The 17 Weirdest Record Company Freebies Of The 1980s

Pity the poor marketing manager of a 1980s major record label.

Everyone was telling you the future was in PR. The musicians were no longer running the music industry – the suits were. Millions of pounds were sloshing around but a dodgy decision could risk thousands. Label MDs had read their Dale Carnegies or at least their Peter Yorks. Everyone wanted to hobnob with Branson. And for every proverbial ‘fifth member of the band’ manager like Paul McGuinness or Ed Bicknell, there was a PR like Magenta Devine.

And, as James Grant of Love And Money (more from them below) once told movingtheriver.com, people had breakdowns over this stuff. But is it any wonder when staffers were sending radio programmers and promoters gifts like the following? (All are 100% authentic, and based on extensive research*.)

17. Doobie Brothers dope kit
It included a Doobies logo’d stash pouch, rolling machine and ‘skins’…

16. INXS pyjamas
These sartorial delights were embroidered with the time-honoured phrase ‘I Need You Tonight’. Groan…

15. Prefab Sprout snow globe
This cute little number featured some mini skyscrapers and bore the legend ‘Hey Manhattan!’ Unfortunately it couldn’t hype this Paddy classic into the top 40…

14. 10,000 Maniacs ceramic elephant teapot
A useful mammalian kitchen implement that was sent around to promote the Blind Man’s Zoo album.

13. Simply Red dressing gown
A his’n’hers, terry-towelling dressing gown to promote the Men And Women album. See what they did there?

12. Bob Seger windcheater
It was sleevless, quilted and defiantly macho, as befitting the proletarian singer/songwriter. And it was sent to promote…you guessed it… ‘Against The Wind’!

11. Brothers Johnson zippo cigarette lighter
The funk legends’ PR machine came up with this curio for fans to hoist aloft during ‘Light Up The Night’.

10. WASP bottle of ‘house red’
This disgusting blood-coloured beverage was sent around to promote the Live…In The Raw live album.

9. Billy Bragg teabag
As befitting the socialist icon, a marvellously utilitarian artefact to celebrate the release of the Brewing Up With… album.

8. Kirsty MacColl kite
Yeah?

7. Love And Money road atlas
This hand-bound tome failed to hype ‘Jocelyn Square’ into the top 40, though it remains a great single.

6. Madness pacamac
It was advertising their downbeat single ‘The Sun And The Rain’. And why not?

5. Eurythmics umbrella
To promote…you guessed it…’Here Comes The Rain Again’. Obviously did a pretty good job, to be fair – the single reached #8 in the UK charts.

4. ZZ Top frozen meal
Those naughty boys from Texas sent this around to promote – of course – ‘TV Dinners’.

3. Frankie Goes To Hollywood condom
One of Paul Morley’s better ideas, actually…

2. PiL jigsaw puzzle
A very strange object sent around to promote Johnny and the boys’ 9 album.

1. Kane Gang walkman
No, me neither…

Do you have any weird band freebies lying around from the era? Let us know below.

*Copied from a Q magazine listicle circa 1989

Book Review: High Concept (Don Simpson And The Hollywood Culture Of Excess) by Charles Fleming

Director Robert Altman once said of his classic 1992 satire ‘The Player’: ‘What we show is a very, very soft indictment of Hollywood’.

Revisiting Charles Fleming’s excellent, coruscating ‘High Concept’, one can easily believe it. It is to the ’80s and ’90s movie scene what Peter Biskind’s ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’ was to the ’60s and ’70s.

The main focus of the book is Don Simpson, producer of ‘An Officer And A Gentleman’, ‘Flashdance’, ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Days Of Thunder’. He died in 1996 at the age of just 52.

‘High Concept’ explores this fascinating, contradictory character; an egotistical monster who was also inordinately generous to friends and relatives; a rampant egomaniac and alleged sex pest who was nonetheless haunted by his God-fearing Alaskan upbringing; a producer best known for lowest-common-denominator fodder but described by various people as a creative genius whose 30-page memos to screenwriters became legendary. Many also heralded his uncanny ability to find a screenplay’s crucial flaw.

Both the Simpson character and this book feel incredibly prescient. He comes across as half Trump, half Weinstein. There are endless stories that could have sparked a #MeToo moment had Twitter been around in the late ’80s.

He flourished at a time when corporate skullduggery in the movie business was a given. You could get away with anything as long as the studio was profitable. As Fleming puts it, ‘As long as he didn’t kill anyone he was always going to be welcomed back. If he did kill someone, well, arrangements could be made’ (indeed Stephen Ammerman, a doctor, was found dead at Simpson’s pool house in 1995).

Other people very much in Simpson’s orbit included Heidi Fleiss, OJ Simpson and Kato Kaelin. He was ahead of his time but always went too far. Or, to put it in Simpson-speak, ‘Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. It’s not enough until it’s too much. Because how do you know it’s enough until it’s too much?’ Fad dieting, plastic surgery, Scientology, junk food, kinky sex, prescription drugs, cocaine – they were all meat and drink to him.

Simpson was also always super-competitive, in the classic ‘Wall Street’ style, from day one. Late in his career, he said: ‘Anytime I see someone come into the business who is smart and talented…and likes to go to lunch and dinner…I know he was failed already. He hasn’t got a prayer. Because someone like me is going to run all over him…’

But ‘High Concept’ opens out intriguingly to look beyond Simpson and explore the rampant egos of the entire Planet Hollywood generation, outlining staggering tales of excess involving Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Robert Downey Jr., Julia Roberts and Charlie Sheen. Only Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise emerge with anything approaching dignity.

Fleming – an experienced, respected movie writer who has contributed to Vanity Fair, LA Times, Variety and Newsweek – writes superbly, with natural elan and a swinging turn of phrase. Along with ‘Indecent Exposure’ and ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’, ‘High Concept’ is the best book I’ve read about the darker side of modern Hollywood.

Neil Young: Freedom 30 Years On

It’s probably fair to say that Neil had a dodgy old 1980s; at least that’s the critical consensus.

In 1983, he was sued by Geffen for delivering ‘unrepresentative’ albums. But by 1988, he was back on his original label Reprise (Sinatra’s invention, natch) and had delivered This Note’s For You, ironically just the sort of record that had got him into such trouble at Geffen.

But it was the follow-up Freedom, released 30 years ago this week, that really got Neil back on track. He retained This Note’s fine rhythm section (drummer Chad Cromwell and bassist Rick Rojas) and co-producer (Niko Bolas) and delivered a dizzyingly diverse selection, by turns sweet and savage, mostly recorded live in the studio.

I don’t particularly dig country, but love ‘Hangin’ On A Limb’ and ‘The Ways Of Love’, simple heartfelt love songs (Linda Ronstadt’s contributions sure help). I don’t dig grunge, but I love ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Rockin’ In The Free World and the raucous cover of Lieber and Stoller’s ‘On Broadway’.

So how does he do it? I’d cite four major differences between Young and the also-rans – intelligent lyrics, a great drummer, Neil’s sense of space and his lead guitar playing (‘Don’t Cry’ features a few of his most unhinged solos). Of the former, the album’s title seems to refer to a few tracks’ investigation of freedom in Reagan’s America, especially the scarily prescient ‘Rockin’ (‘There’s a lot of people sayin’ we’d be better off dead/Don’t feel like Satan/But I am to them‘), epic ‘Crime In The City’ and Peckinpahesque ‘Eldorado’. ‘Rockin’ could almost be Young’s ‘Born In The USA’.

The gentler tracks arguably take one back to the feeling of freedom long before Reagan was around. This Note’s For You outtake ‘Someday’ – complete with chain-gang chanting and tubular bells – and the gorgeous ‘Wrecking Ball’ still sound like timeless classics, both romantic and anthemic. Conversely, ‘Don’t Cry’ gives Lou Reed and Bret Easton Ellis a run for their money, a chilling, blanked-out vision of a love affair gone wrong (with closing gunshot?).

Freedom was a gamechanger for Young, a near-perfect distillation of styles that would see him through the ’90s and beyond. It’s still an absolutely essential work and rightly seen as one of his greatest albums. What a pleasure to revisit it this week.