There are artists who write melodies for songs, artists who write lyrics and artists who perform. Rare are those who write and perform their own songs. Leiber and Stoller never sang a note, at least not well.
Doc Pomus and Mort Shulman did not perform their songs but that did not stop Pomus from shuffling on stage with his crutches, grabbing a microphone and trying. The Brill Building in New York City contained songwriters, lyricists and artists but only Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond and Carole King were creative enough to step into the limelight and perform their own songs.
Many of the vocalists in the 1950’s and early 60’s wrote songs so they did not have to pay someone else for the rights to their song of choice. Others knew what style of music their voice range and talents could perform and felt compelled to prepare something they were vocally comfortable with. Still others had that song in their head, like Gary Troxel of the Fleetwoods, who could not stop until the melody was on paper or recorded as was the case in “Come Softly to Me.”
Life’s circumstances can motivate someone with a musical talent to document their feelings or just burst out in song. Bobby Vinton was serving his country in the U.S. Army when he penned “Mr. Lonely,” as was Buddy Knox (“Party Doll”). Other artists would record their song and find it covered by someone else who would produce the big hit. The song “Little Darlin” was written by Maurice Williams who recorded it with his group the Gladiolas in the back of a record shop. The song was released and picked up by a Canadian group, The Diamonds, who eclipsed the small record label distribution limitation and propelled “Little Darlin” to the top of the charts.
Paul Anka wrote over 500 songs, many of which he recorded and performed in personal appearances. It would be Frank Sinatra who would ‘borrow’ his work and make “My Way” a classic standard. He also turned out songs for such notables as Buddy Holly, Connie Francis, and Michael Jackson.
For over fifty years, Neil Sedaka has written, performed and produced a number of songs that he sang, and provided to other talent to sing. “Where the Boys Are,” was a hit for Connie Francis but “Oh, Carol,” “Calendar Girl,” “Breaking Up is Hard to Do,” “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and Solitaire, ” are all his words, lyrics, music and voice.
The writing of songs and the proper legal procedures to follow to ensure the artist is credited for its creation is a complicated and many times convoluted process. Lyricists must copyright their creation but can also be the musical arranger or composer. Each component of a song must recognize the creator. Lyricists, composers, arrangers, managers and publishers all are a part of this process of musical production that must be translated into a studio environment with instrumentation, engineering and an overall production effort to include distribution. It requires a collaborative effort where each individual entity plays a role. All participants must ensure they have documented their role for the potential remuneration that may follow.
Sadly, there were artists at every level, from song writing, performing, to publishing that were taken advantage of and never saw the financial reward for their efforts. Conversely, there were artists that followed the appropriate protocol and legally protected their rights to their creations. Even today, artists benefit from making one of the many memorable songs of the 50’s into a continual flow of financial reward. Many books and professional journal or newspaper articles have been written of those who were taken advantage of. Efforts have been made by people such as T. J. Labinsky, Jon Bauman (Sha Na Na), Rob and Laura Albanese of LAR Enterprises and Brian Beirne of Legendary Shows, to compensate many for their loss of earnings. It is not our intent to dwell on this ugly part of the industry of music, merely to point it out as a part of the history.
Since 1914 the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has protected and enforced copyright laws and the collection of royalties from its members. Artists who understood the business side of the music industry registered their songs and recordings, as ASCAP would battle with radio stations over fees to be paid for playing the recorded music. Not to be outdone, the broadcast industry started its own licensing organization, Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). The influence of listeners and the public was now captured by BMI efforts to take on all performers and writers, including rhythm and blues and country music as opposed to ASCAP’s domination of the New York artists. Covering from Brooklyn to Beverly Hills, BMI treated live and recorded performances equally and used national sampling to track performances and popularity (Altschuler, 2003).
Many artists who wrote and sang their own music benefitted if they understood the parameters of the legal requirements. Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, Lou Christie, Bobby Vinton and Little Richard, for instance, all benefitted regardless of who performed their music, and still do today. Others, such as Clyde McPhatter, Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Rick Nelson, Sam Cooke and Brook Benton all ensured their estates continue to receive payment for sales and air play on a compensatory basis. Still, others have sold their rights to their songs and music of their own volition.
Whether by manipulation, marketing or just basically understanding that music was changing in the 1950’s, the industry was finding it more complicated. Congress, to include then Senators John Kennedy and Barry Goldwater would team up to proclaim that “the airways of this country have been flooded with bad music since BMI was formed.” Classical and traditional music was under attack because the public’s taste had been ‘artificially stimulated’ by the conspiracy of radio station owners. The complications would continue unabated, even today.
Making Your Memories is a commentary on the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s. “Joe D” is an on-air talent for Los Angeles and Orange County based KSBR FM 88.5 HD-2 and is host of “MAKING YOUR MEMORIES” Sunday nights at 10PM. He is also author of “Making Your Memories with Rock & Roll and Doo Wop - -The Music and Artists of the 1950’s and early 60’s.” website: www.making-your-memories.com