Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

David Cassidy: A (Brand) Identity Lost and Found

Monday, February 27th, 2017

2545764400000578-2936558-image-m-6_1422890689144 I don’t know what I’m up against. I don’t know what it’s all about. I got so much to think about…This week, former pop idol David Cassidy announced to the world that he has dementia and, after nearly 50 years of performing, he is retiring.  His life has been an extreme rollercoaster ride that has touched many and, as much as any, tells a cautionary tale of a brand identity run amok, lost and later found.

A working actor and musician in his teens, Cassidy always sought stardom, appearing on a slew of early 70s high-profile television series, including: “Medical Center,” “Bonanza,” “Ironside,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Adam-12.” But nothing could have prepared him for his role in the Cowsills-inspired “Partridge Family” that would, virtually overnight, elevate his status to one of the most famous and sought after pop stars ever while leaving him wondering who he really was.

For Cassidy, the fame would become both a blessing and a curse as he has described the phenomenon of “him” in interviews over the years.  Media of the day worked both for and against him.  At a time before cable, the Internet, MP3s and video games, there were only three national TV networks; as such, millions watched while millions more bought Partridge Family records (myself among them).  As such, to much of the world David Cassidy was Keith Partridge – whether on television, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine covers, lunch boxes or in concert (where he sang series songs).

Exacerbating the problem for Cassidy was that in a time before the Internet and cable, there were few media platforms to appear as “yourself” – no personal websites to tell the tale of who you really were as an artist rather than fictional character; no E! Entertainment cable network to run stories on a day in your life.  And, further, there were only a handful of network TV talk shows where one might appear “out of costume” as it were; the granddaddy being “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” although this aired late nightly and long after most teenyboppers went to bed.  As a result, David Cassidy lost himself with a personal brand and identity virtually hijacked by a TV network (ABC) that owned his likeness and a recording company (Bell) that owned his voice. It was a disastrous recipe for typecasting and, for many years, resulted in something akin to career suicide. Just ask one-time “Batman” star Adam West.

Cassidy eventually would resurrect his career and take his talents to Broadway and then Vegas and, in time, return to touring and playing (and enjoying) the songs that initially made him famous enough to sell out Madison Square Garden and Wembley Stadium, among others, back in the day.  However, it would take walking away at the top of his fame and drastic measures (appearing mostly nude on the cover of Rolling Stone).  Radio and music buyers would largely eschew his new offerings for years.

They say time can heal all wounds and hindsight is forever 20/20 and, to be sure, in recent interviews he has talked about the positives of extreme celebrity and how it has allowed him the opportunity to positively impact the lives of many. As he enters the twilight of his life and a difficult road ahead, perhaps David Cassidy has also finally come to terms with and accepted the pivotal role Keith Partridge played in his life.  One would think that, at the very least, he’s met him halfway. And you know what they say about that.

Ray Kroc’s Grand Brand Plan

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

raykrocnw2On Friday, at the kind invitation of PR pro and educator extraordinaire Dr. Linda Hagan, I guest lectured a class of young artists at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. In fitting with the curriculum of business and marketing trends and practices, I advised the group on how best to go about creating their own brand.  A significant slice of what I covered is evident in the excellent new movie, “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton.  Because when it comes to brands – iconic brands – McDonald’s best-known owner Ray Kroc was a true visionary.

I began the CCS class by asking students, ‘What constitutes a brand?’ In response I heard, ‘A logo’ and ‘A slogan’ before another chimed in with, ‘What you stand for.’  All correct, I told them, when taken together.  Because, I further opined, a brand is the sum of all attributes of a particular company, product or service – it is how you answer your phones, how you treat your customers, referral sources and employees. It is how you differentiate yourself from your competition – not just in words but also by delivering upon a value proposition and brand promise.

Ray Kroc understood this as well as anyone ever.  While peddling milkshake mixers to drive-ins across the country in the 1950s, he stumbled upon a little single shingle establishment in San Bernardino, California where an amazing thing was happening: families were waiting in line (and not long) for delicious hamburgers and soft drinks that took minutes from order to delivery.  This was in stark contrast to the traditional drive-ins Kroc had experienced that were littered with trash, loud music and smoking teenagers in their hot rods. Food often took 30 minutes or more and orders were routinely wrong.  The alternative restaurant? The brainchild of the McDonalds brothers.

McDonald’s was the model of efficiency, consistency and wholesome family dining. They offered a unique brand value proposition and delivered upon it each and every time.  Kroc saw the vast opportunity to take this badly needed model across the country via franchising. He likened the golden arches to the church steeples and city hall flags he saw in every town he visited on his sales travels. These arches would add another icon to the skylines of each and every town in America, he predicted.  And once these restaurant chain stores opened in their respective markets, Kroc worked tirelessly to maintain brand standards in operations, food offerings and, most importantly, customer service.

A brand, I told the class, works best when it is honest, genuine and true to who you are.   As current students and future employees or entrepreneurs in the world of art and film, I offered, they needed to be true to who they were but also mindful that their brand must also keep in mind the audiences they want to reach.  After all, a brand cannot be successful, ultimately, if it doesn’t resonate and compel. It must also stay open to evolution.  In fact, McDonald’s has gone through decades of changes to meet evolving consumer tastes and priorities, as evidenced by their expanded menu options, dollar value meals and healthier fare.  Ray Kroc didn’t found McDonald’s but he certainly honed and developed its brand, building the restaurant into arguably the greatest fast-food chain ever.  And to millions starting in the Cold War era, Americana never tasted so good.

 

Kansas Carries On Its Wayward Band

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 3.39.46 PMOnce I rose above the noise and confusion, set a course beyond this illusion…In 1976, the band Kansas produced its swan song album, “Leftoverture” and signature single “Carry On Wayward Son”.  Though it was not their very first album (that had come two years prior), no one had heard anything quite like this art rock from the heartland.  Some 40 years later and despite the exit of most of its original members, Kansas has found itself re-energized with a new LP: “Prelude Implicit” and a piece of work on par with their best ever.  It’s a study in counterintuitives.

In a recent article on Rollingstone.com, writer Steve Smith provides more background on various aspects of this dynamic, including the fact that only band mates Phil Ehart (drums) and Rich William (guitar) remain from the early days. Of particular note is that the heart of soul of Kansas, singer Steve Walsh and guitarist Kerry Livgren are gone after both forever served as primary songwriters. How does any group survive such turnover? Such an undertaking is particularly tough without your lead singer. ELO II, as it was once named, tried unsuccessfully to make it without Jeff Lynne; the Guess Who without two main vocalists: Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.

Many groups in recent years have toured successfully with “doppelganger” lead singers culled from tribute bands, Journey and Yes among them.  Yet, it’s one thing to emulate on stage while surrounded by several original members, another to release and successfully market brand new music.  With their first album of new material in nearly 16 years, “Prelude Implicit”, Kansas once again hits the right note despite what might otherwise be creative handicaps – just as it did in the mid 1980s when singer John Elefante temporarily replaced Steve Walsh for huge hits “Play The Game Tonight” and “Fight Fire With Fire”.

And, it appears, lightening can strike twice (three times?).  This time, it’s singer Ronnie Platt who supplies the electricity as Kansas returns to two guitars and heavy organ – harkening back of course to its original sound.  And, the signature violin never sounded better. The timing is also just right for this reincarnation as classic rock enjoys a resurgence and new appreciation by millennials who grew up with their parents playing these artists.  Just look around you at your next Steve Miller or Styx concert to the audience’s demographic makeup.

What matters most, though, is the music – and these new tunes sound really, really good.  As a huge Kansas and Steve Walsh fan I was very, very, pleasantly surprised.  Reading reviews, I’m not alone. This is not a tribute band.  As writer Craig Ellis Bacon recounts in the prog report this Kansas brings a fresh, new energy that is also “comfortably confident and mature”, “totally even and incredibly enjoyable”. Give it a listen. I think you’ll agree that 2017 sounds a bit like 1976 again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s No Place Like Home Plate

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Minor_League_Baseball267Baseball has long been known as the national pastime and for good reason.  Nothing quite beats sitting in the stands on a long summer night, watching talented athletes compete on manicured fields while enjoying the requisite hot dogs, peanuts and a “cold one”.  And nowhere is the fun and frivolity more endearing (and enduring) than in minor league baseball.

This past weekend I crossed another ‘to do’ off my bucket list, embarking on a three-day/night, three-travel-state minor league baseball excursion.  This took me and a friend to Chicago for the Kane County Cougars and Schaumburg Boomers and then to Fort Wayne for the Tin Caps.  All three venues offered a veritable potpourri of marketing and promotional fun and value – just what that level of the sport is known for.  After all, where else can you see a pro sporting event today for as low as $5-$10 for admission and even less for spirits and dogs in most cases. And, speaking of “seeing”, there are typically no bad seats in any such house.

It’s family fun at its finest and getting more and more creative all the time, it seems. Where else can you enjoy people dressed up as sandwiches competing to add toppings to themselves (Tincaps), “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Night (Boomers) or monkeys riding dogs herding goats (our own United Shore Professional Baseball league teams – a client ) in Utica, Michigan?

Best of all, minor league baseball is about community. A place where, besides watching baseball and the festivities at large, you can also picnic, play and celebrate neighbors.  “Hometown Heroes” is a staple at most ball parks, including spotlighting and saluting area veterans and their families. Many clubs also have reading and scholarship clubs; variations include players serving as reading members to area youth as well as team acknowledgments of young scholar accomplishments at local schools.

Finally, many cite the purity of the minor league venue in that its players – typically earning anywhere from approximately $10,000-$12,000 a year – are playing as much for a love of the game as a paycheck.  To be sure, we as a society tend to gravitate toward  things that are (or appear) genuine, pure and down-to-earth.  Attending these games – many off the beaten path – felt like returning to my youth and a time spent on dusty, rocky infields and uneven outfields. It felt like nostalgia. It felt like home.

 

The Greatest of All Time

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

muhammad-ali-zoom-cfb97fff-3b5d-4161-b998-6457c965a343Long before there was, “The Great One”, there was, “The Greatest”.  An iconic figure who was arguably one of the most revered and recognizable athletes the sports world (and the world) has ever known.  Why, exactly, was that? What was it that has made Muhammad Ali such an enduring and beloved figure? And why did we believe him when he proclaimed he was, “The Greatest of All Time”? There is much to consider.

First and foremost, he had true talent in the ring.  Outside of it, he was just as memorable. Even as Ali first burst upon the scene in 1960 as an 18-year old Gold Gloves Champ and Olympic prospect, he already possessed charisma and outspokenness along with the skills to back it all up. He would soon elevate heavyweight boxing to new heights – not just with his fists but his wit and uncanny skills at self-promotion. He didn’t just box, he would, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” while also employing the “rope-a-dope”.  And,  his fights were not mere fights, they were the “Thrilla in Manilla” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”  They all lived up to the hype too, spotlighted further by his constant tongue-in-cheek(?) foil, Howard Cosell of ABC Sports.

Moreover, as Rolling Stone noted this week in a piece by Tim Grierson, Muhammad Ali was also the master of multi-media – and not just your typical magazine covers and sports shows.  Very early on (in 1969), Ali appeared in the Broadway musical, “Buck White”.  He would go on to release a children’s album (1976) and appear in: an animated cartoon series (1977), a comic book opposite Superman (1978) and in an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes (1979).  Biopic movies (in 1977 and 2001) helped fuel the legendary fire.

Perhaps most of all, Ali stood up for what he believed in, without fail nor apology.  Born Cassius Clay, he would object to the Vietnam War and being drafted into it, embraced Islam, changed his name and weathered the firestorm that ensued.  He always believed in himself and encouraged others to do likewise.  It was his ‘brand’ and who he was:  The face he called ‘pretty’.  The mouth he used to call-out his opponents.  The moves those opponents could never seem to figure out.  When they all worked in unison, it was pure poetry in motion. Today, those memories are still indelibly and pleasantly etched – in our minds and in history – and there they will remain.

 

 

Very

The Monkees offer “Good Times” for a New Generation

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Monkees-Good-TimesHey, hey they they’re the Monkees…and they’re not monkeying around.  In fact, the pop/rock band has just embarked on a 6-month nationwide tour as it prepares its first album of new material since 1997 (“Good Times!”) – all just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ television debut.  Reporter Andy Greene recounts exactly what’s what in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

While far from being among the young generation (Micky Dolenz is 70), the band still has something to say, thanks in large part to a range of contemporary and historical songwriters who are contributing material to the LP, due June 10th.  That includes River Cuomo and Noel Gallagher as well as older tunes from the 60s, written for the group but never recorded, from heavyweight authors Harry Nilsson, Carol King and Neil Diamond.

Perhaps most touching will be the release of the Diamond penned song “Love to Love” which will feature vocals from the late Davey Jones.  To help ease the loss, Michael Nesmith (he of the perpetual stocking cap) has returned to record with Peter Tork and Dolenz for the first time since the band’s breakup in 1971, although Nesmith won’t tour.

From the iconic guitar-shapred logo to the breezy, catchy tunes, the Monkees brand has endured as have their fans who are sure to pack venues just as sure as they consumed the group’s music back in the day. Wikipedia notes, in fact, that the Monkees have sold over 75 million records worldwide, outselling at their peak in 1967 the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

Nostalgia is a powerful and incredible thing.  Far from one-hit wonders, the Monkees run on TV and radio lasted a mere three years.  Yet, long before social media, the band’s promotional tentacles stretched to multiple platforms that included everything from teenybopper magazines to toys (I possessed a very odd-looking, multi-headed pull and play). Timing was also kind, as the group offered fun and escape and an alternative to the tension, drugs and revolution of the Vietnam era.  Best of all, their music made your toes tap and their antics made you laugh. Welcome back.

 

 

Batman v Superman? How about DC v Marvel

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 6.04.31 PMDespite the fact that DC Comics (originally known as National Allied Publications) has been around since 1935, it has never before featured two of its superheroes – let alone its most iconic – in one feature length motion picture.  In the newly released movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opened in theaters Friday, not only we do we get to see two of comicdom’s oldest and most storied characters, we are also presented with Wonder Woman and, (spoiler alert) a glimpse at Aquaman and (it is rumored) The Flash (I have yet to see the film).  Obviously DC is looking to take on Marvel with a league of its own.

As I have written previously, when it comes to the Silver Screen, Marvel has forever ruled the roost (Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Iron Man) with DC possessing a monopoly on the boob tube (Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow).  Now, DC plans to borrow a page from their cross-town publishing rival’s playbook and release two movies a year over the next five years, building toward their super team team-up.  Where Marvel has the Avengers, DC has the Justice League; but first we have to get to know the players. Wonder Woman will be the next to star in her own film. One would assume Aquaman is next.

What is perhaps even more intriguing about “Batman v Superman” is what the story is based on.  Frank Miller (he of “3000″ and “Sin City” movie fame) is also widely recognized as one of the best comic book writers of our time and, indeed, his top grossing movies were based on his graphic novels.  Along with “Watchmen” (which he did not write), “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book series, originally published in 1984, is hands-down the greatest Batman graphic series ever, featuring an aging, retired Bruce Wayne who confronts a bought-and-paid-for by the federal government Superman.  You’ll even see certain scenes in “Dawn of Justice” that come directly from “Dark Knight” (including this blog’s featured image). The plot might be different in “Dawn” but its foundation is pure Miller.

And that’s a good thing.  Once again, the celluloid creators who have been entrusted to stay true to the characters and their lore are showing they deserve it.  Watch “Arrow” and “Flash” on TV and you will see it: references to events and names and obscure characters that demonstrate show writers have done their homework and respect comic history. It’s basically Marketing 101: know who you are trying to reach and then create and message a product or service that will motivate your audience to action.  If the trailers for “Batman v Superman” are any indication, we are in good hands once again.

 

 

Radiohead’s “Spectre”: Nobody’s Done 007 Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.25.38 PMOver the past five decades there has never been a movie series as enduring and for millions as endearing as creator Albert Brocolli’s James Bond films. Never mind Furious 7, How about 24 x 007.  And through those dozens of movies the expert melding of action and music remains integral to the franchise’s success, in particular the opening credits which set the tone for each flick.  As detailed in Wikipedia, the actual iconic James Bond theme – featuring the surfer-esque “Dum-de-de-de-Dum” guitar riff was created by composer Monty Norman and scored by the legendary John Barry.  It has been utilized in the opening credits from the very beginning, including 1962′s “Dr. No” and 1963′s “To Russia with Love” as well as many of the closing credits through the very latest film.

By 1964s “Goldfinger” however, the movie’s openings would be dominated by popular singers and groups of that particular era.  And so it was that Welch singer Shirley Bassey took on that title track and took it to #1 for a 200 week run on the Billboard charts (#14 in the UK), garnering a Grammy nomination as well. Bassey would return in 1971 for “Diamonds are Forever” and again in 1979 with “Moonraker.”  As the Bond marketing and promotions machine continued to churn with radio airplay and soundtrack sales for its celluloid offerings, the franchise officially entered the rock era in 1973 with perhaps one of its best known and successful themes: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Composed by George Martin, it marked the first Bond song to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Original Song), reaching #2 in the U.S. and #9 on the UK charts.  The song also won a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists).

Thus would begin a non-stop run of popular artists in every film that has included, most notably: Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Chris Cornell and Alicia Keys. To say nothing of a slew of top performers that have contributed tunes to the closing credits: Louis Armstrong, K.D. Lang, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Moby. And despite mega superstar Adele performing “Skyfall” in 2012, no Bond song had every topped the charts in the UK until Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” entered them at #1 in recent weeks on behalf of the latest 007 chapter, “Spectre.”

Which brings us to what I and many feel is one of the best Bond songs ever: “Spectre” by Radiohead.  Released to fans this past week online as something of a “Christmas gift” it does not appear in the film nor soundtrack as the hauntingly beautiful tune was passed over in favor of Smith. It’s not the first time top artists have lost out in favor of other options.  Consider these “losers”: Johnny Cash (Thunderball), Brian Wilson (for a James Bond theme song: “Run James Run” which would later appear on “Pet Sounds”), Alice Cooper (The Man with the Golden Gun), Blondie (For Your Eyes Only [Sheena Easton] and Pet Shop Boys (The Living Daylights). It would seem, then, that Radiohead is in very good company. And thought enough to make it available to enjoy through the power of social media.

Take a listen, decide for yourself and let me know what you think. You’ll find a link to the Soundcloud version here as well as a YouTube version of how it might have worked/looked over the actual opening credits here. And, with Radiohead four years removed from their last studio LP, one can’t help but get excited by the shape of things to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ELO Elicits A Nostalgic Universe

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

jeff-lynnes-elo-alone-in-the-universeNostalgia.  When it comes to “blast from the past” nothing does it quite like music.  Of course, music has a few things going for it.  Like scent, auditory stimuli can trigger vivid memories of persons and places from days gone by. As notably, as WDET’s Ann Delis put forth in my book, “No Static at All,” the repetitive nature of how we consume music can leave indelible marks in our psyche. We may read a book once or twice, yet, we listen to our favorite songs hundreds if not thousands of times.

As a former longtime air personality in music radio, I played a lot of songs a lot of times. Some I liked and some I loathed.  With a potential burnout factor a fact of life at that time, I was forever grateful for new music to be released and added to my stations’ playlists.  To this day, I still gravitate toward new music and away from old. That said, like many who look back fondly on music from the fun and emotional times of their high school and college days, I still have a soft spot for some of the bands and tunes from my youth.

One of those is a group that I feel is among the most underrated ever: The Electric Light Orchestra.  Between 1972 and 1986, the band sold more than 50 million records worldwide while boasting twenty-seven Top 40 singles and fifteen Top 20 hits. Until ELO, no band had ever so successfully melded classical music with rock and roll.  That said, you may well remember Walter Murphy Band’s disco-era “A Fifth of Beethoven” to a greater degree.  For me, however, with the release of 1976′s “A New World Record,” featuring the monster hit “Living Thing,” I was smitten.

Looking back, it was almost as much the branding of the band as the actual music. And while co-founder Jeff Lynne’s haunting vocals and driving orchestration were unforgettable, so too was the band’s iconic kaleidoscope logo which would soon become the very heart of a massive spaceship depicted prominently on all later album cover art – a akin to the guitar from a group of the same era, Boston.  I would argue that only Chicago’s Coca-Cola-esque moniker is more recognized and enduring.

It is with this foundation, then, that I was so excited to recently learn of the band’s first album in 14 years: “Alone in the Universe.”  Now branded as Jeff Lynne’s ELO (a story in and of itself thanks to past turmoil not uncommon between co-founders [ever hear of ELO II]?), the look, feel and sound of the new work harkens back to a time special for me and, no doubt, others.  Lynne, appears, has not missed a beat.

Ultimately, I think, that is why I love music so much – it means different things to different people based on individual tastes, emotions and personal experiences.  For this one, I might even trek out to purchase a now-hip-again full-sized LP version; easier to savor the album art as well as the new tunes fresh from the record store, just like back in the good old days. It’s back to the future through a veritable jukebox time machine.

Radio Legend Alan Almond Signs Off for Last Time

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.39.48 PMHe was a pioneering figure in radio that courted fame and fortune yet demanded a personal life. To be sure, for more than 25 years in Metro Detroit, millions went to bed with him each night yet virtually no one ever saw his face. Everyone, however, knew his voice.  Alan Almond, king of the nighttime and best known for his “Pillow Talk” program on WNIC, passed away this week at 67.  He was truly one of a kind.

His career started in the 1970s and would continue into the 90s, largely with WNIC but also with stops at a pre-WCSX WMJC, WOMC, WMXD, WXYT-AM and WJZZ.  His dulcet-toned delivery was ideal for nights and a love-song format, which he conceptualized and implemented to incredible success.  Where today radio after-dark is dominated by teenyboppers and programming aimed at that demographic, Almond generated #1 ratings via an adult, mostly female audience who eagerly consumed a steady diet of love songs, dedications and ruminations on life and love.

And his voice.  Like audio from God himself reverberating from the ether, slowly, deliberately and, to his audience, sensually. If radio is at its best as theater of the mind, Almond was a Tony-worthy actor, affecting for his listeners a radiowave landscape of dinner by candlelight and walks along the beach.

So key to his success, of course, was the mystique surrounding what Alan Almond actually looked like.  While desirous of out-of-studio privacy, Almond was also a master marketer and brand imager – understanding the value of never showing his face to ensure his fans forever maintained their own mental and emotional image and perception of who and what he was.  One of a kind, yet a man of a million faces, his voice and legacy will live on as we remember and treasure.