December 21, 2006

Speaking of organs...

Is that organ solo -- in "Whiter Shade of Pale" -- worth 40% of the song? The judge says yes. That seems about right!

29 comments:

Chad said...

As a musician and songwriter...I would argue that he should get piece, but maybe not 40%. I always thought the great element of that song was the lyrics.

Bissage said...

Bach won't be asking for bucks.

SteveR said...

I realize the organ part here is a special case but its subjective and as one of the losing parties said, you could open up lots of potential musician suits.

Did Eric Clapton get royalties from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" or Billy Preston for "Get Back"?

I'm with Chad though, without the lyrics the song loses a lot.

Simon said...

I had thought that he sued not only for the solo, per se, but for his organ contributions in toto. To me, the organ part is sublime, a work of sheer genius: it is at once elegiac and soaring. And part of its genius is that it sounds fresh on every listen, but even on first hearing, it sounds so familiar; it is reminiscent of Air on a G String, but quite distinct from it.

You can play that song with nothing more than a bass guitar, but take away what Fisher gave them, and you ain't got squat. My view is that 40% is the least he should expect.

David said...

Size does matter!

Anonymous said...

I've got the original black and white video from Top of The Pops if you're interested: The Crowd Called Out For More

Elizabeth said...

Bissage: you beat me to the punch.

I love the organ solo, and yes, it makes the song distinctive. But the solo is repetitive and not original. It is a basic Bach-style chorale, which most music students have to produce during the first year of theory class. Forty percent is over the top (at least that's mediated by being based only on future earnings).

Doug said...

I wonder if he is getting 40% for this song, how much should he get for Crowded House's Don't Dream it's Over.

Simon said...

"I wonder if he is getting 40% for this song, how much should he get for Crowded House's Don't Dream it's Over."

That doesn't make much sense. I can understand the arguments that he shouldn't get that much cash on the grounds that he didn't "write" the song, but only added orchestration (itself a distinction I think is rather silly in general, and profoundly misguided in a song like this where the contribution is integral), and I understand (although I disagree with) the argument that Fisher should maybe not get that much extra money, insofar as his contribution was cribbed from Bach and Pachelbel. But Don't Dream it's Over neither sounds anything like A Whiter Shade of Pale, Fisher neither wrote nor played that part (IIRC, it came from producer Mitchell Froom).

You might as well say that Tears for Fears should pay Fisher money, since there's a hammond organ solo in Sowing the Seeds of Love (which also has the same chord sequence as A Whiter Shade of Pale, IIRC).

Anonymous said...

I don't care much about the fight about the money. Pop musicians talk a good game about egalitarianism, but they're generally the most grasping and grabby humans extant. They're always for sharing the nothing. Look out if it turns into something.

The song sounds that way because of the marvelous Hammond B-3 organ. It's the best example of the sound of the thing I can recall.

A B-3 was a church organ, a cheap substitute for a pipe organ. Most black music I like from the sixties comes straight out of church, and the many musicians who brought the gospel style into secular music brought the Hammond with them. The Brits loved obscure American records with the B-3 on them, and exported it right back to the US on records like this.

The B-3 used to be played through a big speaker called a Leslie, which had a rotating horn in it. You could change the speed of the rotating horn to vary the vibrato.

Synthesizers made the Hammond almost obsolete 30 years ago. My older brother used to play in a band with a guy who used a portable Hammond with a Leslie. By "portable," I mean it had four folding handles, and could be carried by two people as young and dumb as me. It was like moving an upright piano around.

Sounded marvelous, though. So does my back, if I stand up too quick.

Slowjack said...

I think this sets a very bad precedent. Songs have always had two sets of rights and royalities...the songwriting credits and the performance credits. Certainly, there are many pieces of pop music in which a certain performer adds something so distinctive that it's hard to imagine the song without it, but they still don't get songwriting credit unless they actually wrote the song. That's just the way it is. Take a look at the band Queen, for example. All four guys in the band have some songs credited to them, and almost all of the songs are credited to only one of them. But it's not like anyone would claim that for each song, one of them is telling the other three exactly what to play or how to play it.

Or put another way, Johnny Depp's performance in "Pirates of the Carribean" makes that movie, and is played in a way not entirely anticipated by the screenplay--but that doesn't mean that Depp gets a a screenwriting credit.

ignacio said...

It's a bad precedent. Would George Harrison have had to pay Eric Clapton as part-songwriter for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"?

There were lots of talented organists back in the 60s who might have been used as session men. Alan Price (of the Animals), Manfred Mann, Stevie Winwood, Brian Auger. Billy Preston and Booker T. Think of all that Al Kooper added to Bob Dylan on the Highway 61 LP.

Look at the pianists who added so much to the Rolling Stones -- Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart (the latter on the more bluesy cuts, having been a member of the band until put on the sidelines by manager Andrew Loog Oldham because he was older and overweight.)

Sorry. The songwriters wrote the songs. The arrangements might have been different with different musicans, but that's the way it goes.

Simon said...

"Synthesizers made the Hammond almost obsolete 30 years ago."

Only in the most rigorously technical sense. That sound is still unbeatable, though, and I use a hammond organ on virtually everything I record. Now, concededly, I don't lug the physical thing around, because these days, we have these.

Simon said...

"The songwriters wrote the songs. The arrangements might have been different with different musicans, but that's the way it goes."

Although that's true to some extent -- I mean, it may be true for songs like Turn, Turn, Turn or I Feel Fine, or at least, it might be arguable for songs like that -- there are several songs where the orchestration is so integral to the piece that it doesn't apply. Where does the orchestration end and the song begin? Is the song really nothing more than the words, the melody and the chords? Where does that leave Shine On You Crazy Diamond, for example, or Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite?

Anonymous said...

Simon- That's neat. The synthesizer is to the hammond as vinyl siding is to clapboards, but I gotta call it like I see it.

If all these guys wanting a judge to give them a do-over over royalties are right, then the richest man on the face of this earth should be...

George Martin.

SteveR said...

"George Martin"

Well now you're not being fair.

Joseph Hovsep said...

another great post title

Bissage said...

True. Very true. But I almost always root for the little guy.

Mark Daniels said...

I don't think Fisher deserves a cut of the composing royalties: http://markdaniels.blogspot.com/2006/12/preachers-true-confession.html.

Mark

Kev said...

As an instrumental musician, I might be coming at this from a different standpoint, but to me, the most distinctive element of that particular song is indeed the organ solo. When i read this post, I realized that I couldn't think of a single word of the song (I'm hearing the melody in my head, but the words themselves fail me at the moment), but the organ solo in its entirety has been "playing" in my head the whole time now.

Someone noted that it's repetitive; that's true. But pop songs tend to live or die by the "hook," and to me, the organ solo plays that role in this song.

sonicfrog said...

I gotta side with chad on this one. Maybe Fisher deserves a bit of compensation, but I think 40% is a bit much of that bit. This sets a very bad precident. Lets put it this way. Presently, he gets some royalties from all those songs he covered, but now Michael Bolton can claim his voice makes them so much better, so he should be able to sue the origional artists for a cut of their profits too - Whitney Houston can sue for royalties on the "Star Bangled Banner" - and Eddie Van Halen can finaly bury Jacko financially and sue for back payments for the great solo he played on "Beat It".

Simon, once again you beat me to the punch. I am a HUGE Niel Finn / Crowded House / Split Enz fan, and yes, the former Mr. Susan Vega did play the keys on that track.

PS. Last weekend, Rare Form, my San Diego band, played the annual $2000 Christmas gig at the La Costa Resort ($$$$). I wanted to play Don't Dream It's Over, but we could never get it to sound right. The song sounds simple, but the syncopation of the lyrics vs the bass line makes it a hard song to play live, especially if your the guy who has to sing and play bass at the same time! It's all my fault. I can do a lot of Sting's Police stuff, but I just can't seem to get this song to work for me.

sonicfrog said...

How dumb of me to misspell precedent on a law blog. Note to self - spell check is my friend... and I almost misspelled misspell!

ignacio said...

Reductio ad absurdam: Metallica does a cover version of "Highway 61 Revisited" -- which goes platinum, automatically, to their fans -- and they assert that the songs "go over" because of the heavy guitars and drums, that is to say their arrangements, so they propose paying Bob Dylan oh, let's say 12%.

Nobody's buying it for the lyrics, after all. The album might even be good. "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" might really benefit, after 40 years, from a new approach.

In any case, if Matthew Fisher gets 40% for his Hammond organ solo I don't see why Al Kooper (or his estate) shouldn't get his.

I was just listening to "Ballad of a Thin Man" the other day. Al Kooper was great.

Anonymous said...

I think this was the kind of fight that alienated the other members of The Band from Robbie Robertson. Apparently, they dried up as songwriters, but still felt they deserved a credit and royalties for their brilliant instrumental contributions to the recordings. But Robertson could rely on the fact that the tune and lyrics were his, and under the law, I guess, the writer is the guy who gets the money.

Frank Zappa's former sidemen also complained about this over the years.

Simon said...

Oh, gosh, I'm going to go totally off-topic here...

SonicFrog said...
"I wanted to play Don't Dream It's Over, but we could never get it to sound right. The song sounds simple, but the syncopation of the lyrics vs the bass line makes it a hard song to play live, especially if your the guy who has to sing and play bass at the same time! It's all my fault. I can do a lot of Sting's Police stuff, but I just can't seem to get this song to work for me.

I love that song, but you're right, it never comes together and sounds right. I've never heard anyone get it right. It also requires a far broader range, a far better sense of pitch and much more lungpower than I can muster. Back in college, I did some work with a singer and our common point of reference was Crowded House, so we played quite a few songs of theirs - Love You 'Til the Day I Die, which is a real fun and quirky song off their first album, Distant Sun, Four Seasons in One Day, Hole in the River, and Fall at your Feet, which I got to sing a nice harmony part for. I always wanted to play Whispers & Moans, but the opportunity never presented itself. Nick Seymour is a totally underrated player,and Neil falls into the same category as Iva Davies of Icehouse as just having a voice that seems to burst with feeling.

Well, I guess now I know what I'm doing for the next hour. ;)

Jem33 said...
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Jem33 said...
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Jem33 said...

>>Chad said...
As a musician and songwriter...I would argue that he should get a piece, but maybe not 40%. I always thought the great element of that song was the lyrics.
>>>

Fisher was awarded 40% of the *music* copyright, but the music copyright is only 50% of the total copyright. Poet Keith Reid retains 50% for his lyrics. So the breakdown after the Judgment would be: Keith Reid, 50%, Gary Brooker 30%, and Matthew Fisher 20%.

ignacio said...
>> .... In any case, if Matthew Fisher gets 40% [actually 20% - jem33] for his Hammond organ solo I don't see why Al Kooper (or his estate) shouldn't get his... I was just listening to "Ballad of a Thin Man" the other day. Al Kooper was great.
>>>

The keyboards on "Ballad of a Thin Man" were almost certainly played by Paul Griffin, not Al Kooper. In his autobiography "Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards," Kooper identified the songs he played on in the Highway 61 sessions as "Like a Rolling Stone," "Queen Jane Approximately" and "Tombstone Blues," and he praised Griffin, the main keyboardist on the sessions, as a skilled and experienced player, admittedly unlike himself (Kooper) at that time. Regardless of who played on what song, neither Griffin nor Kooper added any melody to those songs, just the timbre of their instruments, some long held backing notes, and filler licks or riffs - i.e. arrangement not composition.

In his book "Music Law, " 2003, Richard Stim cites the appearance of a musical passage in most cover versions of a song as an objective indicator that the passage is composition rather than arrangement. I've heard 2 covers of LARS (Dylan with The Band; and The Wailing Souls) and neither includes Kooper's brief repeated riff in the choruses. By contrast, Matthew Fisher's 8-bar solo is a distinctive and original melody [which appears nowhere in Bach, though influenced by Air on a G String and especially Sleepers Awake), that's at least as, and perhaps even more, recognizable than the vocal melody of the song. It's used as a stand-alone in many of the AWSoP ringtones to represent the entire song, and is included in every cover version of AWSoP I've ever heard, and I've heard all those by artists who are the least bit well known. It's not always played on the organ, but rather sung, and/or played on a variety of instruments ranging from orchestra to electric guitar to harmonica, i.e. Fisher's melody is part of the song's composition, not tied to any one instrument, and incorporated as an essential section of the many and varied arrangements of the cover versions of AWSoP. -- 2/16/07

mfnickster said...

"The synthesizer is to the hammond as vinyl siding is to clapboards, but I gotta call it like I see it."

A tonewheel organ IS a synthesizer; technically, an additive synth. It's just not a purely electronic one.