Sad copyright story: Barrett Strong, who first wrote and recorded “Money (That’s What I Want)” for Motown, has never seen a penny of royalties for the song, because Motown executives had him removed from the copyright registration. (The single was Motown’s first big hit, and sold over a million copies, but you could probably live off the publishing from the Beatles’ cover alone…)
In 2009, Mr. Strong had a stroke, limiting his ability to play the piano and sing. He now lives in a retirement home here, and hopes that by recouping rights to “Money” he will more easily be able to pay his medical bills and residence fees. But he also wants his accomplishments properly remembered.
“Songs outlive people,” he said, with a mixture of sadness, resignation and anger. “The real reason Motown worked was the publishing. The records were just a vehicle to get the songs out there to the public. The real money is in the publishing, and if you have publishing, then hang on to it. That’s what it’s all about. If you give it away, you’re giving away your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still be playing.”
Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland had 9 to 5 jobs: writing songs for Motown Records. They didn’t think they were making art at the time. “I remember saying back at Motown, ‘Man, I would love to write classic songs, like a “White Christmas,’” Brian Holland told an interviewer. It was no coincidence that Motown was headquartered in the home of Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. The goal was cranking out product. “Early on, Brian and Lamont were already writing together, and they were very prolific at writing melodies and producing tracks,” remembered Eddie Holland. “It was the lyric writing which slowed them down. So I suggested that I join the team as a lyricist, so that their production output would be much higher.” Increasing production output: that was the name of the Detroit game.