Sunday, 30 May 2010

Will more Great Catalogue now come back from Exile?

Have you listened to Exile of Main Street lately? If not, then you will surely have at least been curious to do so. It’s been nothing if not omnipresent for the past six weeks or so, leading up to the re-release last week.

This is how to do catalogue marketing. Take a classic record – one with plentiful versions of plentiful stories – and some good music – and re-embed it into the culture. So, for the past six weeks we’ve been ‘treated’ (whether we like it or not, and I for one have quite liked it) to extensive write-ups in all the broadsheets – with cover stories in their supplements, BBC documentaries on the TV and the radio – all seemingly with full participation from esquires Jagger & Richards. I'm sure there's probably been a social media strategy as well but I was less receptive to that if so.

Result for us: Exile On Main Street basically unavoidable. We are forced to submit, basically.
Result for them: Catalogue record from 1972 re-enters 2010 album chart and actually goes to number 1.

No wonder The Stones decided to take their catalogue over from EMI to Universal. Guy Hands probably didn’t paint quite this picture in his lunches with Jagger – the idea that for weeks on end, the likes of ‘Exile’ would literally become the biggest thing in British culture!

Universal is the number one on the block for ‘muscle’ and seems to have true carpet bomb capabilities in the way the other majors don’t (or maybe they can’t afford to or just don’t want to). Mind you having said that, EMI did a pretty good job with the Beatles re-issues didn’t they? When I wrote about that last year I predicted tens of millions in potential sales and I’m confidently assured that the Beatles re-issues have gone beyond 13 million and still rising.

It’s quite a phenomenon this ‘cultural marketing’, give the state we’re in generally and when you consider the fact that so much music catalogue has been commoditised too easily by being made available on streaming services. I think it justifies recent moves by Bob Dylan and other to question the move to be on those types of services. And the campaign around Dylan a few years back, when he released the book, the film and new music – was similarly the cultural phenomenon – and no doubt a fillip for his most recent new releases too.

It seems like the industry is beginning to take its catalogue ‘jewels’ very, very seriously – and that’s a good thing. Perhaps its because new music doesn't connect with mass culture in quite this way these days. Or maybe it's simply a mortality realisation thing, since there is a generation of these greats that may well literally expire on us before the next decade is out. McCartney has announced his farewell tour and you have to question how many more we’ll see – along with new records – by the likes of Springsteen, The Who and indeed The Stones.

What’s next on the catalogue cultural calendar? Personally I would like to see some proper re-appraisal of Queen’s catalogue – perhaps with a movie if that can be pulled together. Or Kate Bush – though I’m pining more for something new from ‘Our Kate’ having recently been playing the Nada Surf cover of “Love and Anger” and recognising just how uniquely Kate Bush it sounds. Stevie Wonder perhaps, with his forthcoming Glastonbury slot as marketing glue? Where was the Bowie ‘Berlin’ series tie in with the recent book by Thomas Seabrook? I’ve been enjoying that and would probably have been persuaded to part ways with money for some specially packaged versions of the Berlin triage of albums – perhaps.

I love the idea that great music can be culturally resurrected in this way – even if it is a bit in our faces via the usual big media gatekeepers – and will always be about records made a long, long time ago.

With ‘Exile’ it all seemed genuine enough and beautifully executed. But did the music itself warrant all this re-appraisal and attention? My CD (come on, after all this campaigning you could hardly be satisfied with downloading Exile now could you? – though I just bought the remix not the fancy packaged double) sat on the shelf for a week until this morning.

Last night I went out for reunion beers with for friends – two of which I had not seen for almost 15 years. This morning’s cotton headed, jelly-legged, bacon-sandwich-assisted slow recovery back to life seemed like the perfect morning to stick it on and given it a spin.

Yes, it’s quite good isn’t it? I guess a lot of people do know that now.

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