Friday, May 14, 2021

Exploring BMI (and no, I don't mean body mass index)

I recently took another deep dive into Guaraldi’s entries in the Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) Repertoire database; far too much time has elapsed, since the last time I investigated.

Quite a lot has changed.


A bit of background first, for readers unfamiliar with this organization. BMI was founded in 1939, with the belief that all songwriters, composers and publishers have the right to be paid for the use of their intellectual property, no matter how that property is used. Thus, BMI is a music performing rights organization, which represents songwriters — even when they’re also performers — as well as film, television, musical theater and classical music composers and, of course, music publishers. BMI collects money from the entities and businesses that use such music in the course of a given time period, and then pays out that money as royalties to the composers and publishers of the songs and compositions that have been played. 


BMI maintains an ongoing list of any composer's work, and Guaraldi is no different. The information is fascinating, both from the standpoint of what is on the list, and what is not. It also has become obvious that Guaraldi's selections live on, and continue to be used extensively long after his death. He certainly wasn’t with us, for example, when some of his themes wound up as background cues for Live with Regis and Kathy Lee. And, of course, bits of “Linus and Lucy” have turned up on numerous TV commercials, most famously for MetLife.


The BMI database includes most of the songs and themes Guaraldi wrote during his career. You’ll find most of the familiar Peanuts themes, along with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” “Star Song,” “Treat Street” and many, many more. But not everything; quite a few aren’t registered here. (Further details can be found at this web page.)


You’ll also spot several unfamiliar titles: songs that Guaraldi is known to have performed during his career, and which he copyrighted via the U.S. Library of Congress, but which he never got around to recording. They include “The Big Movie Theme,” “Lethargy,” “My Loneliness,” “Sand and Sea” and “Twilight of Youth.”


Other entries are simply unusual. What are we to make of “Eddie Bone,” “Lanza Tus Penas Al Viento” or “Sunset Music”?


Many of the “use” entries are easy to understand. “KSTP News at 5 A.M. — background cues” clearly refers to a TV news show, but — frustratingly — we don't know which Guaraldi cues were “borrowed” in this fashion. Equally irritating, the BMI entries aren’t dated, so it’s impossible to distinguish recent additions (unless one checks constantly, which is beyond my patience).


But the list clearly is fluid, and constantly changing. Entries disappear as given cues no longer are used — as with, say, the aforementioned background themes for a local TV news broadcast — and/or as licensing agreements expire. I noticed, for example, that “KTUL News at 9 a.m. — background cues” and “WNEM Holiday Lights — background cues” have vanished, since last I checked. 


But not to worry: Interest in Guaraldi’s music has exploded among our nation’s news outlets; in addition to “big guns” such as ABC World NewsCBS NewsHard CopyPM MagazineThe Today Show and The Tonight Show, his cues are being (or have been) used at KLAS (Las Vegas), KSDK (St. Louis), KSTP (Minneapolis/St. Paul), WBZ (Boston), WFAA (Dallas), WGCL (Atlanta), WLS (Chicago), WNCT (North Carolina), WSMV (Nashville), WSPA (South Carolina) and WTHR (Indianapolis). Many of the latter are recent additions, and the overall list is considerably longer than it was a few years ago.


I’m a bit dismayed to see The O’Reilly Factor as a recent addition. As a passionate liberal and staunch civil rights advocate, there’s no way Guaraldi would have approved of this association.


The BMI entries also cite writer/composer, and (of course!) the lion’s share are credited solely to Guaraldi. But not all of them … and this gets quite interesting. 


“Cast Your Fate to the Wind” is listed twice, the first time with a co-credit to Carel Rowe (née Werber), which makes sense, as she wrote a set of lyrics. But the second entry includes Bola Sete, who had nothing to do with writing or composing the words or music. A couple of Peanuts-related entries are droll; one for A Charlie Brown Christmas co-credits Beethoven, while one labeled “Charlie Brown — background cues” co-credits Bach.


Quite a few entries co-credit Ernst Anschutz; a bit of research reveals that he’s a 19th century German poet who wrote the lyrics for “O Tannenbaum” (and, so, all becomes clear). Guaraldi also shares a few entries with John Scott Trotter: no surprise there, as he wrote and co-wrote some of the background cues for various Peanuts TV specials. A co-credit with Desiree Goyette, on a tune titled “Joe Cool Too,” is a bit of an eyebrow-lift; I assume this must be a modified take on Guaraldi’s “Joe Cool,” written either for an episode of the 1983-85 Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, or a post-Guaraldi Peanuts prime-time special (both of which Goyette and Ed Bogas scored).


Guaraldi naturally shares credit on “Star Song” with William Siden; I’ve discussed this one before.


Credit on the aforementioned “Eddie Bone” is shared with Edward Mattocks, and I’ve not been able to suss that one out yet. The same is true of “If Life Insurance” and “If Retirement,” which sound like TV commercials, and bear co-credit with the indefatigable American musician, composer and arranger Robert Perry Mounsey (better known as Rob Mounsey). I similarly got nowhere with “Meer Wellen Und Wind,” with a co-credit to famed German arranger, conductor and composer Claus Ogerman.


I had better luck with “Holdin’ On” and “Holdin’ On Skrillex and Nero Remix” (no, I’m not making that up), co-credited with British singer/songwriter Bryn Christopher. He and some buddies joined forces in 2012 as an electronic group dubbed MONSTA, which charted in the UK with its first single, “Holdin’ On.” The, ah, rather aggressive song generously samples both Guaraldi’s keyboard work in “My Little Drum,” and the backing “pum-tiddly-pums” chanted by the young singers of the St. Paul’s Church Choir.


“Jet Set” is another case of sampling co-credit: this time with rapper Danny! (née Daniel Keith Swain), whose 2008 faux “movie soundtrack” album, And I Love H.E.R., includes the tune in question. It extensively samples Guaraldi’s “Red Baron.”


“Linus and Lucy Freeway Jam” is a full-fledged cover by Christmas The Band, on the group’s 2017 album, One World Love Another. Guaraldi shares credit with English composer/keyboardist Max Middleton, thanks to a screamin’ electric guitar bridge inserted midway through the familiar Peanuts theme. (This hardly justifies the shared credit; countless jazz artists have inserted unique improvisational bridges into this tune, and they’ve never demanded co-credit.)


A composer’s work stands the test of time when it continues to be embraced, exploited and kept in the public ear via an ever-expanding roster of musicians, pop-culture references and ubiquitous channels such as daily TV news shows. On that basis, it’s obvious that Guaraldi’s work will be with us for generations to come. 

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