Michael Coyle’s “Hijacked Hits and Antic Authenticity: Cover Songs, Race, and Postwar Marketing

In this article, Michael Coyle talks about a few different things.  One of the things he discusses is the concept of “hi-jacking” a hit, which he says is different from a cover.  He said that at the time, the music industry made most of its money through the sales of sheet music.  When multiple singers were making different versions of the same songs, it helped sell more sheet music.  So the music industry had no problem with multiple recordings of the same songs competing against each other, because in the end, the music industry was still making a profit.  Several recording companies themselves would produce multiple recordings of the same song.  At this time, the music wasn’t associated to any particular artist, unlike today.  Today, you associate certain songs with their artists.  For example, when you think of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, you think of Queen.  If any other artist were to make their own recording of it, you would still think of Queen.  There’s an association between the song and the performer.  At the time, “The primary concern of any recording company was not the exclusive identification of one song to an artist, but the timely release of its version so as to catch wave of public interest before interest subsided.”  So if a song was becoming popular, artists would then record and put out their version of the song.  Certain artists wouldn’t even record a song unless they knew it was a guaranteed hit.  This became an issue though for a lot of black artists.  When a white artist would record a version of a song, it would go up on the charts, meanwhile the black artists version of the song would fall down on the charts.  

However, what I found most interesting about this was when he spoke about Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, and when he started talking about artist authenticity.  He starts talking about racial authenticity as well.  He mentions how with a song like “Strange Fruit”, no white person could ever hi-jack it because they lack the racial authenticity.  The song, which is about the lynching of African-Americans, is something that no white person could ever sing about and be realistic in their portrayal of it.  It simply cannot be done.  Later in the article, he talks about artist authenticity.  He said how people started not only buying into the song, but also the ideologies of the artist.  There was an expectation that the artist had to live the life that they described in their music.  

I found that really interesting because I think that’s very true, especially in this time.  Without that racial authenticity, without the artist authenticity, the artist winds up looking foolish.  It reminded me of a scene from the parody film, Not Another Film.  In this scene, they are making fun of a scene from the movie “Bring It On”.  One of the teams from San Diego (mostly white) stole a cheerleading routine from another team from East Compton (mostly black).  When the East Compton team accuses the team from San Diego of stealing their routine, they deny it.  In the parody, the team from San Diego denies having stolen the routine.  They then proceed to perform the routine, in which part of the cheer says “We ain’t white”. 

This scene reminded me of what Coyle was saying in terms of the authenticity.  Without that authenticity, the song just doesn’t work.  In the case of the movie, the routine just doesn’t work. The racial and artistic authenticity is important to how the audience will receive it.

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