I was really amused a couple of weeks ago to see Bob Dylan get a writing credit on It’s All Over Now, The Rolling Stones first number one.
I’d always known it as a Bobby Womack song. I’d also always assumed that Shirley Womack, who co-wrote it, was his wife. In fact, she was Bobby’s sister-in-law.
And that’s the trouble with assumptions.
Big rule of journalism: assume makes an ass out of u and me.
Which begs the question: how big can an ass possibly be, since at least 50% of the internet seems to be built on assumptions?
It has to be nearly 10 years since I had my introduction to the internet version of ‘I search, therefore I am’. My son, Remi, 14 or 15 at the time, insisted on playing me this ‘brilliant Eric Clapton track’.
He searched it, brought it up and played it. Eric Clapton my arse.
“That’s Classical Gas by Mason Williams,” I said.
“No. It’s Eric Clapton,” he said. “Look, it says so here.”
“Yes, I can see it says it is, but it’s not. When did you ever hear Eric Clapton play like that?”
“Well, that’s the point. It’s so different.”
“Yes. It’s different because it’s not Eric Clapton. It’s Mason Williams.”
Which got me looking ‘under the hood’ as they say and I was shocked at what I found. iTunes meta info rarely includes a songwriter credit. When it does, it’s frequently wrong. Elsewhere on the internet these mistakes are legion, and will probably never be corrected.
I once found You’re My World – Cilla’s number one, famously adapted from an Italian original – attributed to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. This was on a big compilation cd, so of course, the information found its way onto iTunes.
Even funnier, they apparently also wrote Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. The giveaway there is, Cole Porter. He wrote the song in 1934 when Burt Bacharach was six years old. Burt didn’t meet Hal until 1957.
Now you might think, “Does this really matter?”
To which I might reply, “Yes, it fucking matters!”
On reflection: yes, that is how I would reply.
Imagine you’re Harlan Howard, a relatively obscure country music writer and performer. You write a song called Busted. It’s picked up by Ray Charles, who has a massive top 10 hit with it. That’s your pension, right there.
Now imagine you’re Harlan Howard, and years later, you find that some lazy, feckless, ignorant, highly paid jackass has credited your song to Ray Charles as writer – forever to remain so on databases and download sites worldwide. Well, you’d be a little cheesed off, no?
Mind you, it’s a wonder Harlan didn’t get a writing credit on It’s All Over Now, along with Bobby and Shirley Womack and Bob Dylan.
Because the way Bob Dylan got a co-write credit on that song was that he did, in fact, write a song called It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. And that’s what another feckless jackass had in mind when he put Bobby Dylan’s name alongside Bobby Womack’s. It was in his mind, so he made an assumption.
But, of course, he didn’t know that Harlan Howard had also written a song called It’s All Over. Poor Harlan doesn’t get a look in. Not on his own song; nor on one he didn’t write.
This is how the record industry lets itself down. No attention to detail.
Some years back Virgin released an album called John Lennon’s Jukebox. John used to have a portable jukebox on which he carried 40 singles that had had some influence on him.
At least four of the songs on the album were credited to John Lennon as writer. How lazy do you have to be? You’re working on a project about the influence these songs had on someone. And then you credit that person with writing the songs that influenced him.
Two of these were classic Lovin’ Spoonful – Daydream and Do You Believe In Magic, written by John Sebastian. How come you’re filling in a database that determines where the money goes, and you don’t even know that John Sebastian wrote Daydream? Or at least, that John Lennon didn’t write it?
I write as a victim of the same kind of laziness, but from a different angle.
There are two versions of Car 67, the UK hit and the American version.
On Radio 2’s Pick Of The Pops a few years ago, in the chart rundown for the week when I was in the top 10, they played the American version. The following week’s Feedback on Radio 4 devoted seven minutes to this catastrophic event. (I thought it was quite funny. But I also thought ‘Get a sense of perspective!’)
The next week – that’s right, two weeks after the original broadcast – Feedback devoted another eight minutes. So across just under an hour of broadcast time on the most important consumer show on radio, I had been given 15 minutes of time for outraged fans to vent their spleen.
Some while later, I was given a private glimpse at the database the BBC uses for its music radio. And there it still was, Car 67 (US version). And there it still is eight years later.
All anyone has to do is listen to the competing versions, and delete the wrong ones. But that would require a revolution of attention to detail and pro-action that seems beyond the wit of the lazy jackasses we trust with our precious work.
Net result for me? The record rarely gets played any more because no-one trusts to get the version right. That’s a couple of curries a year I can no longer afford.
When I talked to Phil Swern, producer of Pick Of The Pops, he was more outraged at the level of complaint he had received than embarrassed by the mistake.
“I could have understood it if it had been a Cliff Richard record,” he said. To me. On the phone. “But Driver 67?”
I’m on the phone, Phil. You’re talking to me. I am that Driver….
Anyway, it’s not Phil’s fault. A man more dedicated to exposing the obscure and forgotten would be hard to find. He’s made a 30-year career out of it.
But next time you hear some solid gold artist complaining about royalties and copyright and piracy and streaming, try not to get all up in his face and “Oh you greedy bastard, haven’t you had enough money yet”.
Because what’s happening to the solid gold greedy bastard is also happening to me and Harlan Howard. And, really, aren’t we allowed just a couple of curries a year out of our meagre contributions to popular music?
Meanwhile, for a quick giggle, have a look bottom, centre for the writing credit on this.
And if you want to hear Eric Clapton playing Classical Gas, well, you never will. But you’d never know.
My memory is failing me at the moment, but I’m sure material has ended up in the iTunes store attributed to completely the wrong artists as well. I’m sure I saw a Wikipedia entry for a band making reference to this: “Many people assume this song is by X as it was labelled as such on a compilation in the iTunes store for one year, but in fact it’s not…” Once something like that is on thousands of people’s iPhones, and copied on to compilations for their friends, it’s easy to see how it would spiral out of control.
I get almost as infuriated by these mistakes as you do, but I think there’s a reason why they’re becoming more common – record labels are simply not employing as many administrators and archivists to do the necessary work. I’ve heard rumours of total chaos in this respect at one major company, but of course, inaccuracies and lack of attention to historical detail aren’t usually the cause of million-dollar losses. Something like that would harm the reputation of a small specialist re-issues label, but we’ve come to expect no better from Universal, Warners, etc.
Years ago, 2002 to be precise, I downloaded Car 67 on audio galaxy, a file sharing program. As much as you and Pete hate this (as pointed out on “goodbye you stupid turkeys”) it was the only way to ‘re kindle’ my love for the song after my copy got destroyed in a malfunctioned Bush Discassette. After downloading countless versions in different descriptions and bitrates, I finally gave in and paid £ 8.99 for a delivered 7″ logo stamped single, which I then burned onto cd using some high end equipment. (Not stuipid cassettes!)
I agree with how you feel about false information on the internet.
I own a DeLorean, and the amount of bad press on the internet about them is nobody’s business. I followed my childhood dream, with help from the Driver of course, so it’s good advice you are giving here today….
Do not trust the internet!
When I was working in music licensing in the 1980s, I licensed in several tracks from the 1960s, for a ’60s (what else) compilation. There were some big hits there, Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds, Almost There by Andy Williams, San Francisco by Scott McKenzie amongst other Top Ten smashes. When I checked the label copy the major record company who owned the recordings had sent me for the tracks I noticed they were all incorrect. Almost There had ‘P 1978’ against it, Mr Tambourine Man had ‘P 1984’, San Francisco had P 1974 etc. I rang my licensing contact at the record label and pointed the incorrect P dates out to him. He waited till I’d finished listing them all and then said, “Yes. What’s the problem?” I told him the problem was that they were wrong. ‘Almost There’ for example, was a hit in 1965, not 1978, Mr Tambourine Man was a hit in 1965, not 1984, San Francisco was a hit in 1967, not 1974, and so on. “The P dates don’t apply to when the record was released,” my contact explained, “they are the dates when the track was last used on one of our compilations.” When I explained back that the P dates should apply to when the recording was first released, and in fact, if the P dates for 1960s recordings read as 1978, 1984 and 1974, etc, how would anyone who bought the album I was using these tracks on know they were not re-records? The company I worked for made a point of only using the original hit versions on our compilations. We prided ourselves on this. The incorrect P dates in fact made a mockery of the album’s title, ‘Great Hits of The ’60s.’ My CBS contact sighed heavily, and said, “Well, that’s what the correct P dates are for our owned recordings, John, and that’s how they should read on your label copy.” I bid him farewell, changed all the P dates on his label copy to their correct years and sent it down to our copyright department. When the album was released and this particular licensor was sent its contractual three copies, featuring the correct P dates against all the tracks, no-one said a thing. No-one noticed. No-one gave a damn. Another time, I was licensing tracks from another major label for a Great Hit Love Songs of The ’70s compilation. When the tapes arrived I listened to them to make sure there were no glitches and the quality was good. Sound quality was fine. But I was horrified to hear a live version of one of the songs, not the original studio version, and an alternative later version of another of the tracks, a complete reworking of one of the original uptempo hits into a smoochy ballad version. Again, I rang to point out this error to my contact at the label and was met with silence followed by a loud sigh. “They’re the only versions we have in our library,” he patiently told me. I wasn’t offered anything other than a “get over it” type answer. These non-hit versions of hit songs didn’t make it onto my compilation, meaning those two artists missed out on potentially useful royalties which might have paid a couple of electricity bills at the very least. But, no-one at the licensing label noticed. No-one gave a damn. And that’s thing, Paul. This is not a new problem, my experience I’ve described goes back almost thirty years. but we, you and I and people of our age group, are the last generation of music lovers who care. My contacts at the major record labels were usually ten to fifteen years younger than me, and that’s where the rot started. And every age group thereafter continued similarly unconcerned about accuracy, failed to give a damn when information was wrong, and did nothing to put a mistake right. Are we pedants? Are we grumpy old men? No, we just care and approach tasks with care and attention. It’s not clever to do that, it’s just, well, right. Right?
Commiserations, Paul, about the attribution foul-up on your record. One wonders about just how much money has gone to the wrong people because of blunders like this which increase as time goes by.
You do ole Harlan Howard a slight injustice by describing him as “relatively obscure”. A guy who wrote Heartaches By The Number (a hit for both Guy Mitchell and Ray Price), I Fall To Pieces by Patsy Cline and Why Not Me by the Judds as well as Busted by Ray Charles and hundreds of successful country-flavoured songs, some in collaboration with stars such as Buck Owens, was never obscure in the States. I had the pleasure of knowing (socially, not biblically) his eventual wife-to-be Melanie Smith in London and Nashville and it was she who found him after he suffered a heart attack while watching sport on TV on March 2, 2002, “with a smile on his face”. It was Harlan who to my mind best pinpointed country music.by saying it consisted of “three chords and the truth”.
I share your despair and that of your three respondents above about the slipshod standards prevalent today. Sub-editors as we knew them are apparently now an extinct breed. The press and the Net are littered daily with typos, literals and errors of fact and even a magazine like Radio Times with all its resources is equally guilty.
I’ll never forget my first Disc press night at the printers when I had proofed the first four pages and the late lovely Laurie Henshaw asked me to take them along to the readers’ room for a double check. Asked where this room was, Laurie replied: “It’s the third door on the left down the corridor. You’ll find two old guys with white sticks and guide dogs.”
I was being a bit provocative about Harlan, Nigel, because you have to know your country music to know Harlan Howard. I didn’t want to spoil my flow by getting into detail about what a stalwart he was. To my shame, I’d never heard of him until about 30 years ago when I fell in love with Nanci Griffith, for whom Harlan was a big inspiration.
By the way, I’ve had conversations at the highest levels in the record and publishing industry, not to mention the BBC. Nobody cares.
I tried to find funding about eight years ago to put it all right. I can think of 100 ways a database like that would earn its investment back. I had the endorsement of a very significant BBC presenter. But it “wasn’t exciting enough” for investors.
I would have thought this should very much be on the PRS’s agenda.
What a shame your idea for an accurate database never got off the ground, Paul. Accuracy of attribution should be the guiding principle of the PRS, but people I know in music publishing who have regular dealings with it tell me it’s no longer what it was or should be. The experienced staff who took pride in getting things right have all gone and been replaced by school leavers and work experience wallahs who don’t know and – even worse – don’t seem to care.