Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Cashing in when rock stars cash out

John Caddell presents Key Cuts on Phantom 105.2 every weekday night. On Tuesdays before I do The Far Side, the two of us shoot the breeze about the musical news and views of the day. This usually involves semi-coherent rants, …

Tue, Feb 15, 2011, 09:29


John Caddell presents Key Cuts on Phantom 105.2 every weekday night. On Tuesdays before I do The Far Side, the two of us shoot the breeze about the musical news and views of the day. This usually involves semi-coherent rants, anti-Morrissey jibes, references to Marillion, smart alec comments about what I’ll be playing on the Far Side and anything else which catches our eye.

Last week, John was talking about the late, great Gary Moore and this brought us onto the issue of dead rock stars. John was fairly aghast to hear me point out that we can probably expect to see a rash of repackaged Gary Moore Greatest Hits albums as those who own the rights to his back-catalogue cash in on his death. The record shops would soon be full of these albums, I predicted, as the rights-owner sought to make a fast buck. John remembered walking into a record shop after Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death and having a row with the spotty herbert behind the counter about the prominent display of Vaughan’s back-catalogue. The clerk shrugged his shoulders. That’s business.

A few nights later, John emailed me a photo. Seems he may have to go to the HMV store in London’s Piccadilly Circus to have a few words with some lad behind the counter. The shop must have run out of Gary Moore albums.

Photo by Ian Wade

It’s not the first time – and it won’t be the last – that the music business turns a death into a retail opportunity. All the obituaries and tributes eulogising recently deceased rock stars mean those names are in the ether and casual browsers ( and yes, there are obviously still casual browsers wandering through HMV’s doors in Piccadilly Circus) may well pick up the CD, go “hmmm” and head to the cash tills. Without a selling point, those albums would not be so prominently displayed. I’d say it’s the first time in years Teena Marie, Captain Beefheart and Solomon Burke albums have been put in the main racks in that or any other HMV store. That they had to cash out to cash in is sad in the extreme.

But the record business has always had a morbid monetary interest in dead rock stars. Look at the amount of Elvis Presley reissues and compilations which come to market every year. There’s been more Michael Jackson sales since he died in 2009 than was probably the case in the 10 years before his death. The Jeff Buckley industry has never stopped since his unfortunate death in 1997, while Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. can often be found doing duets with people who weren’t even born when they were murdered. There’s cash in them there musical corpses.

Of course, while we might think that this industry really is about scraping the bottom of the barrel, remember that this industry wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a market for its wares in the first place. The bean-counters have done their sums and the licensing departments have gone to work based on an assumption that these things will sell because we, the music moving citizens, want one of these pieces of plastic to bring home with us.

While catalogue pimping is a relatively cheap game (the catalogue is already paid for and there’s no need to pay out huge advances), there’s still an amount of time and money to be spent marketing and distributing the album. In these cash-strapped times for a business which is going to the wall like Fianna Fail, there’s little chance of money being spent if there’s not some chance of a return. Next time you read an obituary of a dead rock or pop star, remember that the race to get the latest Greatest Hits collection into the shops before the funeral is well underway.

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