Cracker by Damian Christie

Like Mike

I wouldn’t normally worry myself with the comings and goings in the world of NZ Idol, but this recent furore (if that’s not too bold a word to use) has got me thinking.

For those of you who’ve missed it, and I can’t blame you if you have, here’s the skinny:

Michael Murphy, who came second in the inaugural series of NZ Idol, despite being loved by all the little girls out there, has just put out his first single, called 'So Damn Beautiful'. And, he’s been running around saying how happy he is the song is an “original”.

Trouble is, the Murphster’s been writing cheques with his mouth that his manager – Paul Ellis – can’t cash. Okay, that's not really him in the photo, but it was too funny not to use... Anyway, unbeknownst to Michael (and we have to assume this is thus, otherwise he’s stupider than he looks…), the song, which was written four years ago, was covered by a band called Vallejo. Vallejo’s performance was nominated for a Grammy in 2002.

I don’t want to cast aspersions on Ellis’ abilities as a manager – oh okay, I do – but surely when you’re buying a song for your star performer, you’d ask how many owners it’s had? I mean, it was written four years ago, and if it’s as good a song as Ellis claims, someone might’ve taken it out for a spin. And if upon inquiring, you found out its previous owner was a Texan rock band, who enjoyed doing donuts in it, while drinking forties of bourbon and screaming profanities out the window, you might reconsider. Or at least tell your star, before he starts trotting out the “one careful lady owner” line…

As it was, Paul didn’t ask, which to continue the now tortuous used car analogy, is like buying a lowered, second-hand Legacy without getting an AA check. It’s dumb. And it took an idolblog contributor ten minutes with an obscure search engine by the name of Google to discover what Ellis didn’t, despite presumably numerous dealings with the guy who wrote the damn thing.

Paul Ellis has further shown his public relations skills by his handling of the whole affair. Here’s a short quiz I put together called “Would you make a good manager?”

Question One:

You’ve just discovered your star’s song is a cover, and a reasonably successful one at that. Your response?

a) Admit you didn’t realise the song had been covered, but tell everyone it’s still a great song all the same – the fact it’s a cover isn’t going to hurt sales.

b) Admit the song had been covered, and you knew, but tell everyone Michael didn’t – that way at least he comes out looking good, and as manager that’s what’s most important, right?

c) Sound off like a complete nutter, make baseless defamatory statements in a national newspaper , accusing the person who discovered the fact of perpetrating fraud on a daily basis, by illegally downloading MP3s.

Answers: a) 0, b) 1, c) 2

0-1 You’ve got all the qualities to be a great manager.

2+ Dude. I mean, seriously?

According to the Herald, when asked if the song’s writer was going to get royalties, Ellis apparently said he didn’t have time to give a lesson in music industry basics. My time isn’t quite so precious, so here’s a few legal basics for free, Paul.

Illegally downloading an mp3 is not fraud. It’s not even theft, strictly speaking. Breach of copyright perhaps.

Furthermore, not every mp3 is bad, Mr Ellis. If you plan on staying anywhere near the cutting edge of the music industry, you should read up on the subject. And sure enough, in this case, the mp3 of Vallejo’s ‘So Damn Beautiful’ was freely offered by its rightful owners.

Ironically, it was Ellis himself who committed the only legal no-no in the whole affair – defamation.

The Robyn in question is a fellow blogger, and a lovely lass at that. She’s also a bit of an NZ Idol fan, and so when the Murphmeister released his new single, she was naturally interested in finding out more about the songwriter behind it. As I mentioned above, it took her less than ten minutes to find out what Murphy’s manager couldn’t. Thinking fellow Murphettes would be interested, she posted to, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The reason I’m interested in all this, in case you’re wondering, has to do with the idea of originality. Even if the song hadn’t been performed by Vallejo, would Murphy have been right to claim it as “an original”? Isn’t it a long bow to suggest ‘original’ can mean “some American guy wrote it four years ago, and we bought the rights to use it”? This idea has made for great discussion around the watercooler of late, and I’m interested in your views – Dubber, that means YOU. But FYI, here’s where I’m at, at the moment.

A song is “original” if:

1. You wrote it, either by yourself or with someone.

2. Someone in your band wrote it.

3. Someone wrote it specifically with you in mind, like Jagger/Richards wrote “As Tears Go By” for Marianne Faithful. Although in that situation, when the Stones later recorded the same song, which was the cover, and which the original? Perhaps the one that came first, meaning the Stones covered their own song. Hmm.

After all that, here’s the song if you want to hear it. Not Mike’s version of course, because that’s fraud, or kidnapping, or something.

I might just be getting old, but really I can’t see what the fuss is all about. But in fairness to the demographic, I’ll leave the last words to idolblog’s crazi4michael, comparing Vallejo's with Mike’s ‘original version’:

u can TOTALLY hear wat 1 is betta!!! MICHAEL ALL DA WAY!!