We’ve more than once voiced our admiration for the bloggers over at Abnormal Use. They’re smart and funny. They know a lot about the law. They may even know more about comic books. And they know a lot about popular music. How do we know this? Because every time we whisper a word about popular music in one of our posts we receive a prompt corrective from those guys — usually Jim Dedman. In side conversations with Jim, we’ve learned of his deep affection for rock music. Sometimes his taste seems right on, sometimes it’s appalling (DEVO? Really?!), but it’s always impressive in some way.
Recently, we were chatting with Jim about law-related songs, and agreed that we would simultaneously each put up a post (here’s theirs) discussing our favorite law songs. Whether we produce harmony or cacophony is for you to decide.
There are already several websites that cover similar ground, though none really does the subject justice. It turns out that there are a lot of songs about the law, both famous and obscure. Here are some examples of the latter:
“Better Get a Lawyer” – Cruel Sea
“Philadelphia Lawyer” – Woody Guthrie
“Me and You (I’m Like a Lawyer With The Way I’m Always Trying To Get You Off)” – Fall Out Boy
“Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of This Song” – Fall Out Boy
“Annie the Imaginary Lawyer” – The World/Inferno Friendship Society
“Why A Lawyer” – Steve Hefter And Friends Of Friends
“Courthouse” – NAS
“Beautiful Lawyers” – The Zincs
“Lady Lawyers” – Oxford Collapse
“We Love Our Lawyers” – Cibo Matto
“Lovers Need Lawyers” – The Good Life
There are rock groups named after lawyers, including The Lawyer Beaters (Ouch!) and another called Lawyer Coldun (we think, anyway). Jim pointed out to us that there’s a band located in our Philly backyard called The Lawsuits.
Many of the most famous law songs involve criminal law:
“I Fought the Law” – Bobby Fuller 4 (also The Crickets; also also The Clash)
“Bad Boys” (theme from COPS) – Inner Circle
“Jailhouse Rock” – Elvis Presley
“Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
“Hurricane” – Bob Dylan
“I Shot the Sheriff” – Bob Marley (also Eric Clapton)
“Dream Police” – Cheap Trick
“Truckin’” (“if you’ve got a warrant/I guess you’re gonna come in”) – Grateful Dead
“Chicago” (“So your brother’s bound and gagged, and they’ve chained him to a chair” -referring to the Chicago 8 trial) – Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Sometimes a criminal defendant really loses badly. “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” sung by Vicki Lawrence, is about an execution of someone who was innocent. So is “Hallowed Be Thy Name” by Iron Maiden, except that guy probably wasn’t innocent.
Other areas of the law also figure. Matrimonial law, for one. Divorce-related songs are all over the place, and you’ll find a few in Dedman‘s post at Abnormal Use. We still remember Led Zepplin railing about “alimony” in “Living, Loving Maid.” Contract law, however, usually (but not always, see below) doesn’t go beyond the band writing about signing their first contract with a recording company. See “Rosalita” by Bruce Springsteen, and “Rock and Roll Band” by Boston (boy did those dudes end up regretting it). Heck even landlord-tenant law gets whacked a bit in “Landlord” by The Police.
Since this is the Drug and Device Law blog, you’d think we’d be especially interested in songs about product liability or drugs. We would if there were any, but shockingly there just haven’t been many catchy tunes about preemption or learned intermediaries. With a little bit of a stretch, one can call “Mercury Poisoning” by Graham Parker at leas a product liability song, but they sure weren’t singing about Thimerosal. Ditto with “Kepone Factory” by The Dead Kennedys. As for songs about drugs generally, well, the list of rock songs NOT about drugs might be shorter. (“Muskrat Love,” “Don’t Pull Your Love,” anything by Donnie and Marie…. and we’re done.) The Capitol Steps did a wicked satire of direct to consumer advertising with “Ten Pills and You’re Fine” (sung to “Windmills of My Mind“), but that wasn’t really rock. Here are a few of the better songs concerning, ahem, medicine:
“Mother’s Little Helper” – Rolling Stones (at least it’s about legal drugs)
“Sister Morphine” – Rolling Stones (also legal, but somewhat less so)
“Valium Skies” – The Verve (that’s legal, too)
“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – Billy Joel (at least it mentions vaccines, Thalidomide, and birth control pills – all of which have been the subject of litigation)
“Love is the Drug” – Roxy Music (hard to tell)
“Sweet Leaf” – Black Sabbath (definitely not legal, but probably the best illegal drug song ever)
“Transmaniacon MC” – Blue Oyster Cult (monocaine? Jeez, they were getting desperate)
“The Pusher Man” – Steppenwolf (couldn’t play that one on the radio)
“Snowblind Friend” – Steppenwolf (“one-way ticket on an airline made of snow”)
“Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” – Steppenwolf (complete with a bust at the end – let’s face it, we could have an all-Steppenwolf wing at the Drug Rock Song Museum.)
We’re not including “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” because John Lennon denied it had anything to do with LSD, and we cannot imagine Lennon lying about anything.
Songs have been the subject of many legal proceedings (actual or threatened). Several involve allegations of plagiarism:
George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was found to have been cribbed from “He’s So Fine“, a Chiffons tune. Harrison later wrote “This Song” as a commentary on the case. Frankly, we never thought “My Sweet Lord” was theft. Certainly not as much as the end of The Doors’ “Touch Me,” which sounds exactly like the Ajax television commercial from the 1960’s (“Stronger. Than. Dirt.”).
Vanilla Ice (“Ice Ice Baby“) got in trouble with Bowie and Queen (“Under Pressure“). The Isley Brothers sued Michel Bolton for “Love is a Wonderful Thing.” Bolton didn’t even bother to change the title. Dolly Parton was sued for pilfering “Nine to Five.” She won. Rod Stewart”s “Forever Young” owes more than inspiration to Dylan’s song of the same name. In fact, Stewart ended up owing royalties to Dylan. Also, a Brazilian musician claimed that Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy” stole from his tune. Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” uses Rachmaninoff. Carmen thought the piece was in the public domain. It wasn’t. The Rolling Stones weren’t pleased when Lil Wayne sampled “Play with Fire.” Coldplay’s recent hit, “Viva la Vida” has been accused by a couple of other musicians, including guitar god Joe Satriani, of being unduly derivative. Huey Lewis thought Ray Parker’s “Ghostbusters Theme” sounded a little too much like “I Need a New Drug” (which a friend of ours was convinced really was saying “I Need a New Truck.”). It’s hard at times to tell apart Sweet Home Alabama, Werewolves of London, and All Summer Long, but at least Kid Rock was explicit in sampling Lynard Skynard. EMI took action to halt distribution of The Grey Album, Danger Mouse’s brilliant mash-up of The Beatles’ White Album and Jay Z’s Black Album. For a more recent, but apparently thoroughly legal, example of mash-up/sampling, check out Girl Talk’s Illegal Acts website.
Our all time favorite plagiarism lawsuit involves John Fogerty, former head guy on Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Green River,” “Fortunate Son,” “Bathroom on the Right.”). Fogerty left the group, and resented that his former manager, a guy named Zaentz, had acquired rights to Fogerty’s prior compositions. On his Centerfield album, Fogerty included a song called “Zanz Kant Danz.” Zaentz didn’t like that. He sued for defamation. (Since when is inability to dance defamatory? Didn’t Norman Mailer point out that tough guys don’t dance?) It got changed to “Vanz Kant Danz” as a result. There was also a song on Centerfield called “The Old Man Down the Road.'” Zaentz alleged that it was too similar to “Run through the Jungle,” a Fogerty song that Zaentz now owned. So, yes, Fogerty was accused of plagiarizing from himself. (Some readers of this blog have leveled similar charges at us.)
Songs have shown up in other legal proceedings not involving claims of plagiarism. For example, Jackson Browne tried to stop John McCain from using the “Running on Empty” song at campaign rallies. And the Manson Family forever ruined the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” The Dead Kennedys’ song “Holiday in Cambodia” was the subject of legal proceedings concerning whether it could be used in a commercial. Ozzy Osbourne was sued by parents of a teenaged boy who shot himself, allegedly after listening to Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution (CAUTION: Listen at your own risk).” That case was dismissed. McCollum v. CBS, Inc., 249 Cal. Rptr. 187 (Cal. App. 1988). There’s a copycat case, alleging the same thing about the same song, that was also dismissed. Waller v. Osbourne, 763 F.Supp. 1144 (M.D. Ga. 1991). Similar litigation was filed about the Judas Priest song “Better Than You, Better Than Me” alleging subliminal messages. Vance v. Judas Priest, 1990 WL 130920 (Nev. Dist. Aug. 24, 1990). We don’t buy the whole subliminal message theory. (Hire Dechert.) But the plaintiffs in those cases get high marks for prescience. (Hire Dechert.) Later, of course, the plaintiffs’ bar started bringing suits against lots of our clients for allegedly prompting patients to commit suicide. Anyway, we’re always pleased to see a defendant win, even when it’s Osbourne (who would have won faster if he had hired Dechert).
All that being said, here are our 10 favorite law songs:
1. “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” – Warren Zevon (he wrote it in Kauai – hard to do better than that)
2. “Everything Counts” (Grabbing Hands) – DePeche Mode (insightful analysis of contract law)
3. “A Legal Matter” – The Who (about paternity litigation)
4. “Ballad of a Thin Man” – Bob Dylan (“You’ve been with the professors/And they’ve all liked your looks/With great lawyers you have/Discussed lepers and crooks”)
5. “Hey Mr. DJ” – They Might Be Giants (commentary on payola)
6. “Porn Wars” – Frank Zappa (includes interspersed excerpts from legislative hearings about “obscene” rock and roll)
7. “Lawyers in Love” – Jackson Browne
8. “Taxman” – The Beatles (there’s other law than litigation)
9. “Breaking the Law” – Judas Priest
10. “A Day in the Life” – The Beatles (“I’d love to turn you on” was deemed so druggy by the BBC that it banned the song for a while. Plus, the song refers to the House of Lords, which until 2009 also served as the UK’s version of the supreme court. Still don’t think “A Day in the Life” is sufficiently pharmacological or legal? Too bad. It’s the best rock song ever, so we’ll put it on our darn list if we want to.)
That’s our list. Think you can do better? (Dedman probably already has.) Go ahead, readers, bloggers, and Lester Bangs-wannabe types. Post your lists. It’s got to be more fun than polishing that Daubert motion.