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"Musicians are not your friends. They are products."

"So, this is my story, clouded by lost brain cells, self aggrandizement and maybe a little bullshit, but how could it not be in this fucking life? But let me shut up, put the record on, drop the needle and crank up the fucking volume."
Richie Finestra
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Vinyl is a 2016 HBO series created by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese (who also directed the pilot), Rich Cohen and Terence Winter. It stars Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Olivia Wilde, Juno Temple, James Jagger,note  Ato Essandoh and an expanding cast that shows the diversity, excitement and brutality of the music business in The '70s.

The story begins with Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), the owner and boss of the American Century label. It is staffed by Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) who is in charge of payola, Skip Fontaine (J. C. MacKenzie), head of sales, and his A&R (Acquisiton and Repertoire) that is responsible for finding new talent for the record company, that includes Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) a junior assistant who wants to climb up into the big game. Alongside this are musicians, aspiring ones like Kip Stevens (James Jagger) the frontman for the proto-Punk "Nasty Bits" and a slew of actual bands and musicians from this era: New York Dolls, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and many many others. At the start of the show, Richie Finestra is a mid-life crisis with an uncertain marriage to his wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde) and the buying out of his beloved company by the German Polygram. He is disappointed that American Century has not put out quality and successful records recently and is desperate that the company get on the train for the new sound of The '70s, Punk Rock, Disco and Hip Hop.

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The show is notable for its period detail in recreating the bygone world of New York City during The Big Rotten Apple era which in the view of its creators, Scorsese and Mick Jagger, nonetheless allowed for a creative explosion. It features actors playing as period rock stars with cover-versions of famous tracks standing-in for the period.

The show was expected to last for two or more seasons, but after disappointing ratings and a poor critical reception, HBO cancelled the show after its first season.

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Tropes:

  • The '60s: The backstory, naturally, takes place in this decade. Richie was a manager to an up-and-coming Lester Grimes, a bluesman forced by contract to perform bubblegum pop, before that ended badly and Devon hung around Andy Warhol's Factory.
  • The '70s: The show is about the recording industry circa 1973.
  • Accidental Murder: Buck Rogers' death is presented as a complex example. It was definitely not pre-meditated and it began when Rogers attacked Richie and pushed him against a wall, while Corso tried to save Richie from being strangled by whacking him on the head. Then just when they are worried they killed a man, Rogers rises again and this time they hit harder out of panic. In the court of law, they can probably get self-defense and argue that Rogers was clearly drugged out of his mind as an autopsy will clearly reveal, but they dump his body instead.
  • Adult Fear: Devon is so rattled by Richie's disappearance that she forgets her children, leaving them at a local Friendly's before snapping out of it and rushing back for them.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: A slur that the ACR partners indulge in in private, but otherwise averted. The one mention of the war results in an scene full of awkward and regretful looks where one of the Germans laments how the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was shameful. Of course, given the time of the series, early 1970s, and the fact that the German bosses are middle-aged, it is more than a little likely that the executives were young men during the Third Reich, which explains their shifty glances. note  Richie eventually drops the act and calls them "Nazi pricks" to their face.
  • Anachronism Stew: There's only one episode in, but everyone notes that while the show is set in the 70s, it has aspects from multiple eras from The '60s and The '50s (such as the payola which was already on its way out by the start of the show) and elements from later in the decade.
  • Artistic License – History: As a result of Anachronism Stew, while the show generally is acknowledged as Shown Their Work for period detail and the record company organization, it takes some license:
    • The Mercer Center did host a New York Dolls concert and it did collapse, but it did not happen at the same time. For artistic reasons, the two are combined to give Richie an epiphany... and since he's narrating the events, it might be justified as "self-aggrandizement and bullshit".
    • The Oasis sex-club (a stand-in for Plato's Retreat) opened at the end of the 70s, while here it is brought forward to the early 70s.
    • Likewise Kip Stevens and the Nasty Bits, who stand in for the proto-Punk bands, actually represent a Punk ethos that is closer to the "no future" ethos of Sex Pistols of the late 70s, only transplanted to New York in the early 70s.
  • Asshole Victim: Buck Rogers who repeatedly asks Richie if he's an asshole ends up becoming one. Richie and Corso kill him in a state of accident and fear and then abandon his body and hide away.
  • Bad Boss: The talent acquisition staff at ACR live in silent terror of Richie's explosive temper, and in the second episode, he fires all of them on the spot and challenges them to earn their jobs back by signing new talent that seems to have already dried up. Though by Richie's standards, he's being a Benevolent Boss since the original plan was to sell the company and screw over their staff and get them laid off, now he's giving them a chance to earn their place.
  • Betty and Veronica: Richie's first flame Andrea was an Italian-American girl that Richie dumped for the more glamorous Devon. Richie finally confesses to Andrea that he dumped her for Devon because, "I found her more attractive".
  • Big Applesauce: The film deals with how Disco, Punk Rock and Hip Hop were virtually invented in New York within a block of each other.
  • Big Bad: Corrado Galasso, who is responsible for the corruption of the music business, the Career-Ending Injury of Lester Grimes, other murders and who Richie decides to become an informant against.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Set in New York in 1973, remembered as a gritty time for the city.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Upon seeing an injured Richie entering the office, Zak asks him if he was mugged:
    Richie: Yes. By God! But I took his wallet instead.
  • Break the Haughty: Jack Quaid's Clark started the show as an asshole executive who keeps hitting on Jaime, by episode 5 he's been fired from the old A&R job, reduced to tears begging to Julie for some work, which leads him to becoming the office assistant.
    Julie: Jesus Christ, don't you have any pride left?
  • Broken Record: "Face your fears." Buck Rogers says this to Richie Finestra several times.
    Richie Finestra: I get it.
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • Lester Grimes tells the Nasty Bits how the contracts actually screw them over, what the various royalties means and how the system is rigged. The Nasty Bits immediately sign him as their manager.
    • The divorce lawyer Devon visits shoots back when Devon starts complaining about consultation fees by pointing out that she's not actually serious about getting a divorce and is merely using the meeting to get leverage over Richie.
  • Butt-Monkey: Despite being financially successful for American Century, Donny Osmond is the butt of many jokes throughout the series because of his bubblegum pop music and Mormon background.
  • Byronic Hero: Richie Finestra is the recording industry's answer to this. He is a visionary with great plans for his label and a keen ear for future hits, but is trapped in an increasingly loveless marriage and has a serious drug problem to boot. He's a Consummate Liar, a Manipulative Bastard and Mood-Swinger and is self-destructive enough to turn informant on a powerful mob boss.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Lester Grimes has his windpipe crushed by Galasso's thugs, wrecking his powerful singing voice.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Buck Rogers is this trope incarnate.
  • The Con: American Century is a tanking company that uses copious amounts of fraud to appear like a successful and valuable acquisition for PolyGram.
  • Con Man: All of the executives at American Century, Skip Fontaine especially. While Richie has an ear for music and the grand vision, Zak has relationships with DJs all over the US, and Scott is an incompetent lawyer, Skip's entire job, "head of sales," seems to be perpetuating fraud so that the company remains profitable.
  • Cool Old Guy: Elvis Presley, fat and in jumpsuits, is, as Zak and Richie's dates in Vegas note, "still pretty hot".
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • Every one of them. Richie Finestra is sympathetic if only because he feels guilt, sometimes, where others don't. Notably when contemplating the buyout to Polygram, he tells Zak that if the company is bought out, many of their staff will be laid out, Zak asks him if he's being a Communist, because yes, caring for your employees is communism apparently. Finestra's first mentor tells him the ethos of the music business:
    ''Musicians are not your friends. They are products. You catch a hot molly and that's it."
    • Even Jamie Vine has aspects of this. She is clearly promoting Kip Stevens not so much because she likes him or likes his music, but sees his success as a coattail for to ride to a promotion. Richie Finestra calls her out on this but also compliments her for her ambition.
  • Cover Version: Many of the songs from the era are covers by modern artists and bands.
  • Culture Clash: Between the American businessmen and the Germans. The Germans are into classical music and opera, and plainly don't get rock music or American pop culture.
  • Curse: Hal, the Logo designer, issues one on the entire staff of American Century after he's fired, complete with invoking the Pentagram and occult chants.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Richie Finestra treats his survival of the Mercer Center collapse and his bender as a sign to be this. He then goes forth and commands the rest of his staff to drink his Kool-Aid or suffer displeasure, head-butts, karate-chops, insults and instant firing.
  • Deal with the Devil: Richie finally makes a deal with mafioso Corrado Galasso, despite being warned by Morrie, his mentor, about what happens to people who try and screw him over. The deal includes Colasso using the label as a front for some of his activities, and having one of his guys move into the office.
  • Diegetic Switch: A couple times, a song will be played in the background on the a diegetic source, like a radio, before shifting to a non-diegetic soundtrack.
  • Dirty Business:
    • Richie tells Kip Stevens to fire his lead guitarist and close personal friend Duck. Kip is unable to do it, which leads manager Lester Grimes to step in and tell Duck he's fired.
    • Richie Finestra and Julie also downsize American Century and fire away a huge chunk of their staff. This comes in the fifth episode where the American Century office, which used to be packed and full of people in the first episodes is now smaller, emptier and colder. Julie doesn't like firing people but he won't back away.
  • The Don: By 1973 Galasso has become a major mob figure and Richie refers to him as the "godfather".
  • Dreadful Musician: The Nasty Bits sound, in Julie's words, "like four dogs who got their cocks caught in a lawnmower". Nonetheless, Richie and especially Jamie argue that they represent a "new sound" in The '70s and that they can represent an early entry into Punk Rock.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Later episodes realistically shows Richie going from "highs" to "lows" which ends up making him a volatile Mood-Swinger full of self-loathing and anger which he takes out on people around him, and loosens whatever's left of his impulse control. He also becomes an abusive Jerkass who eventually assaults Andy Warhol in publicnote .
  • Drugs Are Good: Going on a bender has restored Richie's devotion to music and makes him a hammy but committed boss, if a bad husband and worse friend (not that he was much better before). Richie later cites this trope as justification, saying that being sober ruined his life.
  • Eureka Moment:
    • Richie Finestra after a series of failed attempts at finding a name for the new label of the company, hits upon Alibi Records.
    • Zak realizes Richie lied about gambling away their money when Skip points out that casinos only offer an all-expenses-paid stay to past visitors who drop a lot of money there.
  • Fanservice: It's an HBO series with Olivia Wilde and Juno Temple set in the music business in the 1970s. What do you think?
  • Faux Affably Evil: Galasso has moments of being a jovial, but still terrifying man. In a flashback, he gives his henchman advice on how to properly strangle a man without throwing his back out, while demonstrating.
  • Foreshadowing: There are a lot of hints that Ernst was an imaginary friend before The Reveal. 1) He appears suddenly next to Richie after three days on a bender, 2) Nobody but Richie interacts with him or acknowledges his presence, 3) Devon and Ingrid discuss him in the past tense and 4) when Richie tells Devon about being with him, she packs up and leaves, realizing Richie is far gone.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Richie's grand plan to turn American Century around, after blowing up a corporate merger, is to turn the company into the same mob-front corrupt business that he hated to start with. Lester Grimes is furious to enter American Century and find Maury Gold, the same guy who destroyed his career holding conferences, angry at himself for buying into Richie's fantasies.
  • Gaslighting: Richie does this to Zak, when they hit Vegas. Richie blew up all the money on gambling while Zak was having a threesome with two girls. After the girls are gone, Richie stages the crime scene to make it seem like they robbed Zak while he was asleep and so absolve himself.
  • Gender-Blender Name: A&R has Julie Silver who is a dude, and Jamie Vine who is a girl.
  • Germanic Depressives: Ernst, Devon's friend in the Warhol days, has this personality and this is how Richie remembers him. The one time he lets his hair down, he ends up dying.
  • The Gump: Richie happens to pass by DJ Kool Herc's block party (aka the birth of Hip Hop), he also witnesses the New York Dolls perform at the Mercer Center, and rock so loud that the building cracks.note  Likewise, Richie is present when Hilly Kristal renames his bar Hilly's to CBGB, the future headquarters of American Punk Rock.
  • Great Gazoo: Ernst ends up becoming this in the fifth episode, though there are plenty of hints before that.
  • Historical Domain Character: The show features actors playing famous rock stars and iconic figures from this era.
  • Hookers and Blow: Andrew Dice Clay's Buck Rogers is all over this trope, even going on a 2-day bender. Richie Finestra was actually recovering from his drug fix, before lapsing back, gloriously, at the start of the pilot.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!:
    • Devon Finestra has flashbacks about her time as a Warhol superstar and regrets trading that avant-garde world for suburban boredom and essentially becoming a housewife, while Ingrid, her former friend has remained part of that exciting world.
    • Lester Grimes is a bitter and tragic example. He had a beautiful voice and had his career ruined by Richie and The Mafia.
    • Richie laments that his Dad Vince could have been a top musician if he hadn't turned down Artie Shaw's offer to be on his big band. Vince Finestra defends himself by pointing out that Artie Shaw was an assholenote .
  • Imagine Spot: When characters listen to certain songs, a fantastic interlude will happen where the real musician appears next to them and sings that song.
    • Richie Finestra after getting a gift of Bo Diddley's iconic square guitar at his birthday imagines Diddley singing with the same guitar by the side of the pool. Devon imagines Karen Carpenter next to her singing "Yesterday, Once More" or Ruth Brown singing "Mama, he treats your daughter mean". This represents the self-absorption people get from listening to music, and in the case of Devon it nearly leads to disastrous consequences.
    • The most depressing is when Lester Grimes listens to the tapes of the last blues session he recorded with Richie, and then revives his guitar and sings along in his broken voice before dreaming back to the time with his real singing song, and his wife and children hadn't left him.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Two episodes in and the number of famous names and real-life figures is staggeringly high. Of course this is justified since it is set at a record label in New York in The '70s, aka a time when the city was "a who's who" for music.
  • Incompetence, Inc.:
    • American Century has a patchwork roster of artists and bands that aren't very popular, relies on payola to get DJs to play their catalog, and engages in skulduggery like shipping records to empty warehouses or outright disposing of them in order to inflate sales data. They also think they can actually get away with stiffing Led Zeppelin on their royalty cut, which backfires enormously.
    • Their sleazy business practises are on full display when Clark tries to sign up Alice Cooper by trying to convince him to stiff his band and take a solo career and screw them over. Alice Cooper seems to agree and rolls along as Clark tries to wheel-and-deal him, then Alice Cooper reveals that he is loyal to his band and trolls Clark by reminding him that when they were a small bunch of nobodies, Richie Finestra stiffed them over repeatedly by making them wait, travel at odd times, and that they have learned better than to listen to American Century execs.
    • Subverted when Skip is audited and needs to cancel an order of records to be used in an illegal buyback scheme. He is not worried because the company making the records has a history of mismanagement and long production delays. However, the manager of the factory has recently quit drinking and it turns out that while sober he is actually a competent manager. He fixed the production problems and Skip's records were produced and shipped on time.
  • Internal Homage: The look of The '70s New York, in particular the greenish-blue tint of the street-lights makes it greatly resemble Scorsese's Taxi Driver, shot on location in actual seventies New York. The Season Finale features Al Dubin and Harry Warren's "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams" whose cover by Tony Bennett appeared in GoodFellas.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Since this is a record company in the real-life seventies, characters make off-the-cuff statements about bands who audiences would think better of.
    • The staff of American Century laugh off ABBA as a joke band. Richie Finestra is something of an aversion since he has good taste in music and recognizes the genius of The Velvet Underground and predicts ABBA's success after hearing three bars, but even he dismisses Jethro Tull (and breaks their record) when today they are considered a good prog-rock band. He also seems lukewarm after hearing about a chance to snag an unknown artist named Bruce Springsteen.
    • The company consider Indigo, a proto-disco artist to be expendable when they downsize the company. The cancellation letter to "let them go" was given to Clark to send him out. Clark however, discovers that the group's records are an underground sensation. In the finale, when the rest of the company realizes that Indigo has gone high on the Billboard ratings, Clark reveals he never sent out the cancellation letter, so technically, American Century/Alibi Records never dropped him.
  • Jaded Washout: How most of the cast feel at the end of The '60s. Zak Yankovich once cared about music as much as Richie but a marriage and kids and worries about the future has robbed him of his drive, Richie Finestra feels guilty about all the compromises and people he's screwed over to achieve outward success while Devon regrets trading her avant-garde career for suburban bliss.
    • Elvis Presley himself laments that his act hasn't kept up with the new sound that came after, noting that he wanted to play at Woodstock but the Colonel nixed it. He briefly seems interested in Richie Finestra's new zany scheme but then the Colonel returns and he lapses back into his slump.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Peter Grant's enraged rant at the ACR executives is entirely justified; they were trying to screw over Led Zeppelin. In Real Life, Grant was well-known for being extremely protective of the band, making sure that most of the money from concerts and albums were in Zeppelin's hands, and never put his own interests above the band's. His passionate efforts to secure the rights of his clients led to the improvement of how musicians were treated by promoters and record companies.
    • Andrea dressing down Jamie and Cici for their affairs with musicians is quite harsh and insensitive, but she does have a point about keeping professional discipline with music artists, aware that their emotional connection prevents them from being taken seriously and being effective at their work.
  • Jumped at the Call: Jamie Vine is the only one who responds positively to Richie Finestra's "epiphany" while everyone in the office is scared of him. Richie Finestra appreciates her ambition (and her drug supply). Julie Silver, head of A&R is also jubilant at Richie getting his mojo back and he follows Richie in taking a whiff of cocaine.
  • Large Ham: Buck Rogers, Richie Finestra, and, in his one scene, Peter Grant.
  • The Lancer: Julie becomes this for Richie in his new "I-care-about-music-after-all" phase, taking his side during board meetings and playing a part in cutting out weak assets.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: Richie's father, Vince, is a jazz musician, his son is a sleazy music executive.
  • Loose Lips:
    • Galasso as a mob boss should really know better than discuss his criminal business in an unsecure location. The NYPD has the place wired and bust his chop shop.
    • Joe Corso keeps mentioning Buck Rogers every time he talks to Richie which confirms the cops suspicions about them. Joe then makes the mistake to talking about it in front of Galasso. Galasso has him killed as a possible police informant.
  • The Mafia: Maury Gold is indebted to a mobster who finances his record label and, in turn, controls the artists signed to the label.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Richie who is finally called out this by Zak at the end. Richie for his part fully admits that he's one, and by the end it seems he's reconciled to remaining one.
  • Meaningful Name: The divorce lawyer who Devon visits hangs a delightful Lampshade:
    Lawyer: My surname is Gross, spelt like 'wow, that was really gross.'
  • The Mentor:
    • Julie Silver, head of A&R serves as this for the Nasty Bits, though he's clearly disappointed by how proto-Punk Rock sounds like.
    • Lester Grimes serves as one to DJ Kool Herc when other old timers are complaining about Herc's beat-jumps, Herc asks Grimes if it's good, Grimes offers him Compassionate Criticism that while he's not quite there yet, he's trying and should keep at it. Grimes later becomes manager of the Nasty Bits after running into them being treated like crap by Ritchie and educating them about the music business.
  • Misogyny Song: The Nasty Bits song "Woman Like You".
  • Mood Whiplash: Much like rock music, the show shifts from light to dark moods, violence to comedy. Richie Finestra goes from reeling over the guilt of killing a man to having an epiphany after going to a New York Dolls concert. The finale has Zak Yankovich expressing horror at this trope, shocked that Richie could so blithely and confidently segue back into his normal routine after seeing Joe Corso die before him, with Zak being the only one not joining in the "Renaming Party" of American Century.
  • Morality Pet: Lester Grimes proves to be this for Richie. Finestra feels guilty about failing to get Lester released from his contract with Galasso and after their meeting makes many attempts to make amends with him, and he goes out of his way to avoid being an asshole to him, though he does warn Lester once to be careful not to overestimate how guilty he feels. In the finale, he even personally writes Lester a royalties check.
  • Muse Abuse:
    • It's implied that Kip Stevens horrible treatment of Jamie stems from him trying to get into the emotion of Lester's "Women Like You" (a Misogyny Song) which the Nasty Bits are covering for their Breakthrough Hit. The conversation Kip and Lester have on the roof where they discuss how they work their personal relationships foreshadows his manipulative and abusive treatment of Jamie and finally his performance at the end.
    • Richie who believes in True Art Is Angsty is perhaps willingly manipulating and gaslighting his employees to behave in increasingly reckless ways. He also seems to go out of the way to mess up his marriage with Devon, at one point, almost pimping her to Hannibal, for the sake of motivation. In the end he renames American Century into Alibi Records because Alibi according to Richie, "is an excuse for bad behavior".
  • Music Is Politics: Most definitely, it's also mostly Blackmail and Implied Death Threat.
    • Elvis himself notes that it is for these reasons he doesn't get involved in the music business and leaves all that to the Colonel while he can focus on playing, though the end result is that the Colonel's conservative tastes keeps his act and repertoire frozen and often contrary to Elvis' own wishes (such as playing at Woodstock).
    • There's a running theme about African-American musicians being commodified and hijacked by a largely white music establishment.
  • Name's the Same: invoked
  • Nice Guy: Andy Warhol is this when Devon reunites with him. This is quite a contrast to how Warhol is usually depicted but it's also considered to be Truth in Television.
  • Ninja Pirate Robot Zombie: The show does well to show that the era of the 70s had different musical styles, artists and groups co-existing with each other and the same label puts out multiple artists in different genres. Richie's father is a jazz musician who played with Artie Shaw, Richie becomes a bluesman and as a record producer he is interested in emerging proto-punk and hip-hop. And he meets Elvis and tries to get him to play with the Nasty Bits which Elvis is interested in before the Colonel enters and nixes the idea.
  • Not So Different: Richie and Buck Rogers. Richie hated Buck for his bombastic personality, his out of control drug habit, his Mood-Swinger nature, his violent urges and his whining about his wife cheating on him. After killing Buck, Richie goes back on his drug habit and the first thing he does on returning to his office is headbutt Zak, start taking more drugs than ever before and become a serious Mood-Swinger, assaults Andy Warhol and, despite occasionally cheating on her himself, Richie goes ballistic over her flirtation with Hannibal, a situation which he himself created and takes no responsibility for.
  • Not Quite Dead: Just when Corso and Richie are reeling over Buck's death, he rises again and attacks them, leading them to actually hit harder and kill him.
  • Nothing but Hits: The show's soundtrack is a treat for rock and roll, blues, punk and glam rock fans. Though they have also tried to avert this by including lesser-known bands and songs alongside the famous hits. As Mick Jagger said:
    "When I go through all the songs of the period, there are a lot of wonderful things, but there's also so much crap it's unbelievable. And that was one of the things we debated: how much crap music are we going to have in the show because we want to represent the period. We don't want to make out that the '70s was only Marvin Gaye and James Brown and Bob Marley. It wasn't. It was full of rubbish."
  • The Pete Best: In-Universe. The Nasty Bits are about to get their big break but Ritchie tells them that they have to replace their lead guitarist first because the guy is a lousy musician, and unlike the rest of the band, has no stage presence.
  • Playing Both Sides: Richie seems inclined to do this with both The Mafia and the FBI, taking Mafia money to revive his business, while turning informant to keep him out of prison. In the season finale, after witnessing another murder in front of him, when asked by an agent if he had seen anything, pointedly says nothing has happened.
  • Poisonous Friend: Richie is this to Zak, slowly making him do stupid, irrational things, Gaslighting him, and having him okay a deal with the mafia.
  • Popcultural Osmosis Failure: In the pilot, the German models discuss Anton Chekhov and their favorite characters while Skip Fontaine and Zak don't get it. Richie Finestra then gives a Shout-Out to Three Sisters leading one of the girls to say, "See, he gets it!".
  • Porn Stache: Skip Fontaine has a classic Seventies mustache. Richie even jokes about it being magical.
  • The Power of Rock: The New York Dolls concert is all about this. Richie becomes religious about this after this experience.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Zak gives Richie a long-delayed one when he turns up, high as a kite, for his daughter's Bat Mitzvah.
  • Recycled In Space: One could almost describe Vinyl as Mad Men TEN YEARS LATER! AND THIS TIME IN THE RECORDING INDUSTRY!
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Richie has been an asshole to so many people for so long that by the time he's decided to turn a new leaf, he finds it very hard to get people to accept the "new" him. He actually is trying to make an effort but he's done so many horrible things that you can't blame people for doubting him.
  • Remonstrating with a Gun: Buck Rogers does this repeatedly around a horrified Richie Finestra.
    Richie: Put the gun down, asshole!
  • Sassy Secretary: Jamie, but she wants to move up in American Century.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Richie Finestra after years being a corrupt stooge screwing over artists and making bubblegum pap decides that he finally does care more about the music than money and he stiffs the Polygram deal. Of course, this being Richie he invokes this with a dollop of Screw the Rules, I Have Money! and Screw the Rules, I Make Them! since he's the majority shareholder of the company and can pretty much arbitrarily ride roughshod over his colleagues.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When Richie realized how deeply Maury Gold was in debt to Galasso, he offered to sell his share of Gold's label to Galasso for a fraction of its book value. This way he manages to get out before the company is wholly mob controlled and he used the money to start his own label free of Gold and Galasso. However, he is unable to take Lester Grimes with him.
  • Sell-Out:
    • Record companies insist that their artists and performers do this, even if the artists themselves will make very little money from the hits anyway. Lester Grimes is cruelly exploited by them, after making him sing vanilla rock despite starting as a bluesman.
    • Richie Finestra himself started out as a blues-loving enthusiast who admired early rock-musicians like Bo Diddley but starts his own company by selling safe and commercial music where he screws over the likes of Led Zeppelin.
    • Ingrid very subtly accuses Devon of being this. From an avant-garde model working with the free-spirited Andy Warhol to a suburban Trophy Wife to a Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: For some reason the record producers and radio owners indulge in this far more than the musicians. This is Truth in Television according to Mick Jagger who noted that for all the bad press musicians got at the time (himself included), the record producers were much worse.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Clark spends an entire episode befriending Alice Cooper and trying to sign him up to American Century. Everything seems to be going great but at the end it is revealed that Cooper has a grudge against Richie and he has been stringing Clark along as a prank. Clark thinks that he might end up in a Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story but fortunately for him Cooper is not homicidal and the guillotine he uses on Clark is a prop.
  • Shout-Out: To the music business as a whole, the Golden Age of rock music is referred and depicted in full.
    • Buck Rogers' death is one to Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, whose famous scene of the "Killing of Gromek" is cited for showing how hard it is for amateurs without weapons to kill a man.
    • The A&R has two individuals named Julie and Jamie, a reference to one of Scorsese's favorite films, Jules and Jim.
    • The scene where Richie Finestra asks Julie to sign up the "Nasty Bits" is one to the finale of The Girl Can't Help It, where a raucous and vocal public approval to Fats Murdoch's performance leads a record producer to sign him up.
    • In the finale, Richie using a special technique to snap Kip out of his drug-induced stupor is one for the climax of Broadway Danny Rose, where another entertainment manager snaps out a self-destructive and talented musician just in time for his big performance.
  • Sidekick Glass Ceiling: Jamie Vine spends all of Season 1 trying to break this. She spends a lot of time assuming that finding one artist will provide her a rise up but the senior executives keep disabusing her of that notion, and by the end of it she ends up nearly right back where she started, when Richie fires her from managing the Nasty Bits but tells her that she can stay with the company if she finds another artist.
  • Significant Anagram: Hannibal is capable of coming up with this at a drop of his hat. Devon Finestra is Finest Dove Ran and Richie Finestra is "He in Racist Fire".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Sometimes this also happens, where soft music plays over dark scenes.
    Buck Rogers: I put the jukebox on random, because that's how life is!
    • One especially dark instance is Buddy Holly's "Rave On" that plays on the car radio in the flashback that ends with Ernst's accident, and just to rub it in, Buddy appears in an Imaginary Spot.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Scorsese's Goodfellas and also early rock and roll movies like The Girl Can't Help It which also tackled the music business.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • One episode sees the label recording a Christmas album for Robert Goulet (arguably Stylistic Suck just on its own, considering the kind of music that Richie prefers), but Goulet himself pitches and records a song he wrote about the day after Christmas, and it is... not impressive.
    • Several episodes see the label scouting out terrible bands, including one that dresses like Vikings and sing about drinking mead.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: Lampshaded when Buck Rogers gets killed and Corso is dumping his body, he notes that a radio somewhere is playing a Donny Osmond song. Since Rogers was angry at Osmond for stiffing him up, Corso is delightful at the irony of hearing the song
    Corso: Hey that's Donny Osmond right, you hear that you prick!
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Buck Rogers plants one on Richie which makes him flip out and push him away, starting the epic fight that leads to Rogers darkly comedic death.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Lester Grimes demonstrates this trope in the 8th episode.
  • Title Drop: The fifth episode title, "He in Racist Fire" is an anagram of Richie Finestra, and is mentioned as such by Funk musician Hannibal.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Zak. In the Season 1 finale, he goes straight to Galasso, tells him all about Richie's drug issues, and offers to replace him. Instead of putting him at ease and getting Zak off the hook, this makes Galasso worried about his investment in ACR, and also makes Zak look like a weasel. Galasso goes to ACR and threatens them to make money for him, and if either dies, the other will owe him. While he's there, Galasso's remark about a chop shop where he destroys stolen cars is caught on a police wiretap, and the place is raided. Zak gets grabbed off the street, and because of his earlier betrayal, Galasso thinks he snitched to the cops. He was very lucky to escape with his life.
    • Joe Corso keeps bringing up Buck Rogers any time he feels he needs an edge over Richie. He then makes the mistake of bringing it up in front of Galasso when Galasso is already paranoid due to a police raid. Galasso thinks that Joe might be a police informant trying to make him an accessory to the crime so he has Joe killed as a precaution.
  • Totally Radical: How Bowie seems to regard Zak when he and Andrea meet him during a rehearsal. Later Zak gets this from Corrado Galasso when he invokes The Godfather, Galasso tells him stone-faced that he's not a fan.
  • Troll: Alice Cooper is a huge one.
  • Trophy Wife: Devon Finestra and Richie try to act like she is not this, with Devon working on unfulfilling neighborhood projects in the suburbs. Richie for his part realizes too late how badly he's been treating her when he essentially pimps her to Hannibal.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Richie Finestra makes this clear at the start as the page quote says.
  • You, Get Me Coffee: Or as it goes in the offices, "You bring me cocaine". First Jamie is tasked with this, and then it becomes Clark's turn.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Zak cheats on his wife with some German models, it's implied that Richie does the same occasionally but he stays faithful to Devon in the first two episodes and apparently can't get it on with other girls even when he tries to cheat on her.


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