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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

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DT

Look on the bright side. At least they didn't claim they wrote this one.

Unlike, say, "Love In Vain," the credit for which they shamelessly stole from Robert Johnson on "Let It Bleed." That, too, is embarassing. It's offensive. It's indefensible.

Perhaps in the afterlife (where Keith has been popping in and out of for about 28 years or so) the great blues master will greet them by tossing his bottleneck at Mick's head. That'd be fun, eh?

fish

Similar to my experience when I heard Mick with another one of my heros Bowie cover "Dancin' in the Streets". Hanging was too good for them.

Dave Blakeslee

I don't disagree with your assessment of the Stones' version of ATPTB but that record was released in 1974! I'm just wondering what's so bad about it that it triggered this post? It wasn't even the biggest song off that album (It's Only Rock'n'Roll) and I don't think that the band was really counting on that song to carry the effort. Though I do remember seeing it featured in a TV ad when the album was first released.

At the time that the Rolling Stones recorded "Love in Vain," (67-68) I think that the RJ original was only available as a bootleg - at least, that how they first heard it. His songs and other blues artists didn't have the kind of effective legal representation that they had in subsequent years. I don't think they ever claimed that it wasn't based on Robert Johnson's song... they altered it and changed it around a bit. The old time blues singers did the same thing. And it's not like Robert Johnson was around to collect royalties.

The Bowie/Jagger collaboration was a lame knock-off attempt to come up with something for MTV. Best forgotten, as I'm sure they both have.

scott

[T]hat record was released in 1974! I'm just wondering what's so bad about it that it triggered this post?

Well, just that, as I said, I heard it on the radio, and that triggered my rant.

But that's actually a good point: it's been out for 32 years now, more than enough time for every radio programmer in the country to have heard it, and to realize it blows dead moose and is completely unworthy of airplay.

I don't think that the band was really counting on that song to carry the effort.

Perhaps not, but they did release it as a single, back when such things were truly important.

Not that the song they were counting on as the big single is any great shakes.

At the time that the Rolling Stones recorded "Love in Vain," (67-68) I think that the RJ original was only available as a bootleg - at least, that how they first heard it.

Very possibly. But they already knew his previous compilation, King of the Delta Blues Singers, damn well. And they knew who wrote “Love in Vain.” And they knew it wasn’t the two of them.

His songs and other blues artists didn't have the kind of effective legal representation that they had in subsequent years.

Again, absolutely right. Which makes their actions all the more heinous. Mick and Keef had the best representation money could buy, and Robert Johnson’s heirs didn’t, and the Stones knew that. And they knew they’d collect hundreds of thousands of dollars, or perhaps millions, by falsely claiming authorship. So they did. The legality is a separate matter. This was completely unethical and immoral on their parts. For a band which has based its entire career on black music, they've got a pretty spotty record (so to speak) of actually doing right by those artists who so inspired and enriched them.

I don't think they ever claimed that it wasn't based on Robert Johnson's song... they altered it and changed it around a bit.

Unless they gave him composer credit, that’s exactly what they did.

And it's not like Robert Johnson was around to collect royalties.

But his heirs were. Think anyone could get away with claiming credit for “Imagine?” After all, John Lennon's not around to collect royalities.

Dave Blakeslee

You raise a bunch of interesting points. Do you feel the same way about Led Zeppelin? They ripped off Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf and others just as egregiously on their early albums.

What did groups like Cream and Canned Heat do when it came to blues covers? Did they give due credit and handle publishing rights more properly than the Stones or Zep did? I don't know myself, just wondering.

It just seems like the "seriousness" of publishing rights has increased quite dramatically since the late 60's when it may not have been quite clear just how lucrative those properties would become in the subsequent decades. My impression is that pop music was for most groups more of a hand-to-mouth existence and that few besides the true visionaries really had any clue that licensing fees, commercial endorsements, mass distribution, etc. would generate the kind of money that these tunes have over the past 40+ years. But I could be way off track and naive here...

scott

You raise a bunch of interesting points. Do you feel the same way about Led Zeppelin? They ripped off Willie Dixon, Howling Wolf and others just as egregiously on their early albums.

Indeed they did. It’s my understanding, however, that, at least in the matter of Dixon, they were later forced to make amends. Not that that makes their initial offense more tolerable.

Also, while wrong is obviously wrong, and the young Zeppelin were clearly not destitute, I see it as being even worse for the fabulously wealthy Rolling Stones, five years into their incredibly successful career, to rip off an artist, as opposed to a new band which hasn’t yet [yet, mind ye] amassed those kinds of riches.

Both bad? You bet. Equally bad? Maybe so. Somehow, however, the Stones offense strikes me as even worse. That may be entirely emotional rather than intellectually defensible, of course.

What did groups like Cream and Canned Heat do when it came to blues covers? Did they give due credit and handle publishing rights more properly than the Stones or Zep did? I don't know myself, just wondering.

I believe Cream always credited properly. I know not what the Heat did.

It just seems like the "seriousness" of publishing rights has increased quite dramatically since the late 60's when it may not have been quite clear just how lucrative those properties would become in the subsequent decades.

Mmm…Colonel Parker already knew how lucrative publishing was, which is why he insisted writers give Elvis some of the publishing—a practice which Presley put a stop to (supposedly) as soon as he learned of it.

My impression is that pop music was for most groups more of a hand-to-mouth existence and that few besides the true visionaries really had any clue that licensing fees, commercial endorsements, mass distribution, etc. would generate the kind of money that these tunes have over the past 40+ years. But I could be way off track and naive here...

No, I think you’re dead on there.

But that's most bands. That’s not the Stones. They began writing because, legend has it, their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, locked them in a room and wouldn’t let them out until they’d written something. The Beatles had already told them the publishing was where the money was.

They knew. Moreover, it’s really simple: they knew they hadn’t written “Love in Vain.” But they took credit for it. Whether bands were as scrupulous back then or not, they knew what they’d written and what they hadn’t.

Thanks for a fun and inneresting conversation, Dave.

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