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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Top Five Rock Legal Disputes

Rockers are wild, spontaneous and care for nothing but wine, women and song, whilst lawyers are cautious, dull and obsessed with money.

So what do they have in common?

Well I suppose both will screw anyone, anywhere, anytime. But they are also regularly seen in court together.

You may think rock stars would like to solve disputes with a Crossroads style guitar duel, but in reality they call in the suits.

So along with his drug dealer and the team that recover cars from swimming pools, your average musico has his lawyer on speed dial.

So here is my list of the five best, or worst, rock legal disputes.

5. Lou Reed v RCA Records (allegedly)

A multi album deal is what most musicians dream of. But what happens if the relationship with the record label goes sour. Surely they can't force the artist to be creative?

This is what allegedly happened to Lou Reed three records in to a five album deal with RCA records. To fulfil contractual obligations he got "very stoned" and just sat his guitars in front of the amps and turned them up to eleven. The feedback vibrated the strings and the guitars effectively played themselves.

The resulting double album Metal Machine Music makes Slayer sound like Ralph Vaughan Williams.There is over an hour of this and Reed himself has said "anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am".

According to fans this isn't music, it's art. A German outfit has even produced an orchestral cover version.

Whatever the reason Reed was in more melodic form for his next album Coney Island Lover, a romantic album dedicated to his transsexual lover. His career has always been somewhat eclectic, but he has still never produced anything even remotely similar to Metal Machine Music since.

4. The Beatles v Themselves

In many ways bands are like groups of environmentalists. They start out all idealistic and the best of friends, but by the end they can't stand being in the same room together. The only difference being that eco-warriors usually manage to get on with each other when in court but fall out later, whereas bands are usually the other way round.

Take the Beatles for example.

They may have sung Back In The USSR, but they also wrote Taxman, a little ditty complaining about Harold Wilson's Supertax.

So once they started raking in the cash they formed Apple Corps as way to stop themselves having to pay it. Unfortunately everything went pear shaped for Apple when the band broke up two years later and John, Paul, George and Ringo all sued each other.

The eventual winner was Steve.

Steve Jobs that is, as Apple Corps had also fallen out with Apple Computers, but as the whole thing wasn't resolved until 2010, half the band were dead by then.

3. Matthew Fisher versus Gary Brooker

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

A Whiter Shade of Pale was a 1967 hit for British band Procol Harum. Pretty much their only hit.

Ten years later the band split up, and in the years since keyboard player Matthew Fisher must have held a simmering resentment that vocalist Gary Brooker was getting all the composing royalties from their hit when in fact most of the song was his Hammond organ.

In 2003 the band reunited for the second time and played the Cropredy Festival. I was there and all seemed friendly. Then two years later Fisher decided to get his money back.

The case was initially throw out on the grounds that waiting 38 years wasn't really fair. Fisher persisted and eventually the case became the first rock copyright battle to be heard before the House of Lords.

Brooker defended himself vigorously, arguing that he's written the song before Fisher had even joined the band, but he lost and the keyboardist now gets 40% of the royalties.

Not present in court was J.S. Bach, whose tune Fisher had nicked in the first place.

2. Fantasy Records v John Fogarty

Fogarty was the lead singer of Creedance Clearwater Revival, whose biggest hit, Bad Moon Rising, featured in An American Werewolf in London.

They also wrote A Run Through the Jungle about America's gun culture. When the band split in 1972 the song's rights went to Fantasy Records. Then, in 1985, as a solo artist Foggarty wrote The Old Man Down The Road.

Fantasy thought the two songs sounded rather similar and took Fogarty to court. In effect, suing him for sounding like himself.

Taking his guitar to court, Fogarty showed the judge that he did indeed sound like himself, but that the songs were different. However he had to pay his own costs and it took another hearing for him to get his money back.

1. Geffen Records v Neil Young 

Neil Young has had a fairly eclectic career. 

He's been acoustic and electric. He's been Country and he's been Folk. He's been a happy hippy and a broody misery guts.

Then in 1982 he went electronic and his record company put their foot down. We want rock 'n' roll, they said. Okay, replied Young, if that's what you, and he went Rockabilly.

This was too much for Geffen Records who promptly took him to court for releasing an album “musically uncharacteristic of Young’s previous recordings.”

So whilst Fogarty had been sued for sounding like himself, Young was being sued for not sounding like himself.

His response, and it was a cool and calculated one, was to threaten to play Country music until Geffen backed down.

Faced with a threat as serious as that, they gave in.

And finally...

The Rolling Stones versus The Verve

In 1997 The Verve finally put the boot into Britpop with their seminal album Urban Hymns. The biggest hit on the album was Bitter Sweet Symphony, an immeidate smash hit. Unfortunately for The Verve they had sampled the track The Last Time by the Rolling Stones. The lawyers moved in. The Verve expected a 50/50 split in royalties but instead the court awarded Jagger and Richards 100% of the writing credits, giving them their biggest hit since Brown Suger twenty years earlier.

When asked by Q magazine how he felt about this Keith Richards replied "I'm out of whack here, this is serious lawyer shit. If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money."


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