Business-and-music-related observations and comment.

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Walk Off The Earth does it again

Walk Off The Earth released a homegrown video without much fanfare this spring, featuring a duet by Gianni Luminati and Sarah Blackwood, followed by an announcement of the due date of their next child.

It’s a must-see clip, which teaches us some simple truths. It shows how a minimalist, lo-tech production can be remarkably effective in an era of blow-your-mind visual gimmickry. It also demonstrates how powerful a gentle tug on the heart strings can be in communicating a message. You’d have to be catatonic to not be moved and inspired by the performance below. Whatever they want to sell me, I'm buying.

The song is Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe”—which was released 50 years ago tomorrow and quickly became a million-seller. But it's never sounded so fresh—with such heart-melting charm—as it sounds here. Catch the blend on Gianni and Sarah's harmonies, even when they're not singing words. This is Simon & Garfunkel quality.

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Is rock going soft?

Soft boiled egg I’m not talking about soft rock. I’m talking about soft rockers.

My favorite under-the-radar band, Walk Off The Earth, finally released its new album, Sing It All Away, which I heard them perform in a killer show last month. But it made me wonder about my other favorite up-and-coming acts, who have been MIA of late. Every month I check for A Great Big World’s sophomore album, but zilch so far. AGBW had a hit single with Christine Aguilera two years ago (“Say Something”) and a hit album two winters ago (Is There Anybody Out There?). But no product since then—an eternity in the world of popular music

Meanwhile Fun. continues its long sabbatical from performing and recording—a disastrous move, given the direction their career was headed after they racked up three hit singles and a chart-busting album by 2012 and won two Grammys (one for “Best New Artist”) in 2013. I understand that band members want to do side projects, but in this case the mother ship hasn’t been fully launched. It would be like Bono and Edge putting U2 on hold to pursue solo projects just as they began achieving fame in the mid-80s, BEFORE the band broke through internationally.

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And in the end...

Fireworks Ok, I forget the quote. But it went something like, "It's not what you do NEXT that's important. It's what you do LAST.”

Lots of ways to interpret this, but I hear it as: What are you going to leave people with when you exit the stage? What final contribution do you intend to make? What are people going to remember you for?

This applies to organizations as well as individuals. And of course to musical acts.

The Beatles' final recording was their Abbey Road album. (The acrimonious Let It Be sessions were released after Abbey Road, but they were recorded before.) The Fabs sensed their days were numbered so they decided to put their bickering aside and pull it together for a grand finale. Their farewell message was their last song on the LP in which they sang, “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Concluding their band career with their biggest-selling album, their most joyful recording, and some of their most uplifting lyrics was no small accomplishment. John Lennon had said years earlier that they would decide when to call it quits (and not the fickle public). They delivered on his promise. A textbook case of "going out on top.”

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The record that changed the future of rock

file000922073739 50 years ago this month a seismic shift occurred that altered the course of pop music history.

An unusual sounding single by a new LA band, The Byrds, commandeered the pop charts in June of 1965, elbowing out hits like "Help Me Rhonda," "Wooly Booly," and "I Can't Help Myself" for the top spot. The song, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” was written by singer/songwriter Bob Dylan—already a folk music star but unknown to most pop music fans.

At the time, the surrealistic lyric of the song in combination with the jangly guitar sound of the band—highlighted by an electric 12-string—made it one of the most original sounding records EVER. By early summer the single had caught fire like few other recordings of the era, stayed on the Billboard charts for 13 weeks, and earned rave reviews from music critics—and even accolades from The Beatles, who 16 months earlier had rescued rock music from oblivion.

The song was a game-changer because it introduced to pop listeners a quality of lyrical poetry previously unheard on Top 40 radio, delivered with an alluring melody, celestial harmonies, a densely-arpeggiated electric guitar sound, and a solid back beat. To my mind, the triumph of this record marks the date that rock music grew up—after which the lyrics began to say something and the music gained the sophistication to powerfully communicate them.

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Non credo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A business lesson—and especially a life lesson—that I picked up from my rock & roll days is to maintain some skepticism towards leadership and authority. Especially when that authority appears to be unquestioned.

Bob Dylan said not to follow leaders. John Lennon said not to follow Dylan. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong said we’re not meant to follow anybody and that we should even “revolt against the honor to obey.” Strong stuff. It’s too bad this sentiment has been endlessly trivialized on bumper stickers and lapel pins, because deference to hierarchy, obeisance to authority, uncritical acceptance of orthodoxy (economic, scientific, religious, etc.), and lack of critical thinking in general are among the most dangerous habits on ample display these days.

The business world is hardly exempt from this. If you work for a company you may be led to believe in the infallibility of your company’s leaders—or in the unexamined goodness of your company’s business model, practices, culture, etc. (If you’re self-employed, you can substitute industry or field for company.) If you worked for a large investment bank in the middle of the last decade you probably believed in the bounteous benefits of financial “innovations” like unregulated credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations, and other derivatives.

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