This Day in Music, June 9: Where There's a Hit There's a Writ

By , Contributor

... as the old music industry maxim goes, suggesting that behind the story of every chart-topping release, there's another one involving courts, allegations and lawyers.

On this day in 1990, M.C. Hammer's debut album started a record-breaking 21-week stay at the top of the US album charts, making it the longest uninterrupted stay at the top since the album charts started (in 19-something or other).

Nobody could touch the American rapper and dancer who in his "hammer pants" could do no wrong. Yes - those pants! Hammer's superstar status made him a household name and pop icon. He went on to sell more than 50 million records worldwide, demonstrating hip hop's potential for mass market success and was the first hip hop artist to achieve diamond status for an album.

According to Forbes he earned $33 million in 1990 and 1991, but his excessive spending while supporting friends and family sent the rapper $13 million into debt. Over the next few years, because of dwindling album sales, unpaid loans, and a lavish lifestyle, Hammer eventually filed for bankruptcy in April 1996 at a California court. At the same time several songwriters were suing the rapper for copyright infringement (Hammer's "Can't Touch This" being said to use elements of Rick James' "Super Freak").

Although Hammer's Xanadu-like home in Fremont, California was sold for a fraction of its former worth, let's remember that at the height of his success, it was estimated that Hammer employed 200 people, with an annual payroll of $6.8 million!

Separately, on this day in 1998, The Ronettes appeared in the Supreme Court of New York for their lawsuit against producer Phil Spector. The Ronettes, whose hits include "Be My Baby" and "Walking In The Rain", claimed that Spector had breached the group's 34-year-old contract by paying the members no royalties since 1963.

Although The Ronettes went on to win the case, the New York State Court of Appeals overturned the decision four years later, saying that the contract the Ronettes signed with Spector in 1963 was still binding.

Citing the 1963 contract, the court also substantially reduced the amount they stood to gain from royalties on sales of records and compact discs.

The decision reversed two lower court rulings and ended a 15-year court battle that pitted the three singers against Phil Spector, the producer and songwriter who helped make them famous.

In its ruling, the State Court of Appeals said it found the Ronettes' plight sympathetic, because they had earned less than $15,000 in royalties from songs that topped the charts and made them famous. However, the judges found that the Ronettes' 1963 contract gave Mr. Spector unconditional rights to the recordings, yet another instance of the adage "the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away..."

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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