And I’ll send it along

Buckle up: this is going to be a tricky little ride.

In 1981, the Dutch operation known as Stars on 45 issued a medley of Beatles soundalikes which took up an entire LP side. The US version ran a startling 15:33, which turned out to have been edited down from the 15:48 European release. The reason had to do with clearance from music publishers, or lack thereof.

When John Lennon and Paul McCartney set up shop as songwriters, demand was pretty slack — until, of course, it wasn’t. They’d placed eight songs, two of them (“Love Me Do,” “P. S. I Love You”, making up their first Parlophone single) with EMI’s publishing unit, six which Brian Epstein shopped around to the highest bidder. Enter British publisher Dick James, who suggested, sensibly enough, that the band should own its own publishing, or at least a percentage thereof; Northern Songs would be owned 50 percent by James and his partner, 20 percent by Lennon, 20 percent by McCartney, and 10 percent by Epstein. The company went public after two years.

After Epstein’s death, things got complicated: Lord (then Sir Lew) Grade’s ATV acquired a majority of the shares, including the Dick James holdings, and, unable to wrest control of the company themselves, Lennon and McCartney sold out. In the early 80s, after Lennon’s death, McCartney and Yoko Ono tried to buy out ATV, but couldn’t close the deal; McCartney busied himself by acquiring other music copyrights, and happened to mention to Michael Jackson that he’d earned a ton of money by so doing. ATV Music was put up for sale in 1984, and neither McCartney nor Ono put up a bid, reportedly because the price was too high. It wasn’t, however, too high for the King of Pop, who closed the deal for $47.5 million.

When all was said and done, the Northern Songs catalog — Northern Songs itself was dissolved in 1995 — was owned half by Sony and half by the Jackson estate. As for the eight Beatles tracks outside Northern Songs, McCartney now owns “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You,” and rights to the six others — “Misery,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “There’s a Place,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “She Loves You” and “From Me to You” — were acquired last year by Adage Group and Round Hill Music from New York-based Gil Music Corp. And it was “From Me to You” that had been stricken from the American Stars on 45 release for lack of clearance.

Interestingly, one of the principals in Round Hill is Richard Rowe, who had negotiated the merger of ATV with Sony, who had been president of the Sony/ATV combine — and whose father, the late Dick Rowe, was the A&R guy who supposedly turned down the opportunity to sign the Beatles in 1962, ostensibly because groups with guitars were on the way out.

This is what happens when you start digging into a stash of foreign tracks. Please note that publishers and songwriters both collect royalties when a recording or transcription of a song is sold; in the States, should you record a cover of “From Me to You,” you pay 9.1 cents a copy to Round Hill/Adage, which then sends about 4.55 cents to McCartney and Ono, who split it down the middle. Now the only cover of “From Me to You” with which I’m familiar is Del Shannon’s on Big Top, of which I actually have a copy, which did better on the US charts than did the Beatles’ original on VeeJay. And Bug Music, the little publishing firm founded in 1975 to control Shannon’s catalog, eventually grew to one of the largest independent publishers before being sold to BMG — and eventual administration by Adage. Everything that goes around seems to come around.







4 comments

  1. Mel »

    28 November 2013 · 8:43 pm

    Lost me at “tricky”. Mailing it in I am.

  2. roger green »

    29 November 2013 · 6:37 am

    I own a much shorter version of a Beatles medley single, will have to dig it out. The story of MJ at the time was that Paul and Yoko were willing to spend 45MM, and Jackson’s bid was helped by Macca telling his friend the amount.

  3. McGehee »

    29 November 2013 · 7:50 am

    I think I remember the single Roger’s talking about, having heard it on the radio at the time. There were at least a couple of Beatles tunes I’d never heard of cover/sampled on it, such as “Baby You Can Drive My Car.”

    Decades later I was surprised to discover that a song covered by a band some friends belonged to, had been a Beatles song: “The One After 909,” as the cover was titled on their demo CD, though ISTR finding that the Beatles version was simply “909.”

  4. CGHill »

    29 November 2013 · 11:35 am

    By all accounts, Jackson and his staff did due diligence on the matter, even apart from McCartney’s having made noises about pricing; if I remember correctly, Jackson actually wound up with the second-highest bid, but was better prepared to close the deal quickly.

    The label of Let It Be gives the title as “One After 909.”

    Addendum: Yep. A group headed by Charles Koppelman, later head of EMI’s publishing operation, put in a bid of $50 million, but Jackson was ready to move and Koppelman’s group was not.

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