By Bob Deakin
In 1972, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) sued The Hollies for copyright infringement, claiming “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” was “too close” to his trademark sound.
In the recent Hollies documentary, Look Through Any Window, Clarke indicated that during the recording, he ended up with a grittier sound for the vocal. What started as an ode to Elvis’s “Mystery Train,” sounded more like CCR’s “Green River,” it was alleged in the suit.
To me, the songs sound similar in style and recording but little else. They are both basic blues, and it’s the picking and effects of Clarke’s Fender Telecaster that are similar to Fogerty’s sound, although the Hollies recording is a lot cleaner than the more raunchy “Green River.” Listening to the songs side-by-side, there is little resemblance other than the bass track.
CCR was one of the biggest acts of 1972. I was not into them, but recently I watched Youtube footage of old concerts of theirs, particularly at Royal Albert Hall, and I have to admit it grew on me. So simple, and a radical departure from the psychedelic sounds of the era that just ended as they came onto the scene.
I would be honored to have Allan Clarke sing in my trademark style, if I was a singer. Had the lawsuit happened four years later, it doesn’t get anywhere, as the careers of both bands faded.
Fogerty has a sound of his own, for sure. According to interviews, it’s based on a Louisiana and Mississippi sound of the south, even though he grew up in northern California. He names Little Richard and Bo Diddley as a few of his influences.
Although the terms of the settlement are not officially disclosed, in the Look Through Any Window documentary it is stated that the two parties agreed to split the royalties.
If Fogerty can sue for that, who else can do the same? For that matter, who else could have been sued for singing too close to someone else’s trademark style?
Tom Petty for sounding too much like Roger McGuinn? America for sounding like Neil Young on “Horse With No Name?” How about Michael Jackson for stealing Diana Ross’s look?
Long Cool Woman’s lyrics describe an FBI agent (the narrator) in a dangerous speakeasy. He falls for a voluptuous “5 foot 9" woman in a black dress and helps rescue her when the gunfight starts.
If you can translate the lyrics from the recording, good luck.
Back to co-songwriter Roger Cook. In 2005, he was at a luncheon with U.S. Congress on behalf of the National Songwriters Association International to urge Congress to strengthen copyright laws for songwriters and artists.
At the luncheon, he was asked to sing a few songs. Naturally, one of them was “Long Cool Woman.” When he finished and made his way to the back of the hall, a man approached him and flashed his badge: FBI agent.
He smiled and said, “That’s our song, man.” He explained to Roger that his fellow FBI agents had been idolizing the first two lines of the song for years.
Saturday night, I was downtown
Working for the FBI
He explained that since the song’s release, agents had been using the first two lines of it to key the mics on their two-way radios in preparation for missions. It was their defacto theme song.