I think part of what offended Miller and other guys of that ilk about rock was what they perceived
as a lack of musical talent. These guys were academy-trained, and the academies looked down on
hillbilly music and even jazz. Remember that it was a big deal for cutting edge classical people to
start embracing jazz elements in the 30's and 40's. Where rock sprang up, there was no resistence to
hillbilly music, it was everyday music.
If you look at the Billboard charts, which were somewhat reflective of what records were being
bought by actual people in actual stores, rock had a fad impact in the 50's but then faded until the
British invasion, which at first was a recycling and re-interpretation of American musical forms
from 5-10 years earlier. Once the Brits took hold here, though, there was no stopping any of it. And
yes, the older guard that resisted the tide at the big record companies paid the price in sales. The
same thing happened all over again with punk and new wave, only by then the big record labels were
so big that they could get a piece of the pie by distribution deals and outright buying the
aggressive indies. Notice how quickly all of the megaglomerates made sure to tie up deals with
various rap tycoons once that genre started showing up on the charts. They absorbed the bad
publicity and scolding from the likes of Tipper Gore in order to reap the millions.
Regarding Mitch Miller, two points:
1. what some may consider schlock was popular music in those days. Popular, as in populous, as in
many, many people enjoyed it. Miller's sing-along show had a huge audience and his sing-along
records sold millions of copies, millions more than many contemporary records now considered
2. the artists that Miller worked with at both Mercury and Columbia records sold boatloads of
records and thus subsidized some of the oh-so-hip slow-selling stuff that is more popular in
retrospect than it was when it was released.
That's not to deny that Miller's tastes fell out of the mainstream as the 60's youth culture
emerged. But he was far from an inept, tone-deaf record executive.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Cary Ginell" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, August 03, 2010 2:47 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mitch Miller RIP
There's a lot on Miller's work for Mercury in Dennis McClellan's article in the Los Angeles Times
today, which, by the way, was on the front page. They talked about him providing the "whip" sound
for Frankie Laine's recording of "Mule Train," the overdubbing on Patti Page's "Money, Marbles and
Chalk," and his role in the careers of Mercury artists like Vic Damone and Patti Page. He even
mentions Miller playing on the "Charlie Parker with Strings" LPs. Miller did a lot for Columbia in
the same way Dave Dexter did for Capitol; they were fine for middle-of-the-road artists, but refused
to change with the times or accept the validity of the public's changing styles. Miller turned down
Elvis; Dexter turned down the Beatles at least four times. They made their mark for what they
themselves liked, but as businessmen, they had their limitations and failed to have their fingers on
the pulse of where the public's tastes were going. This is why someone like George Martin has to be
admired: he was a classical guy who produced the Goons in England and used his ability to adapt to
the Beatles' style. With Miller's musicality and experience, he might have done the same thing at
Columbia, but refused to acknowledge rock 'n' roll as a bonafide art form and something that could
have made Columbia millions. Instead, they stagnated in the rock world. Only John Hammond gave
Columbia any place in the rock world by signing Bob Dylan, then just a folk singer who happened to
develop into a rock legend. As a partial result of Miller's influence, Columbia didn't have any
bonafide rock 'n' roll talents until Janis Joplin in the late '60s.
> Date: Tue, 3 Aug 2010 13:58:50 -0400
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: [ARSCLIST] Mitch Miller RIP
> To: [log in to unmask]
> In the (few) obits I've read for Mitch Miller, I didn't see any mention of his early role in
> Records, which was important for the young independent company. Miller was an oboe player, Eastman
> School trained. He was hired at Mercury by John Hammond and he, Hammond and David Hall comprised
> company's earliest classical-music staff. Miller recorded an album of oboe/chamber orchestra music
> for Mercury, as well as worked on the "Charlie Parker with Strings" sessions for Norman Granz. At
> that time, Granz was affiliated with Mercury.
> After Miller went to Columbia and, among many other things, founded the famous 30th Street studio,
> he continued to moonlight with other projects. One on-going thing for him in the 50's and 60's was
> conducting, arranging and producing sessions for Little Golden Book kiddie records. He did some of
> these sessions at Fine Sound and then Fine Recording.
> Some of the obits and tributes struck me as very ironic. Miller was portrayed as this old
> fuddy-duddy of suburbia in the age of rock and roll with his sing-along show. The goatee should
> slain that myth. Both Miller and Hammond were cutting-edge dudes in their time, very much on the
> forefront of music and intellectual thought, and far left of the mainstream in their social and
> political views. They were progressives before there was such a term.
> Mitch Miller did much for the music business, and for Mercury and then Columbia Records. May he
> in peace.
> -- Tom Fine