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Cause and effect: Music artists make issues an issue

IN THE EARLY ’80s, music acts were often criticized for not doing enough to support worthy causes, unlike their entertainment industry counterparts from stage, films or television.

But the conspicuous consumption of the early ’80s gave rise to the “We-Are-the-World” spirit of the late ’80s. By now, being politically correct is a career move.

The industry has lately exploded with causes, as issues ranging from voter registration (B-52’s), hunger (Garth Brooks), AIDS research (Elton John), abortion rights (L7) and ozone depletion (10,000 Maniacs) have become as much a part of acts’ identities as their music.

Some skeptics may wonder: are acts really committed to the causes they align themselves with, or are they seeking a unique hook?

“That may be the case in many instances,” says Danny Goldberg, senior VP for Atlantic Records. “But I would rather that (artists) try to get some favorable public relations by doing some work as opposed to being known for what clothes they wear or how they wear them.” Still, he admits, some acts may have ulterior motives. “We can’t expect entertainers to all be saints and totally altruistic, like monks in a monastery.”

Carey Curlop, program director of Los Angeles radio station KLOS-FM, says the bloom is off the rose when cause-supporting artists try to get added to the station’s playlist.

“When it was a unique thing back in the ’80s, I think it probably had an impact on what we did,” Curlop says. “But there are so many of them now that they have less and less of an impact.”

At least one retailer takes an opposite point of view. Chuck Lee, director of music buying at the 309-store Wherehouse Entertainment, says the chain supports “cause” records “as best we can.” Lee points to the chain’s efforts to put the product of an act supporting a regional charity, such as a local food bank, into stores covering that region.

FOR THE PAST 10 years, George David Weiss has donated his services as president of the Songwriters’ Guild of America, an org that lobbies for composers and lyricists’ rights in addition to providing various business services.

“I’ve had more publicity as president of the Guild,” he jokes, “than for my entire career as a songwriter.”

That career includes the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and Louis Armstrong’s posthumous smash “What a Wonderful World.” His credits also include the Broadway shows “Mr. Wonderful” (starring Sammy Davis Jr.) and “Maggie Flynn.”

This Thursday night, Weiss will be one of several songwriters performing their own works in the L.A.-based National Academy of Songwriters’ seventh annual “Salute to the American Songwriter,” at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Hollywood. The program will showcase the often-unheralded men and women who put words and music into the performers’ mouths.

After a long career writing pop songs for Frank Sinatra (“Oh! What It Seemed to Be”) Nat King Cole (“Jet”) and Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”) Weiss was collaborating with producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore (who worked professionally as Hugo & Luigi). “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” their adaptation of a vintage African folk song, was turned by the Tokens into a rock ‘n’ roll standard.

Seeking new songs for the film “Blue Hawaii,” Presley’s publishers “passed out scripts to 15-20 songwriters, and said, ‘If you get in to the picture, good, if you don’t, too damn bad.’

“When the publishers heard ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love,’ there was a 20 -second silence before one of them said, slowly, ‘That’s nice, but we want another ‘Hound Dog.’ ”

Presley eventually heard the song and personally insisted on recording it.

More than 20 years after Weiss had written “What a Wonderful World” for Louis Armstrong, Barry Levinson was filming “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Weiss says, “Somebody working on the picture who was a veteran of the war insisted that he include it, because the song–which had been a flop in the United States–had been a big hit with the troops. It finally became a hit here, and is now a copyright on the order of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love.’ ”

PELICAN’S RETREAT nightclub in Calabasas has been featuring the band Dirty Pool, with a variety of drop-in guests, including Rick Springfield.

Fronted by a terrific singer and guitarist named T.J. Parker and featuring guitarist Steve Hunter (ex-Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, etc.), the group specializes in blues-rock standards including “Whipping Post,””Red House,””Layla” and a terrific version of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”

After a few year’s hiatus, singer-songwriter Springfield looks and sounds fine, with plenty of power left in his pop. Audience on a recent Monday seemed old enough to fondly remember 1982’s “Jessie’s Girl,” though they probably wouldn’t have recognized 1972’s “Speak to the Sky.” Sources suggest that Springfield may be playing further “secret” dates in Redondo Beach and Ventura during December with this band, breaking in for a higher-profile ’93 tour.

“Married … With Children’s” Katey Sagal, drummer Jack White’s squeeze, didn’t show up last Monday (though she has in weeks past). But the last set featured sit-ins by Bekka Bramlett, torch-piped daughter of Delaney and Bonnie and lead singer in Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo, for a couple of Rolling Stones numbers and an encore of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” featuring Mark Slaughter and former Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler.

Dirty Pool is set to play at least through tonight. If the shows keep on at this level of proficiency and fun, Pelican’s Retreat is going to be able to initiate a door charge.

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