Competition published on July 31, 2015.
Clinton Heylin is one of the leading rock historians in the world and, in Britain at least, the true Muso’s Muso. This is a guy with unexceptionably good taste in music, which is why I’ve been reading him for years and invariably with great pleasure; he’s written on Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Sandy Denny, Syd Barrett, David Bowie, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, and The Who which is a pretty fair pantheon by any standards. So if you were looking for a writer to tackle the vexed topic of plagiarism, quotation, influence, sampling, theft, call it what you will, then you would look no further than Heylin, a man intimately conversant with the rock business and the shenanigans of the song-publishing industry. The book’s full title tells you all you need to know about what’s in store: It’s One For The Money: The Song Snatchers Who Carved Up A Century Of Pop & Sparked A Musical Revolution.
Song publishing is the one constant in the carousel of recorded music now spanning the past century and has provided the context for many rancorous disputes about song-credits and publishing revenue. We’ve all heard of the higher-profile musical plagiarism cases. George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and its mysterious resemblance to the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine is probably the best-known example but whether it be Procol Harum going to court to decide who really wrote Whiter Shade of Pale or the Moody Blues wanting their fair share of Nights in White Satin, these rancorous wrangles were rarely edifying spectacles with fair dealing often taking a back seat to money and expediency. As Bob Dylan suggested, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears”.
The book is full of delicious surprises with the most unlikely rock villains unmasked. Who would have thought that Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page was a candidate for the title of rock music’s most shameless robber baron? Or who knew that the Sex Pistols Glen Matlock nicked the killer riff from Pretty Vacant from, of all people, ABBA and their hit single SOS. Working-class heroes like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger are dragged into the dock as are such diverse musicians as WC Handy, Paul Simon and Alan Price. Matlock sums it all up when he says “That’s what songwriting is all about. Everything’s nicked from something else.” Heylin would seem to concur with a closing confession which to some extent undercuts all that has gone before – ‘I hereby reveal that what you have been reading … is one long love letter to creative thievery’. Who says crime doesn’t pay?
Bert Wright, Editor – The Nudge List
It’s One For The Money by Clinton Heylin is published by Constable in hardback on 18th June.
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