HEALTH: QUIET RIOT
In late 1982, the then Chairman of CBS Records, Walter Yetnikoff, and the head of CBS custom labels, Tony Martell, made me an offer I eagerly accepted: My own record company imprint, PASHA, marketed, promoted, manufactured and distributed throughout the world by CBS. That was the good news. I could go into a garage, hear an artist that I believed in and then put them through the best distribution system in the world. The bad news was that the economic numbers were small, my deal was totally cross-collateralized (that meant my profit from one success was used entirely to fund subsequent projects; out of our share alone!) and custom labels were stepchildren to the parent company.
Nevertheless, it was an opportunity. In fact, a golden opportunity if one were tenacious, creative and lucky. After the BILLY THORPE success, Capricorn Records went bankrupt, thus we lost any momentum we had for any follow -up projects in our science fiction genre. That is, we lost the moment. Although one of the first PASHA releases was a subsequent Thorpe album entitled "Stimulation," we could not recapture his audience. We also found out (via that release) that the CBS machine would not kick in on our initial phase of a record release. My company had to get the record started and CBS would join in with their massive resources, only when it appeared that we had something the public would embrace and buy.
While I was in the studio producing and writing with Eddie Money for his forthcoming album, I heard Slade's "CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE" on the radio as an oldie. It was sandwiched in between The Police's "ROXANNE" and Soft Cell's "TAINTED LOVE." Then it hit me - active participatory rock was NOT on American radio. Great music was being played, but it was somewhat passive. I instantly felt that if I could find a band whose sound, vibe and sociology was similar to that of Slade (who never made it in America), I could possibly make a hyperactive record that could generate "phones" and sell lots of units.
I then set out to find such an animal, and animal I found. I was turned on to a band called Dubrow that was playing at a small local venue in the San Fernando Valley called The Country Club. The night I went to see them, there were no more than twenty five people (including two members of my staff and me) in the audience. They were loud, abrasive and great. They were singing songs like "BANG YOUR HEAD," "PARTY ALL NIGHT" and "LOVE'S A BITCH." My marketing veins bulged and I introduced myself. A few of them were polite, but when I met Kevin Dubrow, he was arrogant and somewhat indifferent. When I revealed that I had a CBS label and was interested in signing a band like them, the manners, at least for the moment, changed. The terms I proposed were as follows: I would be willing to take them into the studio - at my expense - and record three of their best songs (and they had quite a few solid, consistent ones). The tradeoff was that they would allow me to arrange and produce a song that I thought could be a hit with them performing it. That song in trade was "CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE." They reluctantly agreed, since Kevin, the lead songwriter, did not really want to sing songs that he did not write or have a piece of. When we got down to work the next weekend, I was truly and pleasantly surprised at how solid and very talented Frankie Banali was a world- class drummer. Carlos Cavazo was just as top notch - a highly lyrical and versatile guitarist. Rudy Sarzo (the bass player) was solid as a player, and a very charismatic performer. Kevin gave me an awful lot of grief in trying to work up the arrangement to "NOIZE" and began to be disruptive with the other guys. In spite of that, we slugged through it and got the tracks recorded.
After completing the lead vocals with Kevin, (who I thought was actually a very good attitude stylist;) I set out to create an anthemic vocal sound. During the making of the Billy Thorpe "CHILDREN OF THE SUN" LP, I had developed a way to link up my two 24 - track machines, which gave me lots of flexibility to stack up tons of vocals and create an auditorium - like crowd singing sound. Please remember that these were the days before digital recording and 48 - track machines. I applied that technique and very exhaustively, made Kevin, Carlos and Rudy put their backing parts on over ten times each, singing different harmony parts. After the first four sides in our arrangement were completed, we all seemed to be quite happy with the result, including Kevin. Although he still resented and hated the fact that we recorded the Slade classic, he went with the flow.
I then flew to New York, quite excited, to present what I believed to be a new, fresh and exciting sound to my comrades at Epic/CBS Records. They assembled the conference room and provided a great lunch for me. I presented my new business partners the four songs. They happened to be the exact versions of four of the five songs which appear on the band's first album. The titles included "BANG YOUR HEAD (Metal Health)" and "'CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE". The CBS reaction reminded me of the initial reactions I got to the "CHILDREN OF THE SUN" album. Thanks, but no thanks. In fact, since I had a deal with this company and they were hopeful to release anything I believed in, it was twice as difficult to take the heat because to a man, they HATED, HATED, HATED it. They felt it was abrasive, wild, and so loud that even at low volume levels, they claimed "headache." I was pulled aside and asked in an ever so polite manner, "Please take this band and shop it! "
What that outright rejection meant was that this music, at least for the moment, wasn't going to get to the public through the CBS system. Since virtually every label in the business had already rejected the band, I was momentarily lost. I really believed - as I did with Tina Turner singing English rock and roll, and as I did with making a science fiction rock record with accompanying laser light show - that the kids would respond. I then spent the next three months "banging my own head" against every label, record company president and A & R executive - and continued to be turned down without fail. Ultimately, I prevailed on the top execs as CBS, including Walter himself, to back me up with the slightest of all deals, just to allow PASHA to package and ship the record out to the street.
Carol Peters, one of the smartest, most fastidious and honorable people I have met in my life, had just joined our company as General Manager. She was a crackerjack promotion and marketing whiz, with fantastic relationships in the radio community. When CBS shipped only 5,000 units nationally (try to find a copy at Sam Goody or Tower Records!), we bought another 10,000 at cost price and did our own mailings. There were many radio stations with whom I had developed personal relationships during the "CHILDREN OF THE SUN" campaign, in particular: KTXQ in Dallas, KISS in San Antonio, KMOD in Tulsa and KZAP in Sacramento. In these markets, Thorpe went number #1 very quickly and stayed there for months and months. We did massive promotions with them and both Billy and I did on air interviews and really built some friendships with the program directors. I then personally implored them to take a shot and play "BANG YOUR HEAD," which we released as the first track to radio. It spoke to the kids and was a really great sounding record. It worked. As soon as the song hit the air, the phones lit up like a fire was in town and (within a few days) that track became the number #1 most requested song on the stations that played it.
Carol and I immediately sent records to the retailers in those markets via Federal Express and within a few weeks, they had moved quickly out of the stores. What also helped was that we created an album cover that spoke to a generation. We had a guy, who had what looked like a teenage body, in a padded room in a red leather straitjacket. He had a mask over his face so that he could be any teenager, not one of the band members or anyone in particular. When kids saw that in the stores, they identified with it - especially when you connect the phrase, "Bang Your Head - Metal Health Will Make You Crazy, Metal Health Will Make You Mad."
Still, no one in New York at CBS cared. We were now at about 17,000 records sold. Compared to Michael Jackson's THRILLER, Cyndi Lauper's GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN and Billy Joel's tremendous sales and success, we were mere thorns in their side, especially because they hated the music. I then got a lucky call from an old disc jockey/ party animal friend of mine, Les Garland. Les had just taken the job as head of programming at MTV, a new Warner Amex cable channel that would play contemporary music videos around the clock. Les told me that it was important to MTV to do call-out research and find out what happening in the local marketplaces around the country. He corroborated that we had a "smash hit" in Texas and Oklahoma. He said, ("Dude, give me a video right away on that 'Riot' band and I'll put it on the air and see if it gets the same reaction as it does on radio".) God bless him, he was inspirational. I went to CBS, excited to tell them of this new development. By this point, a few of their key guys were starting to get it, in particular Larry Stessel, Steve Einczig, Bill Bennett and Harvey Leeds. In spite of that, no video support or money was forthcoming.
I decided to roll some dice again. I went out to Cal Arts, a wonderful school that the Walt Disney Company and foundation has endowed with funds to support future artists and filmmakers. I made a deal with the Dean of the School to allow us to utilize his facility and students in return for classroom credit and credit on a "CBS" national video. Now I needed to find someone who could actually help me execute the work. I knew we wanted to bring the album cover to life - and I also knew that we needed to first establish a core following in the heavy metal community for the band. Then our ace, "CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE," could be released as a second single and drive album sales.
I knew I wanted the video to have a surreal, Fellini-eque quality. I called every ad agency in Los Angeles to see if there were any talents that had trouble getting work and who were visually in the "Zone." Anyone who had an eye to make bizarre commercials could possibly help me make a bizarre video. As luck would have it, I met Mark Rezyka, a talented, yet frustrated film buff and director who had trouble getting jobs because people thought he was too 'out there.' Perfect for me, perfect for this band and perfect for "BANG YOUR HEAD." Together with the band, we story boarded the video and I put up the money to move forward. When some of the guys at CBS I mentioned earlier got wind of what was happening, they kicked in a bit, (especially Steve Einczig and Stess) and we got the video done for about $19,000.
I immediately sent it directly to my friend Les at MTV. He put it on the air, and within two weeks, the phones went berserk and we knew we had scored. Sales started to pick up, CBS started to pay attention - and off we went. We booked the band to go out with Black Sabbath to establish their core following. They made it onto the US Festival stage, were great live and word started to spread. Six more months of this tenacious guerilla work by all concerned, and we were gold. Then we made the follow - up video with Mark - starting were the first video left off, that is, the kid in the audience who caught the mask had it over his bed when the "CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE" video started.
METAL HEALTH was the first debut rock album to sell over seven million albums and go to number one in Billboard Magazine in America. Needless to say, this was definitely a career highlight.