Music: The value of an old-fashioned love song
Free Press Music Columnist
When the spiky-coiffed, slightly grizzled and diminutive man took the stage of Staples Center in Los Angeles last January to accept the “Best Album” Grammy with Daft Punk, a lot of young fans probably wondered: Who was that leprechaun-looking fellow doing the talking for the French robotic duo?
The answer, of course, is Paul Williams, who nabbed his first Grammy nomination (for “Rainy Days and Mondays”) 34 years earlier, a good four years before either member of Daft Punk was even born. When Williams collaborated with Daft Punk on two songs (“Touch” and “Beyond”) from their best-selling “Random Access Memories” last year, he became the only songwriter to have written for Daft Punk and the Monkees (“Someday Man”), Scissor Sisters (“Almost Sorry”) and Streisand (“Evergreen”), Three Dog Night (“Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song”) and the Muppets (“Rainbow Connection”).
In a career that has included numerous acting roles — besides his best-known roles as Swan in “Phantom of the Paradise” and Little Enos Burdette in “Smoky and the Bandit,” Williams has also played the Penguin and an ape engaged in the “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” The man born Paul Hamilton Williams, Jr. in Bennington, Neb., has had one of those Zelig-like careers, photo-bombing his way through musical history like nobody else.
You could be forgiven for thinking Williams’ turn on “Random Access Memories” was a bit of a comeback for the 73-year-old songwriter, but the truth is Williams has been more than elbow-deep in the musical industry for the past several years. As a board member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (better known by its acronym: ASCAP) since 2001, and its president since 2009, Williams has advocated for songwriters for well over a decade now.
Williams made news a couple weeks ago when he penned an editorial for “Roll Call,” the congressional blog, about ASCAP’s intentions to revamp the laws which govern songwriting royalties. The last time these laws were addressed by Congress was in 2001, before the Apple iPod was invented. Since that time, the music industry has morphed in ways few could have predicted. As a result, it is sadly not uncommon now for music labels and recording artists to make as much as 12 or 14 times the amount a songwriter makes on the same streaming song on Spotify or Pandora.
To help counter the winds against the songwriter, Williams and his ASCAP cohorts have announced a new initiative called “MAP,” which stands for “Music Advocacy Project.” As part of that initiative, Williams traveled to Washington, D.C. recently with other great songwriters like Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman to meet with lawmakers about ways current licensing laws could be changed to be more equitable to songwriters.
Only time will tell if their efforts will come to fruit, although the ASCAP-approved Songwriter Equity Act of 2014, a (nowadays rare) House Resolution with wide bipartisan support, was referred to subcommittee in March. But something needs to be done; as the author of “Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song” knows only too well, modern love songs just don’t pay like the old-fashioned ones used to.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog. He also writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog: http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog. You may find him on Facebook as well.
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