Thursday, November 19, 2009


Last week, on consecutive days, a friend and a movie reviewer I follow both brought up the same subject independently of each other: Steve Forbert's 1979 debut album, 'Alive on Arrival.' Here is a little something from that classic:

In his blog, the reviewer used the Forbert album as a springboard for a thread that I swiped and revised for Facebook purposes. The premise: What are the five all-time best debut albums?

To elaborate: Who came out of seemingly nowhere fully-formed with a knockout debut album? (This is intended to weed out acts that gained fame in prior incarnations, e.g. Crosby Stills & Nash). The game does allow a certain leeway for artists who released singles and/or EPs prior to the album. Also, it seems worthwhile to allow extra credit for 'game-changers;' i.e. debut albums that were also signposts to the future.

Here are my five:

1. Nick Drake -- 'Five Leaves Left'
2. Jimi Hendrix Experience -- 'Are You Experienced?'
3. The Jesus and Mary Chain -- 'Psychocandy'
4. REM -- 'Murmur'
5. Massive Attack -- 'Blue Lines'

What are yours?


Recently the Cedar blog has witnessed a bit of intramural scrimmaging over Steve Jobs, iTunes, and their position and importance in the modern-day music business. Click on the following for the initial thrust and parry.

To Mr. Figurehead's rebuttal, a few rejoinders:

1) The name is Fever, not Fevers. No wonder your staff complains incessantly to me about you.

2) Yes, the Jobs-bashing in my initial tease was a bit gratuitous; call it a ratings-booster. Truth be told, if the new liver hadn't taken hold I would have volunteered to eulogize the guy for the development of the iPod, the single greatest gizmo of my lifetime. However, such genius no more makes him a music-selling expert than designing the Technics SL-1200 made Matsushita a gifted LP seller.

Frankly, I'm surprised MF didn't PhotoShop a halo over Jobs' head in the romantically-lit picture he posted.

OK, enough sniping. Let's get a bit more substantive.

3) Community is the single biggest driver of music interest and exploration these days. Everything has returned to the grassroots: recommendations among friends and trusted voices. I agree: Tower 'evolved' into a real-estate pusher at the expense of editorial-based selling. My point is that the iTunes store looks just like that to me.

4) I never look at Amazon-generated recommendations. However, were MF to look at the product detail page for any given music release, he would find gold in the 'So You'd Like To...' and (especially) 'Listmania' features. Thousands and thousands of customers have posted (usually themed) lists of favorite albums. When there is a 'hit' (meaning that the title being researched turns up on a customer-generated 'Listmania' post), that list is made available for viewing. And if on that list there are some other titles I am particularly fond of, that poster becomes a trusted voice and I will want to look into the other stuff she has recommended. For that feature alone (on top of the endless user reviews and discussion threads), Amazon is the best community-based music-exploration site on the web.

5) The iTunes 69-cent price point was a public-relations ploy, as Jobs knew it would be. By citing the bold new three-tiered pricing system, iTunes managed to engineer a price increase while making it seem that pricing was remaining essentially flat.

69 cents was doomed to failure. Too many label bean-counters would want to know where the increased volume was going to come from to make up for the lost revenue. 69 cents or 99 cents or $1.29 mean little to the convenience shopper. 69 cents is not a driver.

6) Yes, the 'dog ate my music' argument has the flaw MF brings up...anyone who rips their CDs and then discards them without backing up their digital files is asking for heartbreak. Disk-drive failure is as much a certainty as a devastating California earthquake: who knows where or when? But the point is still valid: in the current music-commerce environment, 50,000 tracks will not fetch $50,000. Nor should they. And this brings us to the lucky number

7) Mr. Figurehead's most interesting line was this: 'I do also subscribe to eMusic, although I have to say that while it's a great deal for the music consumer in me, it's such an awful deal for me as a record label that I won't go near it!'

Exactly. While we both have backgrounds in the music business and have witnessed the past decade's carnage up-close and personal, MF is a content-owner and I am not. Hence our difference of opinion: he has a rooting interest in the iTunes model while I don't have a horse in the race. I do, however, have a certain fascination for the sport. Here is what I see:

The industry is headed for a service model. For instance: mobile carriers are service providers who sell buckets of minutes. Cable companies sell buckets of TV channels. Successful music-sellers of the future will sell buckets of songs. Some form of subscription model is the ultimate answer...variations on the Rhapsody or eMusic approaches, perhaps. The idea is to extract as much money from music customers as possible in the hopes that they won't use their full allotment and won't be tempted by piracy.

To my mind, all-you-can-eat for free with ads is a bridge too far. A-dollar-a-track pricing is a niche market. The answer is somewhere in between. In the buckets.

To the extent that a Dexter like me can empathize, I do understand why MF would hold out. Certain specialty content-holders will attempt to create mini-universes for themselves. To them, iTunes is a lot closer to what they wish were true. Alas, it is ever-more a fantasy.


In this household, Scott Walker is a divisive figure...and other artists with a similar, um, theatricality can be tarred as well. One such is The Divine Comedy. Their album 'Absent Friends' is a staple around here...when I'm on my own with my scented candles and bubble bath, that is. Anyway, a friend sent along a link to the following video, a lovely cover of one of the best songs from that album, and a version that provokes no squabbling around here:


In honor of the Big Event next Thursday, we can all give thanks that there will be no Veronica Fever posting that day. Seeeee Decemmmmberrrrr.....

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