This is the twenty-seventh in a series of examinations of music legends and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous music urban legends.
MUSIC LEGEND: The Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” was not performed by The Crystals
STATUS: True Enough for a True
The Crystals formed in the early 1960s with the lineup of Barbara Alston, Patsy Wright, Mary Thomas, Dee Dee Kenniebrew and Myrna Girard.
They eventually signed with Phil Spector’s Phillies Records.
They had a top 20 hit in 1961 with “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and another Top 20 hit the next year with “Uptown.”
They had a memorable flop, though, in 1962, with their next single, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” which did not even chart because most stations felt that the subject matter was way too unsettling.
The Crystals followed with a major #1 hit later that year (a song that is still popular today), “He’s A Rebel”…
However, amazingly enough, the “Crystals” on the song were not the ACTUAL Crystals!
You see, Gene Pitney had written the song and offered it first to a competing girl band, The Shirelles. They turned it down.
A young singer named Vicki Carr was then given the song, and her version was set to be released soon.
Here’s where things get interesting.
Spector later claimed that he just really liked the song and wanted to record it as soon as possible and that he did not know of the other version, but it seems much more likely that he wanted to beat the Carr version of the song to the market. Since Spector was in Los Angeles and The Crystals were touring in New York, he felt he did not have enough time to have them fly out to record the song. So instead he put together a group of singers based in L.A., led by Darlene Love (the group of singers performed as The Blossoms), and recorded the song and released it as being by the Crystals!
Can you imagine how the Crystals must have felt when they discovered that “they” had the #1 song on the charts and it wasn’t even sung by them?!?!
The Love-led “Crystals” had another hit single, but then Love and Spector split (there’s another good story there, I’ll get to it in the future).
Another wrinkle in the story is that while they were touring, they naturally had to sing their biggest hit, right? The problem was that lead singer Alston did not have the big voice that Love did (and she never was a big fan of singing live), so they actually had to hire another girl, La La Brooks, to sing lead on “He’s A Rebel.”
And when the “real” Crystals returned later in 1963 with two other massive hits, “And Then He Kissed Me” and “Da Doo Run Run,” it was now Brooks on lead vocals!
So “He’s A Rebel” not only saw the Crystals lose their own name for awhile, but it led to a new lead singer!
MUSIC LEGEND: Paul Anka got the publisher’s rights to “My Way” for free.
As I discussed in the last installment of Music Legends Revealed, Claude François had a hit in France in 1967 with the Jacques Revaux song “Comme D’Habitude” (lyrics by Claude François and Gilles Thibaut)…
In 1969, singer/songwriter Paul Anka acquired the rights to the song and used the tune to write a brand-new song (lyric-wise) called “My Way.”
Anka gave the song to Frank Sinatra, who used it as the title track to his 1969 album…
All well and good, but amazingly enough, Anka acquired the publisher’s rights (half of the publishing rights) to the song for FREE!!!
Publishing rights are basically what it sounds like – the right to publish a work. In the old days, songs made the majority of their money through the publication of sheet music of the song. Publishing songs still includes the sale of sheet music, but it also includes all other usage of the song’s copyright, with the most important being the recording of the song, either by the artist themselves or by other artists (cover versions). Each time the song is played, there is a royalty paid. The person who owns the publisher’s rights of the song gets half of the royalties (typically – you can negotiate different terms, of course) while the writer of the song gets the other half.
So song royalties can be valuable. However, they can also be worthless if no one is actually playing the song, ya know?
In the case of Paul Anka and the song “Comme D’Habitude,” the song was a minor hit in France, but it wasn’t exactly an international sensation, ya know? Anka only heard it because he was spending a lot of time in France on holiday.
So the argument Anka undoubtedly presented to them was “if you give me the publisher’s rights and the song’s a hit, you guys will get 37.5% of the royalties as the writers of the song (all three men, Jacques Revaux, Claude François and Gilles Thibaut co-wrote the song – it is 37.5% instead of 50% because Anka would get an equal share for the new English lyrics, as they are not a translation of the French lyrics) and that is better than the NOTHING you’ll get if I DON’T take the song and make it a hit.”
Still, they must not have been particularly confident in the chances of the song becoming a hit for them to assign Anka basically 62.5% of the future royalties of the song for free, and seeing as how the song has become a MAJOR song to cover (it’s biggest success WAS a cover version), Anka made a shrewd move.
But Anka had learned pretty early on the power of music publishing, as he chose to publish his own music not too long into his career as a songwriter. As his career as a performer waned, he became more and more a music publisher than anything else, and he has certainly done well for himself by it.
But don’t cry for Revaux, François and Thibaut, I’m sure they’ve made more money of the song than they ever expected to!
MUSIC LEGEND: Angus Young was still a teenager when AC/DC signed their first record contract.
AC/DC is a highly successful Australian rock and roll band that was formed in 1973, with their first album, High Voltage, released in 1975.
As you can see from the cover of their album, one of the most notable aspect of the group, at least from a publicity standpoint, was the schoolboy outfit that lead guitarist, Angus Young, wore. The look is so iconic that Young still wears the outfit today!
The outfit came about when Young determined that every member of the band should have a “gimmick.” His older sister, Margaret (Angus’ brother Malcolm co-founded the band with Angus) came up with the school boy look. The outfit is his uniform from his days at Ashfield Boys High School in Sydney.
In any event, Angus was 18 years old when the band was founded, and he was 20 when the band was signed to a record label and released their first album. However, it was determined that it sounded a lot cooler for Young to be still a teenager, so press releases for the band stated that Young was 16 years old, not 20.
Even today, decades later, Young’s birth date is frequently listed as 1959 instead of his actual year of 1955.
Isn’t it fascinating to see how far a publicity stunt can travel? Once information is published, I guess it sticks around forever!!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: "And Then He Kissed Me", "Comme D'Habitude", "Da Doo Run Run", "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)", "He's a Rebel", "My Way", AC/DC, Angus Young, Claude François, Darlene Love, Frank Sinatra, Gene Pitney, High Voltage, Jacques Revaux, Malcolm Young, Margaret Young, Paul Anka, Phil Spector, The Crystals, The Shirelles, Vicki Carr