Thursday, June 20, 2019

"I think this record is a smash!"

Mr. Neil Bogart
Sometime in the late 1990s, the Fleshtones were banging around in a tour van. Among the books shuffled among the band members was Fredric Dannen's Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business. The chapter about the infamous Casablanca Records' owner Neil Bogart and his legendary hubris, cockiness, and over-spending inspired guitarist Keith Streng to pen an ode to the label and the coke-fueled era. "Men like Bogart made it possible," Dannen writes. "Casablanca was the first label composed entirely of promotion people. Its unofficial motto, 'Whatever It Takes,' became the industry’s rallying cry."
The idea took hold that selling the product was just as important—maybe more important—than the product itself. And it appeared to work.  When Casablanca conquered the charts, it did not dawn on the industry, or even PolyGram at first, that the company was losing vast sums of money. Sales were great, but the cost of selling was greater. “Whatever It Takes” was a recipe for profitless prosperity, and that is what the entire record business suffered in the end.
One of the label's early releases was the album Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments from the Tonight Show," a "compendium of comedy bits from Johnny Carson’s program, featuring talents such as Bette Midler, Lenny Bruce, and Groucho Marx." With his patented blend of shrewdness and blind faith in his own rightness, Bogart promoted the album to the max, and the label's independent distributors put in a large order. Dannen writes dryly, "The demand did not match the supply. Comedian Robert Klein took the occasion to coin what has become a standard industry joke: The record shipped gold and returned platinum. ('Not really,' said Casablanca’s Bruce Bird. 'It shipped platinum and came back double platinum') But because the distributors had put in for so many copies, Casablanca had the cash flow it needed to survive until its luck changed. It was symbolic." Dannen added, "A gargantuan flop kept the company going." Bogart pushed his luck—it was a personality trait—and in 1978 shipped hundreds of thousands more copies of the four KISS solo albums then the market could realistically bear. By that point, record store were routinely returning unsold albums, and the substantial money drain was among the nails in Casablanca's gilded coffin. This didn't stop KISS from unironically naming their 1978 greatest hits collection Double Platinum.

Streng's song, suitably titled "Whatever It Takes," appeared on the Fleshtones' Solid Gold Sound in 2001, and name checks the label's infamous missteps as it cheerfully celebrates the era's excesses and Bogart's endless hype.
Whatever it takes, I'll take
anything anytime anyplace
Whatever it takes I'll take tonight 
We shipped gold but it returned platinum
Like Casablanca, it's a blast
Every day, another party
Too bad it just can't last 
Whatever it takes, I'll take
anything anytime anyplace
Whatever it takes, I'll take
The drinks on the house tonight
Whatever it takes, I'll take
We'll spare no expenses tonight
Whatever it takes I'll take tonight
Champagne and coke, we need to celebrate
"I think this record is a smash!"
Mr. Neil Bogart should be our President
and we'll be rolling in lots of cash 
Donna Summer, KISS comes Alive tonight....
We need the Village People so we can party all night! 

And, well just because, here's the band performing "Whatever It Takes" at a bowling alley in Stockholm, Sweden in 2011.



"Whatever it Takes," words and music by Keith Streng (Nascha Music, BMI)

1 comment:

Emily said...

Great background story! Excellent read and bit of history.

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