‘The crown jewel in EMI’s catalog’
Walking On Sunshine – Katrina and The Waves
Capitol B-5466 (USA) / Capitol CL 354 (UK)
Recorded at Cambridge Studios, Cambridge, England,
Fortress Studios, London & The Power Station, New York City
Released March 1985 (USA)
Writer Kimberley Rew
Producers Katrina And The Waves & Pat Collier
USA #9 5/85 UK #8 6/85
Aside from writing an all-time classic like ‘Over The Rainbow’, ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Every Breath You Take’, your best bet for securing a solid gold pension is to write a Christmas or Summer hit – and perhaps the summer alternative is the way to go. While Christmas songs receive enormous exposure during November and December, most summer hits are on continuous rotation on radio stations worldwide all year round with even more plays when the weather warms up in the summer months. And aside from income from radio play and downloads, companies are also willing to cough up as much as £200,000 for the pleasure of using a big hit in their advertising campaigns. While Ray Dorset, composer of the now 45-year-old summer classic ‘In The Summertime’ wouldn’t go into details when I spoke to him in 2015, this much played song still brings in a massive annual royalty, while according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Slade’s 1973 hit ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ still reaps an annual income of around £500,000 for its writers Noddy Holder and Jim Lea over 40 years since it was first a hit.
We’ll be returning to the financial arena a little later, but first some info about Katrina And The Waves. Consisting of 3 Americans in exile and 1 Brit, the quartet were formed in Cambridge, England in 1982. The main members were songwriter and guitarist Kimberley Rew (the Brit – born Bristol, England in 1951) and vocalist Katrina Leskanich, born in Topeka, Kansas in 1960. One of Mr Rew’s earlier compositions, ‘Walking On Sunshine’ (apparently first conceived as a ballad!) debuted on record in 1983 when the band financed an album to sell at gigs – this was only released commercially in Canada. Apparently there was no specific event that inspired the song as Kimberley Rew revealed in a 2015 interview with The Guardian: “I’d love to say Walking on Sunshine relates to a significant event in my life, like walking out of my front door, seeing a comet and being inspired. But it’s just a piece of simple fun, an optimistic song, despite us not being outstandingly cheery people.”
Amusingly, Katrina who initially didn’t like the song notes that when they first played ‘Walking’ live: “I thought it wasn’t really us. Our bass-player thought it was irritating. I was going through a Velvet Underground and Nico phase – lots of black eyeliner – and here was a Motown-type fun song about sunshine. It proved to be a total dancefloor emptier. So we dropped it!” However, after a Radio 1 deejay featured the track and ‘Walking On Sunshine’ and another Rew composition, ‘Going Down To Liverpool’, a hit for The Bangles in 1984, attracted the attention of the major EMI label, they were signed up in 1985: Katrina adds, “By now we’d realized that, however annoying ‘Walking on Sunshine’ was at first, it was impossible to get out of your head. It had a feelgood element that was perfect for radio.”
Their self-titled EMI/Capitol debut consisted mostly of re-recordings of material from their earlier self-financed album, and ‘Walking On Sunshine’ with a punchy horn riff recorded in London and that signature drum intro added at the final mixing stage in New York swiftly became THE summer smash of 1985 reaching the Top 10 in the UK and USA, Canada, Australia and Ireland. However, several follow-ups made little impression on the charts, the band looked upon as one-hit-wonders in most regions, until 12 years later when they returned to win the dreaded Eurovision Song Contest in 1997 with another Rew composed song, ‘Love Shine A Light’, a big hit across Europe.
It transpires that Kimberley Rew originally wrote ‘Love Shine A Light’ as an anthem for The Samaritans (a British based voluntary organization aiding those tempted to suicide), but both they and other music industry figures who heard the song pointed out that it was perfect for Eurovision – at the same time Katrina says she was contacted by Jonathan King, then in charge of organizing the UK selection, who asked if perhaps her band had anything to offer? A late entry, the song was voted best by the British vote and went on to win the final hands down with a 70 point lead. By this time the group had been dropped by EMI/Capitol but with the Eurovision entry in mind, got a new deal with Warners. However, ‘Love Shine A Light’ would prove to be the band’s final chart success, Katrina left in 1998 (actually she says she was fired!) and the group called it a day in 1999.
And so we come to the fairly staggering financial details surrounding ‘Walking On Sunshine’. While the Waves were in existence, Kimberley Rew generously shared his songwriting royalties with the rest of the band, enabling Katrina, for example, to purchase a rather nice house and a new car! According to a former executive at EMI Music Publishing, with a catalogue of 1.3 million songs, what with income from radio plays, TV adverts and the use of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ in numerous movies, the song was, ‘The crown jewel in EMI’s catalog’, bringing in a staggering $1 million dollars annually! It’s clear that the song is still extremely valuable in 2015, some 33 years after it was composed. When the original copyright period of 28 years expired, the copyright reverted from EMI back to Kimberley Rew, and in an August 2015 deal with BMG Rights Management he sold his songwriting catalog for a massive £10 million – while this deal includes his other hit compositions, it was of course ‘Sunshine’ that BMG were after.
Alexi Cory-Smith, executive vice-president of BMG UK, says: “’Walking On Sunshine’ is a classic copyright, an instantly recognizable song and a very powerful addition to our roster.” Unfortunately, since Katrina fell out with the band and Mr Rew she no longer receives any royalties and while she still performs the song she’s no longer allowed to use the group name. During 2016 Katrina will be appearing across the UK and Europe (and in Stavanger!) as part of a massive 1980s ‘Retro’ tour. There have by the way been numerous covers of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ by among others the cast of Glee and The Muppets, though the most unusual is perhaps a bluegrass version by Dolly Parton.
Copyright © 2016 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.