Could Your Favorite Song Become A Movie Or Podcast?
In a media environment where remakes, reboots, and other derivative content seem to dominate, the inspiration for films and series has become increasingly specific, in some cases narrowing their focus from a biopic to a single song.
Guest post by Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media
Our desire to entertain and inform ourselves apparently knows no bounds. And producers, writers, directors, and other creatives are hard at work trying to keep up with our apparently insatiable demands. After all, how much more screen time can we possible create?
Maybe because there’s so much pressure to crank out entertaining long-form content – in theaters, cable pay, and video subscription streaming channels – derivative ideas are becoming the currency. Remakes, reboots, and movies with numbers after their titles have all become part of the pastiche of pop culture. Including music and the people who make it.
And perhaps it took flight with the Academy Award winning smash, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” followed by “Rocket Man,” “Yesterday,” and the slew of other films made around great Classic Rock songs and the stars who wrote and performed them.
But now, we may be moving away from biopics, and to filmed stories based around a song. The newest press release from Classic Rock world features a progressive rock band you may not have thought about for a while – or ever – Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
Originally, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, and Carl Palmer formed what was known as a “supergroup” 50 years ago. The band enjoyed success on rock radio in the early 70’s. Their symphonic music had flavors of classical and jazz, very much in the spirit of other bands from the era – Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and later, ELO, Queen, and Rush.
These days when albums are on the way out, and hooky three-minute singles are the only vehicles that seemingly work on both the radio and on Spotify, complex, symphonic works from progressive rock bands just don’t exist today.
That’s why the news last week that ELP’s “Karn Evil 9” is being turned into a dystopian scifi movie may have caught some music and film critics alike off-guard. But when you consider the song (or the movements) are nearly a half hour long, it all makes sense.
The album that contained this opus is “Brain Salad Surgery” (pictured at the top of this post), featuring the stunning artwork designed by the late Swiss painter, H.R.Giger. In those days, almost as much attention went to the album covers, jackets, lyrics, and sleeves as it did for the actual music pressed on vinyl. It was all part of the package. “Brain Salad Surgery” finished at an impressive #12 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums Of All Time, becoming a signature work by ELP.
And that’s why this new film project makes so much sense. The only surviving member of the band – percussionist Carl Palmer – used social media to announce and hype the project, produced by Radar Pictures, the team behind the “Jumanji” films.
According to Deadline, the New York Times’ author Daniel H. Wilson is writing the screenplay, inspired by ELP’s lyrics and recording. It’s an interesting concept. According to Deadline’s Amanda N’Duka, the plot line goes like this:
“Centered on a society that has drained all its blood with a dependence on technology, the film will explore the world controlled by a pervasive and dictatorial technocracy. The annual “Karn Evil” — a macabre rite of passage — is a young person’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience unbridled freedom, before subjugating themselves to the ruling class. When people stop returning from their Karn Evil experience, fear drives a revolution to topple the status quo and the artificial intelligence discovered at its heart.”
For an album that’s a half century old, “Karen Evil 9” sounds like just the type of film we’ve become used to seeing at the multiplex or on Netflix.
And that’s a reminder that behind every great song, there’s a story.
Great Classic Rock stations have found ways – on the air, online, in social media, and now in podcasts – to tell some of these compelling stories.
Perhaps the poet laureate of the format was the late Nick Michaels (pictured right). I’ve highlighted his extraordinary talent – his writing, his voicework, his passion, his imagination – in this blog before. Nick’s “The Deep End” show is still in syndication – a chance to not only the enjoy the music, but to gain insight into how it was made, and why it still matters today.
Nick was the soul behind WDRV/Chicago when Bonneville signed the station on back in 2001, a collaboration of Greg Solk and Drew Horowitz. Nick was the voice of the station, but also its creative force, working hand in hand with Chicago production legend, Matt Bisbee.
Nearly two decades later, much has changed about the Drive, but it’s spirit is intact, continuing to be a radio station that provides a context to the music, without losing a step in PPM.
Now owned by Hubbard, programmer Rob Cressman has engineered the next iteration of the Drive. Along with market institution and musicologist Bob Stroud, Rob is finding new and different ways to highlight the station’s storytelling.
One unique twist is a podcast written, produced, and hosted by Janda Lane, who’s teamed up with market vet Steve Seaver in afternoon drive. Janda started “Behind The Song” a couple of years ago. The podcast is now 35 episodes strong, highlighting a different rock classic each time. Janda explains how it came together:
“The concept of creating a podcast around lyrics came to be shortly after I joined WDRV in 2018. Classic Rock songs are ripe with powerful, memorable lyrics. When Bob Seger sings in ‘Night Moves’ about ‘autumn closing in,’ he’s painting a picture in our minds. When Robert Plant sings about ‘a spring clean for the May queen’ in Stairway To Heaven,’ he’s world-building.
“Beyond the songs and the lyrics, the very lives of these artists are often heartbreaking, hilarious, or a little of both. Rob Cressman and I were initially talking about me kicking off a podcast, and he asked ‘What about song lyrics?’
“It was as if a light bulb went off in my head: to not just create a podcast, but to honor the songs and the artists who made them. I try to shine a spotlight on their words in a way that will inform new fans of the music and spark memories from old ones. I hope I do that with every episode of ‘Behind The Song.”
Because of music rights issues in podcasts, the actual song Janda showcases in the podcast is never actually heard. And yet, the stories behind each song come to live in the podcast – how it was written and recorded, its meanings, and how it still resonates today is the beauty of this production. Janda’s respect for the music matches Nick’s, using a different platform to express her ideas and stories.
You can check out Janda’s “Behind The Song” podcast here. If you just listen to one, check out “American Pie.”
These different media interpretations of Classic Rock songs speak to the resilience of the music and its lasting value. More and more these days, I think about songs – or entire albums – conducive to film, video, and podcast platforms. (And what’s taking Country so long – a storytelling genre if there ever was one?)
One of my favorite albums, “The Nightfly” by Donald Fagen (of Steely Dan fame), is loaded with songs that have great story lines, including the title song – an ode to an all-night DJ. And someone ought to make a movie about an all-night DJ.
This next phase of celebrating great music in other media platforms is happening quickly, particularly as the demand for entertaining content continues to ratchet up.
Many radio stations have wonderful storytellers on staff, most of whom don’t have the audio real estate necessary to tell these stories on the air. That’s where these other media platforms and outlets come into play, providing new media outlets to tell the stories of the great music consumers still know, respect, and enjoy decades and decades after it was first recorded.
Every song has a story. And now they’re being told.
Use the “Comments” section below or my Facebook page to list your choices of songs that could be the center of a great films (or a podcast idea for Janda Lane.) Just don’t send me your screenplays!
Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.