Chess Records, The Moonglows, and Alan Freed: Or How To Control Radio and Make Money

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Payola to radio DJ’s wasn’t always hand to hand cash payments, sometimes it was in the form of songwriting royalties for public performance via radio spins, and mechanical reproduction payments…..i.e. payment every time the song played, and every time a record sold….NYC heavily influenced national airplay,,,airplay heavily influenced record sales, you get the picture. – Photo by ©Jake Katel

Here’s a 78rpm Chess record listing New York City radio DJ Alan Freed as songwriter alongside Harvey Fuqua for the award winning song “Sincerely” by The Moonglows.

Alan Freed met the group that became the Moonglows (he influenced their name change away from The Crazy Sounds to match his “Moondog” DJ name) in 1953 in Akron, Ohio, and quickly signed up to manage the group. He put out recordings of them through his own Champagne label, and then got them signed to Chance Records before scoring them a deal with the Chess label that made them famous.

Soon after signing to Chess the Moonglows went to the label’s famous Chicago studio, recorded “Sincerely,” and the song went into rotation on radio stations nationwide, beginning with spins by Freed who by now was an established and respected DJ on WABC in NYC in addition to his roles as manager, songwriter, and publisher.

Now, is it possible that Freed gave Fuqua notes on word choice, concept, melody, chorus, verse, and hooks? Yes. Meeting any of those criteria is all it takes to get your name on a record, and more importantly its copyright.

But by industry accounts, Alan Freed was as much of a songwriter as Picasso was a SCUBA diver.

However, his radio stature was such a valuable asset for the Moonglows that it makes sense why they’d want his name on the record. MONEY!

By Alan Freed promoting their records on the radio, they got famous around the country, then the world.

Songwriting royalties are generated for a record’s public performance via radio spins, and mechanical reproduction payments are calculated on every record pressed.

Airplay heavily influenced record sales, you get the picture.

 

 

The more that Freed played the Moonglows, the more money they all made. Freed and Fuqua for songwriting (and publishing), The Moonglows in the form of more and bigger concerts.

Once Freed became the biggest DJ in New York City, his song choices were a key influence on national airplay. Alan Freed’s airplay charts went around the country and other stations went with them.

Some would say that this cheated Harvey Fuqua out of his fair share of songwriting royalties, but America’s original independent record pioneers had to be creative in order to compete with each other and the major record companies. Fuqua was well aware of the gimmick. And his Quazical Music is also listed as a publisher on “Sincerely.” SO every time Freed’s publishing gets paid, his does too.

At that time in the music business, zero airplay effectively meant zero record sales. So methods like this form of DJ bribery were actually ingenious marketing tactics. And why weren’t any of the other Moonglows songwriters anyway?

This is not the only song purportedly written by Alan Freed. In fact, a quick perusal of his songwriting copyrights through the performing rights organization BMI shows he had a hand in penning 41 compositions.

Publishing companies hold the copyright for the intellectual property of a song, its composition, while songwriters own their role in its creation. Both get paid when a song is performed publicly by any artist. If you’re a songwriter or a publisher, you want as many artists to cover your tune and have a hit as possible. So when a big song like “Sincerely” gets covered by Connie Francis, The Supremes, The Lettermen, Bobby Vinton, and The Tokens, as it was, then the checks really start rolling in.

Suffice to say, “Sincerely” was a hit song and it got a lot of covers.

Unfortunately for Alan Freed, in 1959 he took the big fall for everybody in the “Payola” scandal that rocked the music industry. He was immediately fired from his WABC radio job, and it all went downhill from there pretty quick.

Henry Stone once recounted, “After he got busted for payola, I got Alan Freed an apartment on Miami Beach. I put him up at the Morton Towers with Steve Alaimo as his neighbor. I got him a job at WQAM, and I sent him up a case of Scotch a week.

He was drinkin’ real heavy and he used to beat the shit out of his wife.

Then he moved to Palm Springs and drank himself to death.”

HenryStoneMusic salutes Chess Records, Alan Freed, Harvey Fuqua, and The Moonglows for their business savvy and role in making classic records that still live on today.

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