LennyBeerBlog: The Grammy Effect is in Effect

Keys a Lock for #1

Trakin Care of Business: Black & White & Red All Over

Bulletin Board

Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

January 25, 2008

Kudos to Neil Portnow, kingpin of The Recording Academy, for his successful lobbying efforts in the media and behind the scenes in getting the Writers Guild to agree not to picket the upcoming Grammy Awards, which therefore guaranteed that the show will go on.

And boy do we ever need it.

Call it the Grammy Effect, call it a sales bounce, call it whatever you'd like—but one thing is totally clear. The Grammy telecast sells records, lots and lots of records (yes, i still use the word "records"), and this year's gala 50th anniversary celebration show will sell currents and revive catalogs like no other awards show does.

Ken Ehrlich and his brilliant production team will attempt to bring us the best of this year and a greatest hits extravaganza all in one. And every one of us in the industry needs to be supportive of Neil's team's efforts and back the Grammys (even though Springsteen's Magic did not receive a deserved Best Album nom). The Grammy show represents the best of us, and more often than not, represents us well. Neil, you are the man.

So, who wins? Does Amy Winehouse sweep the key categories, or will her much-publicized personal "issues" stop her momentum? Will Kanye West finally nab that elusive Best Album Grammy he has coveted with his best album to date. And which performances will steal the show and start a late-night iTunes buying frenzy? Personally, I can't wait to check the action on television and on iTunes. Man, do we ever need some great moments!

Next week, I will make my picks, and we'll get some other pundits in for a round of guesswork. Study the categories closely, and one key hint is to remember that the Grammy voters have not changed from last year, and always seem consistent in who they like and what political causes they support.

Who do you think will emerge as this year's star? Who would you like to see win? Who deserves to win? Who will be kvetching afterward. Tell us what you think at, and as always, we'll publish the most interesting reponses.

All I know that Tim McGraw's song, "If You're Reading This," should and better win Country Song of the Year. The award is Counrty Song of the Year, NOT Single of the Year. No song made an impact more in Country music this last year than that song. "Before He Cheats" is a nice little ditty, but is more geared for Single, not Song.

It would be a disgrace and a shame if that song won over the song that has meant so much to so many people, the song by Tim McGraw called, "If You're Reading This." It should win Country Song of the Year without a doubt.

Hi Lenny,

With all of the hoopla over how much time an artist gets to perform on the show etc., it may be time to re-think the entire televised portion of the Grammy awards telecast. With most of the categories being marginalized out of the TV performance, unfortunately including, "Producer of the Year," and all of the Jazz, Classical and Technical Categories, etc., why not create a third show to be shown on A&E, PBS or Bravo, etc., and give those artists and innovators their proper respect due?

We already have the Latin Grammys, which has really helped raise the profile of Latin Music overall to many who would never pay attention otherwise. A "Jazz, Classical and Technical Achievement" show would certainly raise the profile of those genres, and also give more TV performance time to the deserving, nominated artists.

I would rather see Herbie Hancock host and play a few tunes on that show, than 90 seconds criminally edited on the Grammys. Remember when they dropped the curtain on a Miles Davis performance and went to commercial? It was utter disrespect for the artist and the music. And by the way, with regard to Herbie's nomination in the "Album of the Year" category, either something has gone terribly wrong in Pop music, or the Grammys are hipper than we thought? Food for thought.

Guy Eckstine

I can tell you one thing. I've been reading how NARAS can't commit to giving Vince Gill any more performance time than 90 secondsand that is just criminal for an industry champion like Vince. The Academy apparently agrees as they nominated him for two awards. How can you not give a three-to-five-minute performance slot to a nominee in the Grammys' premier category? Portnow and NARAS need to yield on this, even if they have to be shamed into doing so by label brass and the NARAS membership.

I'm not saying Vince deserves to win per se; the Amy Winehouse record is my favorite among that category's nominees. But you have to give the nominees their due.

Peter L. Kohan
Kohan Music Group, LLC

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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

January 22, 2008

It's a brand-new year, but the same old sales slump.

J's Alicia Keys climbs back to #1 over Rhino's Juno soundtrack, with 61k, the lowest since last year at this time when the Dreamgirls soundtrack topped the chart with 60k.

Jive/ZLG R&B star Raheem DeVaughn is the week's top debut, bowing at #4, while Columbia's John Legend is #7 with his live album, an exclusive at retail to Target.

Geffen's Mary J. Blige (#3) and tbd/ATO/RED's Radiohead (#5) round out the Top 5, while Big Machine's still-strong Best New Artist Grammy nominee Taylor Swift (#6), EMM's Now 26 (#8), Jive/ZLG's Chris Brown (#9) and Disney's Hannah Montana 2 (#10) stake out the Top 10.

Lyric Street's Rascal Flatts (#33-21, +11%) and Universal Republic's multiple Grammy nominee Amy Winehouse (#47-36, +11%) are the week's top double-digit gainers, followed by Hannah Montana 2 (+8%), Canvasback/Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax's Once soundtrack (#37-30, +3%) and Interscope's Soulja Boy Tell'Em (#43-37, +5%).

Geffen's Kate Nash (#39-35, down only 1%) is also looking strong.

Next week, Epic's Natasha Bedingfield appears headed for the highest debut, with a total that could have her competing for #1.

HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.

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Reprinted with permission from Hits Magazine

January 25, 2008

1. Oscar Nominations: Perhaps the ongoing WGA unpleasantness has pointed out how superfluous awards shows have become, but this year's Oscar nominations are actually pretty representative of the current zeitgeist. In Best Picture, you have a couple of apocalyptic visions of evil, greed and avarice (No Country, Blood), an excoriation of shady corporate ethics (Michael Clayton), a classic Academy Award-worthy, veddy British literary adaptation (Atonement) and a feel-good nod to the fraying post-nuclear family (Juno). Seems like it's early favorite No Country's to lose, but there's a nagging feeling that Juno could be the first comedy since 1977's Annie Hall (unless you count 1999's American Beauty) to catch and surpass the Coen brothers' epic at the finishing line for the top prize. There's no such suspense in the acting categories, with Blood's Daniel Day-Lewis and Away From Her's Julie Christie seeming locks for honors, with only Marion Cotillard's marvelous portrayal of Edith Piaf in La vie en Rose standing in the way of the latter. No Country's Javier Bardem would appear the odds-on choice for Best Supporting Actor, with Gone Baby Gone's Amy Ryan holding off double-nominee Cate Blanchett's Bob Dylan in I'm Not There as Best Supporting Actress. The Coens look now like the front-runners for Best Director, too. In fact, it's hard to argue with any of this year's major category nominees, though I would probably have replaced Blanchett with Enchanted's Amy Adams for Best Actress and perhaps Into the Wild's Emile Hirsch in place of Tommy Lee Jones as Best Actor, though the latter should certainly have gotten a nod in the Supporting category for his grizzled lawmaker in No Country. Now we'll see if the WGA even allows the Oscars to take place, which would be the biggest upset of all.

2. Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin' (Lost Highway): This tribute to the late Dusty Springfield is being promoted by the label itself as "sparse," and they're not kidding. Grammy-winning producer Phil Ramone takes the route Rick Rubin forged in his groundbreaking collaborations with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond in putting Lynne's sensual purr front and center, letting her carry some of the more memorable numbers in the Springfield songbook. It's a stark, quiet record, the better to concentrate on the aching isolation at its core. There's none of the campy flamboyance of Springfield; instead, Lynne concentrates on the emotions behind the songs, the pain and anguish hidden underneath the glamorous surface. There is a languorous quality to her take on the Bacharach/David classic, "The Look of Love," that is almost like an actress playing a role, touching on the loneliness at the heart of the idea of Dusty Springfield as much as Lynne's own tragic background. It's a nervy move, because the singer is out there on her own, infusing some well-worn lyrics with a new sense of profound desperation. By the time she gets to her version of the Young Rascals' yearning "How Can I Be Sure," the exercise turns existential, the homage a way of channeling that despair and hope into a personal message of redemption. It's a remarkable, subtle performance, but the album might've benefited from the inclusion of something a little bit more upbeat, say "Son of a Preacher Man," which would've certainly leavened the overall mood, even if interrupting its mesmerizing spell.

3. Killer of Sheep (Turner Classic Movies): Kudos to TCM for choosing Martin Luther King Day to spotlight the work of filmmaker Charles Burnett, who originally made this black-and-white movie in 1977 as part of UCLA's graduate program, only to see it surface 30 years later with a belated theatrical release. Made mostly with friends and relatives (including his adorable daughter Angela in a crucial role) from his South Central L.A. 'hood, the film is ostensibly about a man trying to support his family by toiling at the local slaughterhouse, where he sheers and carves up sheep for lamb chops. In the tradition of neo-realist classics like De Sica's Bicycle Thief, the movie captures everyday life in the community, which looks like it could've taken place in some Third World country in the '40s. The only two trained actors in the cast, Henry Gayle Sanders and Kaycee Moore, play the married couple at the center of the story. Sanders' Stan has been robbed of his masculinity by the frustration of attempting to make a legitimate living, and is painfully unable to respond to his wife's sexual entreaties. Ultimately, though, it is the scenes of the neighborhood kids innocently playing among the dusty streets, abandoned homes and rail yards of South Central, throwing rocks and dirt at one another, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, intercut with the lambs being led to slaughter, that make the biggest impression. There are several painful episodes that illustrate the bitter poverty, including one in which Stan and a friend buy a used motor for $15 scrounged between them, only to see it fall from the back of the truck in which they've loaded it, forcing them to simply abandon it in the street. The soundtrack is also amazing, ranging from Earth, Wind & Fire and blues numbers by Lowell Fulson, Arthur Crudup and Little Walter to classics from Rachmaninoff and Gershwin. The ending, with Dinah Washington crooning "This Bitter Earth," is curiously stirring despite the overwhelming sense of fatalism, while Paul Robeson's "Going Home" provides the moving, if muted, epilogue. With Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett proves you can go home again, even if now, it's only for a visit.

4. Breaking Bad (AMC): AMC's follow-up to the spectacular Mad Men as its latest entry into the original series sweepstakes feels like an attempt to do a black comedy about the increasingly threatened middle class a la Weeds, except with crystal meth labs replacing grow houses. Malcolm in the Middle's harried Bryan Cranston plays a mustachioed, beaten-down high school chemistry teacher and former Nobel Prize winner diagnosed with lung cancer and forced to turn to dealing drugs with an ex-student played with wisecracking verve by Aaron Paul. The series is darker than Weeds, with seemingly more at stake; creator/ writer Vince Gilligan's punch lines aren't quite as telegraphed, but no less amusing, as Cranston scolds his new partner about a faulty formula: "Didn't you learn anything in my class?" The real bite comes in the moments when we see Cranston's Walter White dealing with his downwardly mobile status, as he's reprimanded by his wife for using the wrong credit card or forced to moonlight at a carwash. Breaking Bad is just one more nail in the coffin of the once-complacent middle class, delivered with the manic energy of the Coens' Raising Arizona amid a bracing dollop of bourgeois angst.

5. Robert Plant/Alison Krauss, Cross Roads (CMT): As good a fit as the grizzled Brit lemon-squeezer and the demure bluegrass fiddler prove on their justly praised Rounder album, Raising Sand, that's how weirdly ill at ease they appear here, especially in the moments in between the performance, where they awkwardly sit at a table, Krauss seemingly trying to avoid Plant's leering glare. The musical segments work better, with the two fronting a crack band anchored by leader/producer T Bone Burnett, who provides the glue that keeps it all of a piece. Highlights include a pair of Led Zep songs not on the album, a searing version of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie's 1929 standard "When the Levee Breaks" and a slowed-down, sultry "Black Dog," while their closing take on Plant and Page's "Please Read the Letter" (from their duet album, Walking Into Clarksdale) has a sprightly tunefulness. What you're left with is an unlikely pairing that really has little in common except a newly discovered mutual musical ground, which infuses it with an unexpectedly poignant quality that manages to overcome their cultural differences. The show airs on CMT, Monday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).

6. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's comedy video website is rapidly becoming the place for online yucks. Last week, I discovered a pair of hilarious animated parodies of Juno here and here, starring an over-the-top Iggy Pop taking crap from the film's overly opinionated heroine about having his music used for a cruise-line commercial. The latest viral sensation is Tom Cruise's Jerry Maguire co-star Jerry O'Connell (or Mr. Rebecca Romijn-Stamos to you) doing a side-splittingly spot-on parody of the superstar's now-infamous Scientology rant here. Given mainstream Hollywood's reluctance to criticize either the organization or Cruise's ties to it, this apparently WGA-sponsored take is not only brave, but savagely witty. A/B it with the original and be astounded at O'Connell's devastating spoof of Tom's non-sequitur digressions. Especially brilliant is his evocation of Cruise's hearty whooping-horse laugh, which abruptly turns serious in a disturbing flash.

7. The Great Debaters (The Weinstein Co./MGM): Produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Films and directed by Denzel Washington, this true period piece about the debating team at all-black Wiley College in Texas in 1935 is a throwback to such '60s-'70s liberal anti-prejudice standard-bearers as In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and Sounder. It's a rousing, tear-jerker of a movie, anchored by committed performances by its three young leads, Nate Parker's darkly intense Henry Lowe, Jurnee Smollett's fiercely committed Samantha Booke and Denzel Whitaker's owlishly bookish son of a preacher man James Farmer Jr., who went on to found the Congress of Racial Equality. And while it's admirable that white liberal do-gooders like Stanley Kramer and Martin Ritt have been replaced by Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey, who obviously see merit in the movie's celebration of African-American academic achievement in the face of overwhelming odds and societal prejudice, the issues are, too often, predictably framed in terms of black and white. John Heard's redneck southern sheriff is one stereotype left over from the They Call Me Mr. Tibbs era, but then again, so is Forest Whitaker's bible-thumping, self-righteous minister. The film does point out the uneasy coexistence between bourgeois blacks and good ole boy racists deep in the heart of rural Texas, which makes it hard to believe the events took place less than 75 years ago, and the final triumph of the debaters against mighty Harvard has a Rocky-like kick, but the moral complexities and shades of gray seem to have been banished in favor of making a point. Which, I guess, is what ultimately counts in a debate. Though I can't imagine anyone arguing against the film's celebration of its worthy subjects.

8. Crazy Love (Magnolia): Publicist-turned-filmmaker Dan Klores' documentary about the tabloid-fueled adventures of Burt and wife Linda Pugach's lifelong relationship is actually a portrait of a far more innocent time. It's a charming tale of l'amour fou, one man's obsession which leads him to blind the object of his love by throwing acid in her face, only to eventually marry her. The whole thing would never work without the colorful, larger-than-life figures of Burt and Linda themselves through the years, forging a mutual bond that transcends such minor trifles as disfigurement and social derision. Klores captures the New York newspapers' morbid fascination with the case, bringing us back to an era when there were at least a half-dozen dailies competing for readers' attention. In the end, passion conquers all, and sometimes love is just the flip side of hate. Which is pretty crazy, when you come to think of it.

9. Viral Video: Whether it's my daughter Tara scoring a goal in her high school soccer game here, a Bollywood version of "Hava Nagilah" sent to me by the keeper of all Hebrew-related ephemera, the great Ida Langsam, here, a parade of Jews in Japan singing "Sholom Aleichem" and "David, Melech Yisroel" here or Yo La Tengo leader Ira Kaplan's chat with the Mets' Ed Kranepool about the origin of the band's name here, YouTube and its variety of off-shoots are a treasure trove of moments captured in time and available for online distribution to everybody and anybody you know. Just check out my kid after she scores, coolly walking away, in the words of my good friend Michael Shore, like she's been there before. Don't know about you, but it's enough to make this soccer dad kvell. And for all you non-Jews, that means burst with pride.

10. Gripe of the Week: There hasn't been this kind of entertainment journalist feud since the halcyon days of film critics Pauline Kael vs. Andrew Sarris, who went head to head on the auteur theory. The current WGA walkout has Hollywood teetering on the edge of civil war, and nowhere is that more apparent than battling bloggers Nikki Finke, the L.A. Weekly reporter whose widely read anti-mogul Deadline Hollywood Daily is staunchly in the writers' corner, and the L.A. Times' regular columnist Patrick Goldstein, this week urging the writers follow the directors' lead and settle, while begging them not to derail the upcoming Grammys. Check Goldstein's initial piece here, in which he compares WGA West President Patric Verrone's negotiating tactics to that of Yasser Arafat and then Finke's rejoinder here, where she derides Goldstein as a shill for Big Media. That kind of heated rhetoric masks the fact that both are essentially on the same side, and exactly the type of saber-rattling that is preventing this strike from being resolved so that both sides can walk away from the bargaining table having saved face. Of course, it's also the type of debate that characterizes a democracy, turning the Internet into a kind of cyber town hall meeting. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, except when the combatants start hurling personal epithets at one another, as innocent bystander John Edwards pointed out at last week's Obama-Hillary mudslinging. And if the affable southerner manages to emerge from that contretemps looking like he represents the "adult" wing of the Democratic party, it could well position himself as a dark horse, if the two top contenders continue to rip one another to shreds. Thanks to the 24/7 Web news cycle, this year's presidential race is turning into a real barn-burner—but let's hope the cows are out the door before the process itself is completely razed to the ground.

HITS magazine is the most powerful information vehicle in the music industry, and is read religiously by all the top executives and everyone else.

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By Kenny Kerner

Erykah Badu will be releasing her fourth CD at the end of the month via Universal/Motown. The CD will be called Nu AmErykah.

Bruce Springsteen's current concert tour will begin on February 28 in Hartford, Connecticut. He will play a series of concerts at Giants Stadium in New Jersey this summer. The shows, July 27, 28, and 31 will add to his mark of 66 sold-out shows at that same venue.

Bad news for the Latino music market as sales for 2007 were down dramatically. Only 21 Latin CDs sold in excess of 100,000 copies while 2006 boasted a healthier 32 and 29 in 2005. Furthermore, the best-selling CD so far, Daddy Yankee's El Cartel sold only 248,000 copies as compared to his Barrio Fino En Directo, which topped out at 484,000 in 2006. The only other act to break the 200,000 mark in the field was Aventura.

Panic! At The Disco fans won't have long to wait before the quartet releases its second CD. This time around, producer Rob Mathes went for a stripped down sound as opposed to computer software. "We just wanted the record to sound like four people playing the song," guitarist Ryan Ross said, "a lot of the songs are geared toward the band playing live." The band was originally discovered online by Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz.

Don't forget to check out the Grammys on February 10, 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network.

After five years of sold out shows in Vegas, after performing in front of more than three million people and grossing $400 million, Celine Dion gave her final performance in late December and is taking her amazing show on the road. This is a performer with one of the greatest voices in popular music and a string of international hit records to go along with the voice. Make a special effort to see her if she visits a city near you.

Madonna was elected into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame along with John Cougar Mellencamp. I'm ok with Madonna, but how do you guys feel about electing John Mellencamp? Any thoughts?

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