Friday, 9 September 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 111 (Top Five): Legendary AAA Court-Cases

There was a time when music was synonymous with court cases, especially in the 1970s when bands fell out not only with themselves but with their managers, so it was a bit of a shock to hear that Gallagher vs Gallagher might be in a court sometime soon. Of course none of the following cases actually involved brothers or family members (although Ray and Dave Davies came close to suing each other quite a few times, not least over each other’s autobiographies) but they are remarkable all the same:

1)    The Who and Kit Lambert vs Shel Talmy (1967) Difficulty: Record producer Talmy was fired during 1966 despite being under contract. Verdict: Amazingly, the case wasn’t settled fully until 2002, when the court’s decided in Talmy’s favour, with an agreement that master-tapes from the period belonged to him, delaying the issue of the ‘My Generation’ album on CD for several years. Even before then, however, it was agreed that Talmy was to receive a quota of the profits made by the band during the time of their contract with Polydor. Who manager Kit Lambert didn’t like Talmy, the man of a million hits who seemed to think he knew ‘better’ than Lambert how to run his group. The band hated him even more, with Pete reduced to pleading to be able to re-cut some tracks on several occasions. But to be fair, Talmy was the man with the track record, even if his hits with The Kinks had also gone wrong under similar circumstances (Ray Davies wasn’t happy with his work either). As a result of the confusion of the legalities of terminating Talmy’s contract and who owned the rights to what recordings, the band’s 1966 single ‘Substitute’ was issued twice, with different B-sides: Talmy’s version contained ‘Instant Party’, a song better known on its later issue as ‘Circles’; the band chose to release a track by the Graham Bond Organization titled ‘Waltz For A Pig’, a title probably aimed at Talmy!  

2)    Paul McCartney vs John Lennon, George Harrison, Richard Starkey and Allen Klein (1970) Difficulty: Paul objected to the others singing Allen Klein up as their manager against his wishes and wanted to disolve The Beatles’ partnership and lave the band’s ‘Apple’ label Verdict: Finally settled in 1974 – in Disneyland, Florida of all places – when John is the last to put his signature to a document agreeing that the four Beatles can go their seperate ways. In the end, all but Lennon re-sign to EMI, leaving John free to become a house-husband free from record companydeadlines. There’s been a changing of opinion over the court case since its announcement in 1970. Back then Paul was seen as the ‘naughty Beatle’, the one who broke up the world’s greatest band for selfish reasons and betrayed the peace and love spirit of the times by dragging his colleagues through the court. After all, Klein’s credentials in 1970 were excellent – with clients including the Rolling Stones earning more money than ever before and no public acknowledgement about just how tough, crude and obstinate Klein could be. But as ever the truth is not that simple: it was Lennon who tried to force his protégé (manager Allen Klein) on the others after Paul had been the band’s de facto manager in the three years after Brian Epstein’s death (when, what with the record-breaking sales for ‘The White Album’ the band had done quite well). The Beatles had also agreed to a pact early on in their pre-fame days that if one of them disagreed with a decision the others would back down without a fight – something that was only really tested by this latest development. Ask most Beatles fans now and they’ll say Paul was right – not least because Klein will end up in prison in the late 70-s for tax evasion and swindling his clients out of money (even Lennon admitted in an interview just before his ‘retirement’ that Paul was ‘probably right’ given the way things had worked out at Apple). Memorable response from George: ‘You’re staying on the label or else! Hare Krishna!’ A negotiation from Ringo as peacemaker ended up with the drummer being forcibly ejected from Paul’s house. The band that had seen it all couldn’t cope with this latest strain of manager changing and the result was the end of the biggest band that ever was.   For more detail visit the extremely detailed week by week guide to the court case at

3)    Gilbert O’ Sullivan vs manager Gordon Mills (1978)    Difficulty: Royalty rates on Gilbert’srecords  Verdict: the court found in Gilbert’s favour, awarding him £7 million in unpaid royalties and handing over control of mastertapes for all albums over to Gilbert to control. Gordon Mills never spoke to him again. Record royalties have always been a source of mystification to me and I’m sure many other music followers: for instance, under the terms of their EMI contract, The Beatles made only a penny a single as late as 1967, a truly awful rate even for the period. But Gilbert’s problem was a bit more complicated. When he first signed up with Mr Mills he was promised 25% of the music rights to his songs and a royalty rate ‘if he was successful’. Now Gilbert was pretty successful you have to say – four top 10 LPs and even more top 10 singles including two number ones – but he never got the royalties he’d been promised. The pair were genuinely friends early on too – Gilbert often babysat Mills’ daughter toddler Clair, which is where the inspiration for one of his most famous songs came from (a song which he vowed never to perform again, only breaking his rule in 2009 long after Mills had died). On leaving Mills’ management in 1975 the pair seemed to have reached an amicable agreement: the money was coming, the singer was promised, but at a later meeting he was told to ‘get lost’ (or something stronger). In Mills’ eyes, he’d already turned Gilbert into a star and made him rich and famous – but the missing money would have made the difference between being affluent and being properly rich. As luck would have it, mild mannered Gilbert was mates with famous entertainment lawyer Gary Davidson and did the unthinkable, suing the man who most musicians cowered in fear from, even though – like McCartney – he suffered many months of agonising over whether he could really sue one of his biggest friends. The court case also hit him badly on a career front – record companies became afraid of him, plugging his records less, tangling him up in business affairs instead of music just as his career was gaining momentum and Gilbert’s record sales fell drastically. The story has a happy ending though – Gilbert is now back in regular touch with Mills’ widow and daughter, the pair being seen backstage at Gilbert’s last concert tour.  


4)    Roger Waters vs David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright (1985) Difficulty: Whether the band were entitled to still use the same name after Waters had left the group. Verdict: Despite Rogers’ increasing dominance of the group in the 1970s, the decision was given unanimously in Gilmour and co’s favour – justifiably in Gilmour’s eyes, on a legal technicality in Waters’. Pink Floyd fans know how dark and ugly the band story got in the 1980s: Roger had kicked Rick out of the band, sidelined Dave and Nick and then in 1984 quit the band claiming that Floyd as a band were ‘dead’. Dave and Nick (no, not our beloved coalition partners!) weren’t prepared to retire against their wishes, though, and fought on, rejecting Waters’ claims that without him in the band they were no longer legitimate. There was a secondary factor in the case too: Floyd albums were getting further and further apart in the 1980s (back when four years between albums was still pretty unusual) and Roger was arguing that having failed to deliver on their EMI contract this proved that the band no longer existed anyway. This impasse led to a Roger Waters band touring the same venues as one using the Pink Floyd name, with Gilmour and Mason hiring a whole catalogue of lawyers at every stop along the way in case Roger tried to force their hand with a legal dispute there and then. As it happened, the court case got peculiar: nowhere in the band’s history had any of the band actually signed to a contract using that name – so the courts ruled that they couldn’t disband something that technically didn’t exist. In addition, manager Steve O’Rourke found himself being forced to take sides and – forced legally to inform the others about Roger’s decisions – found himself ousted by Waters. The whole charade went on for years but by 1987 the three-man Floyd (with Rick back in the band) were free to play. This story too has a happy ending – after several snide remarks from both halves of the band in print over the years and a non-appearance at the rock and roll hall of fame, all four men got back together on stage again for Live 8 and nowadays get on better than they have since the early 70s.

5)    Neil Young vs David Geffen (1986) Difficulty: Neil Young’s decisions to make albums ‘that didn’t sound anything like Neil Young’ Verdict:Court case dropped when Neil leaves the label. What’s the worst thing a record label can do to their money-making star? Well, if you’re Elvis they keep re-issuing 20 minute sets of outtakes and skimpy film soundtracks in your name long after your death, if you’re The Kinks they all but ignore your records and drop you from the label at the first chance they get, if you’re The Beach Boys they withhold royalties – and if you’re Neil Young, they sue you for being ‘weird’. Now, David Geffen was a big friend of Neil’s in the 1970s and should have known better what was coming: there’s never ever been two albums in the Neil Young catalogue that share anything more than miniscule DNA with each other and there’s certainly never been a ‘trend’. So when Geffen (the former boss of Asylum Records) began to complain about Neil’s choice of styles (rockabilly, country, hard rock, blues, electronica, you name it Neil did it) it struck us fans as being a bit strange as Neil was surely just being Neil. However, in Geffen’s defence his brand new record label desperately needed the funds: he spent most of his money enticing John Lennon out of retirement and only got one album from him (‘Double Fantasy’) before his untimely death. Neil was his next big star name – but the Neil Young of the 1980s sold far less records than he had in the early 70s. Add in the fact that Neil was distracted in this period – he revealed later that his son Ben was born with cerebral palsy and needed constant care, leaving him little time to make music, a fact he never told Geffen who might have understood his music better – and this was a re4cipe doomed to disaster, with such hilarious results as Neil being ‘ordered’ to make rock music like he used to (he turned in a 20 minute album of 1950s covers instead) and Neil’s threat that, to see out his contract, he might well have to resort to recording 15 different versions of ‘My Way’ in retaliation. The case was closed after Neil’s contract came to an end in 1987, leaving him free to return to his old home at Reprise. 

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