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"Better songs, if nothing else"

*singer-29259__340This was the title of a recent Boston Globe opinion piece by Renée Graham referring to what a Trump Presidency could contribute to the common good: “riling up musicians to voice their political opposition in song.”

It echoes my observation in recent posts that incompetent and duplicitous leadership in the White House is awakening spontaneous resistance in the rock & roll community that hasn't been heard in nearly a half century.

That began last week as a unified boycott of President Trump’s inaugural events and parties by the nation's premier musical talent. (The acts who did perform at those events lacked serious artistic cred and did themselves no favors publicity-wise.) The best rock and pop artists have always had good BS detectors and have been among the first to sniff out deceit in political leadership. (One could argue that rock & roll’s finest hour—at least as a cultural force—was during the reign of Richard Nixon.)

But you might ask, “Why would the centers of political (or commercial or financial) power be concerned about what some pop singers wail about?”

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O Canada!

My favorite band in the galaxy—as most readers know—is Walk Off The Earth, an alt-rock band from Burlington, Ontario.

Below is a moving performance I just came across of WOTE singing “O Canada” at the World Hockey Finals last year. (It should not shock anyone that many Americans have been thinking fondly of Canada in recent weeks.)

This short clip captures the musical magic of the band. I often post WOTE's own videos to illustrate their madcap creativity, but this more solemn rendition of the Canadian anthem demonstrates the vocal mastery (understated but poignant) of their three lead singers—Sarah Blackwood, Ryan Marshall, and Gianni Luminati. They do their country proud here.

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Ends and odds

beatles-1295244_1280Allan Williams, the Beatles’ first manager (aka “the man who discovered the Beatles"), passed on last week.

In August 1960, Williams booked the young Liverpool band for a three-month residency in Hamburg, Germany, where they transformed themselves from a raggedy dance band into a tight concert act, which put them on the map in Liverpool as a top draw. As a result, we can safely say: no Allan Williams, no Beatles.

By the following spring the band dropped Williams in a contract dispute and eight months later picked up the more urbane Brian Epstein to manage them. In truth, there would be no Beatles without either Williams or Epstein. One kept them alive in their scuffling days; the other cleaned up their act, found them national gigs, and got them a record deal which helped launch them to international fame.

One lesson here is that a business may need one kind of management to get it off the ground, but another kind to get it into the global market. This week let us give thanks to the former. RIP, Alan Williams.

***

It’s great to see the pop music community continue to resist the roar from the cave in American politics, as we await the changing of the guard in two weeks. Rock/pop artists are not always paragons of virtue, but they can be counted on to speak out against the most virulent forms of prejudice they witness. The campaign of the President-Elect has promoted the most toxic brew of racism, jingoism, xenophobia, bigotry, and sexism I've seen in American politics in my lifetime, so it's no wonder the PEOTUS can’t find a single A-list entertainer to play at his inauguration, as mentioned here.

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The sound of silence

riff-149642_1280A funny thing happened on the way to the U.S. presidential inauguration. No rock star has offered to perform for it. And no pop artist of substance has agreed to play either. Their collective silence has been deafening.

In a recent post I predicted that the rock/pop community would take the lead in the mounting protest against the President-Elect. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. Unlike in the past—when, for example, U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder played at Obama’s first inauguration—not one A-list act has agreed to show up this time, and the PEOTUS is not pleased.

The Prexy-to-be has had to settle for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who, based on past performance at least, are unlikely to kick out the jams or rock the house.

In some cases this snub may be simple economics. The top stars understand a fundamental business lesson of rock: don't risk a fan backlash by appearing to endorse a cause or celebrity that is antithetical to their values. (In marketing terms, they don't want their brand to go negative by association—as I once wrote about here.)

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Does anybody really know what time it is?

Talking to many blog readers this week, I'm realizing how many of you are looking for a respite from the post-election madness and the holiday blues. (Or is it the post-election blues and the holiday madness?)

Either way, you've come to the right place. For a wonderful four-minute escape, check out this video of a Chicago tune performed by a Ukrainian cover band, Leonid & Friends. This is SO charming I couldn't resist!

I have to admit that Chicago was not one of my favorite groups. A bit too much of a lounge band for my rock & roll tastes when I was younger. But from watching L&F meticulously reproduce the finer points of the arrangements I can better appreciate Chicago’s craftsmanship. (If you want more, here's a cover of a rockier Chicago hit.) Of course I love the fact that some of these dudes are older than me!

And what's the business lesson here? Quality is quality. It stands the test of time, even when Philistines (like, uh, me) don’t appreciate it at first. Through their flawless performance, Leonid & Friends have demonstrated their own virtuosity as well as the brilliance of Chicago’s compositions and arrangements.

Here’s another point: great artists, craftsmen, and innovators often begin by closely imitating—sometimes painstakingly replicating—the work of others. That’s one way to “get good.” I predict that this cover band will—if they haven’t already—become first-rate musical arrangers and players.

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