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Breakthrough Groups Compete With Geezers

The year in music

I’m still trying to convince the folks back home that, as far as I know, Kenny G and Warren G are not related; that everyone I saw at Woodstock ‘94 was not dropping acid and rolling around naked in the mud (I wish …); and that Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley really, really love each other (I may have to concede that one).

But there are some things from 1994 that I’ll never be able to explain, and you shouldn’t believe anyone who says they can. Who could have predicted that some Benedictine monks cloistered way up on a Spanish hillside would end up with one of the biggest sellers of the year? (I would have given anything to have seen EMI’s executives helicopter come down from the heavens in their failed attempt to sign the monks to a multi-album contract). Or that “Murder Was The Case,” an 18-minute movie, could have a 70-minute soundtrack. How do they cram all of those big, big songs into that little, little movie?

All we know for sure is that by year’s end, 23 albums had logged time atop The Billboard 200, compared with 16 albums in 1993. In a year notable for breaking new talent, only one band’s debut album, “The Sign” by Ace Of Base, made it to the pinnacle.

As we were saying, while geezer rockers like Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and Eric Clapton continued to appeal to both old and new fans, the real news in 1994 was the number of previously unknown acts that broke through the clutter. Green Day, Offspring, Sheryl Crow, Counting Crows, Coolio, Candlebox, All-4-One, Ace Of Base, Lisa Loeb, Warren G, Collective Soul, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Beck all showed that as much as we complain about it, radio is receptive to new music and willing to help break new talent.

The Rolling Stones set a new tour gross record by selling more than $100 million in tickets in 1994. “It’s a promising beginning to a long career,” as Keith Richards put it when the band was presented an award for artistic excellence at the 1994 Billboard Music Awards. Closely trailing that band in gross receipts, if not average age, was Pink Floyd, which also broke the $100 million barrier. (Album saleswise, the nod went to Floyd, whose “Division Bell” had been certified doubleplatinum by year’s end, while “Voodoo Lounge” had gone platinum.)

Both the Eagles and Barbra Streisand hit the road after protracted absences. The Eagles were flying high until they had to cancel dates due to Glenn Frey’s intestinal problems. Don Henley announced that hell would have to freeze over again before the band resumed another tour or recording project. The top ticket price for the Eagles’ show was $115, which seems absolutely cheap compared to the $350 charged by Babs. Of course, if amortized over the 27 years since she last toured, a ticket only cost 25 cents a week. Fair enough.

Given the embarrassment of riches, some midlevel acts experienced problems selling tickets because fans’ wallets were simply tapped out. On the other end of the cash spectrum, Green Day charged less than $10 for tickets to its concerts and was rewarded with sold-out shows at arenas across the country.

See you in court

George Michael took Sony to the British high court in an attempt to prove restraint of trade. The court ruled in favor of the label, but Michael has sworn not to record for Sony again … A federal jury ruled that Michael Bolton’s 1991 hit “Love Is A Wonderful Thing” borrowed a little too closely from the Isley Brothers’ 1966 song of the same name …

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 2 Live Crew’s rap parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” was protected by U.S. copyright law’s fair use exemption …

Spurred on by Pearl Jam, the Justice Department began investigating Ticketmaster’s business practices. This led to a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on a proposed Ticket Fee Disclosure Act, which would require ticket agencies to print ticket surcharges on ducats …

Metallica alleged breach of contract against Elektra, invoking a California statute that says no company can hold its employees to a contract for more than seven years. Similar to cases filed by Don Henley and Luther Vandross, the Metallica suit was settled out of court before a ruling was offered on the statute as it applies to musical artists …

At year’s end, a Los Angeles jury ruled that Mike Love was entitled to co-writer credits with Brian Wilson on several of the Beach Boys’ hits, proving that money can’t buy love, but that Love can buy money.

Wanted - women in rock

Look at the pop charts: Heavy, heavy traffic, with Mariah, Celine, Janet, Whitney, Sheryl and Toni all jostling for space. Cruise on over to the modern rock road, and it’s less crowded, but Sheryl, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Liz Phair, Lisa Loeb, and femme-fronted the Cranberries, Hole, Mazzy Star and Veruca Salt are vying for the fast lane.

Motoring on over to the album rock freeway: Nothing but miles and miles and miles of open road. In the year-end recap of top album rock tracks artists, we have to get to No. 45 to find a woman: Melissa Etheridge. As great as she is, she can’t carry this torch alone. Remember how the Grammys eliminated the best female rock vocal category this year because there weren’t enough entries? Get used to it.

Rock radio seems very reluctant to embrace female artists who have both modern rock and top 40 success (although they don’t seem to have such trouble with their male counterparts). Therefore, labels won’t sign straight-ahead female rockers. It’s an ugly cycle.

Abba redux

Sweden showed it makes more than great Volvos when it unleashed Ace Of Base, a quartet that shamelessly worked a drum track and a seemingly phonetic knowledge of English into our unsuspecting hearts with single after single of similar-sounding songs. Although the act’s album debuted on The Billboard 200 last December, it didn’t really explode until this spring. By year’s end, “The Sign” had sold more than 7 million copies, tying it with “The Lion King” soundtrack for the album that has sold the most units in 1994.

Not faring as well on the charts were Swede-mates Roxette. Via a promotion with McDonald’s, a 10-song preview of the duo’s “Crash! Boom! Bang!” album sold more than 500,000 copies, but when the complete 15-track release hit retail bins a few weeks later, it never charted on The Billboard 200.

Missing you

When Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain killed himself in April, the music world lost a voice that, for many, symbolized the frustration of a generation. For me, it was merely the desperate act of an unhappy individual. Regardless, it silenced a band that had only begun to say what many needed to hear.

Other figures slipping away in 1994 included writer Jule Styne, Harry Nilsson, Raymond Scott, Dinah Shore, Henry Mancini, Jimmy Miller, Nicky Hopkins, Tommy Boyce, Danny Gatton, Fred “Sonic” Smith and Dan Hartman.