Category Archives: Recommended

It’s Only A Northern Song ► Monday Musical Appreciation

On this day in 1963 The Beatles formed the music publishing company Northern Songs —  with Dick James owning 51% — which is how Michael Jackson eventually came to own their back catalog of songs. Follow the bouncing ball:

Brian Epstein made a number of bad deals for The Beatles. For example, there’s Seltaeb — “Beatles” spelled backwards — a company created to merchandise Beatles’ products. Epstein didn’t have the time, or inclination, to decide on all the merchandise requests that were rolling in, from Beatles wigs to drum sticks to plastic guitars. He decided to outsource this job and signed a contract which gave The Beatles a mere 10% of the royalties. Normally up to 75% would go to the artists on such a deal. It’s estimated that The Beatles lost at least $100,000,000 on that deal, which could have been more lucrative than the worldwide royalties on their music.

However, of all the deals that Brian Epstein got the Beatles involved in, Northern Songs is the one that had the most-lasting effect, biting them in the ass to this very day.

George Harrison was so irritated, he wrote a song about it:

Dick James had been kicking around the music industry since his teens in the ’40s, as a musician and singer. In fact, it’s James’ voice heard on the theme song to the tee vee show The Adventures of Robin Hood. As the WikiWackyWoo explains:

James entered the music publishing
business as his singing career tapered off. In 1958 he joined Sidney
Bron Music as a song-plugger but decided to leave and open Dick James
Music in 1961. In early 1963, he was contacted by Brian Epstein who was looking for a publisher for the second Beatles single, “Please Please Me“. James called Philip Jones, producer of the TV show Thank Your Lucky Stars, played the record down the phone to him and secured the band’s first nationwide television appearance.[3] The pair subsequently established Northern Songs Ltd., with Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to publish Lennon and McCartney’s original songs.[4] (Fellow Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr were also signed to Northern Songs as songwriters, but did not renew their contracts in 1968). James’s company, Dick James Music, administered Northern Songs.[5]

What initially began as an amicable working relationship between the
Beatles and James disintegrated by the late 1960s: the Beatles
considered that James had betrayed and taken advantage of them when he
sold Northern Songs in 1969 without offering the band an opportunity to
buy control of the publishing company. James profited handsomely from
the sale of Northern Songs, but the Beatles never again had the rights
to their own songs.[6]

In later years, The Beatles groused about this deal, but was it really that bad? According to Did the Beatles Get Screwed, at Slate:

Decades later, McCartney would refer to the agreement that created their publishing company, Northern Songs, as a “slave contract.” Harrison would mock its terms in an outtake from Sgt. Pepper’s,
singing “it doesn’t really matter what chords I play… as it’s only a
Northern Song.” Lennon would say with some bitterness that the bald and
bespectacled man who proposed the deal, Dick James, had “carved Brian [Epstein] up.”

In fact, by the standards of the day, Dick James made the Beatles—a
band with one hit record and zero leverage in the industry—a pretty good

Keep in mind that when Chuck Berry recorded his first 45 for Chess Records
in the mid-’50s, the Chess brothers made him share songwriting
credit—right on the label—with a prominent disk jockey, as well as with
the company’s landlord. The publishing rights to Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti
were purchased by his label bosses for all of 50 dollars. This kind of
wholesale theft was commonplace; in the early rock era, the ethics of
the average music publisher could make a mob capo blanch.

After Epstein died The Beatles unsuccessfully tried to renegotiate the deal with Dick James, but in 1969 he sold the publishing catalog (which by then included many other songwriters) to Lew Grade‘s ATV without even telling The Beatles. Then they tried to buy back Northern Songs. Unfortunately, it came as The Beatles were in the process of (secretly) breaking up and John Lennon and Paul McCartney couldn’t come to terms. Each had their own advisers by then — Allan Klein for Lennon and Lee Epstein (no relation) for McCartney — and no one could agree on terms. Eventually, the negotiations fell apart and the songs stayed with ATV, with Lennon and McCartney receiving a healthy buy-out for their shares in the company.

After Lennon’s death McCartney again tried to buy the tunes back. According to the Wiki:

In 1981, with Yoko Ono, McCartney attempted to make a joint purchase of the ATV music catalogue.[33] At a 1990 press conference, McCartney stated, “I was offered the songs to buy for 20 million pounds”,[34] but did not want to be perceived as being “grabby” for “owning John Lennon’s bit of the songs”.[35][36] So he asked Ono if she would make a joint purchase with him, sharing the cost equally.[35][36]
According to McCartney, Ono thought they could buy it for half the
price being offered and he agreed to see what could be done about that.[35] McCartney then let the deal fall through when they were not able to make a joint acquisition.[33][35][36]

A few years later, McCartney recorded with Michael Jackson. As always, the Wiki knows all:

During their collaboration on the song, “Say, Say, Say“, McCartney informed Jackson about the financial value of music publishing.[37] According to McCartney, this was his response to Jackson asking him for business advice.[1] McCartney showed Jackson a thick booklet displaying all the song and publishing rights he owned,[37] from which he was then reportedly earning £24.4 million from songs by other artists.[36] Jackson became quite interested and enquired about the process of acquiring songs and how the songs were used.[37]
According to McCartney, Jackson said, “I’m going to get yours [Beatles’
songs]”, which McCartney thought was a joke, replying, “Ho ho, you,
you’re good”.[1]

And, that’s how the songs ended up at Sony Music.

McCartney and Yoko Ono were given first right of refusal, but both passed when they couldn’t strike a deal. Michael Jackson stepped in and bought the catalog, including Northern Songs. Once he owned the songs, he started licensing them out for
tee vee commercials, something The Beatles had always resisted. This outraged
Beatles’ fans around the world.

When Jackson started to experience some cash flow problems, he eventually sold the rights to half of his publishing company to Sony, where they have stayed ever since.

A Terrorist Alert or a Simple Mistake?

The traveling Not Now Silly Newsroom

Let me introduce you to my knapsack, which I often call the traveling Not Now Silly Newsroom. Yesterday the traveling Not Now Silly Newsroom almost made the news.

Everything I could ever possibly need to write a Not Now Silly story is contained within my knapsack, including pads of lined paper, notebooks, clipboard, extra pens, Post It Notes, spare batteries, small camera, and a big clamp to be used as a handle for my smart phone video camera.

When I left Starbucks yesterday afternoon, I inadvertently left my knapsack behind. Amazingly I didn’t realize I had left it there until this morning, when I went to get something out of it. As they say in Quebec, “There she was, gone!”

It only took a minute to realize I’d left it back at Starbucks. Even though I was about to jump into the shower, I jumped into my clothes instead. Then I jumped into the car and rushed right over to get my knapsack — never exceeding the speed limit, even in the 15MPH school zone.

When I arrived, the first person I encountered was the manager, Issac.

“Did somebody turn in my knapsack yesterday?”

“Oh, that was yours?” Then he preceeded to tell me the following:

It seems as though my knapsack was noticed by a European couple only minutes after I left. Because people in Europe are far more sensitive to potential terrorist packages left lying around, they wanted to call it in as a suspicious package, but Starbucks staff wasn’t quite so sure. They were pretty certain they knew who it belonged to. However, the two Israelis, also on the patio, concurred that it cannot be ignored, especially as a new Mideastern restaurant was being renovated in the space right next door.

If you see something, say something.

That’s when police were called.

Apparently the bomb squad wasn’t brought in because, if they had been, my knapsack would have been blown to bits as a precaution, just to be on the safe side. Instead, the officers glanced inside my knapsack, determined that it was something its owner would definitely return for, and turned it over to Starbucks for safe-keeping.

Now I’ll go take my shower and see if I can wash off the embarrassment that I wasted everybody’s time.

David Bowie Dead at 69 ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Woke up this morning to the news that David Bowie has died at the age of 69. This coming just days after his birthday, the same day he released his latest album, Blackstar.

Bowie was a singer, musician, and actor, appearing in films and on Broadway.

The family released a statement:

“David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer. While many of you will share in this loss, we ask that you respect the family’s privacy during their time of grief.”

Something happened on the day he died,
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside,
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried,
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)
~~~~~David Bowie, Blackstar, 2016

Bowie went through several ch-ch-changes during his 4 decade-plus career — from Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke; from Glam to Disco to Electronica.

As Not Now Silly always says, It’s all about the music.

Accidentally On Purpose ► Throwback Thursday

I’m not going back all that far for today’s Throwback Thursday, just to the end of October. The 21st, to be exact, which is the day I had the accident in the Buick. 

Sometimes when looking back on an event, one can see all the incremental steps that led to it. However, that’s only in retrospect. That’s the Butterfly Effect for you. Nothing really happens in isolation.

Little could I have realized on the 21st of October that the accident would change everything for me. There was no way I could know how that falling domino would impact the one next to it, and the one next to that. Slowly, but surely, each domino fell against the next until I was faced with the inexorable decision to move the Not Now Silly Newsroom to Toronto, Canada, something I would have never contemplated on the night of the accident.

Have a Happy Throwback Thursday and DON’T FORGET to contribute to my Go Fund Me account for getting back home.

Where We’re At & Where We’re Going ► Unpacking the Writer

Pops and I soon after I moved to Florida 10 years ago.

I opened this joint (originally called “Headly Westerfield’s Aunty Em Ericann Blog”) in April of 2012 to publish Johnny Dollar Has Proven Himself To Be A Very Dangerous Person. Then I had to decide what else to do with it. It has metamorphosed into what you see here today, the Not Now Silly Newsroom.

When I fired up this place, I had no real plan; I still don’t. I merely followed my interests, writing about whatever rang my bell at the time. I took the position that my interests, as interesting as they are, would be of interest to other interesting people. And, I also assumed, that my droll, tongue-in-cheek writing style would be endlessly entertaining, not to mention interesting.

Not following a road map has led me to some very interesting places.

F’rinstance: I never thought I’d be writing about Coconut Grove, which is 35 miles from where I live. I was still disguised in my Street Performance Art Installation as Aunty Em Ericann, when I discovered the Charles Avenue Historical Marker, the E.W.F. Stirrup House, and the shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse. I distinctly remember getting home that day and telling friends I had found a story at the corner of Charles Avenue and Main Highway. I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.

That first encounter with Coconut Grove gave me an almost endless supply of stories about that community and its rich history. It’s the oldest neighbourhood in Miami and, at one time, had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country. Today the 33133 Zip Code is considered one of the most exclusive in the nation, while gentrification of The Grove continues to bulldoze the rich Bahamian history the original village was founded upon.

But it wasn’t just Coconut Grove history I got sucked into writing about. I also wrote about Trolleygate and Soilgate, long before the Miami media discovered those stories. I wrote about [allegedly] corrupt politicians and the Distrct 2 election campaign. I’ve written about the continued encroachment of Marler Avenue, which became the third chapter of my popular Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins series. I’ve written about bad neighbours and rapacious developers, who just so happen to be the same person. I’ve written about parking problems and valets run amok. And, of course, I’ve written about my campaign to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House for something other than a B&B for rich White folks.

It took me quite a while to realize why Coconut Grove was one of the few places in Florida where I felt truly comfortable. To begin with, the Grove isn’t suburban, which is really what the rest of South Florida feels like. Hugging the east coast, it’s just one long, sprawling suburban landscape; gas stations and strip malls separated by gated communities, and indoor malls, all connected with ribbons of highways, each radiating the midday summer heat.

Coconut Grove is different. It still has faint echoes of the original Bahamian culture that built the neighbourhood. Later those original settlers were joined by artists wanting to capture the tropics in paintings, and one can still feel that vibe throbbing under the surface. The Bahamians and Bohemians got along together famously and, by the ’60, were joined by folksingers such as Fred Neil, John Sebastian, David Crosby, and Joni Mitchell. On a quiet day you can still hear their songs in the off-shore breezes.

There’s a deep Hippie vibe in parts of the Grove, the parts where I felt the most comfortable.

Montage by author

The overarching rubric for all of my Coconut Grove stories was Unpacking Coconut Grove. Right now I’m feeling nostalgic because I am Packing Coconut Grove; trying to tie up all the loose reportorial ends as I prepare to leave South Florida.

I’ve taken care of Pops for the last decade and I’m simply burned out. It’s time for me to return to Toronto, the city I call home, to recharge my batteries.

Ironically, I’m returning to Kensington Market, which has a similar Hippie feel as Coconut Grove. I lived in Kensington Market many years ago, but was able to experience it again anew when I visited Toronto in September. I spent most of my time in the Market and felt comfortable and at home. Soon I will be able to call it home.

Help me get to Kensington Market
by contributing to my Go Fund Me:

The Hit Parade ► A Musical Appreciation

The first issue of The Billboard Advertiser

It was 80 years ago today that Billboard Magazine launched The Hit Parade, a countdown of the most popular recordings in the country based on sales and radio play. While the chart has changed over the years — and has been balkanized into just about every genre of music known — the main list is now known as The Hot 100.

We know Billboard today as a music magazine, but when it was launched in 1894 it was a circus magazine. At the time the circus was the biggest form of entertainment in the country. Atlas Obscura tells all in Number One With A Bullet: The Rise of the Billboard Hot 100:

According to a history written by his grandson, Roger S. Littleford, Jr., the founder of Billboard,
William H. “Bill” Donaldson, built the magazine to serve an entirely
different need. Donaldson worked for the family business, a Newport,
Kentucky-based lithography shop that churned out advertisements and
posters for the circuses, fairs, and other traveling shows that
criss-crossed the country. Donaldson realized that most of his
clients—the managers and owners who ordered the posters, and,
especially, the billstickers tasked with staying one step ahead of the
shows and pasting the posters to every available surface—lacked
permanent addresses, and thus were unable to communicate with each

In 1894, Donaldson started to spend his nights and weekends putting together Billboard Advertising,
a trade publication dedicated to gathering all the news that might be
relevant to his more itinerant peers. The first issue, published that
November, had eight pages of relevant tidbits, laid out in columns like
“Bill Room Gossip” and “The Indefatigable And Tireless Industry of the
Bill Poster.” Now the “advertisers, poster printers, bill posters,
advertising agents, and secretaries of fairs,” as the issue categorized them, could pick up a magazine at a newsstand anywhere in the country and know what to expect on the opposite coast.

This is the first #1 tune on the first Billboard Hit Parade in 1936

Over the years as the entertainment industry expanded, so did Billboard’s coverage of it; from sheet music, to plays, to movies, to musicals, to radio, to recorded music, to downloads. It was all a natural progression to follow what was popular in ‘Merkin entertainment and technology. The WikiWackyWoo picks up the story:

On January 4, 1936, Billboard magazine published its first music hit parade.
The first Music Popularity Chart was calculated in July 1940. A variety
of song charts followed, which were eventually consolidated into the
Hot 100 by mid-1958. The Hot 100 currently combines single sales, radio airplay, digital downloads, and streaming activity (including data from YouTube and other video sites). All of the Billboard
charts use this basic formula. What separates the charts is which
stations and stores are used; each musical genre has a core audience or
retail group. Each genre’s department at Billboard is headed up by a chart manager, who makes these determinations.

For many years, a song had to be commercially available as a single to be considered for any of the Billboard charts. At the time, instead of using Nielsen SoundScan or Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems (BDS), Billboard obtained its data from manual reports filled out by radio stations and stores. According to the 50th Anniversary issue of Billboard,
prior to the official implementation of SoundScan tracking in November
1991, many radio stations and retail stores removed songs from their
manual reports after the associated record labels stopped promoting a
particular single. Thus songs fell quickly after peaking and had shorter
chart lives. In 1990, the country singles chart was the first chart to use SoundScan and BDS. They were followed by the Hot 100 and the R&B chart in 1991. Today, all of the Billboard charts use this technology.

IRONY ALERT: When I worked at Island Records Canada, I promoted this tune

There was a time in my life when I lived — literally — and died — figuratively — by the Billboard charts. When I worked for Island Records Canada as a Promotion Rep, I spent hours with each new issue of Billboard, trying to discern trends the same way astrologists look for signs in their charts.

Trying to get Bob Marley played on FM radio in Canada was a nearly impossible feat at the time. This was when Rastaman Vibration was just released. It was such an uphill struggle because few people even knew who Bob Marley was and Reggae still confused a lot of people. I told people it was just like Rock and Roll, except the beat didn’t go KUH-thunk, KUH-thunk. It went Thunk-kuh, Thunk-kuh.

We badgered one radio station in Canada after another to add Marley to their playlists, with almost no luck whatsoever. Only the odd campus radio station were sold on Marley’s power as an artist.

CHUM-FM was the station we worked on the hardest because it was the biggest station in the country. Consequently it was a leader among Canadian radio stations. CHUM’s music committee consisted of Benji Karsh and Brian Masters. They hated Marley. Week after week, we’d pitch them Bob Marley. Each week we’d send them photostatic copies of charts from around the world, showing which radio stations were smart enough to jump on the Bob Marley bandwagon. Every week they just laughed. Finally one week they said, “We won’t play this until it charts in Billboard.”

Guess what?

A few weeks later Rastaman Vibrations finally appeared on the Billboard chart. We were able to go back to CHUM-FM and make them eat those words. From that day on Bob Marley was heard on CHUM-FM. Later I was amused to hear them pretend to have discovered Bob Marley, even though they had to be dragged kicking and screaming all the way.