Music gimmicks

Did you hear about the chocolate ‘vinyl’ this week?

Relax, that’s not the start of a terrible joke. Wait until you snap open your Christmas crackers for those. There really was a chocolate record.

Veteran Croatian rocker Gibonni recently released an edible record made out of chocolate that you are able to play several times before, well, eating. His first English language album, 20th Century Man, was recorded at London’s Abbey Road studio and presumably tasted delicious.

He’s not the first to do this, though; the French DJ and producer Breakbot presented a limited-release chocolate single last year.

What a great gimmick, don’t you think?

As far as gimmicks go, though, nothing beats Radiohead offering their self-released In Rainbows album for download on a pay-what-you-want deal. The brave move, more social experiment than genuine gamble, I thought, which completely cut out the middle man, led to the album being their most profitable to date even though about a third of those who downloaded it apparently paid nothing at all for it. Wonderful.

Hype sells. It certainly did in Radiohead’s case.

Speaking of hype and clever ways of guaranteeing yourself oodles of free publicity, Kanye West premiered the music video for a new song in May by projecting it onto the sides of buildings in 66 different parts of the world, which he announced himself on Twitter to his 10 million-plus followers (who duly retweeted his message more than 18,000 times). Needless to say, it didn’t take long for the not-so-shaky audience recordings to ‘go viral’, as the kids seem to say of everything, all the time. Result.

Clever use of social media is the norm now. Indeed, careers have been forged by using MySpace: Lily Allen and Kate Nash, to give just two of the earliest examples. Yet in the days before social media, we had other gimmicks. Few can forget the shock tactics of Alice Cooper’s guillotine or Eminem’s chainsaw, the Sex Pistols with all their safety pins, Britney Spears and Angus Young dressing in school uniforms. They got everybody talking and taking their photographs, anticipating more of the same crazy shenanigans, which is precisely what they set out to achieve.

Such gimmicks tend to overshadow the artist and their music. (I’m not going to mention Miley Cyrus, I just can’t bring myself to.) Kiss and Slipknot favoured masks and makeup. Lady Gaga is increasingly over-the-top in her outlandish outfits and pretty much everything else, as far as I can tell – as was Madonna before her (although, and I beg to differ, she still insists that she ‘doesn’t need gimmicks’).

The Beatles had their mop-top haircuts, Michael Jackson his collection of gloves. Were these gimmicks? The Beach Boys played strongly on their surfer image when drummer Dennis was the only one who could actually surf. It must have seemed sadly predictable that The Who’s destructive stage shows would only intensify as did audience expectation. Similarly, Jimi Hendrix soon grew irritable when fans expected him to set his guitar on fire at every show, but by then it hadn’t done him any harm (in terms of publicity and sales, I mean, rather than serious burns).

Pink Floyd have used their fair share of clever and original marketing, too. My favourite: the flashing light on the spine of the P.U.L.S.E CD (which Sony did better than EMI because at least you could change the battery with ease on the North American release without having to cut the slip case open).

Randall Roberts, Pop Music Critic for the Los Angeles Times, questions how long musicians can tease their public through social media, concluding that ‘all that will rescue the music from oblivion is its potency, not the cleverness of its rollout.’ I agree and should bloody well hope so. But it makes me wonder, having heard so many times how albums are dying: what next for the music industry? Do artists really need to utilise popular technology to get ahead of the competition and to be noticed, and, once they have been noticed, rely on ever grander and more self-indulgent displays incorporating bigger sets, louder effects, sillier clothing and more zany theatrics in order to stay in the public eye and, they’d have you believe because they need to believe it themselves, ‘relevant’? Isn’t that a bit sad? Did they ever really need them – or did we?

Last weekend Metallica performed for an hour in a transparent dome to an audience of approximately 100 on Antarctica, making them the only band ever to have performed on every continent.

Record books have also shown that Spiritualized performed on the observation deck of Toronto’s very high CN Tower in 1997, while Katie Melua performed in a North Sea gas rig more than 300 metres below sea level in 2006. The following year, Queens Of The Stone Age played 2,300 feet underground in a German salt mine.

Just one final thought:

Not for the first time (and it probably won’t be the last), a dead singer, this time The King, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, sings again – and just in time for Christmas. All proceeds from the sale of Susan Boyle’s duet with Elvis, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, naturally expected to top the charts all over the world, will at least benefit the charity Save the Children.

How much all these gimmicks must have cost down the years, and how much difference that money could have made to charities such as this.

I’m not sure it’s completely fair of me to label an image, persona or mystique a ‘gimmick’. You decide. I’d love to know what you think.

Author: FEd

Features Editor of David Gilmour's official blog, The Blog ('Features' previously being its rather naff title), affectionately - or lazily - shortened to 'FEd'.

70 thoughts on “Music gimmicks”

  1. Not for the first time (and it probably won’t be the last), a dead singer, this time …

    Just reminded me of the Natalie Cole ‘duet’ with her dad in the early 90s … not a publicity stunt but it certainly attracted attention. 🙂

  2. Anything involving chocolate is worthy of consideration.

    Wishing David, Polly, all the children and pets as well as everybody on The Blog a very Merry Christmas, hopefully some lovely holiday time-off and a Happy New Year 2014. Yes, GREATLY looking forward to next year on many different levels.

    Bella xx

  3. My ultimate great music gimmick would be The Beatles, U2 on top of a roof playing for real. I wonder if David ever did somethin’ like that.

    The Boyle/Elvis duo will be a hit for sure. Thanks Santa Fed.

    1. Yes indeed Ken, I got to see that at Nassau Coliseum in ’80 near Lake Placid and the Olympics. What a day that was.

  4. And then there’s Buckethead … a really, really good (and prolific) guitarist who performs with what resembles a Michael Myers Halloween mask and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head. Perhaps this topic will give me incentive to try and figure out why. Maybe it’s as simple as a ‘challenge’ to the audience to see if they can look beyond the visual and appreciate the music…

  5. I remember reading a story from the 80s where the band Kiss had a photo taken without make up and a fan could win this very sought after snap thinking that they might sell it on, at that time no one had a photo of the band like this… unfortunately once the fan opened the special envelope the photo was only visible for a short time then disappeared from the paper.

    Merry Xmas ya all!

  6. … do picture discs count as gimmicks? I love them when I used to buy LP, now all those small CD offer pictures on them but you need a magnifying glass to see.

    On the other hand, it’s still better than files only, isn’t it? 😀

    @all: Have some nice days, don’t get to stressed with all the gift-buying and have a happy new year!

    Taki

    PS. Actually a simple new album of the one who lends his name to this blog, would be a great “gimmick”, too. 😉

    1. That is exactly what I mean, Taki, when I say ‘looking forward to 2014 on many different levels’. 😉 All the best.

    2. Actually a simple new album of the one who lends his name to this blog, would be a great “gimmick”, too.

      Much more than a great “gimmick”, and much better than chocolate, that would be fantastisch. 🙂

  7. Does the Black Strat qualify as a gimmick? I mean technically any standard Strat (with the proper modifications David likes) would have done the trick if the music was the only consideration.

    Also, while it was technically a necessity for the songs he used it in, the double 12-string/6-string guitar that Jimmy Page used in a lot of Led Zeppelin songs was pretty damn cool.

    But probably the biggest gimmick I always think of when I think of gimmicks is Steven Tyler’s microphone scarves. Tom Hanks even poked fun of that in a Wayne’s World sketch.

  8. When I hear the term ‘gimmick’ associated with music, Kiss immediately springs to mind. Specifically, the… Kiss Casket?

  9. FEd (and his/her blog) can surely be considered the greatest music (On An Island) gimmick of all time. :))

    (My favourite, at least… although I love the chocolate vinyl thing too… 😉 )

  10. TV alert:

    Pink Floyd, BEHIND THE WALL on ARTE now:

    Too late for today, but there will be replays on

    Sa, 21.12., 0:15
    So, 29.12. 1:40

    What I love about this documentary esp. is the coverage of David´s legal fights to keep Pink Floyd alive, not many remember that.

    1. Oh, us old ones remember, do we remember! And we are so grateful to David for picking up the gauntlet and bringing us more Pink Floyd magic with Richard and Nick (and Parry, Pratt, Carin, et al.)

  11. Music has always been as much about showmanship as about the music itself. Mozart was said to be quite a rebel who would engage in antics while performing his music. Elvis swivelled his hips. Buddy Holly, who was white, played what was then considered “Black” music at a time when that was considered outrageous. The Beatles had their hair and their suits, the Floyd had their stage shows, Elton John had his costumes, and the Bee Gees had their skintight jeans. None of this would have sold any records if the music was no good (okay, the Bee Gees are the notable exception to that rule). These things were always a compliment to the music. Until Madonna, the first who used the music to sell her image rather than the other way around. Now THAT seems to have become the norm (because while few people in my age range could name a single Miley Cyrus song, we all know her oversexed [yet not sexy] image). Gimmicks have become more notable than the music. What has changed in a big way is that it is now the gimmick that people seem to come for, not the music.

    1. Now THAT seems to have become the norm (because while few people in my age range could name a single Miley Cyrus song, we all know her oversexed [yet not sexy] image).

      Not sexy at all. I cringe when I see her cavorting and wonder what her parents must think. Having said that, I used to cringe when I saw her father, too. What a mullet he had. I only ever saw him in the video to his big hit single, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, to be fair, but that was enough for me.

    2. …and the Bee Gees had their skintight jeans. None of this would have sold any records if the music was no good (okay, the Bee Gees are the notable exception to that rule).

      I beg to differ. The Bee Gees got a bad rap because of the disco frenzy but some of their earlier stuff was well composed and just lovely albeit not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. They also wrote stuff for many other artists, lent their compositions to movies, and have been covered by Lord knows how many artists and been an influence to almost as many.

      Having said that, I am terribly biased 😀 … I loved their innocent lyrics and melodies – especially their songs used on the Melody soundtrack (no pun intended) to which Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young also contributed Teach Your Children … if only for nostalgia’s sake.

  12. Quite happily settle for the iconic pig over Battersea Power Station and hope there will be a slot for it after all the renovations have taken place without anyone hamming it up!!!!!

    The ‘absent’ album cover from Wish You Were Here was pretty amusing! (RIP Storm and thanks for some great designs.)

    Hope you all have a lovely relaxing peaceful Christmas/holiday season and a very Happy New Year to all, Fed and David and family and maybe with a lot to look forward to in 2014.

    Have a great safe time.

    Very Best Wishes
    Heather

  13. You just cannot beat colour vinyl. I’m sure The Floyd were going to release a pink single to promote 12 Great Dance Songs then pulled the plug on it.

    Damian

  14. Merry Xmas everyone. Hope the Reds and Arsenal do well. Love those goals, by the way, a week ago Fed. Wow!

    Happy New 2014!!!!

    1. There have been some crackers, if you’ll pardon the obvious Christmas pun, lately. It’s like the late Eighties all over again, only without the ‘Anfield Rap’.

      A very Merry Christmas to you and yours, Frank.

  15. Arizona “Purple Spheres” – WTF…? I’d eat the record disk, though. If I still used a turntable; my needle, upon chocolate? Weirdness abounds!

    Found this local bit in another blog today and thought to share. Never was there a determination of their origin, now they’re chocolate record topping. Cheers…

    Only possibility science could give, slime mold of as yet unidentified origin, the news here said aliens… We were warned of the slime mold in ‘Spinal Tap’.

  16. New York Dan’s mention of ‘hip swiggles’ by Elvis brought the image of Tom Jones’ breathtaking moves on his own TV show.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. All the best to you, FEd.

    Jan

  17. Wishing everyone Happy Holidays no matter how you celebrate them. May the New Year be kind to us all and only bring good tidings!

  18. Wonder whether this qualifies as a gimmick?

    Whilst on the topic, I wonder whether their mascot, Eddie, is a gimmick or band member. :))

    1. Thanks Pavlov,

      how could I forget Maidens beer? When I wrote about picture discs I had theirs in mind…

  19. How about Michael Jackson’s ‘HIStory’ which was launched in 1995 with the very bad taste (to my mind at least) promotional gimmick of floating a giant statue of himself down the Thames on a barge? Duplicates were scattered over several European locations. Nine. Cost: $30 million.

    How pompous, pretentious and a bit ridiculous, I think.

    1. So do I, and I’m concerned only about the cost to the planet (‘Earth Song’, anyone?). But the argument in support of such grand promotions will always be that, whatever he and his people spent, the amount would soon be dwarfed by what they made from sales. And so, sod the planet.

      What a fantastic cash cow he was in life and still is, in death.

  20. Polly has tweeted a great photo of David. The man is looking fit and healthy, hope I look as good when I get in my 60s.

    Damian

  21. Hi FEd,

    I think my pet hate is artists releasing an album and then maybe a few months later releasing a ‘special’ edition which may have a couple of extra songs on it. I feel this gimmick takes advantage of the real fans, who probably end up buying both/ multiple versions of the product. It’s probably not so bad now with downloads or if the different versions are released at the same time so as the buyer can choose the version they wish to purchase.

    Anyways it’s the time of year to start looking back before we look forward to a new year, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy and peaceful new year!

    Best wishes, Tom B Dublin – See you in 2014.

  22. Who was it bit heads off chickens? That was a gimmick, to draw crowds.

    I remember Arthur Brown with traffic lights on his head at one gig and in a giant teddy bear outfit at another. :)) I think he was just nuts though, no cynical attempt to draw attention via a cheap gimmick.

    What on earth was all the spitting about at punk gigs?

    I hate to say it Fed, but the King’s white and gold suit will always seem a bit gimmicky to me.

    Oh, and all the sluts going about wearing next to nothing and dancing very seductively. . . well, they’re sluts. What can they do with a guy in private that can top that? There’s no need for it if they are talented. And as an aside whinge, I dread to think that teenage girls, who lets face it, are primarily the ones buying their records, will be influenced by this slut behaviour and think that’s the way they should conduct themselves.

    I disagree that the Floyd’s or David’s light show, the lasers are great, are a gimmick. I think they are an added extra. The music is what drew the crowds, though, first and foremost.

    ash

    1. I think it was Ozzy with the rubber bats and then an audience member threw a live one on stage and he bit its head off. :))

      The chicken incident was attributed to Alice Cooper, who, incidentally, did not actually bite its head off but rather threw it back to the audience.

  23. Merry Christmas to David and family and friends. The same to everyone in the blog and especially for you Fed, and a Happy New Year to everyone.

    Kisses 😀

    Ash

  24. One could say the excellent light show that Pink Floyd/David Gilmour put on during their performances were a gimmick. But it was something that the ones lucky enough to see their shows was treated to and became anticipated. Very much a work of art.

    Gimmick ? No! Just taking care of their audience.

    1. So true Suzi, to be at a Pink Floyd concert was to be the furthest away to see the array of the venue, and cheaper seats to boot.

  25. My goodness Ash – LOL. Arthur Brown with traffic lights on his head.

    I do remember Knebworth 1976 when The Rolling Stones headlined. There was a story ‘leaked’ at the time along the lines of this was going to be there last ever gig. It certainly drew in a massive crowd.

    Happy Xmas / Thanksgiving and a great new year year ahead everyone!!

    1. Yeah, traffic lights. I have no idea what the song was about. I do remember the teddy bear was for a performance of “FIRE”, with no musical accompaniment because the sound system or something had broken down. The crowd went wild. :))

      I was at that Knebworth, Pete. 😀 The Stones were great back then. There was a big crowd and it was the first time I ever saw their thrust stage in the shape and colours of their now infamous tongue logo. It was a lovely day weather wise, the toilets were appalling (you haven’t lived if you haven’t experienced the toilets from back then), but I look back on those days of roughing it at festivals with fondness. 😀

      Happy New Year to you and your family Pete. 🙂

      ash

  26. I do agree with Ash. People would flock to see David/Pink Floyd without a laser show. The music speaks for itself! I was mentioning it was an added bonus for fans, not a gimmick.

    What is extremely sad about Miley Cyrus is that she was the persona of Hannah Montana in her childhood and thousand upon thousands of little girls watched her series and bought millions in merchandise. Then when she turned 18; well, we know what happened. It is shoved in our face. Very sad.

  27. Happy Birthday to Dick Parry. Love the saxophone. David plays the saxophone also, if I remember correctly. David plays very well too.

    The longest night of the year is behind us now, onward to the longest day of the year…

    1. I love the sound of a saxophone. 🙂

      Oops, sorry Suzy, I didn’t mean to sound like I was criticising. At the time I wrote my comment I was simply thinking about the light show being mentioned in this topic.

      The lights and lasers are just fabulous and so much a part of a Floyd or David concert. I don’t think they ever put anything on as a gimmick, they just wanted to put on a great show. I remember David saying something like, “just think of the light show we could do”. HE enjoys it even more than us I think!

      I think a great many bands tried to copy the Floyd, and their attempts became ‘gimmicky’. (I expect every Floyd fan to agree with me on this! :)) )

      ash

  28. If I haven’t missed the last post, before the season’s festivities commence, I’d just like wish you a very Merry Christmas FEd for your ongoing devotion to keeping David’s website and particularly, The Blog, an interactive, interesting, interchange of information as it enters its ninth year, since its inception.

    Your efforts are greatly appreciated by myself and, I’m sure, all the other Irregulars who share the admiration and love of David’s unique musical talents and qualities.

    As another year passes, we’re another year closer to the day when we can rejoice at the release of his next contribution to his already superlative canon of work.

    Until that day arrives (let’s hope it’s not too far away) can I also pass on my seasons greetings to David, Polly and their family, his entourage of merry minstrels and all Irregulars wherever you may be spending Christmas, hopefully, with family and friends surrounded.

    Merry Christmas one and all.

  29. Happy Birthday to The Blog! Tchin-tchin!

    The Blog, so much more than just a marketing tool/gimmick…

    Thumbs up to FEd. Bravo et merci.

    And thanks to David for making it possible.

    1. For making it possible and not telling me to sling my hook just yet.

      Thank you very much.

  30. ‘Lo All. FEd. Surprised no one’s mentioned this.

    I wonder if a charity benefited from this other gem featuring the King.

    Merry festive whatever to all, and a peaceful new year.

  31. Merry Christmas to David, family, to Fed and to you all.

    I wish you a very happy new year. Especially your 2014, David, I wish you a rich music, creative, passionate and memorable year.

    All the best!

    Ciao Elisabetta

  32. If an electric guitar (with its modifications) can be considered a gimmick, then the music recording, all the technics and techniques, the whole industry of sound producing (I mean sound engineering) just should be named the greatest music gimmick one ever could imagine. Once I heard one musician was talking of PF, “…they used to record on seven tracks…”, “…if only we had such opportunities … bla-bla-bla…”, as if that really was the reason of the unique sounding of the Pink Floyd music and its cosmic influence on people. Oh, if he only knew there were sixteen tracks there actually, not seven!.. :))

    Also, seeing on YouTube a comment like “David, I want your guitar!” I think, why don’t they want his talent of music creation, or his playing skills? Many musicians can afford any sound recording and music instruments nowadays, as much complicated (sophisticated) as expensive. But where is something like the Pink Floyd Sound? Like the David Gilmour Sound? Isn’t it a matter of gimmicks?

    And you can’t name the flashing light on “P.U.L.S.E” CD this disgusting word, Fed. That’s not a gimmick, that’s the design 🙂 (and I like the idea, although I can’t understand where could there be a switch, or had it been pulsing always?).

  33. Happy humbug Fed and all. Loving the festive spirit here, LOL.

    Happy Chrimbo to all,
    Damian

  34. This place really misses a lot of things… How about the GREATEST gimmick of ALL time?

    THE PUBLIUS ENIGMA.

    By Nick’s words “A marketing ploy by someone in the record company”.

    ENJOY!

    1. Was it ever solved? Anyone know?

      I didn’t think of it as a gimmick, I thought it was a puzzle set for fans (who knew the music of Pink Floyd very well) not a gimmick to attract new fans necessarily.

      Is a “gimmick” something done to attract attention? That’s the sense I’m giving the word.

      ash

      1. You can give it any sense you like, my dear. I thought the flashing light on the spine of the P.U.L.S.E CD was a gimmick, but a brilliant one. It doesn’t have to be a derogatory term.

    2. I don’t think it was ever solved … although there was a “reveal” of sorts at the last US concert in Rutherford, NJ … can’t remember what the stadium was called in ’94 … Meadowlands arena or Giants Stadium.

  35. Greetings, FEd ~

    I’d like to wish a very happy new year to you, as well as to David, Polly (and family), and to all our fellow Irregulars worldwide!

    As always, peace and love to each and every one! 🙂

    Gabrielle

  36. FEd,

    This is a very sad day, for Phil Everly (01/04/2014) from the Everly Brothers has passed away. They really had a lot of great hits and he will be truly missed.

    Take Care, Thomas

  37. hey…..are you started charged on this new year? i think about the reckon of the gimmick …..and it is a great thing from really marvellous bands!

    stay relaxed and keep the majesty-art of this new arrived year.

    cheers
    victor

  38. … just saw the new cool mobile theme. It’s more comfortable than the older one, because it sorts the comments correctly.

    Thanks for the work, FEd and have a happy and healthy new year!

    Taki

  39. Do helmets qualify as a gimmick?

    French duo took home five prizes at Sunday night’s Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.

    Don’t be shy, François H and Julie G, I recognised you…. But where is the scooter? 😉

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