In 1968, Capitol Records built, deep in the canyons of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, a concrete-reinforced bunker. In that bunker, scientists and Neil Sedaka began work on what was then referred to as The Anne Murray Project. That year, Capitol Records executives began circulating press releases about a Canadian-born female singer with "the voice of an angel" who was wowing Canadians on a television show called Singalong Jubilee. "She will conquer America," read the missives. "And then, the world...at least, the part that can afford to buy records." The point was to create hype around a woman named Anne Murray, a perfectly benign singer whose brand of perfectly benign pop music would capture radio and, subsequently, millions of listeners. But Anne Murray did not exist in 1968. She was the product of label executives' imaginations -- a hoax. But not for long. Two years later, in the spring of 1970, Capitol's scientists unveiled to a handful of select execs "Anne Murray," who was an astonishingly rendered robot made from the same materials later used for the 1973 film Westworld. She was, in the words of then vice president of robotic affairs Lenny Rabinowitz, "a handsome woman, neither pretty nor plain."
When she opened her mouth, "Anne Murray" sang with a voice that was the result of years' worth of marketing research. Hers was a hybrid of many voices audiences found to be pleasant, but not too intrusive or, for that matter, interesting -- namely, Karen Carpenter, Petula Clark, Rosemary Clooney, and, of course, Barbra Streisand. And though he would take no credit on any of her albums, Neil Sedaka wrote every song. When Murray debuted with Songbird in 1970, she was an instant smash, and word quickly spread throughout the upper echelons of the music business that Capitol had indeed invented the perfect female pop star, and labels quickly began working to catch up. Within short order, a number of "women" began falling from the robotic assembly line: Melissa Manchester, Debby Boone, Toni Tennille, Marilyn McCoo, Laura Branigan, and others. By the end of the 1970s, even record-label CEOs had trouble telling their human artists from their wire-and-steel ones. Soon enough, the label turned their attention toward creating male robots, among them Christopher Cross and the members of Air Supply.
Six Flags Over Texas
Astonishingly, the public never suspected a thing -- though there was a 1987 incident involving Irene Cara, when her battery pack failed during a performance in Stockholm. Her publicist blamed it on "dehydration." And only last year, during a taping of Behind the Music, Mariah Carey short-circuited, causing her to fart uncontrollably for several hours. Again, dehydration was the cause. But technology has advanced at such a pace that labels have begun churning out their non-human performers en masse, beginning in 1986, with New Kids on the Block; the same year, BMG replaced the original members of Menudo on the album Refrescante, which features a "young" Ricky Martin. Now, according to one source at Sony Music, approximately 84 percent of all the acts on the Billboard Hot 200 are non-humans, including Britney Spears, most of 'N Sync (Justin is so very human), the Backstreet Boys, Richardson "native" Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees, Destiny's Child, C-Note, B*witched, Boyzone, Vitamin C, and Christina Aguilera. But not everything has changed: After all these years, Neil Sedaka still writes the songs.
ó Robert Wilonsky