Joan Jett's Big Hit Anchors Innovative Wall Street Deal

Artist's 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' to be foundation of 'Bowie Bond'-type investment offering.

Sure, I love rock 'n' roll, and you love rock 'n' roll -- but does Wall Street love rock 'n' roll? More specifically, does Wall Street love Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" to the tune of $25 million?

Innovative investment banker David Pullman is counting on it.

In fact, he's so sure investors will recognize the worth of "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" (RealAudio excerpt) that he's using it to anchor a catalog of songs -- by a variety of artists and songwriters -- that will be put up as a bond offering for investors. By the end of the year, he hopes to have amassed a catalog of more than 1,000 songs that will be worth between $25 million and $100 million in bond sales.

"It's one of the biggest songs of all time," said Pullman, managing director of the Pullman Group finance firm in New York. "That's the type of quality we're looking for in the deals that we're doing."

Those deals are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to Pullman, who engineered similar bond offerings in the past year, based on the catalogs of pioneering glam-rocker David Bowie and the Motown Records songwriting team of Edward Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland ("Baby Love," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Where Did Our Love Go?").

The "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"-based catalog, however, is the first such deal grounded heavily in a single song. The $55 million "Bowie Bonds" and the $30 million raised by the Holland/Dozier/Holland package, by contrast, were founded on the respective artists' extensive songwriting catalogs.

All of these offerings are based on the artists' -- recorders, songwriters or both -- future royalties. Private investors (none of the rock 'n' roll bond deals have been accessible to the public), such as large insurance companies, buy bonds against the artists' work. The artists get a huge sum of cash up front, then pay it back with interest with their future royalties.

The "I Love Rock 'n' Roll"-based deal involves agreements with proto-riot-grrrl Jett for her 1982 #1 hit cover of the song (originally by the Arrows) and with the song's writers, Jake Hooker and Alan Merrill. While most of the song's earnings are expected to come from airplay and sales of Jett's record, the deal also was attractive because of the potential for future covers of the song by other artists, Pullman said.

"We're looking at what a song has done in the last three to five years for a song that's that old," he said. "But when other people pick it up and record it, that's an upside."

It does not, however, necessarily signal that the Wall Street contingent is particularly enamored with wild rock 'n' rollers, said Jon Birger, who covers Wall Street for Crain's New York Business.

"It's part of a broader trend," Birger said, referring to a recent increase in the number of unorthodox bond deals of various types. Other recent bond deals have been based on revenues from credit-card loans and overdue parking-tickets. "There was even some talk in New York City about securitizing payments due from deadbeat dads," Birger said.

Pullman said he's not looking for a single standout artist to bring the rock-bond trend into the mainstream; rather, he feels that successful deals can be set up around any number of musicians who are stars within specific genres.

"Bob Marley has a huge percentage of the reggae market in terms of his catalog," he said. "Other people might be Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie or Benny Goodman in jazz. Or heavy-metal bands like Metallica. To us, the Beatles aren't better than Bob Marley or Motown or vice versa. They're [each] the top echelon in their genre."

Not all analysts are confident that rock bonds will catch on, however.

"I would not hang my hat on them and say these deals are mainstream in the market, particularly with the volatility of the market today," said one industry bond specialist, who asked not to be named.

Still, that same skeptic said that imitation is revered in financial markets, so the trend may catch on as similar deals are proposed.

Birger agreed. "I'm not sure people like David Pullman think the only source of money is going to be in rock 'n' roll-type deals," he said. "He envisions securitizing earnings due to fiction authors and software writers."

Along those lines, while completing the Jett package, Pullman said he's also in negotiations for similar deals with authors, film producers and computer programmers.