COLLECTORS’ CORNER: “The Ones That Got Away” (And Then Some!)
By Chris Wood
Photos by Chris Wood
Putting out compilation recordings featuring songs that have already been published and released can be done by adhering to the basic legal requirements for doing so. These include paying the standard royalties to both the publisher and the songwriter for using their recording of the song. And recording a “cover” or new version of it is doable, so long as one doesn’t change the lyric or melody in any way, nor alter the fundamental character of the song (by remaining true to the original).
However, “parodies,” or versions of songs utilizing the music but changing the lyric portion are a whole different matter. One must first obtain permission from the publisher, who represents both the publishing side as well as the songwriter. It is a given that all of the royalties entitled to those interests for the original song will also be paid to them for the parody. The publisher has the right to deny permission to any and all seeking it for releasing a parody for any – or no – reason whatsoever.
Each of the two Tailgate Tunes albums featured two parodies, meaning we had to secure the requisite permission from all of the publishers of the original versions first. The songs were: “Sixteen Games” (“Sixteen Tons” parody), “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” (Parody of the song with the same name written by Ed and Patsy Bruce), “Titletown ” (aka “Funkytown” parody) and “ Ballad of The Green Bay Pack” (Parody of “Ballad of the Green Berets”).
We were turned down by publishers of the originals for several of the additional parodies we sought for Tailgate Tunes II, despite our best efforts to get them. These included “Green Bay At Twelve” (Parody of “Highway To Hell”), “Cheesehead From Wisconsin” (“Okie From Muskogee” parody) and “Back To The Super Bowl” (parody of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”).
These were “the ones that got away.” In all three cases, the songs had already been successfully “bootlegged” for several years; meaning the parody versions had been released but the publishers and songwriters hadn’t been paid any royalties from the sales of them to date. We were offering to do it legally, whereby they would start receiving their rightful royalties for all copies that we sold.
Our thought was it would be a slam-dunk! Since the recordings were already being circulated out in the marketplace, they would now start generating some income for the writers and publishers, and rightfully so. However, they still said, “No!” When we inquired as to why, the most interesting answer came from Merle Haggard’s publisher. After getting in touch with an executive from his publishing firm in Nashville, we thought the prospects looked good when he asked us to send him a copy of the “derivative work,” which we referred to it as (aka the bootleg). He was apparently unaware of its existence and we assured him that it was “respectful of the original” (inasmuch as that was possible considering the subject matter!).
We overnighted a copy and called him a couple days later, after he had the time to listen to it, intending to seal the deal. However, his answer was a flat, “No, I don’t think so!” much to our surprise, disappointment and chagrin. When we asked him why, he said:
“It would be like you agreeing to loan me your car for a day and then me returning it to you the next morning painted a different color.”
I had never thought of it in those terms before, but I guess he did have a point and it didn’t really matter anyway: because without his permission, it wasn’t going to happen – period!
Some of the other songs we looked at and considered included: “The Packer Polka” recorded by The Taxi Squad Marching and Stumbling Society around the time of the first Super Bowl and released on a ‘45. Others included “The Fighting Pack ” recorded by Larry Schneider in 1968, “Bart Starr ” by The Lost Marble Band (1982), “Where Are You Now, Vince Lombardi ” by George House and The Tailgaters (1986) and “The Packer Backer” by The Millionaires.
Of these five, “The Packer Polka” was the most interesting. Had we been able to find out whatever happened to The Titletown Record Co. of Green Bay or the producers, Ellefson, Helland & Hoff, we would have tried to get it for the album. The sound effects were especially interesting and we had to wonder about the studio cats who probably were involved in recording it back then. As far as we’ve been able to ascertain, The Marching and Stumbling Society was a one-hit wonder, a flash-in-the-pan that never marched and stumbled again or put out another release after their first!
We also tried to get a hold of Larry Schneider, who was from the Milwaukee area to see about releasing his song “The Fighting Pack.” Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find any more up-to-date information regarding his address. The remaining three songs were interesting simply because they had been released on 45s at different times over a continuum of 40 years. As such, they offered a glimpse into what Packers fans were feeling during their respective time periods.
We did manage to secure “Ballad of the Green Bay Pack” (“Ballad of The Green Berets” parody) and “Titletown” (aka “Funkytown”). In addition to requiring the publishers of the originals permission, each required a “Master License” agreement to enable us to use the Master of the parody recording to sell copies of the CD as well as downloads.
In the case of the former, we were able to cut a deal whereby The Music Venders band who recorded and owned it would receive a quantity of the finished CDs, which they could in turn sell at gigs and then pocket the proceeds.
The latter, which had the lyric portion written and was co-produced by former Packer Eugene Robinson required an upfront payment of $750. Purely and simply, if we wanted to use it, that’s what it would take! And that was after negotiating it down from the substantially higher sum they had originally asked for.
Finally, there was one more parody that was really interesting; however, we didn’t even consider bothering to try and secure it by asking the publisher for permission! The song was “All The Green And Gold Fans” by Problem Child, a Milwaukee band. This was a recording that appeared as a CD about 20 years ago, around the time the Packers won the NFC Championship and were headed for the Super Bowl. The song was a complete rip-off of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and featured a rather crudely-written lyric, which begins with: “Drivin’ to Lambeau, we got some beer and some brats and the grill in the trunk; Yeah, we’re gonna get drunk…”
As hard as it is to believe (that it’s even possible), it just gets worse and goes downhill from there. To add insult to injury and make it even more outrageous, it is sung to the music of “Eleanor Rigby,” literally. These guys had absolutely no shame and brazenly used the instrumental soundtrack of the strings on the original classic recording, which was lifted directly from Volume Two of the Anthology Series released in 1996.
It appeared as a plain, white CD without any wrapper or liner, and had a line of type announcing the title: “All The Green and Gold Fans” with an additional line directly beneath it reading “a ditty by Problem Child.”
While it was funny upon the first listening and maybe even The Beatles might have had a good laugh about it, we’re sure their record company Apple would not have. From what we understand, they take a very dim view and hard-line approach to anyone using any songs from The Beatles catalogue without permission (and reportedly have absolutely no sense of humor about it whatsoever!). A ditty by Problem Child, indeed!
So there you have it, folks – more than you ever wanted to know about “The Ones That Got Away” (And Then Some!).
That’s all for now and until next month, happy collecting!