At the beginning of 2005, I resolved to spend much of my free time figuring out how to run a tiny indie label by actually doing it. In the past eight months or so, I’ve learned:
- …the nuts and bolts of pressing and ‘releasing’ a CD by working on the Javelins’ ‘No Plants, Just Animals’ release (March 2005).
- …how the college radio and promotions business works, following the release of my band The Recital’s ‘Colour Up’ (July 2005).
- … and more than I ever needed to about the world of ‘mechanical licensing,’ in order to obtain the rights to the four television theme songs that make up my other band, The Pop Project’s ‘TGIF’ EP (September 2005).
So, yes — it’s been a busy 2005 so far. The fruits of all this learning can be viewed at the Suburban Sprawl Music website, which I recently spent a good deal of time rescuing from the varying states of disrepair it has languished in for several years now. Several bits of the site are still in a state of disrepair, I’m just hoping not to let them languish this time.
What’s the story with this ‘TGIF’ EP, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked, because it is a ridiculous and great story. Some might even say ridiculously great. If you don’t care about behind-the-scenes shit, click here to skip ahead.
I play the drums in the Pop Project – A four piece (Guitar, Bass, Keys, Drums) band from various points in the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas. We get along very well because we are all ridiculously nerdy about music. At some point in the past year or so, Zach Curd (keys), and Dave Lawson pointed out to Will Yates (Bass) and I that the impossibly catchy theme songs to all the TGIF shows we grew up watching were composed (at least in part) by the same guy — a gentleman by the name of Jesse Frederick. Naturally we had to find out everything we possibly could about him.
I soon became obsessed with the idea of recording a tribute of sorts to this guy, and harangued my bandmates at any opportunity to help me realize this project. Somehow, this actually worked, and we spent some time earlier this year learning and recording four of our favorite Jesse Frederick-penned TGIF themes — “As Days Go By” (Family Matters), “Everywhere You Look” (Full House), “Second Time Around” (Step By Step), and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now” (Perfect Strangers).
At some point in the negotiations, it was decided that we would each sing lead vocals on one of these songs. Despite my emphatic recommendations that someone else take my song after the first of many lacklustre attempts, they were steadfast in their resolve, and a version of my shaky tenor warbling the theme to “Perfect Strangers” has now been cast out into the world.
Those of you paying attention to the above impromptu roll-call of the Pop Project know that we are all males, so I should probably explain that the female counterpoint to Zach’s lead vocals on ‘Step by Step’ was provided by our friend Korin Cox, of The Hard Lessons.
After finishing the recording, I think we were all surprised by how nicely the project came together, and we started to think about actually ‘releasing’ it. So it was that we began to consider the legal issues involved with releasing a CD consisting entirely of cover versions of television theme songs. Now, if the band “Me First and the Gimme Gimmes” are good for any one thing in particular, it’s for making the fact that you can cover almost any song you want for 8 cents per CD common knowledge. This is done via a ‘mechanical license.’ In order to have any reputable pressing plant replicate the EP for us, we would need to obtain a license for each of the four songs.
While the recording was going on, we were learning all sorts of stuff about Mr. Frederick. Several years ago, Zach was given a copy of the one solo album that he released, on Bearsville records (Found via musicstack.com). It is long out of print, but it served as a decent starting point (It’s available for download below). Eventually, Zach attempted to track down Mr. Frederick via Google. He found a telephone number associated with his publishing company via the ASCAP site, so he called and left a message explaining that we were recording several of his songs and sought his blessing. A few hours later, Jesse Frederick called him back and they discussed both the project and Mr. Frederick’s musical career at length. Zach eventually described the idea for the TGIF EP to him: “I explained what we wanted to do, and he responded with ‘Wait, you want to do what?'”
What did we learn? All sorts of great stuff. He doesn’t see a cent from any of those compositions. There are two unreleased Jesse Frederick albums languishing in studio vaults somewhere, both recorded closer to the era in which his television work was written than the Bearsville debut. The second album supposedly even features Michael Bloomfield on guitar. Zach adds: “It was pretty insane to hear someone say things like ‘Yeah, when we cut the theme to Step By Step, we actually recorded a song-length version of it, with an extra verse, maybe a bridge or something.’ and be totally straight-faced.”
We also learned that we were not the first to hit upon the idea of paying tribute to Mr. Frederick. He told Zach about a documentary being produced by a student at Penn State University. Zach explains: “There is an entire generation of kids who have grown up and know all of the words to these themes, but no one knows his name, or even really knows he exists. You know, victim of the global village and shit.” I tracked the student, Brian Morrison, down via the Penn State film department faculty, and we have since been in touch. Small world!
Back to the licensing. Since we were only looking to license the compositions, and not the recordings it turned out to not be the ginourmous pain in the ass that it could have been. The organization that I was most frequently recommended for licensing was the Harry Fox agency. Three of the songs on the EP were easily located in the Harry Fox database, as they had been released on one of those ‘The Best of Television’ Theme song collections. The theme to ‘Step By Step,’ however, was proving elusive.
We eventually were able to license the song directly from Warner Brothers, via the absolute worst user-interface ever created in the history of man. It only worked in IE on Win XP, and even then, it didn’t correctly pass the song data to the final order form. After submitting my form, I was contacted by the ‘webmaster’ who politely asked me via form letter exactly which song it was I was licensing. It seems to me that fixing that form would save Mr. Webmaster a lot of time and email, but I digress.
Now, even with four songs licensed and ready to go, this EP is BARELY five minutes long. Sensing that additional content would be nice, We decided to put together a brief bit of documentary footage on ‘the making’ of the TGIF EP, culled from Dave and Korin’s off-the-cuff taping. We also had our good friend Shawn Knight (of New Grenada and BoyArm) make everything look nice, via a series of emails discussing the psychology of place and sunset gradients, which has everything to do with why I love working on album art with him (He’s done the other two releases I worked on this year as well). We packaged it all up with the following blurb, which won’t do much to dissuade the cries of ‘Gimmick!’ — but it is sincere.
It seems like a joke: cover the theme songs to four popular early 90’s sitcoms and release the results for hipster consumption. In reality, this release is a painstakingly crafted tribute to the work of Jesse Frederick.
In 1971, a 19-year-old Frederick recorded his self-titled debut for legendary manager Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records. In the wake of the relative silence following the album’s release, Frederick recorded a pair of follow-up albums for two different labels – neither of which ever saw the light of day.
By the late 1980’s, Frederick had found his way into the world of TV theme music – composing a number of memorable themes with longtime writing partner Bennett Salvay. We feel that the songwriting, arrangement, and density of craftsmanship on display in these four short themes is legitimately mindblowing.
Fittingly, syndication ensures that each of these compositions will receive perpetual airplay — resulting in a uniquely modern, pseudo-anonymous eminence.
Without further ado, here’s a sample of each of the four tracks that make up our completed TGIF EP. If you’d like to order a copy, it’s $5 shipped anywhere in the US, just click here.
We turned up all sorts of ridiculous information in our Jesse Frederick-related research. Here’s a fairly thorough summary, aurally annotated with MP3’s throughout.
The starting points for nearly everything we found were Frederick’s IMDB entry and his ASCAP listing. Epguides.com and sitcomsonline.com, were both invaluable for tracking down obscure themes. A good starting point for tracing TGIF lineage is the TGIF wikipedia entry.
The LP that Frederick Recorded for Bearsville in 1971 has long been out of print. Those curious to hear the beginnings of Mr. Frederick’s recording career can download sides one and two below. My verdict? Uninspiring. The song ‘Victoria Lenore’ was pulled to represent this album for the Bearsville boxset, but my pick of this batch is ‘When She Goes’ so I’ve separated that song as a point of reference for those who don’t want to bother with the full album.
‘When She Goes’ (Download)
SInce it’s not in print, here’s an mp3 rip of both sides of the full length, complete with tracklisting:
Side 1 (MP3):
1. Prelude: To A Woman
2. Bless Me Daddy
3. Victoria Lenore
4. You Can’t Hide Away
5. Finale: To A Woman
Side 2 (MP3):
1. Sweet Bye And Bye
2. Slave Runner
3. Alley Lady
4. When She Goes
5. No Reunion
There’s a November 1971 article from some sort of MIT publication here, which reviews both the LP and a live set at a venue called the Pee-Nut Gallery. Some highlights:
“To help the Pee-Nut Gallery get rolling, both Warner Brothers/Reprise and A&M records have brought in new musicians to debut at the club. The
first to arrive was Jesse Frederick, the second to sign on Albert Grossman’s Bearsville WB
subsidiary label (the first being Lazarus, who released a fine premiere album last month).
This young man from southern Maryland is definitely someone to keep your eye on. His music
ranges from solo guitar and voice to a rocking three or four man electric back-up. He has a decidedly interesting voice that grows on you, somewhere between a Joe Cocker and a Randy Newman, with a bit of a Band vocal thrown in.”
“At the Pee-Nut Gallery, Jesse
Frederick was the more impressive of the two: Both albums
suffer from over-orchestration
which is mercifully eliminated
live. As Frederick leans more
heavily on the music, the fact
that his backing musicians were
very tight and competent only
enhanced his set.”
In 1973 Bearsville released a promo 45 featuring both stereo and mono versions of the first single from Frederick’s second album, which would never be released. The song was called ‘I Belong to You.’
‘I Belong to You’ (Download)
One pleasant discovery I made is that there are several more obscure themes listed in Frederick’s ASCAP file. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I’ve been able to track down most of these theme songs.
The only themes I’ve seen attributed to Mr. Frederick that I haven’t been able to track down are the theme to a short lived (6 episodes) series called “Pride & Joy” (Starring Jeremy Piven and Caroline Rhea), and the theme to an NBC pilot starring Tatyana Ali that was never picked up – “Wally and the Valentines.” Any kind frequenters of the Museum of Radio & Television in NYC are encouraged to contribute!
Here’s a comprehensive listing of Jesse Frederick’s Lesser-known television works:
Better Days (1986). IMDB description: “Brian McGuire is a California teenager who lives and loves life in Los Angeles, until something happens to his family and he must move to his uncle’s place in Brooklyn. He has a hard time fitting in with the crowd but makes two friends he can count on, wisecracking Luther and the very hip Snake.”
Better Days Theme (Download)
Family Man (1988) is very poorly documented on the internet. The internet should be ashamed of itself.
Family Man Theme (Download)
Going Places (1990). IMDB description: “The production staff of The Dick Roberts Show has its hands full booking guests for the outrageous talk show and dealing with its egomaniacal host.”
Going Places Theme (Download)
Getting By (1993) was a sitcom about “two women living together in a large house.” What a premise. Turns out this show was a spin-off from Family Matters (see here). Telma Hopkins, the actress who plays Rachel Crawford (Harriet Winslow’s Sister), also apparently sang backup on a number of Motown records (see here).
Getting By Theme (Download)
On Our Own
On Our Own (1994) was a sitcom about a group of kids who continue to live in the family home after losing their parents.
On Our Own Theme (Download)
Pride & Joy
Pride & Joy (1995) bears the distinction of being the only televised Frederick theme I can’t find. The IMDB comments describe it thusly: “The cast of this sitcom was made up of several now-familiar faces, but at the time they weren’t particularly well-known. It was a fairly forgettable tale of two young married couples who were neighbors and friends. All four characters were plain vanilla; this was before comedic performers like Caroline Rhea and Jeremy Piven developed their distinctive personas we have come to know and appreciate.”
Meego (1997) was Bronson Pinchot’s series following Perfect Strangers. He played an alien named Meego, from the planet Marmazon 4.0. Meego only lasted six episodes, and also starred the kid from Jerry McGuire. This theme is instrumental, but does feature some ridiculous Bronson Pinchot-as-alien dialog. I’d be interested in seeing an episode of this.
Meego Theme (Download)
Two of a Kind
Two of a Kind (1998) was an Olsen Twins-centric series. The theme is instrumental and fairly unremarkable, but it’s here both for completeness and to illustrate the post-TGIF glory days patronage that Frederick recieved.
[Two Of a Kind Theme (Download)
Frederick popped up in a few films, both musically, and on-camera. Though he didn’t write the music, he performed the lead vocal duties for the main character in the 1980 Taylor Hackford film “The Idolmaker.” One single from the Idolmaker soundtrack was pressed. It contained both stereo and mono versions of the song ‘Here Is My Love.’ Download it here. He also apparently played Alice Cooper’s roadie in the film ‘Roadie.’ He also did soundtrack work for the Troma film ‘The Fanatic’ (also known as ‘The Last Horror Film‘ There’s a screengrab of the relevant bit of the end credits crawl here. MP3’s may or may not be forthcoming.
In the brief ‘documentary footage’ accompanying our TGIF CD, the members of the Pop Project can be seen speculating that the theme to “Camp Wilder” may be free jazz. I was not able to track down this particular theme to confirm, but I was able to determine that Jesse Frederick was not the composer – Fred Wolf bears that distinction. It does appear to have been played on KFJC in october of 2004, so I remain hopeful that I will one day happen upon it.