Last week, we learned that songwriters often like to pepper their songs with trademarked brands for the cultural specificity they lend to a song. But sometimes, artists have found themselves in hot water due to their use of trademarks.
Enter, Lola and Barbie.
In 1970, the British band, the Kinks, were in phase two of what was already a pretty long career as a rock ensemble. They had formed six years earlier and almost immediately enjoyed a string of hard-rocking hits with songs like "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night."
In those heady, early days of the band, their handsome bass player, Pete Quaife, often served as the focal point of the Kinks in interviews and magazine articles. But through a succession of critically acclaimed and popular albums like "Arthur" and "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society," the band became more and more a vehicle for the brothers Davies - Dave, the guitarist, and Ray, the Kinks' principle songwriter and singer. In 1969, Quaife left the band (the first of several line-up changes which would occur over the next 27 years).
Now, 19 months after Quaife's departure, the band had undertaken its first U.S. concert in years, and had recorded what would soon be considered one of their finest albums: "Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-Go-Round." As their first single from the album, the band chose "Lola," a remarkable single inspired by an incident in which the band's manager danced all night with a transvestite. Now considered one of the rock era's greatest singles, its success rested on a classic riff and Ray Davies' typically clever lyrics - including its first lines:
"I met her in a club down in old Soho
where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola."
After cutting the album, the Kinks returned to the U.S. for another tour. But while in New York, they received word that the BBC had declared they wouldn't play the song, due to a policy of banning songs with any form of product placement in the lyrics. The band was forced to suspend their tour while Ray Davies shuttled back to London, re-recorded the first verse with "cherry cola" substituting for Coca-Cola, then jetted back to the States. All total, he traveled more than 6,000 miles to change one word of a song.
Another landmark case came in 1997, when the Danish band, Aqua, had an international hit with a song called "Barbie Girl." Its lyrics like, "Life in plastic, it's fantastic / You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere," made it clear the song's title referenced the famous doll by that name.
Mattel, the toy company which manufactures Barbie, sued Aqua and its label five years later for infringing upon their trademark. But the judge found that while the song clearly indicated the doll, it didn't infringe upon its trademark because "it does not, explicitly or otherwise, suggest that it was produced by Mattel." Perhaps, given Mattel's legal misfortunes in this case, it is appropriate then that, while Barbie has been a photographer, a chef, and even President of the United States, she has never been a lawyer.
Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, promoting the success of youth leadership and mentoring programs throughout Colorado in cooperation with Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.