Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tom Clay was a wack job.

I cite three prime events that prove my thesis :
1. He was busted for payola and lost his job
2. Despite this he went on to defraud the residents of Detroit of about half a million dollars.
3. He accidentally cut a top 10 single.

These were not three random events. These were well thought out goals. Tom just wasn't working off the same life-planning sheet as the rest of us.

Mr. Clay was born in 1929 an indigenous New Yorker (real last name Clague) He rose to popularity in the1950s as a Detroit area DJ on 1490 WJBK-AM. It was a good gig that parlayed into side gigs hosting dances and such. He screwed it up in 1959 by accepting over $6,000 in payola bribes. In 2005 dollars that would be over $40,000. By comparison, Alan Freed took in about $34,000 in payola bribes at the same time. i.e. small fish = small bribes. More on that here and here.

He gets lucky and crosses over to work at a Canadian station in the same market 800 CKLW-AM in neighboring Windsor, Ontario. At the time, the station was a taste-making Top 40 station, back when AM stations could do that. He did a Beatles interview there. More here.

So after burning his ass mishandling the till, he gets fired from CKLW-AM for something equally as bad. He hatched this scheme. He started a non-existent Beatles Fan club. And members paid $1 to join. The club had no benefits so the $1 just got a sticker or something. But with 80,000 not-so-bright members that means 80,000 one dollar bills appeared in his personal PO box. That's $506,940 in today's dollars. So yeah, they really had to fire him.

He tried to stay in the Motor City, but after some short gigs at 1310 WWWW-AM, 560 WQTE-AM, and WTAK-AM he had to leave town. He did manage to get some part-time work at 1020 KGBS in Los Angeles. It would never parlay into a full-time gig... but it dive get him production studio access which turned out to really matter. It was there that he put together a medley of sorts. It was based around the song "What the World Needs Now Is Love" performed by the Blackberries. (performed first by What the World Needs Now Is Love, I think) Over this he interspersed a narrative including sound clips of speeches by John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. It was schlocky but so was that 7 o'clock News/Silent Night song that Simon and Garfunkel did in 1966 and it's considered a classic protest song.

The first single by Tom Clay What the World Needs Now Is Love went to #8 on the billboard chart. A follow-up album had respectable sales, but his second single single, "Whatever Happened To Love" tanked and he ended up collecting unemployment checks. Tom did a show on 1490 KBLA-AM. But his time in radio came to and end and Tom finished his career doing voice over. Cancer got him in 1995. If it interests you his hit single was originally part of an LP. It's tracklisting is as follows:

     (Side 1)
1. What the World Needs Now (Abraham, Martin & John) - 6:19
      2. Whatever Happened To Love (Butler, Tom Clay) - 3:13
      3. What's Going On (Cleveland, Gaye, Benson) - 3:07
      4. For Years? (Tom Clay) - 1:58
      5. The Victors (Tom Clay) - 4:35

      (Side 2)
      1. MacArthur Park (Webb) - 1:32
      2. This Guy's In Love with You - 4:13
      3. Baby I Need Your Loving (Holland, Dozier& Holland) - 2:30
      4. Both Sides Now (Mitchell) - 3:50
      5. Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon) - 2:30