We are a species of adapters. We build on what we’ve learned before (we also forget about what we’ve learned before because we’ve got the retention skills of a black Labrador retriever chasing a stick in a field of grass, but that’s a blog for another time). The greatest inventions, the greatest works of art and specifically, the greatest music has come about from nicking, stealing, re-shaping and regurgitating what our forefathers have wrought.



This week a group of documentary film-makers, under the sobriquet of Good Morning To You Inc., are assembling the definitive history of the age old celebratory song “Happy Birthday” and Cakehave decided to file a class action lawsuit against Warner-Chappell Music – who claim to have owned the song which was copyrighted nearly 100 years ago and will not expire in the United States until 2030. Problem is, according to GMTY Inc., “Happy Birthday (To You)” is an adaptation of the song “Good Morning To All” by two sisters named Patty and Mildred Hall in 1892 who, in turn, had adapted it – it is argued – from earler works such as Horace Waters’ various iterations such as “Happy Greetings to All” (1858), “Good Night to You All” (1858), “A Happy New Year to All” (1875), and “A Happy Greeting to All” (1885).

coyrightIn 1912, an adapted counter-lyric was introduced into text books under the title “Happy Birthday To You” – many times shown next to the sisters’ original work. At the time neither “Good Morning To All” nor “Happy Birthday To You” was copyrighted. That changed in 1935 when The Summy Company registered the copyright for “Happy Birthday To You”, crediting authors Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman. The copyright was purchased for $25 million by Warner-Chappell in 1988. It’s estimated that the annual revenue generated for approved licenses to use the song is more than $2 million per annum. But the company has been enforcing copyright infringement with an iron-fist ever since. Wanna sing the song at a birthday party and post that on YouTube? Can’t. They’ll shut you down and insist you pay the licensing fee AND any money owing for the amount of revenue they claim has been lost since you put it on YouTube.

So the Good Morning To You Inc. lawsuit has begun in an effort to not only stop this strong-arming of wring pennies out of peasants but to prove that Warner Chappell doesn’t own the song and that “Happy Birthday To You”, by rule of the law, is an expired copyright anyway. We wish them luck. But until then might we suggest you sing the Beatles’ “Birthday”. At least the Fabs can sing their own song without fear of suing themselves.

This highlights the mutating and evolving fluidity of song. Led Zeppelin’s legal counsel has argued this in numerous cases brought against them for copyright theft on songs they adapted crossroadsfrom old blues standards. In the hallowed halls of musical camaraderie it was never an issue when songs were passed down to another musical generation the way campfire songs once were. But when Zeppelin stormed the world and turned themselves into a multi-million dollar corporation the old blues guys, or usually their estates, got a but uppity about being the short guys at the end of the dirt road who Zeppelin chose to stand on the shoulders of.

There’s an old adage in the music biz that goes “Have a hit…get a Writ”. It’s inevitable that a song that goes to #1 in the world will be target for songwriters claiming it was their idea first. One of the most famous was “I Want A New Drug” vs. “Ghostbusters”. Huey Lewis won the lawsuit. And here’s why:

Robin Thicke realized rather quickly that he’d stolen Marvin Gaye’s “Gotta Give It Up” as the basis for his “Blurred Lines” chart topper and pre-emptively sued the late singer’s estate just to stave off the impending copyright infringement suit that Gaye’s benefactors would ultimately launch against Thicke. It’s a circular conundrum and one that artists (and most often their greedy corporate overlords) will defend to the limit.

It’s a tightrope that was loosened in the 1990s when rap and hip hop artists began sampling existing recordings to inject into their own new tracks. It was a battle over intellectual property rights that wase was eventually standardized through licensing agreements that law abiding artists willingly accept in an effort to move their new adaptations forward. Audiences are still outraged that their favourite rock tracks have been nicked for the benefit of someone else. The original artists, however, have come to enjoy the new revenue streams – and occasional cross-over audiences. F’rinstance, Klaatu’s 1974 song “Doctor Marvello” was lifted by a very young 50 Cent and his crew G-Unit for the R-rated “Lay Your Ass Down” back in 2004.

Here’s the original by Klaatu

Here’s 50 Cent & G-Unit

50 Cent also re-recorded the track as a solo artist without the Klaatu sample so it would be interesting to see how the copyright worked out for that adaptation. As it stands, Klaatu was compensated fairly for the use of the original sample and everyone lived happily ever after.

As an ironic footnote, Klaatu’s “Doctor Marvello”, written by John Woloschuk and Dino Tome in the early 1970s bears a striking similarity to the pacing and melody of The Turtles hit “You Showed Me”. So, it appears everyone’s been adapting and, most likely, wearing their influences on their sleeves for eons.

Personally, I think that evolving music – which in western configurations has a very finite number of melodic combinations – needs some breathing space so that we might pass the DNA forward rather than restrict it in closed parameter boxes. It’s only a matter of time before someone puts every song ever written into one giant collage and all bets will be off. Oh, shit…

Michael Simmons (of sparkle*jets UK fame) has a great love for pop music which he teaches at the Huntington Beach Academy For The Performing Arts in California. For the past 10 years he has been educating his students in the ways of all things pop music and, specifically, Beatles.

From a body of 150 students, 32 seniors learned the entire Beatles 2nd album (a variation on ‘With the Beatles’). They had three rehearsals, where they ran each song twice. That’s it – playing them less than 10 times each.

He then took the entire class to England – each of the 43 participants (including some parents) paid their own way. After the long flights and layovers in London they took a coach to Liverpool from Manchester, dropped off the luggage, and walked to the Cavern Club. No one had slept in several days.  They stepped on stage and performed the record in its entirety, in sequence.

There’s an inexplicable presence of Telecasters on stage but we’ll forgive that ‘cause THIS is what a High School Musical is supposed to look like, folks. Stick it out to the end. There’s two Cavern classics included as closing numbers which the Beatles used to perform but never recorded for Parlophone featuring some of the senior members of the entourage. Inspired inclusions.

Once upon a time there was a cat named Nora who was owned by a piano teacher that loved to play along with the students. Nora became a viral social media sensation in 2008.

In 2013 someone hired an orchestra to give the cat an accompanying soundtrack. It’s the ultimate meta mash-up.

What if you could tour a city and hear a soundtrack inspired by the places you visit? In Toronto some clever folks have done just that. Want to go to Echo Beach? Or the Henry Moore sculpture at the AGO? Hear Martha & The Muffins and Murray McLaughlin entertain you with stories of both.

In just 37 minutes, Vine’s 15-year-old social media star, Pickering Ontario’s Shawn Mendes, hit  # 1 on iTunes after releasing his first EP over the weekend. Mendes asked his fans watching his live stream celebrating the release of his four songs to tweet “#shawntonumber1.” The hashtag then became Twitter’s top trending topic thanks to his 1.5 million followers. The young musician hit stardom after releasing a six-second video vine of him singing Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me.” He is the youngest person to reach number one on the Billboard Top25.



Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com orhttp://www.bullseyecanada.com

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