The Time is Now!

One night last week, a bout of channel surfing brought me to the Grammy nomination concert. Not the Grammys mind you, that’s in February, but a televised special to announce the nominations. And only the nominations of the celebrity—driven stuff like Best New Artist which is when LL Cool J, who was hosting, walked across the front of the auditorium and ask the Jonas Brothers how it felt to be nominated. As the bile rose in my throat I changed the channel. I found it to be very strange that this was proceeded by a showing of the venerable 1964 stop motion animation special, Rudolph, The Red—Nosed Reindeer which is narrated by Burl Ives and contains a couple of indelible toon icons in the prospector Yukon Cornelius and a Yeti called a “bumble.”

Watching the Grammy nomination concert, also made me realize that the chasm that exists between rich and poor in this country is not nearly as deep as the yawning divide between the music business as seen on this show;—silly–assed, ego–driven, kids and wannabes—and the MUSIC business, the one that’s concerned more with music than celebrity. The one that sells to teensand adults. The one that peddles songs, not just manufactured celebrity. This country’s unhealthy obsession with “celebrity–journalism,” that utter garbage you see everyday on TMZ (whose toussled–haired, street chic, beautiful people correspondents are more nauseating than their subjects), is pitiful.

Okay, get the picture? I’m a cranky old man.

Not Really.

Nothing symbolizes the get-a-hit side of music than the phenomenally successful NOW compilations. Now on #29, these Universal Music compilations repackage hit singles from most of the major labels. They are a vivid and up–to–date barometer of what’s happening in the Grammy concert side of the business. In the name of being an informed bitcher, I decided to put some time into NOW 29. Right out of the gate, there were two compressed, overproduced but genuinely catchy singles, Pink’s “So What” and Katy Perry’s dance floor throbber, “Hot N Cold.” Okay, I will admit that A) I can be a sucker for sugary pop, and B) I am not immune to Katy’s, ummm, physical attributes but in this case, her tune which is clearly the work of some team of pro hitmakers, has an undeniably big if simple hook. After that, like a lot of compilations, things slow down qualitywise, although the Pussycat Dolls who otherwise suck, clearly had ahold of some inspired adolescent angst when they penned lines like, “When I grow up I want to have boobies.”

The one thing major labels have, besides a nasty PR problem, one that’s equaled only by the one the UAW is now battling, is content. Lots and lots of compelling content. It’s why their downfall, basically because of their own short-sightedness (yet another commonality to the automakers mess), was so surprising. Like the carmakers fierce battle against raising CAF standards, the record business should have been leading the charge to become the leader in downloading THEIR content. They should have out thunk the Napsters of this world. But, again like the carmakers who nodded off because SUV’s were selling, they sat back and reveled in the mountains of cash they reaped from the rush to convert LP libraries to CDs. While I’m on this comparison, which is pretty interesting when you think about it, the one place where this match doesn’t hold is that American music still leads the world in style and verve. Where American carmakers really lost their edge and so the war was in the style department. Now I axed ya, how can a business responsible for uber—classic muscle cars like the GTO, the 442 and the `68 Charger, not to mention old T-Birds and `vettes, be outstyled by the Japanese? Americans don’t want American cars because they look clunky and dumb. Remember fins? Suicide doors? Rag tops? Face it Detroit, when it comes to car design, the Japanese have outsexed ya and that’s why you are in the tank. Your products look like shit!

But I digress. The fact that the labels have so much content makes it no surprise that the NOW series has now released what may be the best of all Christmas compilations. Okay, time for the next disclaimer. If you are one of the many for whom Christmas music is a form of torture, then what comes next will make no sense. But for the rest of us, Now That’s What I Call Christmas is pretty sweet. Donnie Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas,” Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” and many of the other biggest Christmas hits worth listening to are on it and the sound is decent throughout. More on Xmas music next week.