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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2013/06/03
by Mike Gruenberg

You Can’t Always Get what You Want, But If You Try Real Hard, You Get What You Need

In My Life

I just got back from vacation in Europe with my wife. After a week and a half in Portugal, we stopped in London to see some old friends and do some sightseeing. Having been to London many times over the years for both business and pleasure, it’s always quite comfortable for both of us to return to that familiar city.

Being a creature of habit, I most always stay at the Green Park Hotel. I first visited the Green Park in the early 80’s when I was a frequent traveler to England and most of my business meetings were in London. I originally chose the hotel for its location, but later found out that the Green Park Hotel holds a pivotal piece of Beatles history.

On November 26, 1962 Brian Epstein checked into The Green Park with newly recorded acetates of “Please, Please Me” which he hoped to place with music publishers with whom he had arranged meetings with on the following day. The heart of London’s music publishing district was relatively close to the hotel at that time and since Epstein was a prompt and fully organized person, the location of the hotel suited him well. On the 27th, Epstein arrived early for an appointment with Dick James, a well known music publisher in hopes of landing a publishing deal for the lads.

James, upon listening to the tune, offered to publish it for Epstein and the Beatles. Moreover, James then contacted Philip Jones, producer for the British ABC television show, “Thank Your Lucky Stars” and secured a spot for the Beatles to appear on the show in January. The rest as we all know is history. But wait, there’s more. Apparently, James took a more than healthy monetary cut of the royalties for publishing the song and publishing future Beatles’ tunes, as well. Since Epstein was also entitled to a healthy cut of all Beatles earnings, the lads although quickly becoming famous and successful found that the contracts they signed as young men were not favorable financially to their individual interests.

The music industry is littered with stories about how young, talented and not business savvy musicians sign their lives away just to make it big. Bill Wyman, bassist for the Rolling Stones tells the story in his book “Stone Alone” about how he wanted to buy a home for his wife and young child as the Stones kept churning out hit after hit. It was around the time when “Satisfaction” was the # 1 song in the world when he went to the Stones management and asked for some money to put down as a deposit on a new house. He was told that he had no money to do so. Apparently, the Stones, as well as the Beatles signed some fairly complex contracts that put significant portions of the monies earned from hit songs and successful tours in the hands of others than themselves.

So, it was there while sitting in the lobby of the Green Park Hotel on Friday, May 31st, reading The Independent newspaper when I chanced upon an article entitled “Let’s (not) Spend the Night Together, Stones Tell BBC.” Apparently, on June 27th, the BBC will televise a major concert from Glastonbury that will show numerous bands taking up more than 250 hours of live music. The Rolling Stones are scheduled to appear.

Unfortunately for the BBC, the Stones have said they are willing to allow the BBC to show some of the songs being performed live by the band, but that showing the entire Stones set is unacceptable to them. According to sources, Sir Mick has said that no more than four songs by the band can be televised and the rest of their performance needs to be blacked out for the viewing audience. The band will be happy to play for the crowd in attendance, but no televised songs other than four will be permitted by the band.

So, in looking at this situation, one can easily say that maybe the Stones are being a bit harsh and why not let the BBC televise their entire set. What’s the harm? I guess the answer lies more because the Stones have the power to do whatever it is that they want. They can dictate the terms that they feel are favorable to them. They’ve earned the right to do this after many years on the road and the probable contracts they signed in their younger days that gave away much of their intellectual property so others could profit.

And of course, it’s the money. The Stones tours make a lot of money for the band that they simply do not have to share with the BBC, managers, promoters, publishers, etc. If a promoter wants to promote the band, here are “our” terms they are apt to say. It seems as though the Stones will be releasing their own DVD from the current “50 and Counting” tour, so why cloud the issue with another DVD that is not under their control.

To this day, the 260+ songs written by John and Paul are not fully owned by Apple, Lennon/McCartney or the Beatles. For every Lennon/McCartney song played on the radio, ½ of the royalties go the publisher and the other ½ is divided between Paul and Yoko. I suspect that this financial arrangement is not met with great joy by Paul and I also suspect that were John alive today, his attitude would be similar to his writing partner.

Fame does have its price. No one will be holding charity dinners for Sir Mick, Sir Paul or any of the music royalty we have come to admire and support. So they and you may never get everything that you want, but if you try real hard, you most certainly will get what you need. It looks as if Mick is doing OK by getting most of what he needs.

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