30 April 2010

Is Michael Jackson Responsible For The Great Indie Rock Uprising?

The music industry was once a welcoming place for young unsolicited musicians and writers. But all this began to change in December of 1984, when a musician from Illinois named Fred Sanford took Michael Jackson to Federal court and sued him for copyright infringement. Two years earlier, Sanford had given a demo tape for a song called "Please Love Me Now" to a CBS Records exec, who then sent the tape to Johnny Mathis's office on the ninth floor of CBS Records in Los Angeles. The ninth floor, at that time was where Michael Jackson (who was anxiously behind on the recording schedule of his latest album Thriller) was holed up trying desperately to meet his deadline. This might have meant nothing, except that 18 days later, Michael Jackson's "The Girl Is Mine" which sounded "substantially similiar" to Sanford's "Please Love Me Now" was heard for the first time ever by anyone other than Michael himself.
micheal jackson photo: Home Alone - micheal jackson edition funny.jpg
Sanford called "foul" and sued CBS for five million big ones. CBS executives were so upset with the case that they responded by instituting a strict company-wide policy prohibiting all employees from accepting unsolicited material. This set an example for the rest of the record industry as well, and by the late 1980s it was no longer possible for start-up musicians to have their demo tapes circulated to the influential decision makers in the music industry. Every major label, publishing company, and artist management firm was now sealed off from young artists trying to break into the music industry. This in turn set the stage for the rise of the Indie Rock phenomenon of the 90s.

Incidentally six years after the Sandford suit, Jackson was back in court when Denver Diva Crystal Cartier claimed MJ had stolen her song “Dangerous” which she had written in 1985. Cartier made audio cassettes of her recording and distributed them to music industry employees in July 1990, a year prior to Michael Jackson’s album Dangerous which included a song called “Dangerous” which sounded “more than accidentally similar to Ms. Cartier’s [version]” according to music expert Jim Mason who testified during the case. Both songs were in D-minor, both recordings contained urban sound effects and rap passages, the bass and drum patterns were very similar and the word “dangerous” was repeated in the third measure of each song’s chorus. During the trial Cartier, an middle-aged overweight Gospel-bred singer appeared in court wearing a hoochie-mama get up that was so revealing that the judge ordered her to go home and changer her clothes.  Cartier protested because Michael got to “sit there wearing makeup, like a chocolate version of Boy George…” yet the judge didn’t make him change his wardrobe.