I told you earlier this week that the Rolling Stones are looking at a deal with concert promoter Live Nation that would also cover the release of their CDs. The deal is similar to the one Madonna signed in 2007.
Now I’m told that at least two more big acts are in talks with Live Nation along similar lines. The most surprising of these is U2, which has spent its entire career on either Island Records or a company connected to it, Interscope. They are all part of the Universal Music Group.
But times are changing quickly in what’s left of the music business, and U2 is said to be wanting out. If they go with Live Nation, their exit from UMG will be a blow to all, including Doug Morris and Jimmy Iovine, the group’s principal contacts.
My sources say the group’s most recent release, 2004’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” fulfilled their Interscope contract. UMG also released a remastered version of the group’s seminal album, “The Joshua Tree,” recently. That also may have concluded the contract.
Interestingly, the current U2 movie, a 3D concert film that’s received high praise, has no CD soundtrack to accompany it. Considering that U2’s catalog is light on live recordings, the lack of an Interscope CD does set off alarms.
A few months ago, you’ll recall that U2’s savvy manager, Paul McGuiness, told me that the group will have at least two new releases in 2008: their Broadway “Spiderman” musical and a separate rock album.
It’s entirely possible that those two releases would form the basis of a new deal, perhaps with Live Nation. The “Spiderman” musical is set to be directed by Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”) and may feature members of the cast of her 2007 Beatles film, “Across the Universe.”
The other artist I’m told is talking to Live Nation is Christian singer Michael W. Smith. The singer records for Franklin, Tenn.-based Reunion Records and has an enormous following in the Christian niche market.
If U2 makes this kind of deal, along with the Stones and Madonna, soon all bets will be off at the majors over long term or heritage artists. The Eagles are already on their own through Wal-Mart, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell have jumped to Starbucks’ Hear Music, and Radiohead deserted EMI for their own company.
Movie producers using easily identifiable music with singers should always remember: Ain’t nothing like the real thing.
On the eve of a Berry Gordy tribute by the Grammy board, Tony Soprano has unwittingly come wandering into the Motown neighborhood. And you know what happened when he crossed the New York mob, right? Mass destruction. Does he really want to see that happen in Detroit too?
James Gandolfini has announced that he’s going to co-produce and co-star in a movie about Motown great Marvin Gaye called “Sexual Healing.” I told you about this movie back exactly one year ago. I just didn’t think it would happen. It’s a very bad idea.
You see, the writer/director of the film, Lauren Goodman, managed to get the rights to Gaye’s post-Motown recordings on Columbia Recordings. She signed “Law and Order” and original “Rent” star Jesse L. Martin to play Gaye in his later, drug-addled years. The movie will only depict the singer in the lead up to his 1982 murder at the hands of his own father.
In other words: none of Gaye’s exceptional life and career from 1962 to his Motown exit some 18 years later will he shown, because Goodman can’t get the rights to any of that music. Goodman will not be able to use “How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)” or any of the Tammi Terrell duets, or “What’s Going On,” the seminal masterpiece for which Gaye is universally loved and remembered, from 1971. All of that is controlled by Gordy and EMI Music Publishing.
This should be a lesson to all those who want to make movies about Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, etc. It only works as in the case of “Ray,” when R-E-S-P-E-C-T is shown.
One thing’s for sure: when Gandolfini finds out how much it costs to license a song title for a movie, he’s going to rename that movie. When music publishers know you’re using their song as the movie’s title, they charge a fortune. “Sexual Healing” may have to be changed to “Marvin’s Room.” Oh, wait: that title’s already been used!
Will there be an Academy Awards show on Feb. 24? Oscar chiefs Sid Ganis and Gil Cates say yes, some kind of presentation will be made on ABC that night even if the Writers Guild strike is still on. Certainly, the Directors Guild settlement with the studios gave everyone hope the WGA was about to put down the picket signs.
But nothing is that simple. Thursday night, the very funny and talented “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane and Alex(andra) Borstein of “Family Guy” and “MAD TV” fame put on a show at Carnegie Hall to benefit the striking guild. Patti LuPone and Janeane Garofalo were their guests.
The show was sold out, although I was able to get a free ticket just by standing outside. A man walked up to a woman next to me, said, “I have a bunch of free tickets,” and handed them to her. Talk about right place, right time.
Of course, Garofalo and LuPone are known entities, and they were just fine. The former got off a lot of funny lines about the strike. She said, “I’m on a show called ‘24,’ but since the strike it’s like ‘8.’” The Air America host made fun of conservatives, of course, and called NPR “National Pentagon Radio.” She also mocked comedian Dane Cook’s fame. “His popularity, I don’t understand it. He’s like an X File.”
But it was McFarlane and Borstein who were total surprises. Their act was a slightly dirty version of Nichols and May, updated enough that Mike Nichols should be producing them on Broadway. McFarlane has the standing and voice of a Tony-winning musical star. Who knew? He has a delicious bass baritone in the league of Gordon McRae or Robert Goulet.
Borstein, who’s more like Bette Midler as Tracy Turnblad, is no slouch either. This pair can do anything. They were a revelation as they performed a series of song parodies, from a fake “Animal House” theme song to a trippy mash-up of “Jessie’s Girl” and “June Is Busting Out All Over.” I’m telling you, someone sign McFarlane up for “Oklahoma!” now.
The pair did get in many hilarious digs, including several at Britney Spears. “She’s a hillbilly who won the lottery,” McFarlane said. Her fame, he said, was “like giving a monkey the keys to an amusement park.”
But what about that strike? Things aren’t looking so good this morning. On the unitedhollywood.com Web site, several big name writers have suddenly emerged with calls to arms. They don’t want a quick settlement and question the DGA terms. John McNamara, a TV producer/writer who’s got lots of credits, writes:
“On January 14th, my overall deal at CBS/Paramount was terminated. …I should be writing to you gentlemen begging you to take the DGA deal. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm writing to urge you — don't settle for anything less than the best deal possible.”
Unitedhollywood.com is obviously taking its cues from the union leadership, which means that the two sides are far apart. Not only that, but the enthusiastic introduction of WGA chief Patric Verrone at the televised SAG Awards last Sunday was like the time Jack was seen playing football with The Others on “Lost”: it sent a strong and obvious message: the actors are with the writers.
Even if the strike is still on later this month, I hope the WGA realizes that its best strategy would be a waiver for the Oscars. Let the show go on, and have anyone who wants to — with ABC’s explicit understanding — make pro-union speeches. The Golden Globes were piffle, but the Oscars are too important. If the Guild demurs, it shows strength, not weakness, and an understanding that all this, too, shall pass.