Bob Dylan has sold his songwriting portfolio for somewhere in the neighborhood of $300, maybe $400, million. That means that whenever “Like a Rolling Stone”, “Blowin’ in the Wind” or any of six hundred other Dylan songs is sold, streamed, played on the radio or used in a commercial, the songwriting royalty payment will go to the Universal Music Publishing Group, not Bob Dylan. This includes songs covered by other artists, such as “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds or Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.”
Could it be that Mr. Dylan, now seventy-nine years old, decided it was time to take the money? With nobody buying CDs or records any more, and no live performances in this era of COVID 19, and Spotify and other streaming services paying infinitesimal royalties, an upfront lump-sum payment is the reverse-mortgage of the music business.
Twenty-two-year-old Elvis Presley paid $102,500 for a home in Memphis for his parents and himself. That was in 1957. The purchase price was equivalent to about $915,000 in 2018. Today, Graceland is the second-most-visited house in the country. (First is the White House.) At 10,000 square feet and less than a million dollars, though, Elvis’s estate is almost laughable in the hierarchy of grandiose residences. In Los Angeles’s Bel Air neighborhood, anything less than 30,000 square feet cannot be taken seriously. And a million dollars? Hard Rock Café co-founder Peter Morton recently sold his Malibu home for $110 million.
RCA Victor records released Elvis’ Christmas Album on October 15, 1957. (Way back then, records were released; today they’re dropped.) Time magazine called the album “a crime against Christmas . . . all of which should guarantee it’ll be on the top ten overnight.” Time was right; the album spent four weeks at number one on Billboard’s LP chart. It is the largest-selling Christmas album of all time. Al Priddy, disc jockey at Portland’s KEX radio was fired on December 7th of that year for playing “White Christmas” on the air.
Elvis’ Christmas Album begins with the King’s version of Leiber & Stoller’s lascivious “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” Side A, showcasing the secular side of Christmas, also included “Blue Christmas,” which has since become a standard. Side B featured sacred songs, such as “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Elvis copied The Drifters’ interpretation of “White Christmas,” which reached number three on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart three years earlier. Presley was a fan of The Drifters and their lead singer Clyde McPhatter, who later went on to a solo career. He covered several Drifters’ songs. The Drifters weren’t white, so their desecration of “White Christmas” was not perceived as a threat in the white world. Their version of the song came into the mainstream when it was featured in the 1990 film “Home Alone.”