY winner, will match every $100,000 raised with an additional $10,000.
Chance The Rapper's generous donation is one of the more recent philanthropic pledges in support of music education from GRAMMY-winning artists.
Metallica recently announced the launch of the All Within My Hands Foundation in conjunction with their upcoming North American tour. With the aim to "give back and share some of our good fortune," the foundation will donate a portion of funds raised from each night of their tour to select music education programs.
In another gesture of support, rock legend Eddie Van Halen announced in February the donation of 75 of his signature guitars to public schools in partnership with Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, a program that provides students with refurbished instruments and access to music education.
"Could you imagine a world without music?" Van Halen pondered during an interview with CNN. "It's a must. … It has to be taught."
These like-minded efforts all speak to the collective importance of protecting and celebrating music education in our nation's schools, an effort The Recording Academy champions year-round through programs such as GRAMMY Camp and recognitions such as the Music Educator Award. They also underline a key call to action expressed by Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow during his 59th GRAMMY telecast remarks.
"The Recording Academy, together with America's music makers, call on the president and Congress to help keep the music playing by updating music laws, protecting music education and renewing America's commitment to the arts," said Portnow.