The birds and bees are doing fine

Another example of how songwriting credits do not necessarily coincide with actual songwriters:

Over the years, “Money” has generated millions of dollars in publishing royalties. It was recorded by both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, has been widely used in films and advertisements and is now featured in Motown: The Musical on Broadway. But the pianist and singer Barrett Strong, who first recorded “Money” and, according to records at the United States Copyright Office in Washington, was originally listed as a writer of the song, says that he has never seen a penny of those profits.

Unbeknown to Mr. Strong, who also helped write many other Motown hits, his name was removed from the copyright registration for “Money” three years after the song was written, restored in 1987 when the copyright was renewed, then removed again the next year — his name literally crossed out.

Documents at the copyright office show that all of these moves came at the direction of Motown executives, who dispute Mr. Strong’s claim of authorship. Berry Gordy Jr., Motown’s founder, declined requests for an interview, but his lawyers contend that the original registration resulted from a clerical error, and that Mr. Strong passed up numerous opportunities to assert his claim.

I checked my own copy — not an Anna 1111 or Tamla 54027 original, but a reissue — and the songwriters are indeed listed as Berry Gordy Jr., Motown founder, and Janie Bradford, then the Motown receptionist. (Bradford did establish herself as a songwriter; for instance, her name’s on “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” a Marvin Gaye classic written with Norman Whitfield and, um, Barrett Strong.)

Matthew Fisher’s similar case in re “A Whiter Shade of Pale” should probably not be viewed as a precedent.

Comments are closed.