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September 2, 2013 1:06 AM   Subscribe

You've more than likely heard this early recording of Money by the Beatles, or perhaps this version by the Rolling Stones. But Barrett Strong, the man who originally recorded it and who was the primary songwriter hasn't shared in the millions of dollars the song has earned over the years.
posted by flapjax at midnite (30 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Barrett Strong previously.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:06 AM on September 2, 2013


It's clearly disputed that he contributed to the song (though with hits like Grapevine, Just My Imagination etc under his belt, no one could dispute that he is a songwriter). But he doesn't seem to be claiming he was the "primary songwriter". The NY Times article says "Mr. Strong said he also contributed words".
posted by iotic at 1:23 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Money (That's What I Want) was one of the 45s in John Lennon's jukebox. "According to George Harrison, the group discovered Strong's version in Brian Epstein's NEMS record store (though not a hit in the UK, it had been issued on London Records in 1960)."
posted by pracowity at 1:23 AM on September 2, 2013


he doesn't seem to be claiming he was the "primary songwriter".

Eh? The man wrote the music and some of the lyrics - how does that not make him primary songwriter?

As Mr. Strong was polishing the riff, the recording engineer, Robert Bateman, recalls becoming increasingly animated. “And when I get excited, the very first thing I do is call Berry,” Mr. Bateman said at an event at the Hard Rock Cafe in 2010. “ ‘Whoa, Berry, you’ve got to hear this, you’ve got to hear this, you’ve got to hear this.’ ”

“Anyway,” Mr. Bateman added, “it all emanated from Barrett Strong.”

The guitarist on the “Money” sessions was Eugene Grew, who recalls taking musical direction from Mr. Strong. “We sat there, practicing, and Barrett said, ‘Do this,’ and, ‘Do that,’ ” Mr. Grew said in an interview here. “It’s a real simple figure, over and over. Barrett showed me what to play and then Berry came by.”

Once the instrumental track was recorded, Mr. Strong said, Janie Bradford, who had written songs with Mr. Gordy for Jackie Wilson, helped on the lyrics. But Mr. Strong said he also contributed words.

posted by rory at 1:28 AM on September 2, 2013


At stake: his ability to share in the lucrative royalties from the song’s use.

So in other words, there isn't any money at stake. It is only a matter of principle. His authorship, or at least contribution, doesn't seem the question, but he may not have a good claim to the copyright:

“I think he’s got an uphill battle,” said June M. Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at the Columbia University School of Law. “It’s really a statute of limitations issue. He could be depicted as someone who did not conscientiously pursue his rights.”

She's referring to the legal doctrine of latches which is something the average songwriter probably knows nothing about. In the U.S. intellectual property rights have to be asserted to be maintained. If you sit on your hands and watch other people infringe and don't do anything until long after the fact, you loose your rights. Surely he had to have known this song was being played on the radio?

He needed an agent and a lawyer - things that cost money. But like producers and record companies who needs 'em?
posted by three blind mice at 1:28 AM on September 2, 2013


He wasn't sitting on his hands, he was caught out by this:

Mr. Strong’s predicament illustrates a little-known oddity in the American copyright system, one that record and music publishing companies have not hesitated to exploit. The United States Copyright Office, a division of the Library of Congress, does not notify authors of changes in registrations, and until recently the only way to check on any alterations was to go to Washington and visit the archives personally.

In August 1962, Jobete filed an amended copyright on “Money,” instructing the copyright office to remove Mr. Strong’s name. Under procedures in place at the copyright office then (and still in effect today), Mr. Strong had three years to contest that filing — which he said he would have done had he only known of it.
posted by rory at 1:32 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eh? The man wrote the music and some of the lyrics - how does that not make him primary songwriter?

If (and it's a big if, I guess) songwriting royalties in the US work like they do in the UK, it doesn't matter who wrote the backing track / music. The rights are split 50/50 between the writing of the lyrics and the melody. IANAL. YMMV.
posted by iotic at 1:34 AM on September 2, 2013


Got to hang on to those publishing rights, as Strong makes clear... especially since his own version of the song is a bit poor.

The verses have that great tom-tom drums thing, but during the chorus it sounds like the band couldn't make up their mind whether to play it with a swing feel or straight 8s.
posted by colie at 1:34 AM on September 2, 2013


especially since his own version of the song is a bit poor.

Can't agree with you there! For my money, it's the best version!

during the chorus it sounds like the band couldn't make up their mind whether to play it with a swing feel or straight 8s.

That particular *blend* of rhythmic feel (swing/straight), that sort of unique tension, was, in the early days of rock'n'roll, something people actually strived for and valued as an aesthetic. That's not indecision or inability to do it 'one way or another': that's mastery of a particular kind of rhythmic expression that was once rather common in American pop music but was completey abandoned in later decades.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:40 AM on September 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


especially since his own version of the song is a bit poor.

I love his version.
posted by pracowity at 1:42 AM on September 2, 2013


No, this is the best version.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:53 AM on September 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


Berry Gordy is a notorious shonk.

So in other words, there isn't any money at stake. It is only a matter of principle.

Beyond stupid.
posted by Wolof at 2:05 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That particular *blend* of rhythmic feel (swing/straight)

I get that, but this particular example just feels a bit like they forgot to switch the amps on at the start and the guitarist never quite wakes up... it's also hard to shake off that definitive, demented Lennon version (although I think his versions of You Really Got a Hold on Me and Anna and Shot of Rhythm and Blues from the period are far inferior to the originals).
posted by colie at 2:07 AM on September 2, 2013


No, this is the best version

"This video contains content from EMI, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:13 AM on September 2, 2013


MartinWisse beat me to it.
posted by Decani at 4:00 AM on September 2, 2013


"This video contains content from EMI, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds."

Well there you have it flapjax at midnite. These are the same laws that might have theoretically put some coin into Strong's pockets.

Beyond stupid.

I am hard-pressed to see any legal battle that would pay for itself in terms of future royalties to be earned by the songwriter. This would seem to be a complicated copyright dispute - and moreover one that begins way back in 1962. The cost of discovery alone would run into the millions. Consider if you will that iTunes pays artists and producers somewhere between $0.1 and $0.025 per downloaded song - and YouTube nothing at all.

It's a great song, but I just don't see the business case.
posted by three blind mice at 4:20 AM on September 2, 2013


Great! I guess I'm lucky, and it's not blocked in my country. Tempted to go and buy some albums...which I wouldn't be if it were blocked...

Silly protectionism destroying potential sales yet again...
posted by jet_manifesto at 4:25 AM on September 2, 2013


Love the song. I feel sorry for Barrett Strong, who appears not to be that great a businessman and has come up against a predatory business and a system that is rigged to big players. It's nuts your name can be taken off copyright and you not be informed. It's gearing the system for abuse.

From later in the article: "A few years ago, he said, he relinquished future royalties from his later songs to a third party for a $2 million payment in what he thought was a fixed-term licensing agreement but which turned out to be an outright sale; he invested that money in a recording studio project that has since failed."

This is a guy that needed a lawyer, and needed one much earlier than he thought.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:35 AM on September 2, 2013


Pity he is not in the UK. If he were, he might still be able to do a Clare Torry. You know, the woman who warbled away in Abbey Road studios in 1973 for what became Pink Floyd's track The Great Gig in the Sky. You know, the track that ended up on the album The Dark Side of the Moon.

According to Wikepedia: "In 2004, she sued Pink Floyd and EMI for songwriting royalties on the basis that her contribution to "The Great Gig in the Sky" constituted co-authorship with keyboardist Richard Wright. Originally, she was paid the standard flat fee of £30 for Sunday studio work. In 2005, an out-of-court settlement was reached in Torry's favour, although the terms of the settlement were not disclosed. All releases after 2005 credit 'Richard Wright/Clare Torry' for the "Great Gig in the Sky" segment.
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:29 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This video contains content from Warner Chappell, UMG and EMI, one or more of whom have blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.
So does that mean that something that's been up on YouTube for a while could stay if they didn't contest it immediately?
posted by MtDewd at 5:52 AM on September 2, 2013


> "... If he were, he might still be able to do a Clare Torry."

I must be more naive than I thought. I am genuinely shocked that in the three decades between the release of Dark Side of the Moon and her winning the lawsuit, not one person ever said, "Hey, Clare? You know that track you improvised in the studio that became one of the most iconic vocal performances of all time on an album that went on to sell 50 million copies? We thought you deserved more than 30 friggin' pounds for that, so here, have a pile of money."
posted by kyrademon at 5:59 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Clare Torry - October 2005 - Brain Damage exclusive...

Q: At what point did you decide to pursue a claim to part-authorship of Great Gig?

A: “Over the years, people said to me on numerous occasions, ‘What are you going to do?’ I did look into it, and at first, the costs were prohibitively expensive. I had to swallow it, really. And also, if I’d started something when I was well into my career, I’d have been thought of as a troublemaker. So once I’d retired, I thought about it again. It went on from there.”

Source
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:14 AM on September 2, 2013


The best version of "Money" is by Jerry Lee Lewis, from Live at the Star Club in 1964 (Spotify) (Sorry, not on YT). It starts as a genius synthesis of Lewis's varied skills, from putting a jazz spin on the famous piano riff, howling over it Hank Williams-style, then stomping the whole thing forward with boogie woogie. From this sort of peacock-like display of awesome, it rolls into an expression of frustration and rage about his stalled commercial career, and naturally, he being the Killer and all, it ends up being about fucking. The overall effect suggests that for anyone who was still paying attention in 1964, he'd effectively become a raging, drunken cracker version of Ray Charles, which is pretty fascinating.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:42 AM on September 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, this is the best version.

It is pretty amazing. See also their Sex Machine.
posted by Artw at 6:46 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now hold up, hold up. You're suggesting that a music publisher deliberately falsified publishing copyright paperwork to disadvantage musicians financially?

Well - I mean, not to put too fine a point on it but, that would cast a somewhat unsavory light on the business of music wouldn't it?

Together, Mr. Strong and Mr. Whitfield wrote a string of hits that led to them being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” among them

Sa-lute!
posted by petebest at 6:53 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I must be more naive than I thought. I am genuinely shocked that in the three decades between the release of Dark Side of the Moon and her winning the lawsuit, not one person ever said, "Hey, Clare? You know that track you improvised in the studio that became one of the most iconic vocal performances of all time on an album that went on to sell 50 million copies? We thought you deserved more than 30 friggin' pounds for that, so here, have a pile of money."

Some industries suck, but the music industry really, really sucks. It's kinda depressing.
posted by iotic at 6:54 AM on September 2, 2013


The "industry" part of the "music industry" sucks. The "music" part of the "music industry" is fantastic.
posted by pracowity at 7:00 AM on September 2, 2013


Re: music industry evil, see also, previously on MeFi, the sad saga of Sly Stone.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:07 AM on September 2, 2013


I thought the article was going to be about some behind the scenes guy who worked with Barrett Strong and claims to have written the song. But no; it is about Barrett Strong -who even I know is they guy who sung the original of "Money"-having his authorship simply erased from the writing credits by his record label. Amazing!
posted by rongorongo at 7:55 AM on September 2, 2013


I love the idea that not only do you need to be creative and what-not, you need to be a scheming business genius or you just don't deserve to profit from your work. In theory, that's what copyright is all about, isn't it, protecting the non-business savvy from the sharks?
posted by maxwelton at 12:39 PM on September 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


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