Martin Lewis - In His Own Write


Daytrippin' Magazine - Issue 10
by Martin Lewis
(First published May 2000)

IMAGINE....

It was a great campaign. Possibly the best one that Capitol Records has ever undertaken. It was a masterpiece of concept, strategy and execution.

I refer of course to the sensational launch - in April 2000 - organized for the reissue of John Lennon's "Imagine" album. And the release of the home video and DVD of Andrew Solt's remarkable new film "Gimme Some Truth" - which documents the making of that landmark 1971 album.

Where does one begin to praise the campaign?

Well first of all the selection of the release date. By luck or design - they chose to reissue the album on April 11 - which of course was within a day of the 30th anniversary of the date popularly defined as the date of the Beatles' break-up. (April 10th was the date in 1970 on which Paul issued his famous press release about not making any more records with the Beatles.)

So Capitol was able to give the media a great "peg" for the re-release of the "Imagine" album/

You probably saw all those TV shows such as "Today," "Good Morning America" and "Entertainment Tonight"- where the hosts said something like:

"30 years ago today - millions of fans were despondent at the news of the Beatles break-up. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Rising like a phoenix out of the ashes of the Beatles' bitter breakup came four wonderful SOLO careers - with much more music.

Commemorating that landmark comes the reissue of one of the best and most popular of the nearly 100 solo albums released by the individual Beatles in the past 30 years - John Lennon's "Imagine" album."

That was SUCH a sharp move by Capitol. Taking the "sad song" (ie the anniversary of a date with negative connotations) and then "making it better" by shifting the focus to the sliver lining in the cloud of the break-up - i.e. all the great solo music that followed.

But that wasn't the limit of Capitol's brilliant campaign. That device of using the 30th anniversary of the breakup certainly worked for all the 'general interest' shows targeted at the folks who read "People" magazine.

But where they really showed their smarts was by finding a way to remind people of the cultural and social significance that John's "Imagine" album had when it was released in 1971.

As some of you may know - John was horrendously persecuted by President Richard Nixon and his right-wing cronies - such as FBI Director (and noted cross-dresser) J. Edgar Hoover. They spent millions of tax-payer dollars trying to deport John for political reasons.

Knowing that there was a marvelous new book telling the story of how Nixon illegally used the FBI to try and deport John Lennon in the early 70's (Jon Weiner's "Gimme Some Truth" - published by University of California Press) - the folks at Capitol skillfully arranged for scores of serious radio and TV shows to spotlight the reissue of "Imagine" in the context of HOW John's album had so frightened Nixon - that it had provoked Nixon to try and silence John.

Which is why we saw and heard so many TV shows with hosts or anchors saying something like this:

"Today sees the reissue of John Lennon's landmark 1971 album "Imagine"

This is the album which so terrorized President Richard Nixon that he instigated the Watergate-style persecution of John Lennon - a persecution which is fully documented by the secret FBI files on John Lennon - which are revealed in a new book called "Gimme Some Truth")

The success of the "Imagine" album in 1971 elevated Lennon to a position of incredible popularity all over the world - and particularly among the youth of America - where Lennon moved to live just before the release of the album. His linking up with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the whole anti-war movement was seen as a serious threat to Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. So Nixon ordered J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to spy on Lennon and find a way to get him deported.

Let's take a new look at the album that so terrorized an American President that he ordered illegal action against a rock musician..."

Well that worked out fine! Larry King (on CNN) and Charlie Rose (on PBS) each devoted a full hour to the story. "60 Minutes" and "20/20" each gave the story a large segment.

The world was reminded how important John Lennon and the "Imagine" album was. Radio talk shows got into the debate.

There was discussion about how only artists such as the Beatles could so affect the world that a President (albeit a crooked, paranoid one!) could be scared of a musician. You don't imagine that any musician ever scared Reagan, Bush or Clinton. It's hard to think of Al Gore or George Bush Jr being fearful of Brittany Spears! Or Limp Bizkit!

So these news features which Capitol cleverly set-up on TV and radio all reminded the world how special John Lennon was.

And Capitol kept going!

They rightly surmised that this campaign would be effective in targeting baby-boomers who would be reminded of John's brilliance. But it might not reach all the younger generations who might also be interested - but who would find all the stuff about Richard Nixon to be ancient history.

How oh how could Capitol get across to young people who might like the album if they heard it - that this was NOT just some ancient music from 30 years ago - but music that was still totally relevant?

Well - that's where you have to acknowledge the genius of the folks at Capitol...

They decided to make that incredible music video we've all been seeing lately. They smartly realized that just showing the old video for the song "Imagine" would have limited effect. That it had become "over-exposed" on TV in recent years.

So they picked that song from the album which was also the title of the Jon Weiner book AND the title of the documentary about the making of the album - "Gimme Some Truth." That's the song in which John brilliantly rails at right wing politicos and the forces of negativity.

And the way they made the video was stunning!

Working with a "base" of the film footage from the documentary of John's searing performance of that song - they inter-cut it with with brief snippets of news footage that illustrated the savagely-cutting lyrics.

In the first half of the song we saw images of all the late 60's and early 70's people and events which provoked John's anger. Shots of: Richard Nixon, VP Spiro Agnew, J. Edgar Hoover, - and incidents that moved the world such as Viet-Nam war footage and the Nixon-ordered carnage at Kent State University etc etc (all shown in black and white to underscore that it was from "the past")

Then in the second half of the song - all the people and images in the news snippets were in color - subtly signifying that they were the present-day descendants of the right-wingers seen in the first half of the song! The "sons of Tricky Dicky" that Lennon sings of in the lyric of "Gimme Some Truth."

Ken Starr, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, George Bush Jr, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Linda Tripp, Lucianne Goldberg. Shots of anti-gay demos, anti-abortion protesters - the whole schmear of reactionaries and right wing kooks who hated Lennon then and now - and against whom he was always protesting.

i.e. the very people that John Lennon would still be railing against today if he hadn't been murdered.

It was a bold device that underscored how John's music is as relevant today as ever.

Well of course this music video was very provocative - and generated massive coverage on news shows and on talk shows. (Especially among conservatives screaming about how John Lennon was some kind of commie degenerate!)

And suddenly John Lennon was front page news again - 20 years after his death...

The video was definitely controversial. Just like Lennon was in his solo years. No longer a cuddly lovable moptop - but a revolutionary who changed our world. And changed it for the better.

And the whole world was talking about John and how he could still create news, controversy and headlines - just by the sheer power of his words and music.

And of course a whole new generation was exposed to John Lennon. That was helped when the people at MTV and VH1 banned the music video. Scared of upsetting conservatives - just in case George Bush Jr. wins the 2000 Presidential election. (In the words of John - "God Save Us" !!!) So the video was shown endlessly on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel - and discussed endlessly on radio talk shows.

The result of all this inspired activity?

Well the reissued "Imagine" album went to the Number One position in the charts (29 years after it first hit Number one!) with millions of new fans turned on to John's music.

The home video and DVD of Andrew Solt's "Gimme Some Truth" documentary became a best-seller.

And as a pleasant by-product - thousands of people discovered Jon Weiner's "Gimme Some Truth" book - and read for themselves how foul Nixon's persecution of John Lennon was. And realized how reactionary forces (both then and now) are ALWAYS threatened by the power of the brilliant artists who challenge their Blue Meanie-spirited way of trying to ruin our world.

Most important of all - a whole new generation discovered the power of John Lennon - and the Beatles.

"HOLD ON MARTIN! MARTIN HOLD ON!" I hear you cry out!!!

I don't remember any of this! I don't remember seeing any of those "Today" "GMA" "E.T." type shows doing anything about the 30th anniversary of the break-up of the Beatles - and how it coincided with the reissue of the "Imagine" album...

I don't remember any of those politically-themed TV shows running entire programs about the social, political and cultural significance of the "Imagine" album...

And I certainly don't remember seeing or hearing about any controversial music video for John "Gimme Some Truth" song - showing how relevant John's music is 30 years on.

And the "Imagine" album ISN'T back in the charts. It's reissue sales are actually abysmally low.

And it's practically impossible to even find the "Gimme Some Truth" VHS or DVD in stores - let alone see it in the sales charts.

So what drug are you on Martin?! What are you talking about?! What is this genius campaign you've been writing about?!

Martin! From where I (the reader) sees it - Capitol Records had this amazing golden opportunity to create a brilliant campaign which could have sold millions of albums, videos and DVDs - but instead just did a standard-issue campaign of stunning ineptitude which could have been created by a 3-year old cucumber! No one had any idea that the album was reissued or that the video or DVD even existed!

Their campaign must have consisted of just putting out a boring press release announcing the reissue - the equivalent of someone whispering the words "here's a reissue of some old album" at 3am in the middle of the Ghobi desert to a cactus plant.

So what have you go to say to that Martin?!!!

Gentle readers - you are entirely right! I realize that I was only dreaming!

I realize that I dreamed that the dozens of phone calls and e-mails I sent to the new management at Capitol Records urging them to adopt such a campaign - had been responded to in a timely fashion. I dreamed that it hadn't take them SIX WEEKS before they invited me to present my marketing plan to them. I dreamed that these newcomers to the golden legacy of the Beatles and the solo Beatles catalog would look at what I and the others on the marketing team for "Anthology" and "Live At The BBC" had achieved with our campaigns between 1993 and 1996 and would be curious to see what could be achieved on this reissue.

And I dreamed that one week after finally meeting me (which they did on Thursday March 16th) that they had NOT sent me the following e-mail:

Thursday 23 March 2000 13:05
From: xxxxxxxx@capitolrecords.com (name removed to save him total embarrassment!)
To: martin@martinlewis.com
Subject: "Imagine" marketing proposal

Dear Martin,

Thank you for the proposal. It is a well conceived strategy and very creative. I am very impressed with your knowledge of John Lennon and the Beatles and very much enjoyed our conversations.

Unfortunately, due to the very short lead time that we now have, I am going to have to pass for now. I will definitely keep you in mind for future Beatles related projects. Thank you for your time and patience.

Best Regards,

xxxxxx (name removed)

"Very short lead time" Well I wonder if that anything to do with the fact that it took the current occupants at Capitol Records nearly SIX WEEKS to finally meet me and hear the marketing strategy?! The first time I contacted them was on Monday February 7, 2000. No one at Capitol could find time to talk about the "Imagine album" till Thursday March 16. And by the time they managed to work out that the campaign created by one of the architects of the "Anthology" campaign was a "well conceived strategy and very creative" it was 3 weeks before the album release.

Even at that short notice - the campaign could still have been executed. (We put together the campaign for "Live At The BBC" in December 1994 in just three weeks.)

But - alas - it was not to be.

I'm sorry for Yoko. All the hard work she put into re-mastering the "Imagine" album. I'm sorry for my dear pal Andrew Solt. All the incredible time and work he put into making his brilliant "Gimme Some Truth" film.

I'm sorry for the wonderful Jon Weiner. All his 18 years of pursuing the FBI to discover the truth about its Richard Nixon-instigated persecution of John Lennon - is in his excellent "Gimme Some Truth" book. (I urge you get it.)

But most of all I'm sorry for the millions of people who do NOT know about the "Imagine" album - but could have known - if only the current staff at Capitol Records hadn't been totally asleep at the wheel.

I say "current" staff - because the recently-announced merger of AOL/Time-Warner and EMI - means that new management may soon be installed at Capitol Records. Management who will be professional enough to take seriously being custodians of the legacy of John Lennon and the Beatles.

Incidentally - normally I would not share with the public the facts about such scandalous negligence by a record company. But to quote John "I'm sick and tired" of this incompetence. And - inspired by John - I felt that on this particular topic - I had to live up to the spirit of "Gimme Some Truth" !


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