Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Beatles Lawsuit Songs

Considered the greatest rock band of all time, the Beatles ushered in the British Invasion in 1964; however, like some of their contemporaries, their members were guilty of musical plagiarism on least three tunes. One of these was a sin of omission, while two others were sins of commission.

It is possible that even with the two sins of commission, the plagiarism that occurred may have happened unintentionally and subconsciously. Be that as it may, there are at least three tunes that required either legal action or the threat thereof.

Kansas City / Hey, Hey, Hey

This recording from “Beatles for Sale” and “Beatles VI” was the sin of omission, as the original pressings of these albums neglected to credit Richard Penniman (AKA Little Richard) with the song “Hey, Hey, Hey,” as part of this medley with “Kansas City.” Why this occurred is not known because this particular medley of "Kansas City" and "Hey, Hey, Hey" was learned from Little Richard – wooo! (Sorry, I just had to do that).

As it originally appeared, “Kansas City,” was credited to songwriters Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller – and presumably, they received the entire songwriting royalties. When the album was released, attorneys for Little Richard’s publisher Venice Music contacted EMI and later pressings of these albums were corrected and the appropriate mechanical royalties were distributed to both the writer and the publisher.

Come Together / You Can’t Catch Me

The opening cut of the “Abbey Road” album and double sided single (with “Something”) was also embroiled in controversy being similar (but slower) to Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me.” The crux of the lawsuit was the opening line of “Here comes old flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly” was admittedly lifted from Berry’s song where he sang, “Here comes a flattop, he was movin’ up with me.”

Five years after its release, Morris Levy of Big Seven Music sued John Lennon for copyright infringement. Lennon settled out of court and as part of the settlement promised to record three songs owned by Levy’s company: “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Ya Ya,” and “Angel Baby.” Although all three were recorded, Lennon released “You Can’t Catch Me” and “Ya Ya” for his “Rock ‘N Roll” LP. When the release of “Angel Baby” was not forthcoming, Levy sued Lennon for breach of contract and collected a judgment of nearly $7,000. “Angel Baby” was later released after Lennon’s death.

My Sweet Lord / He’s So Fine

Written in 1968 for Billy Preston, George Harrison finally got around to recording his own composition for his monumental “All Things Must Pass” triple album set. The single, released in January 1971, was a phenomenal success in both the UK and the US topping charts in both countries. By that spring, allegations began appearing in the press that Harrison had lifted the melody for "My Sweet Lord" from the 1963 Chiffon’s hit “He’s So Fine.” Ronnie Mack was the author of "He's So Fine."  Harrison denied that he plagiarized the former hit stating that it was the Edwin Hawkins’ Singers version of “Oh Happy Day” that inspired him to write the song.

When the allegations surfaced, Harrison’s royalty payments were suspended and Bright Tunes Music sued George Harrison’s publishing concern Harrisongs Music. It was determined that Harrison subconsciously copied the former top five hit and that he owed Bright Tunes Music the lion’s share of the royalties of “My Sweet Lord” as well as the mechanical royalties associated with the song’s appearance on “All Things Must Pass.”

Complications arose when former Beatles' manager Allen Klein purchased Bright Tunes Music, which delayed the trial even further. Ironically, during the first phase of litigation Klein had served as an adviser to Harrison. With Klein now as the plaintiff, the settlement included Harrison's purchasing Bright Tunes Music from Klein for $578,000 and thus securing his rights to “My Sweet Lord.”

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