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Songwriters Who Did Not Write their Songs

It’s no secret in the music business that the bigger star you are, the more song royalties you get by claiming “authorship” of a hit song written by a committee of lyricists and composers. You can force yourself into an author share of the profits because, by recording a song, you can make it popular enough that everyone will get paid.  Giving you a little something for something you did not write — instead of guaranteeing an even split of nothing for the actual authors — is one surefire way to win in any business dyad.

Chuck Berry has been accused of not writing his own hit songs that he claims ownership of — because, some argue, the songs are written in chords that are more common on a piano than a guitar.  If you don’t write a lot of music to begin with, having to transpose musical keys from one instrument to another in your head during composition of a song is nigh impossible.  You’d write the song in the familiar, and easier to play, key signatures of the instrument you use to perform.

Johnnie Johnson, one of Chuck Berry’s longtime sidemen and the man who inspired Berry’s classic “Johnnie B. Goode,” filed suit against Berry in a St. Louis Federal District Court on Nov. 29.

The multi-count suit alleges that Johnson and Berry were equal collaborators on early rock classics like “Roll Over Beethoven,” “No Particular Place to Go” and “Sweet Little Sixteen,” to name a few. Johnson claims that Berry registered the copyrights to the songs in his name alone, and therefore was the sole recipient of royalties from those songs. Johnson’s suit also seeks public recognition for his songwriting role on the fifty songs he claims to have written with Berry.


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