Everyone knows John Lennon and Paul McCartney signed a bad songwriting contract while in the Beatles. George Harrison, however, never complained about any ownership problems of his songs. Was he bound to a different contract?
Lennon and McCartney were perpetually unhappy with Northern Songs, their publishing company–largely because they felt they had been jobbed out of 51% of the ownership by Dick James before they got savvy to the ways of music publishing. “We could see owning a house, a guitar or a car, they were physical objects,” McCartney said. “But a song, not being a physical object, we couldn’t see how it was possible to have a copyright in it. And therefore, with great glee, publishers saw us coming.”
Harrison, however, had it even worse whenever Northern Songs handled one of his compositions–although he was contractually bound to the company and received a royalty for songs he wrote, his percentage ownership in Northern was tiny. Originally, he owned no part of the company, but when it went public in 1965, he and Ringo Starr each bought a whopping one-half of one percent of the shares. (Lennon and McCartney were issued 20% each.) So Harrison did indeed bellyache. “Only a Northern Song,” his contribution to the soundtrack of Yellow Submarine, laid out his complaint: “It doesn’t really matter what chords I play, what words I say, or time of day it is, as it’s only a Northern Song.” Harrison’s Northern Songs contract lapsed in 1968; he briefly signed with Apple Publishing and then started his own publishing company, Sing Song Ltd., later renamed Harrisongs.
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)