Rock stars--eat your hearts out!
MCA Records' newest artist has a guaranteed five-album record deal, his own custom label (Hughes Music, where he can sign his own bands) and a hankering for a No. 1 hit.
In what's being billed as a ground-breaking multimedia alliance, MCA has locked up the next five movie sound tracks from Hughes, the teen-movie tycoon behind such hits as "Pretty in Pink," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and the new "Some Kind of Wonderful." Hughes and his music operations chief, Tarquin Gotch, can also sign new artists to the custom label, which has been dubbed Hughes Music.
It's practically unheard of for a film maker to have his own record company--but then it's equally unprecedented for a sound track, like "Some Kind of Wonderful," to be largely populated with groups that have never been signed to a U.S. record contract.
In the past, Hughes' sound tracks have given a healthy boost to such adventuresome young bands as Simple Minds, O.M.D. and the Psychedelic Furs. The films themselves are crammed with arcane rock references. The two female leads in "Some Kind of Wonderful" are named Amanda Jones and Watts, a reference to an old Rolling Stones song and Stones drummer Charlie Watts, respectively (the Watts character, played by Mary Stuart Masterson, is always seen with a pair of drumsticks).
"John knows more about English music than practically anyone I've ever met--not just film makers, but most rock people," explained Gotch, best known for signing the Stray Cats and Wang Chung, as well as for managing General Public and the Dream Academy. "He takes a perverse delight in questioning me about groups I've never heard of. He's always coming in and saying, 'Have you listened to the Weeping Messerschmitts or whatever?'
"That's our only rule at the new label. We're trying to find fresh music, to break new ground and not rely on the same established stars. In Hollywood, they're so used to boasting about all the big names they have on a new sound track. But we had a big laugh the other night when we realized that our new ("Some Kind of Wonderful") sound track is so full of obscure groups that the best-known one is probably the Jesus & Mary Chain."
Industry insiders say the new label deal give Hughes unprecedented clout, not just as a film maker but as a force in the music industry. "This whole MCA arrangement is a smart marketing move," said a top exec at another label, who requested anonymity. "If Hughes breaks a band on one of his sound tracks, it not only helps the movie, but it helps sell records for his label. And then if he signs the band on its own, he can always help promote their next record by putting a song on the next sound track. It pays off all down the line."
According to Hughes, the label's major goal is giving exposure to young bands who've been ignored by today's notoriously staid rock radio. "American radio is just unbelievably stagnant right now," said Hughes, who splits his time between Hollywood and his hometown, Chicago. "It's so awful in Chicago that I can't even find a new song on the radio. It's like they've passed a city ordinance against it.
"Every time I turn on the radio all I hear is Prince--or someone that sounds just like him. Since the market here is so tough to break, we see our label as an alternative voice for young bands. It's a way to invade the charts with stuff that's not supposed to be there.
"When I'm in England, I buy records on the Beggars Banquet label just because it has such a great reputation for signing interesting music. And I'd like people to feel the same way about us--that they can look to us for good new music."
Hughes' deal with MCA allows him to sign a minimum of one group for each sound-track album he delivers, though he insists that MCA is "very open" to letting him bring in even more acts. Hughes added that Flesh for Lulu, one of the groups prominently featured in the "Wonderful" sound track, will "probably" be his first signing to Hughes Music.
"We see the sound tracks as new-music samplers. They should all have 10 good songs on them, which makes them a good buy for a rock consumer," Hughes said. "The songs all represent individual bands, but they stand together as a whole. We had the same producer--Stephen Hague--handle all the tracks for the album, to try to give it a common musical thread.
"Right now, the films are a launch for the music. They drive the new label. But we'd like the label to eventually drive itself--and help establish a new generation of great bands. The ultimate thing for me isn't just getting a No. 1 hit, but a No. 1 hit with a totally unknown band."