High Fives 2014 – Isitjustme

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Please tell me it hasn’t come round again already; drunks on public transport, pubs packed with once-a-year drinkers and a demand from MusicRiot to cobble something together for their inane end of year feature. Damn, Christmas again and I hate Christmas unless I can sack a widow on Christmas Eve. But wait, I can see a chink of gloom poking through the bright lights; it looks like John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revisited are opening legal hostilities again, so I think a festive five music lawsuits is about as much fun as I can hope for.

John FogertyJohn Fogerty

The man in the lumberjack shirt and his CCR ex-buddies are kicking legal lumps out of each other again and nobody really knows what it’s all about, but there are plenty of lawyers involved and onstage pronouncements and press conferences and a whole flamin’ media circus. Just bear this in mind guys; whoever wins, all the lawyers get paid.

But that’s not the most interesting lawsuit John Fogerty has been involved in, oh no. He sold the rights to his songs to his former label Fantasy (headed by the infamous Saul Zaentz) to escape from label (don’t try that one at home boys and girls) and go solo. So, Mr Fogerty gets a bunch of songs together and releases the album “Centerfield”. Happy ending; not quite. The litigious Mr Zaentz sues on the grounds that the album’s opening song, “The Old Man down the Road” plagiarises a Creedence song, “Run Through the Jungle”, which Zaentz holds the copyright for. He wasn’t too chuffed about the song “Zanz Kant Danz” (later changed to “Vanz Kant Danz”) either. So what could be more stupid than suing someone (unsuccessfully) for copying their own song?

Neil YoungNeil Young

Well, David Geffen had a pretty good shot at it in 1983 with Neil Young when he sued him for not sounding like his previous records. After signing one of the most contrary artists in rock (or maybe just a guy who follows his own artistic vision), he decided, after three albums he didn’t like, to sue Shakey for submitting ‘uncharacteristic’ music for release. Maybe it was a bit of a coincidence that the albums weren’t selling. You have to wonder where David Geffen had been living during the seventies if he hadn’t realised that Neil Young didn’t give a stuff about following commercial trends. They eventually kissed and made up and Shakey went back to his spiritual home at Reprise records.

So that’s one case of a label suing an artist for sounding too much like themselves and another case of a label suing an artist for not sounding like themselves. Where else can the stupidity go? Well, back in time a decade or so.

George HarrisonGeorge Harrison

After the Beatles, the quiet one was quickly out of the blocks with the triple album “All Things Must Pass” and the single “My Sweet Lord”. Three weeks after the release of the single, George was hit with a lawsuit alleging that the single plagiarised the Chiffons single, “He’s So Fine” (big in the US, not so big in the UK). It took five years for the case to come to court and George was found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism”, which cost him over half a million dollars. What you have to ask is how come no-on spotted this similarity? “All Things Must Pass” was co-produced by Phil Spector, who was very much part of the American teen scene in 1963 when “He’s So Fine” was a hit. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t spot such an obvious similarity. So, how many more ways could lawyers invent to make money out of the music business. How about “Where there’s blame there’s a claim”?

Ozzy OsbourneThe Metal Suicides

Jumping back to the eighties again, in 1988 the parents of a teenage fan tried to accuse Ozzy Osbourne of causing the death of their son, claiming that hidden lyrics in “Suicide Solution” had caused their son to take his own life; the suit was dismissed but it didn’t mean that the suicide blame game was over. In 1990, Judas Priest were taken to court by the parents of two teenagers who, after a drugs and alcohol binge, attempted a suicide pact. It’s interesting that no-one was trying to sue any brewers, distillers or dealers for their part in the events. Just ask yourself again who benefitted from these legal cases; I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t the parents or the bands. Ok, it’s Christmas, let’s try to end on a slightly happy note.

Spandau BalletSpandau Ballet

It all started off so well; a bunch of school friends got together and formed a band in the seventies. The band caught the New Romantic zeitgeist with their first single in 1980 and everything was looking good; who needed lawyers and contracts? Well, in this case it might have been a good idea (I never said I had to be consistent) because any memories of verbal agreements vanished after the band became famous. In 1990, Tony Hadley, Steve Norman and John Keeble sued for a share of the booty, claiming that their contributions and a verbal agreement entitled them to a twelfth of the royalties. The case was dismissed and the non-Kemp Spandaus faced huge legal bills, but that wasn’t the end of the affair.

In 2009, the guys resolved their legal issues and got back together to tour again as Spandau Ballet; well, it is Christmas and we should have a happy ending really. There’s a lesson there as well; at this time of year, everyone goes to the pub and maybe that’s what the Spandaus and all of the other people mentioned here should have done. Forget all of the lawyers, go and have a few beers and sort all of your problems out.

Merry Xmas.