Review/Music; Atlantic Celebrates Its 40 Years of Rock and Soul
What may have been the world's longest television commercial was staged Saturday, when Atlantic Records celebrated its 40th anniversary with a 12-hour concert at Madison Square Garden. Corporate loyalty was constantly reaffirmed during the program, which was telecast live in its entirety by the British Broadcasting Corporation and for its last five and a half hours by Home Box Office, with HBO repeats and a possible network broadcast still to come.
Ticket sales, television rights and corporate sponsorship will yield between $10 million and $13 million to be disbursed to various charities (from Amnesty International to the Rhythm-and-Blues Foundation, for indigent performers) by the Atlantic Records Foundation, according to a company spokesman. But Atlantic's self-interest was obvious, as it plugged its current best sellers and its new dance-pop hopefuls while capitalizing on its history.
Led Zeppelin reunited for the occasion, as did the Rascals and Vanilla Fudge; La Vern Baker gave her first New York performance in 20 years, strutting jauntily through "Saved." The Bee Gees played their first live show since 1979, harmonizing neatly, while Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) were backed by members of the MG's, the Memphis studio band that appeared on their classic 1960's soul records. Debbie Gibson, the 17-year-old singer and songwriter, made her first New York appearance with a full band, showing remarkable assurance and control in a mini-set of pert, frisky dance-pop.
Other past and present Atlantic performers - Ruth Brown, the Coasters, Ben E. King, Yes, Iron Butterfly, the Spinners, Nu Shooz, Foreigner, Manhattan Transfer, Levert, Miki Howard, Laura Branigan, Bob Geldof, Stacey Q. and a newcomer, Rachelle Caprini, who does a shrill imitation of Aretha Franklin - performed segments ranging from a single song with taped backup to 25 minutes of live music. Phil Collins (with and without his band, Genesis), Roberta Flack and Crosby, Stills and Nash appeared repeatedly.
It was a varied concert, but not a full reflection of Atlantic's evolution from an independent rhythm-and-blues label to a safe, mainstream rock outlet; its most recent successes have been pallid, disposable dance-pop. Despite its length, the concert lacked many of the label's most important performers: Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin for soul, the Rolling Stones for rock, Cream and the Allman Brothers for blues-based jamming, King Crimson for progressive-rock, Chic for disco, Bette Midler for decorum-busting camp.
Instead, Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge delivered kitschy psychedelic jams; Yes and Three (with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer) exemplified progressive-rock bombast; Genesis and Foreigner played formularized mainstream pop-rock. The only allusions to Atlantic's jazz catalogue were a two-song spot by Bobby Short and a funk-jazz segment by the flutist Herbie Mann, with a newcomer, Gerald Albright; luckily, Mr. Mann had a snappy funk band with Bernard Purdie on drums.
A Memphis soul segment mixed respectful tributes to Otis Redding (including a well-sung, understated version of "Dock of the Bay" by, of all people, Paul Rodgers of Bad Company) with the ugly, amateurish minstrelsy of Paul Shaffer and Dan Aykroyd. Pairing Mr. Aykroyd, a nonsinger, with Sam Moore - who sang with glorious fervor and finesse -was disgraceful.
Except for Robert Plant, who led his own band as well as rejoining Led Zeppelin, the label's post-1968 representatives showed little sense of humor. The rhythm-and-blues and soul singers, and their material, have aged far more gracefully than the rockers; the Spinners, Ruth Brown and the Coasters turned in exuberant performances.
Inside Madison Square Garden, the concert mixed tedium and enjoyment; endless idle patter during set changes in the afternoon, video re-runs from the afternoon in the evening. But a vocal majority of the audience was thrilled just to see Led Zeppelin onstage, with Jason Bonham in place of his late father, John Bonham, on drums.
Led Zeppelin, unlike its many imitators who now clog rock radio, usually tempered its brute force with musicianly experiments, and the reunited band still does. In a streamlined half-hour set, the band turned around the beat of "Whole Lotta Love" and reveled in the spaces and Arab inflections of "Kashmir." Mr. Plant, who used to strut and preen self-importantly, now plays his role with a bit of mature amusement while still finding new ways to stretch and bend 15-year-old lyrics. Led Zeppelin ended a mixed concert with triumphant, explosive rock.
11-Hour Concert to Mark Atlantic Records' 40 Years
By any standard, the 11-hour celebration of Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary, starting at 1 P.M. today at Madison Square Garden, is an extraordinary convention of American and British music. Ranging from the urbane 1950's soul of Ruth Brown (Atlantic Records was once known as the House That Ruth Built) to the blow-dried conventionality of the teen-age pop singer Debbie Gibson, the show will pay tribute to one of the great independent rhythm-and-blues labels and will underscore the changing nature of the music industry.
"The music has changed," Ahmet Ertegun, the chairman and founder of Atlantic Records, said in a recent interview. "The industry has expanded a great deal. Atlantic, when we first started, was a very small independent company, and I made every record and produced every record myself. We picked the songs and we made the records. Today Atlantic is considered a major label, and we've had to diversify. Now everybody's music is very influenced by the R-and-B. music that Atlantic - and also Motown - made; we exerted a huge influence on the music that was to follow. You can hear the influence of the original Atlantic in our Australian band INXS, on Debbie Gibson and everybody else for that matter."
Atlantic Records has been a force in American music since the company was founded in 1947. In its mixture of the sophisticated and the down home, it caught the ear of young listeners - black as well as white -who were tired of the bland music of the time. Its recordings reflected a changing society. By the 60's and 70's, the label had become heavily involved with influential white rock groups such as Buffalo Springfield, Cream and Led Zeppelin. Today's concert, featuring a reunited Led Zeppelin, rhythm-and-blues stars La Vern Baker and Carla Thomas, Roberta Flack, the Bee Gees, Wilson Pickett, a reunited Booker T and the MGs, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Phil Collins along with Genesis, the Coasters and many more, provides a road map for popular music from the 50's to the 80's.
In many ways, the celebration sums up where rock-and-roll stands today - intertwined with television tie-ins, corporate sponsorship and merchandising, book tie-ins and foreign television rights.
All 11 hours of the show have been sold to the BBC for live transmission. HBO is broadcasting nearly four hours of the show live, with two inserts of recorded material. MTV is running a promotional video. Coca-Cola, which paid $5 million (and has pledged to raise more money with merchandising deals) fought a fierce battle with Pepsi-Cola to underwrite the show, which was put together not by the record company, but by Barry Cooper, president of the Entertainment Company of America. The photographer Annie Leibovitz is doing a book on the occasion, and HBO is planning a 90-minute special for release later, as is ABC. All the money, after salaries have been paid, goes to the Atlantic Records Foundation, which will dispense the money to charities.
And in an unusual move, Atlantic records said it is recalculating past royalty payments to the rhythm-and-blues roster that made its first fame and commercial success, including Ruth Brown, Chuck Willis, the Drifters, the Clovers and the Coasters. Atlantic has had royalty disputes for over two decades, and the concessions hinge on both foreign royalties and deductions that were taken by the record companies though not specified in the contracts.
"Some of these artists had original contracts which had no mention of foreign royalties, because we didn't have foreign affiliates," said Mr. Ertegun. "When we got foreign affiliates, it was the custom of trade to pay 50 percent, so we did that automatically. Some of our artists have come back and said it wasn't fair - there's a statute of limitations of seven years, so we have no obligation to do it. But I had been helping specific people - I paid Joe Turner's mortgage and for his funeral, and hospital bills for Ruth Brown - and if we do it for some, we have to do it for all. So we recalculated to pay them extra royalties. Plus we're establishing the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in Washington to help people out. I want to help as many of the people who helped start the label as we can."
When the show was first being planned, the idea was to have a smaller auditorium and invite just the people who worked for Atlantic and special guests. It quickly turned into a larger affair. "When it first started, it was to be a two-hour black-tie event at Radio City Music Hall," said Ken Ehrlich, who is producing the show, "But I said to Ahmet: 'You've made music for kids, now you want to invite your friends to a party. You have to do it at the Garden. You want kids to scream and yell.' Eventually, the size dictated that we do it at the Garden. We wanted to reflect 40 years and reach a new audience. I want 15-year-old kids to see Ruth Brown and the Coasters."
Thursday, May 14, 2020 6:32 AM
My god, Yeswest is really awful....
Monday, July 8, 2013 4:45 PM
They also played "Roundabout" at this show.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 3:02 PM
On 14 May 1988 the Atlantic Records label held its 40th Anniversary Celebration by staging a non-stop concert lasting almost 13 hours at Madison Square Garden, New York. The event was dubbed "It's Only Rock And Roll".
Only artists who had released material on the Atlantic label in the United States performed, with the artists spanning the 40 years of the company's existence. Lavern Baker and Ruth Brown were the longest tenured Atlantic acts to perform, while Debbie Gibson was the most recent Atlantic signing to make an appearance at the event.
Some Atlantic signings, who had either officially split up or who had not performed together for a number of years, re-formed especially to perform at the concert. These artists included The Rascals, Iron Butterfly, and the former members of Led Zeppelin. Other notable performers included Yes, Genesis, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer (representing Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Foreigner, Paul Rodgers, Bob Geldof, Booker T. Jones, Wilson Pickett, The Coasters, The Spinners, Peabo Bryson, The Blues Brothers (featuring Dan Aykroyd and Sam Moore), Roberta Flack, The Manhattan Transfer, Bee Gees, Ben E. King and Vanilla Fudge.
There had been plans to close the performance with a greatest hits all-star jam, but this idea was shelved. Instead, the former members of Led Zeppelin performed as the last act.
The concert was broadcast live in the USA on FM radio and HBO television, commentary for the latter being provided backstage by comedian Robert Townsend. HBO commenced its live broadcast a few hours into the event and interspersed footage of the concert which had been taped earlier by the network. In so doing, some of the artists' sets were edited or omitted. An edited version aired later that year on ABC hosted by Robert Hays. Several banners heralding the reunion of Led Zeppelin band members were displayed like tapestry by excited fans, but, to their dismay, were taken down before HBO went with their live feed.
In the United Kingdom the event was broadcast over a period of four weeks by BBC 2, presented as hour-long episodes. Atlantic Records later released this production on video under the title Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary: It's Only Rock 'n' Roll. The release intercut concert footage with highlights from earlier performances, as well as older footage from the Atlantic archives.