Continuing our countdown to the highest earning song in music I must first issue a warning to all aspiring songwriters. Your new song may charm the birds from the trees and have women's knicker elastic pinging within the first four bars but no matter how fantastic the track you are ever going to get on this list unless you have a good lawyer.
Take the example of everyones favourite Irish curmudgeon Van Morrison. As a naive 21yr he flew bright eyed and bushy tailed to New York eager to please would be boss Bert Berns owner of Bang Records. Van was in a particularly accommodating mode following of the break up of his band Them and would probably have traded his first born for a recording contract.
Without legal advice he signed away rights to songs, one of which was his signature tune Brown Eyed Girl ,which guaranteed no royalties would be payable until all recording and miscellaneous expenses attributed to Big Bang records were paid first. Through some creative accounting Van says he has never received any royalties for his most famous song which has been played over 10 million times on US radio. No wonder he is a grumpy bastard.
OK. Back to business.
5. 'Unchained Melody', Alex North and Hy Zaret £18m
Long before the likes of Gareth Gates and Robson & Jerome made the song as musically satisfying as a glass sandwich made with dog turd mayonnaise it was the soundtrack to the long forgotten 1955 prison movie ‘Unchained’ about a prisoner yearning for freedom.
It has been recorded over 650 times in more than 100 languages but the definitive version is and will always be that performed by the Righteous Brothers.
Like many of the top ten earners it got a second wind off the back of a movie, in this case the how-to-guide-to-paranormal-pottery flick Ghost. Such was the clamour to buy the single in 1990, singer Bill Medley opted to re-record the song as he wasn't making any money from the original anymore.
4. 'Yesterday', Lennon & McCartney £19.5m
Despite a co writing credit this song was written and played exclusively by McCartney (the first time this had happened) and was one of the final nails in The Beatles coffin. A melancholy folk ballad, Yesterday was a Beatles song for people who didn't really like The Beatles. The melody famously came to Paul in a dream so fully formed he was sure it was already a recorded song.
Even Lennon in his bitterest hatred for McCartney (as evidenced in the vitriolic How Do You Sleep?) had to grudgingly admit it was a good song. Whilst the melody came out fully intact it took Paul a while to work out the lyrics. Yesterday started off like this
Oh, my baby how I love your legs"
If only McCartney had the courage of his convictions as who doesn't like women's legs and scrambled eggs. He was shouted down by his bandmates and eventually firmed up the lyrics during a Portuguese recording session.
It has been covered over 2000 times by artists as diverse as Placido Domingo, Daffy Duck and Wet Wet Wet. Michael Jackson famously bought the publishing rights rights for £24m and sold them to Sony in 1995 for £59m. Perhaps you can blame Macca's songwriting skill for Jacko's riches and his inability to decide if he preferred to be Black or White.
You've Lost That Loving Feeling, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and Phil Spector £20.5m
According to the BMI this hold the record for having been played more times on American radio than any other song and no doubt is the reason for its lofty position in the top 10 money earners.
No wonder Brill Building husband and wife team Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil are in a cheery mood when interviewed. They recall with much hilarity Phil Spector's contribution to the track. Apart from imbuing it with his lush Wall of Sound production when the group were stuck with a line to finish off the bridge Weil tells us he came up with the classic:
"and he is gone, gone, gone, Whoa, whoa, whoa. We said Phil you can't just put whoa, whoa, whoa on a song. But it worked!"
In the UK, Cilla Black tried to get the jump on The Righteous Brothers by releasing a mediocre George Martin produced version in 1965 just before the original was released.
In response flamboyant music mogul Andrew Loog Oldham posted a full page ad in Melody Maker subtly dissing its competitor
"This advert is not for commercial gain, it is taken as something that must be said about the great new PHIL SPECTOR Record, THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS singing "YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELING". Already in the American Top Ten, this is Spector's greatest production, the last word in Tomorrow's sound Today, exposing the overall mediocrity of the Music Industry"
You could argue that Oldham was the pioneer of this type of Blur v Oasis PR hype. Aah innocent times.
While we are are it check out Telly Savalas which I'm including for the sheer hell of it
2. 'White Christmas', Irving Berlin £24m
Proving that the maxim that it's only Jews who really know how to write a good Christmas song comes the top selling Xmas perennial of all time from the pen of Irving Berlin. Bing Crosby's version alone has sold in excess of 50 million copies and the song is the best selling single of all time according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Russian born Berlin was a prolific songwriter who wrote over 1500 songs including scores for Broadway shows and Hollywood movies. George Gershwin called him
"The greatest songwriter that has ever lived"
He was influential in the creation of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) the organisation that first adopted a unified system for collecting and distributing artist's royalties so we can thank him in part for the ability to create this top 10 list.
I'll be honest I hate this song mainly because I've heard it too many times and I hate Christmas.
So....all that is left is to unveil the best selling song of all time. It has to be one by The Beatles right? Wrong.
1. 'Happy Birthday To You', Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill £30m
Sadly not the Stevie Wonder track aiming to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national US holiday but the ubiquitous ditty that has woven into the fabric of society and used the world over to embarrass birthday boys and girls. Originally "written" in 1893 by two sisters in Kentucky as "Good Morning To All" as a musical greeting to their kindergarten class the kids liked it and started using it at birthday parties with substituted lyrics.
The sisters won a copyright case in the 30's and the song's ownership has subsequently passed through various faceless corporations including Warner Music Group who were earning $2m a year from public performances as of 2008.
Royalties are payable from use in film (as much as £25000 a pop), television, radio, all commercial product such as watches or birthday cards, public performances and amazingly anytime it is sang among a group where a substantial number of those in attendance are not family or friends of whoever is singing. That sounds like one of my birthday parties.
For this reason most restaurants or other public party venues will not allow their employees to perform the song for their guests. Seriously is there no section of society that has been sullied by the greedy tentacles of some corporate asshole? That is a rhetorical question if you were wondering.
Right, that is it. I'm off to write my own cash cow. Its called Happy Birthday to Jesus. I figure I'd kill two birds with one stone.