Published March 13, 2007
Whitney Houston begins in earnest to record her comeback album today.
Houston, who's been in rehab for about a year in Southern California, is about to make the tentative steps toward reclaiming her once-flourishing career.
The first step is venturing into a recording studio with superstar writer-producer Johnta Austin — pronounced "Jon-tay." Austin won a Grammy for co-writing Mariah Carey's hit "We Belong Together." The hope is that he can work his magic again with Houston.
I already told you in this space about a month ago that music mogul Clive Davis has already settled on roughly seven songs for Houston, including those by R. Kelly, Diane Warren and other big-name producers. Another name in the hat: a writer called Fernando.
One song Houston might try: Julia Fordham's "Angel Without Wings." In any case, until someone hears her sing, no one will know for sure if continued drug abuse and smoking has harmed Houston's famed voice. To that end, I hear she's been working with a good vocal coach.
Whitney Houston's news was the biggest headline to come out of the 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions. The event was an eclectic affair that highlighted the serious problems in the music business and with the Hall of Fame Foundation, which is separate from the Cleveland museum it doesn't support.
The inductees made sense if you knew their back stories. R.E.M. was easy: They deserved it and got in quickly after qualifying.
But the Ronettes? They have been eligible since the Hall formed, and finally made it because Phil Spector, their grudge-spewing producer and ex-husband of lead singer Ronnie Bennett, is going on trial for murder in California. Believe me, Spector has made it impossible for the trio to enter the Hall before this.
Then there was Van Halen. Eddie Van Halen is in rehab, so he was a no-show. No mention of his brother Alex, who may not actually exist. Former lead singer David Lee Roth sorely miscalculated his leverage and stayed away. That left Michael Anthony and the band's later addition, Sammy Hagar, to pick up the prizes.
Velvet Revolver, a cacophonous supergroup, inducted Van Halen and then attempted to grind out one of their songs. Hagar and Anthony joined in for a second number, but didn't fare much better.
Without Van Halen there wouldn't have been much controversy. But it was funny to see the first rap group make it into the Hall: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Tremendous innovators, Grandmaster Flash and the Five ironically led the mostly white, tuxedo-clad audience through a short sing-a-long on their famous line: "Don't push me/Because I'm close to the edge."
Most everyone in the room looked closer to nothing but the edge of their MasterCard limit, however. Hilarious.
But the induction of the group is a signal. Rap and hip-hop are not to be ignored. They will start to infiltrate the Rock Hall quickly now, possibly at the expense of rock groups considered pokey by either younger members or the Hall's dictator-like architect Jann Wenner.
Excluded, probably forever, are fan favorites like the Moody Blues, Chicago, Yes, Todd Rundgren, Carly Simon, Hall and Oates, Linda Ronstadt, etc. Expect Run DMC to be next on the Hall's list, along with Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.
One establishment rocker who doesn't care much for this idea is Keith Richards. He sat with his two beauteous blond daughters, Theodora and Alexandra, mocking Grandmaster Flash, et al, as they made speeches following a short introduction by Jay-Z, which the rapper read off his BlackBerry. It must have been sent to him as an e-mail.
After not too much time, the Rolling Stone left his table and never returned until the big jam session at the end of the night.
Pretty much everyone else stuck around to cheer on innovative punk poet Patti Smith, who finally made it into the Hall. Among the friends who joined her were famed writer Joan Didion and photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Patti's speech was especially touching, as she dedicated the induction to her late parents and her late husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith. She also revealed that her loved ones call her "Trisha." Very endearing.
Among the non-presenters in the audience: Michael J. Fox (who looked very well); Kenny Chesney, who is slight in person; grinning Kid Rock; cute Suzanne Vega; graying John McEnroe; aspiring singer-actress Jill Hennessy; Robbie Robertson; Peter Wolf; Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins; Lorne Michaels and several members of the cast of "Saturday Night Live."
The guests were not without their own controversies: Actor-performer Ice T was told he had to pay $3,000 if he wanted to attend. He declined. Chris Rock was rejected, but then allowed to enter the room.
There were highlights: Aretha Franklin was sublime performing "Don't Play That Song for Me" and "I Never Loved a Man" in memory of Ahmet Ertegun. Rev. Al Sharpton gave a great talk about James Brown: "You can't limit who's gonna rock; you can't limit who's gonna roll." It was vintage Rev. Al, and just great.
Aretha sat transfixed with Clive Davis watching old footage of her pal, Mr. Brown. Later Patti Smith knelt down before her. Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and company preached for a return to rap roots.
"I'm 45, and I've never shot anyone," he said.
Paul Shaffer, using much of his "Letterman" band and a barrage of other musicians, beautifully recreated Phil Spector's "wall of sound" for three songs by the Ronettes: "Be My Baby," "Walking in the Rain" and "Baby, I Love You." Ronnie Spector's voice was in top-notch form, a thing of beauty.
There was more, of course: the uneasy ousting of Hall of Fame head Suzan Evans by Wenner in favor of former Clear Channel executive Joel Peresman is not a popular subject among board members. With Ertegun gone, Wenner now has no one to say no to him. Hello, John Mellencamp!
With much of the 1970s music dismissed, new inductees are going to be on ever-shakier ground. Can you say Culture Club? Howard Jones?
The battle for purity under Wenner and Peresman, critics fear, is already lost to chart position.
But there's plenty of time to fret about these things. In the meantime, we got to hear Michael Stipe and Patti Smith duet on Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog." It may be the last subversive moment ever at the Rock Hall dinner, and it was spectacular.
Exclusive: Paul McCartney is splitting with the record company he’s called home for most of the last 43 years.
Except for a brief break in the early 1980s when he skipped to Columbia Records and then back, McCartney has been with Capitol since the Beatles’ first album in 1964.
But he’s leaving, effective immediately, and taking his entire back catalog of solo albums with him. That’s everything including bestsellers like "Band on the Run," "McCartney," "Ram," "Flowers in the Dirt," "Tug of War" and his critically acclaimed most recent album, "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard," nominated for four Grammys, including Album of the Year, in 2006.
That much is news. This much has also been reported: McCartney will be the first artist signed with Starbucks’ new record label. News of the label and McCartney’s potential involvement were first suggested in Sunday’s New York Post.
But I can tell you exclusively: It’s a done deal. It will be announced this week. McCartney will first offer just his new album to Starbucks for a fall release. The rest of the catalog he will sit on for the moment.
Capitol, I can also tell you, is not happy. They are part of the ailing EMI Records empire. EMI, like Warner Music, is suffering and could collapse at any time. This news is a terrible blow to them.
"They knew it was coming," a source says. "They did nothing for the 'Chaos' album, and they were reminded that McCartney’s entire contract was ending. Look, they did nothing for the Beatles’ 'Love' album this winter. It just sold on its own. Everything they do is outdated."
McCartney’s exit from Capitol is interesting in many ways. Every since the Beatles joined Capitol, all their albums and all their solo albums have come from the label.
Capitol’s association with the group since they broke up in 1970 has always been key. McCartney’s Wings albums were with the label, as was John Lennon’s "Imagine," George Harrison’s "All Things Must Pass" and Ringo Starr’s "Ringo!" Even Sean Lennon has released a Capitol album.
But all that may change now that McCartney has flown the coop. Starbucks has proven to be a much more effective seller of CDs and DVDs than record stores, thanks to their amazing retailing and branding.
Starbucks customers have come to regard non-coffee product merchandise as hip and attractive, while record companies have been unable to reach customers at all in recent years.