Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Mo Songs

THIS IS THE ARTICLE FULL TEMPLATE
Thursday, September 26, 2013
70s
Little Feat
Neil Young
Joni Mitchell
George Harrison
THIS IS THE FIELD NODE IMAGE ARTICLE TEMPLATE
Stay Tuned By Stan Cornyn: Mo Songs

Every Tuesday and Thursday, former Warner Bros. Records executive and industry insider Stan Cornyn ruminates on the past, present, and future of the music business.

Today it’s 1970

January 25, 1970. The day that, within Warner/Reprise, Mo Ostin becomes the #1 executive, with his pal Joe Smith up to #2. (Mike Maitland exits with grace, and the new team starts out strong.)

Mo will have a long tenure at Warner Bros. Records, there until his last day at WBR, December of 1994, when he walked out the front door, there met by a hoard of his fans, his employees.

A photo of that departure made it full page color in the Los Angeles Times.

But, as I so eloquently put it in the sub-head above, “Today it’s 1970.”

Mo’s two labels (both Reprise and Warners now) are headed for a best-year-ever in 1970, Albums with singles this year:

Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead with “Truckin’”

Van Morrison: Moondance with “Blue Money” and “Domino”

James Taylor: Sweet Baby James with “Fire and Rain”

Fleetwood Mac: Kiln House

Norman Greenbaum: Spirit in the Sky

The Kinks: Lola

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock

Neil Young: Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

… and more. We at 3701 Warner kept busy. Our acts showed, in many cases, appreciation for this new Mo+Joe team. They even sang about it.

A Apolitical Blues

Unexpectedly, a group named Little Feat came up with their own song about him (Mo) and us. It showed up first on their album Sailin’ Shoes, where the Lowell George-led group sang “A Apolitical Blues” which extolled Mo.

The song was explicit. We (Little Feat) have moved on from those old 1960s social goals, and don’t want to sing like that any more. The Feat made their case:

Well my telephone was ringing
And they told me it was Chairman Mao
Well my telephone was ringing
And they told me it was Chairman Mao
You can tell him anything
'Cause I just don't wanna talk to him now

I've got the apolitical blues
And that's the meanest blues of all
Apolitical blues
And that's the meanest blues of all
I don't care if it's John Wayne
I just don't wanna talk to him now

“Apolitical” showed up in two Little Feat albums, the second being 1975’s The Last Record Album.

Watch Little Feat get apolitical here:

The word got around quickly within WB/Reprise, where the song with its blues romp stopped us from calling Lowell back. We agreed: 1970s now.

Mo just said little, mostly littles like “…don’t think he means me.”

But that was just the beginning. More Mo songs. Here comes Neil.

Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze

It’s now 1981, and all remains stable at Warner-Reprise. We’ve moved into better quarters, a handsome building built out of genuine wood.

Back in 1975, Joe Smith had been tapped to head up Warner-Elektra Records, and was over in L.A. Mo stood firm in Burbank.

In 1981, Neil Young had his ohhh eleventh album (Re-Ac-Tor) coming out on Reprise, and in it there was another Mo-song and Joe-song. A love song, but of the Neil sort. It went:

Here's a story about Surfer Joe
He caught the big one,
but he let it go
There's somebody satisfied
with winning.

Back on the boardwalk
there's Moe the Sleaze
Sells good things
and aims to please
He's almost even but
he doesn't mind a handout.

Come on down
for a pleasure cruise
We're all going
on a pleasure cruise
Come on down
for a pleasure cruise
Plenty of women,
plenty of booze.

Give your ticket
to Moe the Sleaze
He's the one that's
weak in the knees
His pants are baggy,
but you can see them shaking.

I'll introduce you to Surfer Joe
He may be there,
I really don't know
We can smoke garfong
and watch him ride
the big one.

Check out a recent live performance of “Surfer Joe”:

“Surfer Joe” was Neil’s way of handling current events. Mo, hearing it, just smiled.

Next:

Then a brief, 19-year pause, until George Harrison, now a pal within Warner, created his own song about Mo. It’s now 1994, and Mo has chosen to retire rather than put up with a bunch of corporate politics within Big Warner Communications. To honor his years, we created a six-CD promo album and pressed about one thousand copies. For us.

George Harrison wrote his own song for the set: “Mo.” And recorded it just for that purpose.

A little Boy was born nearby some fifty years ago
His name was Mo, Mo, Mo.

They could've called Clive or so
They didn't call him Joe
They called him Mo, Mo, Mo.

We're gonna give you
Mo, love
Mo, good wishes
Mo, smiles
Mo, sweet kisses
Mo, hits
And none of them misses, no, no, no.
Not for our good Mo.

A smile that you give at comes back always to you know
We love you Mo, Mo, Mo.
Whatever that it takes, I know
You have it and it shows
We love you Mo, Mo, Mo.

We're gonna give you
Mo, love
Mo, good wishes
Mo, smiles
Mo, sweet kisses
Mo, hits
And none of them misses, no, no, no.
Not for our sweet Mo.

For where I sit or stand
I hear it on my radio
They're singing Mo, Mo, Mo.
Mo, Mo, Mo.

This day is truly yours forever
Reaping what you've sown
In bringing us Mo, Mo, Mo.
Mo, Mo, Mo.

We're gonna give you
Mo, love
Mo, good wishes
Mo, smiles
Mo, sweet kisses
Mo, hits
And none of them misses, no, no, no.
Not for our good Mo.

Mo, love
Mo, good wishes
Mo, smiles
Mo, sweet kisses
Mo, hits
And none of them misses, no, no, no.
Not for our good Mo.

Go get them Mo...

Check out an official "Mo" tribute here:

The Last Words

To create the “liner notes” for this 6-CDs tribute album, Warner Records came back to me, although I had been moved up to Corporate.

But this was for Mo, so I wrote and wrote. Here’s how those notes concluded:

One final signing. . .

Mo learned that Joni Mitchell might be available, once again, for Warners. The itch. They met in a Brentwood restaurant named Peppone’s. They flirted about a new contract.

Joni talked as artists can with Mo. Level. Ms. Mitchell does not make plain sentences. “Let’s kick the tires on this,” Joni began. She knew, as always, who and what she was and wanted. “Here’s the scenario,” she began. She foretold her new career. “I’m 50. I’m not going to run around all day and night promoting. I had two records dropped while I was at Geffen.”

What Mo heard was still the artistry of that girl’s imagination. Joni had – still – all the things Mo respected in an artist: intellect, talent, uniqueness. Ms. Mitchell became Mo’s final signing for Warners. During Mo’s 31 years at Warner, without really counting, let’s just say there were over a thousand signings. Somehow, that final signing – Joni, again – was very, very special.

In thinking back on that dinner, Joni recalled Mo and how he had earned his living. And she thought about something two other artists had once said, in Paris, years before. Gertrude Stein had known the finest artists in her generation. She had chosen the right ones, entertained the best in her salons. Later Picasso had said to her, “Yes, you picked all the great artists of this generation. But now . . . can you pick them in the next?”

This story has reached through five decades. In each of those generations, Mo has picked the best.

As Lenny Waronker said, looking back at Mo’s 31 years, “It was always about artists.”

Because of Mo, it will still be.

-- Stay Tuned

or

-- Talk Back to Cornyn@cox.net