Classics Du Jour




First, let me interrupt my own story to tell you that there are TWO NEW REALLY GOOD albums coming that you should check out.

If you like the blues, Buddy Guy just released a 2-CD set called “Rhythm & Blues” that will set your hair on fire!! The album is being touted by both radio programmers and the press as being the best Buddy Guy ever–and honestly, it’s true. Track for track (and we’re talking two CDs here folks!) this incredible music just keeps on coming. Buddy has some guest stars on there, like Kid Rock, Beth Hart, Gary Clark Jr., and the Aerosmith boys, and they add some nice flavor, but it’s Buddy in the end who is THE MAN!

Also, there is an album by Mark Knopfler that was released only in Europe last year, called “Privateering.” What a beautiful album this is. It’s got its share of blues as well, featuring Kim Wilson on harp from the Fabulous Thunderbirds, but it also boasts some gorgeous ballads, up tempo “Money For Nothing” and “Walk Of Life” type of songs, and some very tasty guitar licks with ABSOLUTELY PERFECT guitar tone. Mark chose a different guitar to use for each track, and he must have quite a collection because the guitar sounds on this album are amazing! Hell, the whole album sounds amazing–has got to be an analogue recoding.

Both albums are double disc sets and well worth whatever they’re asking for them.

Now then, where were we? Oh, yes the Pink Floyd “Division Bell” adventure.

I received a phone call from Steve O’Rourke (the band’s manager, if you remember) letting me know that the new album was about communication but it didn’t have a title yet. He said the band members were tossing around a bunch of possible ideas and one that came up was “Pow Wow”. But, they didn’t want to offend the American Indians and he asked if I would call the Chiefs who speak for most of the Indian population here in the U.S. and ask if it would be OK if Pink Floyd named their new album “Pow Wow”.

I have done some strange things in my music career and this is one for the books, for sure. First, I had to do research to find out who the authentic spokespeople were for the American Indians. Turns out there were two main Chiefs for the largest surviving tribes left. I can’t remember now for sure, but I think it was the Navajo and Cherokee tribes. At any rate, I had a fascinating conversation with each.

The first told me that the phrase “Pow Wow” really wasn’t in the original Indian language at all, and that, in fact it was made up by the white man. So, that particular tribe would not be offended because the term was not real for them to begin with.

The second Chief contradicted the first, telling me that yes, that the term Pow Wow was, indeed, real but that his people were such big Pink Floyd fans that they’d be “honored” if the band named their album “Pow Wow”!! Ha! Can you believe it?!

Well, in typical Pink Floyd fashion, don’t you know, I spent a bunch of time gathering up all of this information and the band decided not to use any of it anyway!

On another front, I was trying to come up with some big and different creative marketing ideas that would really put a buzz across America about a new Pink Floyd album and tour. I figured many heads were better than one so I put out an invitation to all Pink Floyd fans at the label to meet me after hours in a conference room for a Pink Floyd “Think Tank”—and, I would be serving Pizza!

Well, this idea turned out to be a hit because there were at least 15 to 20 people who LOVED Pink Floyd (and pizza), and we all had a blast coming up with very creative “Floydian” marketing plans—the kind that got the word out, but in a very cool way synonymous with the Pink Floyd vibe. We met once a week and the think tank took on the moniker of “The Pink Tank.”

Steve O’Rourke loved this idea so much, the fact that a major record label had enough real music fans who would stay late after work to give extra time to Pink Floyd, that he made shirts for us! They were long sleeve blue denim with pink “Pink Floyd-Pink Tank” logos above the left chest area. That gift is just one illustration of just how great a manager Steve O’Rourke was. He made us all feel part of the Pink Floyd family—INCLUSIVE, not exclusive like too many major music acts do once they attain a certain level of fame.

The Pink Tank was moving along quite nicely developing some great ideas, but I felt we needed ONE BIG ONE—one so big, that it would stop everyone in their tracks and make them pay attention, and also put a huge smile on their faces. I knew the band would sell quite a lot of albums and concert tickets, but I wanted the buzz to be like when the Beatles first came to the States. Our parents, and even our grandparents knew who the Beatles were and when they had a new album and when they were going to play, either live or on Ed Sullivan. I wanted EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN AMERICA, no matter how young or how old, to know that Pink Floyd had a brand new album and tour, and furthermore, that it was going to be such an event that they’d want to take part in it (i.e. buy the album and concert ticket).

On day I was looking out my office window on the 26th floor of the Sony building (550 Madison Ave.), which overlooked the Hudson River. As I gazed out to a very pleasant day I spied the huge Budweiser red and white blimp floating in the sky. You couldn’t miss that brand of colors and logo, and the airship was so freaking big it just intrinsically drew your attention from whatever else was around it. It looked brilliant, and elegant, and super hero like because it could float in the air—sometimes coming to a complete halt but still hanging there, in mid-air, like Superman can. Most importantly, it kept your interest for a good little while.

BINGO! An extreme LIGHTBULB! What does Pink Floyd do in concert (other than play some of the greatest music ever made!) They FLOAT objects—GIANT PIGS, airplanes that come flying down and crash, use lighting pods that look like flying saucers, etc., etc.. WHAT WE NEED,… IS A PINK FLOYD AIRSHIP!! A craft that can float from city to city, announcing the coming of a Pink Floyd album and tour!! A magical machine like something out of a Disney movie that can be interactive–give fans rides and that just by its existence would definitely put a smile on the face of anyone who saw it.

I immediately called O’Rourke in London with my idea, only to find out that he’d actually been thinking of something similar! He told me that he had been thinking about a hot air balloon. I said to him that I’d been in one, and although it had lot of attributes, the balloon drifted with the wind currents and you couldn’t control where it went, or worse, where it landed.

I quickly convinced him that the airship was a better idea and he set me off to go find one. I walked out of my office and over to my very talented and resourceful assistant, Rasa and asked her to please find out where we could rent a gigantic blimp for Pink Floyd and how much it would cost. She looked at me with those “are you crazy?!!” eyes for a moment, and then quickly realized it was just another one of our many, way-outside-the-box, adventures together. Within two hours she had sussed out the entire blimp universe—we could rent a “mega” version, the biggest blimp in the world for tons of money, or spend less and rent the Virgin Light Ship which was much smaller but did have a light which glowed from within. The first had to fly to any destination and the latter could actually be boxed up and flown on airplanes to be reassembled wherever we wanted.

I called O’Rourke back. In true Pink Floyd spirit, he said, “We’re Pink Floyd, we want the MEGA one!”

We called Airship International who owned the Budweiser, Metropolitan Life, Sea World and other noted huge airships. I took a meeting with the owner and his right hand man and found out that one could actually rent one of these for approximately $350,000.00 a month! Seemed like a lot of money to me but then I learned that what you see in the sky is only part of what it takes to make a blimp fly. There is also a ground crew consisting of twenty-two people, which follow the blimp wherever it goes via cars and trucks, and helps to land it, maintain it, and also launch it again. So, you not only have to pay to rent the actual blimp (and paint it with special paint that has to come from France, by the way), but also for the ground crew, their vehicles, hotel bills, and their expenses as the airship travels around the country. Yep, it’s a lot of dough.

I explained to the Airship International people that we were a record company and although we made good money, we were not a movie company with those kinds of budgets. I was able to negotiate them down from $1,000,000.00 for a three month run to $750,000.00 (largely because they really wanted a Pink Floyd blimp in their fleet–I mean, who wouldn’t?!). BUT, that was still $750,000.00 not in the original Pink Floyd marketing budget.

Undaunted, and seeing this incredible vision in my mind’s eye, I decided to persuade Columbia Records’ President Don Ienner into spending an EXTRA $750,000.00 on Pink Floyd’s new project “The Division Bell.”

The good news was that Donnie had always appreciated my vision and thought of me as Columbia’s “secret weapon” as I had created some very helpful outside the box marketing tools for the label (besides things like “The Pink Tank,” our own radio, and Emmy Award winning music television series, to mention a couple). The bad news was, that Donnie was also very financially responsible and going $750,000.00 over budget, before we even shipped album 1, was not his idea of responsible.

I began to doubt my stock ratings with him when he would see me at the end of the hallway and shout, “I DON’T WANT AN AIRSHIP! I DON’T NEED AN AIRSHIP! GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!!” And then, proceed to actually run in the opposite direction. Ha, ha!

Well, that’s enough for now, but tune in again and see how the Pink Floyd Airship finally came to be and what a glorious run it had (until it got destroyed in an ice storm!).

Keep Rockin’ Kids!


© Paul Rappaport 2013

Paul Rappaport

Paul Rappaport was Senior VP at Columbia Records where he enjoyed a 33 year career in radio promotion and marketing. He is recognized as being instrumental in the careers of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Santana, Journey, Elvis Costello, Judas Priest, Alice in Chains, and many more. He is also noted as the Co-Creator...

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