This is an idea that some music people had in the early ‘80s: you know all those Middle of the Road artists who can sell out venues like Westbury and pack ‘em in out in Vegas but are being disenfranchised by the major record companies? Let’s start a new label where they can do their thing, and all their fans will cry “At last!” and run out to buy these new albums and everyone will be even richer and happier. And so in 1981 Applause (or as Hank Kingsley might say, Applesauce) Records was hatched, and for the next two years as motley a crew of crooners and belters as you could imagine released product with terrible packaging, equally poor marketing, and an A&R philosophy that was like an hallucination one might have after too many whiskey sours and a losing streak in a Reno casino. Tony Martin singing “Aquarius.” Robert Goulet doing “You Light Up My Life.” The Lettermen taking on “What I Did For Love.” Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Hey Won’t You Play (Another Done Somebody Wrong Song).” “Theme From ‘Deep Throat’” as interpreted by Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band (honest). Steve and Eydie, separately. And as they say, many, many more, plus the soundtrack (by Ennio Morricone, shockingly enough) from the Pia Zadora vehicle Butterfly, and the completely riotous Space Jazz: The Music of the Book by L. Ron Hubbard. Some of the tracks on that: “Mankind Unites,” “Terl, The Security Director,” “The Drone,” “The Mining Song.” And this:
It was a depressing affair, this Applause experiment, because these artists (others: Vic Damone, Jack Jones, Shirley Bassey, Buddy Greco) could not understand what was going on. Surely there was an audience for what they were doing, because every night the nightclubs and suburban venues and hotel showrooms were packed, and those patrons were dropping hard cash on cover charge and alcohol, so why wouldn’t those people peel off a ten and spring for a collection of shiny new tunes? It’s not like the artists were ready for the retirement home (they were all far younger then than a lot of rockers you or I could name who are out there raking in the live bucks and merch windfall). But they couldn’t fathom the disconnect: didn’t people still want nice songs sung nicely? Of course they did. But they wanted nice OLD songs sung nicely, and they already owned the albums with those songs on them, and they really didn’t care to hear Steve Lawrence sing Michael Jackson (“She’s Out Of My Life”) or Rita Coolidge (below) because what’s the point?
There’s a live Chris Connor LP in the Applause vaults, and the label did some admirable work reissuing Blue Note, Pacific Jazz and Capitol catalog, but maybe that’s all it should’ve been: a place to release some new live albums and classic jazz and pop. No one, in 1982, was going to buy an album called Peter Goes Pop (that’s Peter Nero, MOR pianist, cascading through Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter In The Rain”). Or Buddy Greco swingin’ “I Go To Rio.” Those albums went straight to the discount bins, and once in a while you’ll find one, sad and forlorn and in decent condition (because, face it, not many spins on the hi-fi) at a flea market or used record store, and you think: wasn’t the actual applause night after night enough? Did these singers really think that they’d lure in a younger demographic by medleying Carole King and James Taylor with the Gershwins or covering the Eagles (as Jack Jones did, both)? And now, how ticked off are Steve and Jack and Buddy at Rod Stewart and McCartney and others for jumping on the standards bus? It’s wasn’t bad enough that the rock generation made the easy listening crowd obsolete, and now the repertoire’s been hijacked. I read somewhere that Applause was Steve Lawrence’s idea, that he was the one waving the flag for this haven for the musically dispossessed, and I suppose it was born of frustration, and a feeling that his cronies needed someplace with a welcome mat. Fair enough. But just as an aside, the Lawrence and Gorme Brill Building pop recordings are still locked up, and can anyone say they’d rather hear Eydie sing “Come In From The Rain” than one of her multi-tracked, echoey tunes from the ‘60s?