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Songs Involved In Lawsuits
– Ozzy Osbourne – Suicide Solution
On October 26, 1984, a 19-year-old American named John McCullom shot himself in his bedroom while listening to Osbourne’s Speak of the Devil album on his headphones. McCullom had been listening to Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz earlier in the evening on the living room stereo, and his parents singled out “Suicide Solution” as a song that encouraged him to kill himself. In October 1985, they sued Ozzy and his record company on grounds of negligence, product liability, and intentional misconduct. The case was dismissed in August 1986, but McCullom’s parents filed an appeal that brought even more attention to the case, which had become a first amendment litmus test. In the appeal, the plaintiffs made a case that Ozzy’s songs contained themes of devil worship and death, and quoted the lyrics “suicide is the only way out” from “Suicide Solution” as evidence that it contributed to their son’s death. Additionally, they argued that the song contained “masked” lyrics that weren’t printed on the album: “why try, why try, get the gun and try it, shoot, shoot, shoot.”
The court took a good, hard look before dismissing the case in 1988, ruling that the lyrics did not explicitly encourage suicide, and that music is protected by the first amendment. How a song about the dangers of alcohol abuse could be put on trail was baffling and frightening to many musicians, who feared legal ramifications over misinterpretations of their songs. The case was especially bewildering in Ozzy’s home country of England, where the idea of blaming a song for someone’s death was laughable.
Osbourne told Mojo magazine, August 2010: “Listen, it’d be a pretty bad career move for me to write a song saying ‘Grab a gun and kill yourself.’ I wouldn’t have many fans left.
Anyhow, that track was about me drinking myself to death. Look at the lyrics:
Wine is fine but whiskey’s quicker
Suicide is slow with liquor
Take a bottle drown your sorrows
I knew even then I had an alcohol problem.”
While this case was going on, two others were filed by families convinced that this song compelled their kids to commit suicide. They were also dismissed.
– Judas Priest – Beyond the Realms of Death
The lyrics, which were written by singer Rob Halford, revolve around a depressed person who has entered a nearly apathetic state of mind and finally dies, most likely by his own hand. This made the song a focal point in the famous subliminal message trial in 1990, with the prosecution (wrongfully) claiming the song to be pro-suicide. The allegation was dismissed since such expressions of art are a form of free speech. Furthermore, the lyrics ask the question, “is knowledge worth this bitter cost?”, strongly suggesting an anti-suicide stance.
– Judas Priest – Heroes End
During the subliminal message trial in the early 90’s involving the Judas Priest song “Better By You Better Than Me,” this was one of the first songs (along with “Beyond the Realms of Death”) to be blamed for inspiring two teens to kill themselves. The prosecution said that the lyrics of the song glorified death as heroic, but it was ruled that the lyrics were protected by the First Amendment right of free speech. Later, it turned out that the prosecution had misheard the lyrics of the chorus as “But you, you have to die to be a hero/It’s a shame in life/You make it better dead.” The correct lyrics are, “Why do you have to die to be a hero/It’s a shame a legend begins at its end.”
– Van Halen – Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
In 1989, Van Halen sued rap group The 2 Live Crew for stealing the riff from this for their song “The F–k Shop” (The Clean Version was called “The Funk Shop.”). The 2 Live Crew ended up selling millions of albums with the song when they became involved in a censorship controversy over their lyrics.
– Van Halen – Right Now
In 1993, this was used in commercials for Crystal Pepsi, a clear cola. The commercials were good, but the product was a huge flop as consumers decided they would rather not see through their soft drink. The group was criticized for “selling out” when the ads came out, but they did it because Pepsi was going to use the song with or without them. Pepsi got the rights to the song, and would have had a sound-alike group record it. Van Halen figured it was best to let them use their version and at least get paid for it.
– Led Zeppelin – Dazed And Confused
Led Zeppelin’s version was not credited to Jake Holmes, as Page felt that he changed enough of the melody and added enough new lyrics to escape a plagiarism lawsuit. While Holmes took no action at the time, he did later contact Page regarding the matter. Holmes finally filed a lawsuit in 2010, alleging copyright infringement and naming the Led Zep guitarist as a co-defendant. It was the favorable judgment for organist Matthew Fisher in the “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” case that convinced Holmes to sue, as precedent was set that songwriting credits could be challenged in British courts many years after the fact. Holmes settled with Page and the case was dismissed on January 17, 2012. The songwriting credit was changed to the rather cryptic “Jimmy Page, Inspired By Jake Holmes.”
– Led Zeppelin – Whole Lotta Love
Plant’s lyrics are based on a 1962 Muddy Waters song written by Willie Dixon called “You Need Love,” where Waters sings:
I ain’t foolin’, you need schoolin’
Baby, you know you need coolin’
Woman, way down inside
The band reached an agreement with Dixon, who used the settlement money to set up a program providing instruments for schools.
The 1966 Small Faces song “You Need Loving” also coped from Dixon’s song, and those lyrics are more similar to what Plant used. In that one, Steve Marriott sings:
I ain’t foolin’, woman you need coolin’
I’m gonna send you, right back to schoolin’
Way down inside your heart, woman
You need lovin’
– Led Zeppelin – You Shook Me
This is a blues classic that had been recorded by Muddy Waters and a slew of rock musicians looking to add some blues to their repertoire. The song was written by Willie Dixon and J.B. Lenoir. The very first version was recorded by Muddy Waters because Dixon was his bass player.
How did Muddy Waters feel about getting the Led Zeppelin treatment? The year after their version came out, he said: “I feel good, sure I like it. I love it. I wish someone would call my name fifty million times a day. The more you call, the more people gonna hear. That don’t bother me.”
– Alice Cooper – I’m Eighteen
Six Palms Music Corp., which filed the complaint with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 1998, contended that the Kiss song “Dreamin,'” from their latest album, Psycho Circus, sounded far too much like the Cooper classic “Eighteen,” released back in 1971. The company, which published the Cooper hit, alleges that Stanley had to have heard the chart-topping single on numerous occasions since the two groups were contemporaries in the Seventies shock rock scene.
– Kiss – Lick It Up
Vinnie Vincent replaced Ace Frehley on guitar for the Lick It Up album. Vincent, who left the band in 1984, later sued KISS, claiming he was not paid for royalties and received only $2000 a week in salary. He lost the case.
Written by Kiss mainstays Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, this song is about living in the moment, and typical of Kiss, it’s dripping with sexual innuendo. Stanley sings it from the perspective of a guy trying to convince a girl that the time is right for some carnal pleasures.