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Singer Says Part of Voice on Hit Is Hers

Apr 10th, 1991

In the wake of lawsuits surrounding Milli Vanilli and Black Box, another invisible pop singer has taken to the courts to gain credit for a hit vocal. Yvette Marine, a former member of a group called the Mary Jane Girls, is suing Paula Abdul's record company, Virgin Records, and its distributor, Warner-Elektra-Atlantic, to receive full credit and royalties for her work on three songs on Ms. Abdul's debut album, "Forever Your Girl," released in 1988, which has sold seven million copies in the United States. Ms. Marine has not sued Ms. Abdul.
There's a difference between this lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in Superior Court in Los Angeles, and previous lip-synching cases: instead of one vocalist substituting for another, it contends that voices were mixed. Ms. Abdul sang lead vocals on "Opposites Attract" and "I Need You," which were also the A and B sides of a hit single. But so, contends Ms. Marine, did she.
A Question of Credit.
The lawsuit alleges breaches of truth-in-packaging and truth-in-advertising statutes. It states that Ms. Marine, who was paid union scale and given credit as a backup singer for the album, recorded guide vocals for "Opposites Attract" and "I Need You" for Ms. Abdul to follow in the final versions. The lawsuit says Ms. Marine's vocals were not erased, but mixed with Ms. Abdul's vocals, so that what is heard on the hit recordings is a composite. In modern productions, multiple, unison layers of a vocal are often used to bolster a small voice.
Steven Ames Brown, Ms. Marine's lawyer, said that in another song, "Knocked Out," Ms. Marine's voice was heard alone near the end in a vocal fillip; on the video clip of the song, Ms. Abdul lip-syncs to that phrase. "Opposites Attract" and "Knocked Out" also appeared on Ms. Abdul's million-selling second album, "Shut Up and Dance," which included remixed versions of songs from her first album.
A statement from Virgin Records called the suit "opportunistic bad-faith litigation wholly lacking in merit." "These are not duets," said Jeff Ayeroff, co-managing director of Virgin Records North America. "People paid for and got the qualities of Paula's voice."
The Producer Says No
Oliver Lieber, the composer and producer of "Opposites Attract," stated: "I was present when Paula recorded the final vocal. I was also present when the final master was completed. I can personally state that the only lead voice appearing on the final master of that recording is that of Paula Abdul."
Financially, the difference between backup singer and lead singer can be substantial. Backups receive one-time session fees; lead singers receive performers' royalties from the copyrighted sound recording. If Ms. Marine were to split the performers' royalties on the three songs with Ms. Abdul, her share could amount to more than a million dollars. Mr. Brown said Ms. Marine never signed away rights to the performers' copyright.
"At the time the initial record was made, Paula Abdul was totally inexperienced as a professional recording artist and Yvette Marine was totally experienced with the Mary Jane Girls," Mr. Brown said. "If they didn't need her voice, what is it doing in there?"
Joseph Yanny, Virgin's lawyer, said: "Nobody denies that Yvette Marine performed background vocals on the album, and she is given appropriate credit to that effect. We have consulted musical and technical experts to determine the extent of her involvement, and the results, which contradict her assertions, are irrefutable."
Filed under: Music


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