Old Records Are New Hits
Thanks, but no thanks.
That’s the reaction at most record companies to radio stations’ current fascination with resurrecting old records.
Four singles on Billboard magazine’s current Hot 100 are old hits or near-hits that were revived by radio programmers--Benny Mardones’ 1980 hit “Into the Night,” the Belle Stars’ 1982 stiff “Iko Iko,” Jimmy Harnen & Synch’s 1986 flop “Where Are You Now?” and Real Life’s 1985 hit “Send Me an Angel.”
These successes come on the heels of 1988 resurrections of UB40’s “Red Red Wine” and Sheriff’s “When I’m With You,” both of which went to No. 1 on the national sales chart.
You’d think that the record companies would be ecstatic that key radio stations saw potential in these long-forgotten singles and began playing them on their own.
“I wish it wouldn’t happen, to be honest with you,” said Mel Delatte, national singles director at Polydor Records, which was prompted to re-release Mardones’ hit two weeks ago after stores reported demand for the record.
One reason Delatte is unhappy is that Mardones isn’t signed to Polydor anymore and his album has been out of print for years. In fact, label executives last week didn’t know where to find Mardones--though they’ll have to track him down soon so they can start sending him royalty checks.
“I would much rather spend time developing my new and upcoming acts,” Delatte said. “And yet this week I have more adds on Benny than I have on any of the records that I’m really looking for.”
Delatte isn’t alone in his frustration.
“We should be looking forwards rather than backwards,” said John Fagot, Capitol Records’ vice president of promotion. “There are so many great artists out there who deserve exposure that it’s kind of a waste of time to expose these old records. You don’t have anything to build. There’s no future in it.”
Fagot helped pilot the Sheriff single--which had stalled at No. 61 when it was first released in 1983--to No. 1 in February. But there’s no long-term payoff for his efforts: Sheriff broke up several years ago. Synch and the Belle Stars have also disbanded--though Synch’s lead singer, Jimmy Harnen, has signed with WTG Records as a solo artist.
“If it’s a way to break a band, then obviously it’s fantastic,” said Steve Meyer, senior vice president of MCA Records. “But if you’re just getting a record played and there is no band, you could be taking away from the artists you’re building futures with.”
Meyer noted that radio has different priorities. “They’re interested in ratings, and if by playing a record they get the demographics they need for their market, then it works for them. But record companies are interested in building careers.”
Fagot predicted that this will be a short-lived fad, similar to the rashes of “Hooked On” and medley records in the early ‘80s. “As soon as you get two or three of these songs that don’t happen, the trend will be over,” he said.
But, in the meantime, you can expect more old records to resurface. This week, WTG is re-releasing Peter Gabriel’s 1986 hit, “In Your Eyes,” which is featured in a key scene in the hit movie “Say Anything.”
“All of a sudden, because of the picture and where that particular song was placed, radio has picked up on it,” said Jerry Greenberg, senior vice president of WTG.
But Greenberg agreed that the boom will eventually go bust. “I think it’s a little trend that people will fool around with for a little while and then everybody is going to get real serious about today’s music and what the next phase will be.”