This issue of Billboard dated Oct. 6, 1973 features a different layout from our previous From the Archive column from the issue when Dylan went electric at Newport Folk Festival, dated Aug. 7, 1965. It’s headlined by an early version of our current logo, for one; now that cassette tapes (“The Burgeoning Business”) have been invented, the tagline is “The International Music-Record-Tape Newsweekly”; and the layout has been shuffled — now, the tagline is in the upper right-hand corner, leaving room for gripping headlines like “Industry Tackles Plastics Shortage.”
Ride on, or read on? Both, with this commanding ad for the Hues Corporation’s long-awaited “winner’s circle” single, “Freedom For the Stallion.” It’s a good thing too, because this issue is a gold mine.
In fact, a lot of the crises examined here are still relevant today. Take the plastics shortage, for example: Columbia Records, the country’s leading record presser, “underscored the severity of the current raw materials shortage by calling the situation ‘critical.'” Because of a worldwide energy crisis (sound familiar?), there was a shortage of benzine, which is used to make polyvinyl chloride, which, you guessed it, is what vinyl records are made of. Industrial manager of compounds Bryce Johnson says there’s no cause for concern yet — labels can stick to their release schedules — but they’ve still “got to be able to roll with the punch that’s going to hit after the first of the year.” To deal with such a crisis, experts recommend:
But RCA didn’t let a worldwide PVC shortage stop them. Au contraire! Instead, the label launched a “Soul Explosion” promotional campaign — including placement in “black consumer print media” like Ebony, Essence, and Encore, appearances on “Soul Train,” and the erection of mini billboards on the Los Angeles area — for the artists on their R&B (stylized r&b in those days) roster: Hues, Wilson Pickett, New Birth, the Main Ingredient, Jimmy Castor, and Labelle.
Because, as Kool and the Gang will tell you…
In other news, musicians actually started to dress up for “The Rock Event.” It’s no longer acceptable for stage performers to just throw on any old sweatshirt and expect to play the Hollywood Bowl. Some performers who have stepped up their A-game include Bette Midler and Elton John, whose stage setup includes “four fake grand pianos,” “a torrent of homing pigeons” released “as Elton entered, wearing light-up spectacles that spelled out his name and a silver cowboy suit.”
The Metelica Band does not appear to be an early homophone for Metallica. It’s unclear what’s being advertised, but that’s definitely a Confederate flag.
In other news, it was a big day for the intersection of music and academia. B.B. King became the first blues musician to receive an honorary doctorate of humanities from Tougaloo College.
This survey of listening habits and motivation to purchase music found that young white males ages 12-15 listen to much more FM radio — which at the time was probably bumping Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition, or perhaps “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon — than AM during the evening as opposed to the daytime hours, and minority listeners even more so. Females, however, listened to AM more than FM radio; again, the gap was more pronounced in minority females.
Meanwhile, blank tape sales were “surging.” At least one major manufacturer estimated that sales this year were set to skyrocket a whopping 25%, from $100 million to $125 million. A number of factors contributed to this growth, including application of blank tapes outside the music industry (e.g. VHS tapes), an “exploding” international market, and improvements in the hardware of devices like 8-track recorders. Unfortunately, the burgeoning tape business was threatened by the very same plastics shortage that was closing in on the vinyl industry.
The solution? Mass tape merchandisers.
“Blank tape manufacturers and marketers are concentrating as never before on mass merchandise outlets,” writes Earl Page. “Marketing people, also more than ever, are now able to pinpoint the number of turns mass merchandisers can expect from blank tape, and massive research is going on to determine the best packaging, display, advertising and marchandising plans for a consumer who is also increasingly being identified in much sharper focus.”
But for now, so long, farewell: We’ll see you in Oklahoma, where Billboard was opening a branch of its offices.