Johnny Cash is Dead, and the Music Business is too

by Jeff Siegel

Everything that is wrong with the music business is in Johnny Cash's final record.

It's not the album, of course, which is called American V: A Hundred Highways and is pretty close to brilliant. Cash's original, "Like the 309," should have been in heavy rotation in almost every format on radio. Rather, it's the way that the industry works to make sure that as few people as possible have heard it since its release last July.

I consider myself reasonably astute when it comes to pop music, following not only trends, but new releases, the business side of the industry and the like (though I'll confess I've never seen American Idol). I have a more than decent collection of blues, punk and New Wave, and progressive country, as well the eclectic kind of mix someone with varied interests picks up in 30 years of buying music. But if we had not played Cash's "Like the 309" on our iVoryTowerz podcast, I would not have known about it.

How can this happen?

• First, despite his status as one of the pioneers in American pop music, Cash usually doesn't get played on the radio. His audience is supposed to be too old and too country for pop stations and not pop enough for country stations. That his music is good is irrelevant.

• Then there is the business of payola, in which most of the major stations in the country will only play music if they're paid by the record companies to do so. Which is legal, by the way, in some instances.*

• Since downloads are evil and will not be tolerated, I'm not going to hear about the song from someone who downloaded it. (Interestingly, I ran across a piece quoting Elvis Costello on this heresy. He didn't seem too concerned.)

• And let's not forget about the death of the music store, which Elvis mentioned in his remarks. There are few people in the business left to tell me about new, good music.

For what it's worth, I bought American V after we played "Like the 309." The song is that good. It's a shame more people won't get the chance to hear it.

*For a full discussion of this issue, please see "Radio's Payola Settlement: Where's the Outrage?"

(The photo of Johnny Cash is by Joe Baldwin from Look, April 29, 1969. The photo is now part of the Library of Congress collection – card catalog: lmc1998005787/PP – and in the public domain. To see the video for "God's Gonna Cut You Down" from American V: A Hundred Highways, please check below. )

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Ryan said...

Preech on Brother!

The music business plays what they want people to hear and, unfortunately, too many people are comfortable with that and don't look any further.

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