/> BEFORE GAYE VS. THICKE, THERE WAS FANTASY VS. FOGERTY | Ear To The Track

BEFORE GAYE VS. THICKE, THERE WAS FANTASY VS. FOGERTY

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John Fogerty performing in 1970

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Fogerty doing an imitation of himself in 1984

From 1968 to 1971, John Fogerty took Creedence Clearwater Revival to the top of the Rock’N’Roll world scoring ten consecutive top-5 hits, many of which featured B-sides tracks that also charted.  All but one of those hits (Suzy Q was a cover) were written and arranged by Fogerty who also held down lead vocals and guitar.  As CCR’s popularity grew, John Fogerty’s prominence became a divisive issue within the group and the other members (Stu Cook, Doug Clifford and Tom Fogerty-John’s older brother) argued for greater influence in the band’s future direction.  So cantankerous was the situation that Creedence eventually split at the height of their fame and never worked together again. Usually, band breakups are ugly but this one became particularly acrimonious when Cook and Clifford (Tom Fogerty died in 1990) sided with the group’s former label ‘Fantasy Records’ when the company took John Fogerty to court for copyright infringement in 1993.  Extraordinarily, the Fantasy lawsuit actually claimed that John Fogerty’s 1985 solo single ‘Old Man Down the Road’ was a Creedence rip-off which essentially meant that Fogerty had, according to Fantasy, plagiarized himself.  It was as if a teacher accused their student of cheating off his own paper…

 

in April of 1970, ‘Run Through the Jungle’ was single number eight in CCR’s magical chart run and right up until today, the track remains a staple of Classic Rock radio playlists.  ‘Jungle’ features the signature swampy guitar picking of John Fogerty pulsating behind fearful and ominous lyrics about coming jungledangers, a perfect vibe for Vietnam War montages.  15 years after the initial success of ‘Run Through the Jungle’, Warner Bros released John Fogerty’s ‘Old Man Down the Road’ and the song found a wide audience, returning Fogerty to the top-ten in America for the first time since his Creedence days.  ‘Old Man Down the Road’ was unarguably reminiscent of ‘Run Through the Jungle’ in atmospheric feel, musical style and lyrical conceptualization, but was it an illegal copy?  Both tracks employed bluesy guitar lines soaked in dirty reverb while grooving in a similar rhythm and tempo.  The ‘Jungle’ lyrics spoke of running from a “Devil on the loose” while the ‘Old Man’ warned the listener to hide from a villain with eyes as “Black as coal”.  ‘Jungle’ described “Two-hundred million guns” that would “Fill the land with smoke” while the ‘Old Man’ took “Thunder from the mountain” and “Lightning from the sky”.  So whileThe_Old_Man_Down_the_Road_cover the songs were certainly comparable, was it fair to say that John Fogerty had purposely and unlawfully imitated his own composition?  Fogerty’s fellow citizens would have to decide.

When the first day of trial arrived in December of 1993, the prosecution was determined to prove that no songwriter had a right to closely imitate their own published work and the attitude in the courthouse was, in Fogerty’s opinion, “Mean-spirited”.  Lawyers from Fantasy Records employed a special computer to, in theory, demonstrate for the jury that ‘Old Man Down the Road’ was a copy of ‘Run Through the Jungle’.  Before trial, the computer’s operator had programmed rudimentary digital audio versions of both songs to play for the court and the result was a simple, high-pitched beeping melody which compared the tunes for his honor and the assembly to hear.  When the defense presented their side, John Fogerty himself took the stand with a guitar and amplifier which he employed to perform both compositions, carefully pointing out the differences while kindly giving the ladies and gentlemen of the jury a free show which I can only imagine helped endear him to those who’d decide his fate.  Fogerty confessed that ‘Jungle’ and ‘Old Man’ had “Similar personalities” which, in his mind, made perfect sense considering that both songs were written by the same author.  Eventually, the Rock legend’s concert-like testimony with a band consisting of Fogerty’s Gibson Les Paul and the judge’s gavel led to a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict which, for Fogerty, was a great relief considering that if the prosecution had won the case, Fantasy would’ve been awarded full ownership of ‘Old Man Down the Road’ leaving the original writer with absolutely no claim to his own song.  Also, if the court had found for Fantasy, the other members of Creedence were to have been given a slice of ‘Old Man’ and the mere thought of that scenario was so embittering to John Fogerty that he never spoke with any of them again.

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The judge stated, “Mr. Thicke and Mr. Williams, you’ve got to give it up.”

Recently, attorneys for the family of Marvin Gaye proved, to one group of people, that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ ‘Blurred Lines’ shared far too many “Personality similarities” with the 1977 Gaye hit ‘Got to Give it Up’ despite massive structural and lyrical differences in the two compositions.  Apparently, the jury believed that ‘Blurred Line’s’ creators intentionally stole the attitude and feeling of Gaye’s song which made them liable for infringement, most people in the music business were shocked and dismayed by the verdict.  If the decision holds up, it would, seemingly, put songwriters on a very short creative leash and leave copyright holders vulnerable to the whims of any litigator who can convince 12 novices that compositional commonalities are indeed thievery.  History has shown us that a persuasive and hungry lawyer with an opportunity to craft cleverly worded arguments in front of a jury who may or may not understand the law can produce unpredictable outcomes so those of us who write songs which have been inspired by other songs may be wise to cover our tracks.  In my opinion, the ruling was totally incorrect and I truly believe that the case will eventually be overturned on appeal but I can’t help but feel that Thicke and Pharrell could have avoided this entire mess if they would have slipped into those cute, shiny suits and whipped up a little courthouse concert for their jury.

 

                                                                                                          

 

Posted on by andycooper in CLASSIC POP, STORY BEHIND THE SONG

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