Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, Allen Klein, Phil Spector, Noah & The Whale, Cage The Elephant

Noah & The Whale? No.... Cage The Elephant? Yes....

The new Richard Ashcroft album "The United Nations of Sound" is fantastic. He's another one of those guys who's ultra-famous in the UK and still has trouble catching a cab in New York. In the UK, he is a god, but Americans still know him best as the dude bodychecking people in The Verve's video for "Bittersweet Symphony" AKA that song from the "Cruel Intentions" (Reese Witherspoon & Ryan Phillippe - you have seen this movie at least 5 times, if only by accident on TV) AKA that song Allen Klein's ABKCO sued for.

In a case that is still inexplicable to me, Allen Klein made more money on this song than composer Richard Ashcroft did. But that's only because Klein first stole The Rolling Stones' early publishing rights and claimed that a sample used in "Bittersweet Symphony" (the coda, which i count as 12 notes - Da da da Da da da, Da da da, Da da da...) from an orchestral version of The Stones' "The Last Time" violated Klein's and ABKCO's rights, forcing The Verve to pay up or shelve the album right as it was coming out. This despite the fact that no human being has been able to discern any resemblance whatsoever between "Bittersweet Symphony" and "The Last Time". 

Remember that Klein is an accountant and never wrote a song in his life. Yet he was able to insert himself into feuding camps at Chez Beatles and Stones at key periods, negotiate better contracts for both bands, while taking massive fees for himself, and ultimately getting publishing rights to many early beloved Stones songs just to go away. This was after he had stolen from Sam Cooke and Bobby Darin. "Beware of ABKCO...", as George Harrison sang on the demo of "Beware of Darkness", and he knew of what he sang. Although Klein represented Harrison as part of The Beatles, he purchased the rights to "He's So Fine", having heard that the former owners were considering legal action against Harrison for alleged similarities to "My Sweet Lord". Once he had the rights to "He's So Fine", Klein sued his own client Harrison and won. Do we see a pattern here?

The result in The Verve case was that Ashcroft, who actually wrote "Bittersweet Symphony", was stripped of composer credits, and the song was listed as having been written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, which is not true. As Ashcroft said, it was the best song The Stones had "written" in 20 years.

While Yoko-haters rail on her still for "breaking up The Beatles", Klein may have had more to do with it in the end, forcing Paul to formally and legally split from the other 3. Klein could be ruthless when he had to be. His motivation? Might have had something to do with growing up in the Newark Jewish Orphanage.

I ran into Klein several times in New York toward the end of his life, at Beatles' events and at the fascinating lawsuit unfolding in a Manhattan courthouse when I first moved to New York and attended daily - The Ronettes were suing producer Phil Spector and Klein for royalties due on their hits that had been used in many films and commercials, licensed by ABKCO but royalties were never paid the artists. 

The Ronettes were two sisters and their cousins were Black girls from New York who emulated the look of tough Spanish girls in their neighborhood in the late 50s and early 60s - beehive hair-dos and heavy mascara. They recorded classics like "Be My Baby" with Phil Spector, who became lead singer Ronnie Spector's husband and later captor (she landed up running away barefoot from his darkened L.A. mansion).

We gotta love Spector for his production of girl groups like The Ronettes, as well as The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles, John Lennon, George Harrison, etc., but his 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson forces us to consider his substantial legacy to be completely compromised by violence, mental illness, substance abuse, a history of bullying women, and a long list of artists he threatened with guns, including John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, and The Ramones.

In short, he is a nut case. And a murderer.

Spector's association with Klein proved fruitful, as they continued to license "oldies" they controlled the rights to for movies, commercials, compilations for songs which largely comprised the soundtrack to the youth of the Baby Boomers, a lucrative catalog indeed. 

The Ronettes royalties trial was the first time Spector had been seen by many for years, and the first time all three Ronettes had seen each other in ages. Darlene Love and Joey Ramone came to support Ronnie. Cameron Crowe came to support Phil at the trial, or at least to do research for a book he told me he was working on. During a break, Phil took the opportunity to introduce the (female) judge to his "good friend Cameron Crowe, the director of 'Jerry Maguire'...", to which the star-struck judge cooed, "ohhhhhhhhh..... i LOVED that movie...." This was done to try to convince the judge Spector was not the cruel misogynist freak that the testimony indicated. Klein attended court daily to support his partner Spector. He wore the same wrinkled white suit daily, despite the millions he had stolen from artists. We joked we were going to take up a collection for him to get a new suit. Spector on the stand claimed that, "John Lennon was my best friend and I think about him everyday", as the entire story of his career unfolded in the testimony, including the gratuitous "Fuck You!" he added to each alimony check he sent Ronnie. He tried to get her to give up her artist rights in their divorce settlement, and thought he had, thus justifying not sending her any royalties. Ronnie maintained that she did not give up her performer's rights when she divorced Phil, and in any case, was not in a position to give up the rights of her sister and cousin. Because the troubled cousin had turned to Christianity, Spector was convinced this was another ploy by Pat Robertson and the religious right to silence him, a prominent radical and artist. Yeah, right. And Lana Clarkson killed herself, too....

Well, in the end, Darlene Love and The Ronettes were able to recover their rights and royalties, Klein died, and Spector is sitting in jail for life. Ronnie's doing better than ever. So who's to say there is no such thing as Justice, Karma, and so on?

In the end, The Verve may have been Klein's last grand theft. 

It's been a mixed blessing for Ashcroft. A big hassle legally, of course, but the song has become a classic.

And his new album is really great. So score one for the good guys!

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