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Rick Nelson: Resurrection (arf arf)
January 1, 2006 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Reinventing Ricky. It's been twenty years now since Rick Nelson died in a plane crash en route to a 1985 New Year's Eve gig in Dallas, but his record label now wants to make him presentable to a new generation "using the same techniques Procter & Gamble uses to sell pet food."
posted by First Post (33 comments total)

 
I'm not big on focus grouping music to begin with, but Rick Nelson strikes me as kind of a strange choice since he's something of an unheralded maverick. How many clean-cut TV idols embraced rock and roll (back when that was still a fairly daring thing to do) and unleashed one of early rock's best guitarists and then told the oldies circuit to get bent with "Garden Party.". Kind of a bad choice for productization, I'd say.
posted by jonmc at 8:30 AM on January 1, 2006


"Re-branding presumes that the audience is ignorant of the artist, and that is not the case with the country music audience."

No, rebranding presumes you can't use 1950's marketing in a 2006 economy. The country music audience is as gullible as the pop music audience when it comes to pre-packaged, corporate music. The article says as much only a couple sentences later:

"When you .... find people of various ages picking up and buying country CDs by the handfuls by -- most noticeably -- Carrie Underwood ...... in big numbers, you don't worry about tomorrow or next week."

Carrie Underwood? Yes, the country music audience is savvy allright. And Shania Twain? Please. She has almost single handedly moved Country music into a Disco format. Aside from the standard fake twang voice they all must use and the complimentary lap-steel guitar, Country is anything but what it used to be (no one sings with a 'natural' twang - it's a forced style of voice). These two women are considered near the height of the country scene. They are as pre-packaged a dog food as you will find and the country music audience eats it up - with a spoon mind you.
posted by j.p. Hung at 8:44 AM on January 1, 2006


"Beyond Nelson and Martin, EMI is working on a new compilation of songs from the 1980s heavy-metal band Poison, slated for release in April."

Am I so old now that my teenage years need to be "re-branded" and marketed back to me? Or are they marketing Poison to Generation X or Y, or whichever generation it was that was still in diapers when we were all slow-dancing to Every Rose Has It's Thorn at school dances?

If Dino was for 30-somethings trying to make reservations at a fancy restaurant, is this for college kids trying to coax their girlfriend into a threesome and asking themselves, "What would Bret Michaels do?"
posted by Meredith at 9:31 AM on January 1, 2006


ah, ricky nelson, the recording industry's desperate attempt to market a safer elvis.
posted by quonsar at 10:01 AM on January 1, 2006


the recording industry's desperate attempt to market a safer elvis.

No way, Heavy Drinking Rockabilly people take Nelson over Elvis often (with Feathers and Orbison beating both) I got into Ricky Nelson from the Cramps doing covers of his stuff and dedicating an album or two to him, "A Date With Elvis" no less!

His teenage recordings, if you strip the Ozzie off them, are very good. Soulful and in pain at points, too.
posted by Peter H at 10:31 AM on January 1, 2006


The EMI total re-branding campaign is a model that I find unworkable with country music and the country music audience -- as both now exist. Re-branding presumes that the audience is ignorant of the artist, and that is not the case with the country music audience.

That's exactly what EMI was presuming. What they wanted to do was remarket country music to an audience that was ignorant of the artist in order to sell more albums to consumers who wouldn't otherwise have bought them. I have a feeling that the author missed the point entirely.
posted by deanc at 10:33 AM on January 1, 2006


"Werre’s research led him to carve up the potential Nelson audience into two groups - Midwesterners and blue collar buyers"

Hmm, also least likely to download mp3s?
posted by mischief at 10:34 AM on January 1, 2006


I couldn't be the only one to immediately think of this, could I?
posted by kimota at 10:36 AM on January 1, 2006


the recording industry's desperate attempt to market a safer elvis.

Actually, Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou," (featuring a great James Burton guitar solo, has been cited as a huge inspiration by sveral guitarists including Jimmy Page & Jeff Beck. And "Garden Party" shows that Rick Nelson was sincere about his music and had a healthy dose of rebel attitude.
posted by jonmc at 10:56 AM on January 1, 2006


Johnny Suede.
posted by bardic at 11:08 AM on January 1, 2006


Country is anything but what it used to be

And what's this "what it used to be?" "Pop" singers have dominated country's sales charts routinely since the days of Vernon Dalhart. Marketing executives have shaped country's public face since the days of Ralph Peer. "Twang" is sometimes an affectation, and sometimes the result of someone singing in their "natural" southern dialect with extensive vowel dipthongization and nasalization. (No dialect is truly "natural," since they are all acquired by virtue of growing up in a particular community.)

And Shania Twain? Please. She has almost single handedly moved Country music into a Disco format.

Shania Twain may be "disco" to you, but she grew up in Timmins, Ontario, as a dirt poor rural kid, the adopted daughter of an Ojibway forester. She's way more "country" by virtue of her pedigree (which is what I take "natural" to mean) than, say, Gillian Welch (duaghter of a successful Hollywood composer) or any of your more "authentic" alt country acts, so often celebrated as the "real" thing these days. Steve Earle is the son of an air traffic controller. Lucinda Williams is the daughter of a professor. Shania, in many respects, is a lot closer to Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn than Lucinda will ever be. (Not that I don't love Williams' and Earle's and Welch's music, but that's not the point.)

All major label pop music is focus-grouped these days, country being no exception. That's true of thrash punk as well as bubble-gum pop. Music is a business. And it was ever and always "pre-packaged," at least since the dawn of the commercial popular music industry. If you hear it on a radio or an iPod, it didn't flow down from a mountain with the last snowmelt. Why hold the country audience (or industry) to a standard you would expect to apply to Coldplay or the latest punk/ pop diva / hip-hop crooner being pitched to the kiddies?
posted by realcountrymusic at 11:33 AM on January 1, 2006


er, a standard you *wouldn't* expect to apply to Coldplay . . . .

And it's a pedal steel, not a lap steel, that provides the signature sound of even the most emaciated "country" records these days. They use lap steels when hipsters want to parody country by making it sound more down home and "natural," like on that travesty of a clusterf**k Jack White unleashed on Loretta Lynn last year.
posted by realcountrymusic at 11:37 AM on January 1, 2006


I watched the A&E Biography about Rick Nelson last week, and I was struck at how odd his life must've been, yet how sane and good-natured he appeared. "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" ran from 1952 to 1966. Imagine having to spend 14 of your formative years doing a weekly TV show with your parents! Having his life under a microscope must have been strange while the show was wildly popular, but how about those later years, when he was trying to shed his heartthrob image and make a serious career in music? I'm guessing being a part of the Ozzie and Harriet show in 1966 would have been a credibility killer for a lesser man.
posted by maryh at 11:46 AM on January 1, 2006


Ween's 12 Golden Country Greats.
posted by bardic at 12:35 PM on January 1, 2006


first of all, realcountrymusic, good to see ya back, man!

Second of all, you're on target about the "pedigree fetishism," than many music fans indulge in. To say nothing of the sham of "cred." In the 60's, Tammy & Loretta were written off as "corny," by many music fans who must feel foolish, now. And Earle's middle-class and Welch & Williams' upper-crust backgrounds have zero effect on what's in the grooves. And (I'll probably get dissed for saying this) there's still some stuff in today's pop-country that will be treasured nuggets years down the road. Not Shania, though.

And Rick Nelson haters, y'all just don't get it, I guess. "Hello, Mary Lou," changed American popular music in unfathomable waays.
posted by jonmc at 1:11 PM on January 1, 2006


i'm with you on the rick nelson thing jonmc. i have some old mix tapes a friend made years ago that have nelson on them, i still listen to from time to time.
posted by nola at 1:23 PM on January 1, 2006


I've been tearing apart my room looking for my 45 of "Hello Mary Lou." I heard that on the oldies station when I was a tyke and fell in love with it. "It's Late," and "Travelin' Man," too.
posted by jonmc at 1:36 PM on January 1, 2006


thanks jonmc. just driving by, but how can i resist a thread about country music?

sadly, i agree that shania's fine talent has been ill-served by the path to stardom she's followed. the woman can in fact sing her ass off. i've always liked her first record, released as "eileen twain" rather than shania. it's not exceptional, but it's pretty straight-ahead country material and you can hear a real singer there with a technical prowess and a verve that reminds me of a young reba mcentire.

and you don't get more authentically country then going from a single-wide in northern ontario to a castle. in switzerland.
posted by realcountrymusic at 2:56 PM on January 1, 2006


Oh, like someone named "realcountrymusic" has any credibility in a thread on country music!

and shania twain blows, regardless of where she was born or to whom
posted by papakwanz at 2:58 PM on January 1, 2006


No way, Heavy Drinking Rockabilly people take Nelson over Elvis...

Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou," (featuring a great James Burton guitar solo...


you both appear to have missed the fact that i said 'the recording industry's attempt to market a safer elvis' and did not say 'rick nelsons attempt to market himself as a safer elvis', but that's just a small detail, ya know!
posted by quonsar at 3:08 PM on January 1, 2006


Ok so you're realcountrymusic? That don't impress me much. You got the knowledge, but have you got the touch?

sorry, couldn't resist... :)
posted by funambulist at 3:10 PM on January 1, 2006


I'm for anything that keeps record companies digging into their archives and making out-of-print music available, including the use of focus groups to calm overly skittish music execs who don't believe their back catalog can find an audience on its own. I'm as amused/annoyed by marketing excess as anyone, but I'm still totally failing to feel any outrage here. The article doesn't imply that EMI's changing anything about Nelson (or changed anything about Martin); it's just carefully choosing which era of a pop star's career and which images from the photo archive to push. I honestly don't see how this is all that different from the kind of marketing push teenybopper artists got at the time.

Anyway, I know next to nothing about Nelson, so I'm curious to see what kind of package they come up with. If the music's as good as jonmc and nola say, I'll probably like it, regardless of how the company decides to market it to "midwesterners."
posted by mediareport at 4:50 PM on January 1, 2006


mediareport: just fire up the p2p of your choice and dl these songs:

Hello, Mary Lou
It's Late
Poor Little Fool
Travelin' Man
Lonesome Town
Garden Party

That's the best introduction. Follow those tunes wherever they may lead. (Zep used to do a version of "Hello, Mary Lou," during their 'oldies' portion of their live set. John Fogerty of Creedence was also a fanatical Ricky Nelson fan). Like Dion and Bobby Darin Ricky has been underestimated by current fans due to the phenomena surrounding him. Trust me on this.
posted by jonmc at 5:37 PM on January 1, 2006


including the use of focus groups to calm overly skittish music execs who don't believe their back catalog can find an audience on its own.

As someone who catlogues the music industry for a living, I can tell you that reissues of back catalog stuff is making more money for the music industry than any of the new stuff, FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on January 1, 2006


The thing that bugs me about this is not the shameless marketing, but the shameless profiteering. The music industry is realizing that they can make practically free money by exhuming something from their back catalog, putting it in a new package, and selling it to a new crowd that's never heard it before. They have practically no production costs, no tour to sponsor, no temperamental artist to put up with. If the album doesn't sell well, they aren't out much money, and if it sells big, it's almost 100% profit. They sold 759,000 copies of an old Dean Martin album; at $17 a pop, that's nearly $13M. I'd be willing to bet it cost well under $1M for acquiring the rights, remastering, repackaging, and coffee and sandwiches for the people in the focus groups.
posted by RylandDotNet at 5:54 PM on January 1, 2006


and shania twain blows

I've always thought shania twain blows as well, but if realcountrymusic is recommending her, I may well give her a second listen.

Zep used to do a version of "Hello, Mary Lou," during their 'oldies' portion of their live set.


I picked up on it's greatness while watching Garcia playing with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. The rest of the set sucked (though it may have been the mud, the rain and the acid), but Hello Mary Lou was a revelation and sent me straight back to the source.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:49 PM on January 1, 2006


The secret was that James Burton used a very thin uncoated string witch allowed him to bend it like crazy so he could make those wild twangy sounds.
posted by jonmc at 7:17 PM on January 1, 2006


Hey, who cares how it's marketed if it's good music? And, in fact, Ricky Nelson made some terrific records. There's a nice series of twofer remasters on Capitol (e.g. this one) which have been keeping me pretty happy lately. Great, great stuff.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:31 PM on January 1, 2006


That wasn't meant, by the way, as a slight on the post, which I found interesting. I just meant that, yeah, all music is marketed, as are all commercial products. However, it's possible to look past marketing at, you know, the actual text, and enjoy it on its own terms. Just because something is marketed in an over-the-top way doesn't make it bad.

Or something. Anyway. Carry on.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:43 PM on January 1, 2006


jonmc: I can tell you that reissues of back catalog stuff is making more money for the music industry than any of the new stuff

Yeah, that's mentioned in the third link: "Catalog sales can make up as much as 40 percent of a record company’s income." Which makes the paucity of reissues of, say, early gospel music - bemoaned in detail in the NYT last February - so perplexing. Do these idiots really not know what they have locked away in those damn vaults?

...catalogs of early gospel labels are mostly owned by the large corporations that dominate the music industry. For the most part, these companies have released only a few classic albums on compact disc...

It was once difficult to find the jazz masters, but reissues of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and dozens of others have brought labels renewed sales, a new audience and critical acclaim. These reissues came about because of the aggressive lobbying by jazz lovers and the foresight of a few label executives. The same can happen with early gospel...Each day, irreplaceable master tapes deteriorate, get lost, or are simply tossed out.


I say so what if it takes carefully focus-grouped marketing plans to get major labels to start reissuing great old music? They need to be doing more of it, not less, right?
posted by mediareport at 11:05 PM on January 1, 2006


Rumours suggest that the crash was caused by a cabin fire set off by someone on board free-basing cocaine.
posted by Leam Srehtorb at 2:56 AM on January 2, 2006


I've always thought shania twain blows as well, but if realcountrymusic is recommending her, I may well give her a second listen

Thanks Peter. Alas, that first record is very hard to find (it was called "Eileen Twain" and predates 1995's "The Woman In Me"). It was good, solid straight-ahead country material, and they let her voice carry the record. All very pre-Mutt-Lange.
posted by realcountrymusic at 9:05 AM on January 2, 2006


I dunno if it's considered bad to post in your own FPP, so I waited til the next day :)

Some very thought-provoking comments in here. And jonmc is right--Nelson's music is well worth seeking out, regardless of the whole weird marketing thing. And the guy in the article who pointed out that the problem with music right now is that it's being marketed as if it was pet food...he's right too. It's deeper than some product, y'all. It is. I think some folks might have missed that point. Maybe if it weren't being pulled in this salesdroid direction, we'd be hearing a more vibrant and compelling Shania, closer to the early version that realcountrymusic is talking about.

Not sure if that whole fire-from-freebasing thing was ever confirmed...the crash happened not far from where I am now. Hoss Cartwright's buried there too.
posted by First Post at 9:19 AM on January 2, 2006


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