Song Of The Day 8/18/2015: Wilson Pickett – “Get Me Back on Time”

Ultimate Breaks & Beats – You remember K-Tel, the kings of the compilation before the NOW! series rolled in all pumped on steroids and ripped the tiara right off their heads. K-Tel and Ronco, the bastard cousin K-Tel never spoke about, had it great in the 1970’s because everyone was willing to give them recent hits from the charts to put on their 20-song collections. Even for artists who had gigantic hits that made a lot of money during their chart runs, getting on a post-coitus K-Tel comp was still a desirous undertaking, even if it made way more money for K-Tel than the artists or publishers.

K-Tel simply negotiated a logical rate for mechanical royalties – what they’d pay the labels and artists to put their song on the comps – wait a few months for the songs to fall nimbly off the charts, then release them on titles like 25 Thigh-Rattling Super Smash Hit Car Bombs! and start a whole new, if noticeably smaller, flow of cash coming in. Nobody really minded because, as Geddy Lee once said, ten bucks is ten bucks. The music business was also a lot less centralized and monolithic in the ’70s. It wasn’t WEA vs. Sony vs. Universal vs. good-luck-suckers – there were many more bit players that could slip into the Top 10 as well. So giving K-Tel permission to re-farm their records out wasn’t a big deal, everybody did it. The exceptions were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, two groups whose revenue streams from albums were strong enough that they didn’t have to sully their names alongside groups like The DeFranco Family and Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods.

When Lenny Roberts and Lou Flores put out Octopus Breaks, they did so very, very unofficially. And by that I mean, they didn’t arrange for mechanical licenses. I imagine that’s the reason the tracks appeared with no artist names attached. (They even snuck the Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" onto the comp without them noticing.) When demand for a new compilation – UBB – started growing, they went on the up-and-up and got their mechanical licenses.

It was easier in those days to get mechanical licensing. There’s a scale for certain records — it’d be like 5 cents for this or 7 cents for that — and you say, “I’m pressing up 2,000 records, eight songs at five cents, that’s 40 cents — you’ve got 40 cents times 2,000.” You give that check out and that’s it. It’s the same thing that K-Tel used to do, or Time Life records. You’re not using the artist; all you’re using is a song and taking advantage of the mechanical licensing. You’re not changing anything. Now, you’ve gotta get pre-approval, but in those days you didn’t have to. More stringent laws came into place because of the sampling craze, so now you’ve gotta get the master’s rights plus the publishing rights.
Even though they got the licensing straightened out, UBB – whose first eight volumes simply reissued Octopus Breaks, pretty much – still ran the songs without attributing the artists. This could be because the individual breaks had become names in themselves. Or because some of the songs had actually been re-edited: a two-bar drum break in a certain song had mysteriously become a 16-bar break. Or some other reason I’m not privy to because I didn’t go to the proper post-secondary education centers.

One big difference between K-Tel and UBB was related to the number of songs on each side of the vinyl. K-Tel routinely had to stick about 20 songs on one album, which meant ten per side, plus or minus. This cramped the grooves and meant K-Tel had to make some sonic adjustments that would drive modern audiophiles up the wall. For example, they'd squeeze out some of the bass frequencies to save space. Since K-Tel's prime targets were teens and pre-teens -- who, presumably, did not care whether they got 100% faithful reproductions of "Playground In My Mind" utilizing as much of the EQ band as possible -- that wasn't a big deal. UBB's comps were strictly limited to seventeen minutes a side. That equalled four songs, or less. That also made isolating the breakbeats somewhat easier. You don't have to do that in the post-Mp3 age, of course. Now you just have to press a couple buttons and make sure you don't have "12:00" flashing on and off the whole time.

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