Dick James

George Harrison and Ringo Starr were also contracted to Northern Songs, but opted to not renew their contracts in 1968. During the 1960s Dick James also separately handled the publishing for other Epstein-managed acts including Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas and Gerry And The Pacemakers.

Dick James worked hard for The Beatles, and became a trusted member of their inner circle. He publicised their early songs, helping to have them recorded by other performers, and oversaw the collection of royalties from sheet music sales. He was careful to avoid their songs being over-recorded, and issued legal notices to radio stations to prevent new releases being played during the embargo.

James also acted as a business advisor to Brian Epstein, encouraging him to get better deals for his charges. He introduced Epstein to New York attorney Walter Hofer, who helped the manager get established in America and assisted with the Ed Sullivan Show negotiations.

While The Beatles mocked Dick James' pleas for "nice, tuneful numbers" and portly, bald demeanour, they did respect his understanding of the music industry.

In 1965 James returned once more to his singing roots, releasing an album on Parlophone titled Sing A Song Of Beatles.

The Beatles' business relationship with Dick James ultimately lost Lennon and McCartney ownership of their songs. The previously amicable situation soured in 1969 after James sold Northern Songs without offering the group an opportunity to buy it. Although he profited hugely from the sale, Lennon and McCartney lost control of the rights to their own songs.

Northern Songs was restructured prior to its flotation on the stock market in 1965. By that date, each of the shareholders had sold part of their holdings, and Lennon and McCartney each owned 15 per cent of the company. Dick James Music and NEMS Enterprises each held seven per cent, James' family had 15, Charles Silver another 15, and Harrison and Starr held 1.6 per cent between them.

After its public flotation, James continued to work hard to ensure the success of Northern Songs. Its portfolio expanded beyond The Beatles' songwriting to encompass other compositions including the theme from Coronation Street. However, as The Beatles grew gradually more aware of their business interests, they became dissatisfied with the arrangements that Brian Epstein had made on their behalf.

The main source of the disquiet was the 23 per cent stake that James still owned in Northern Songs. Lennon and McCartney saw themselves as the company's key asset, and wondered whether they still needed him controlling their songwriting fortune.

Following the death of Brian Epstein in August 1967, The Beatles' management situation was plunged into uncertainty. The personal link between Dick James and the group was removed, and their personal friendship deteriorated during 1968.

One of the various parties keen to purchase a stake in The Beatles' empire was Sir Lew Grade, who ran the British television network ATV. Grade was a minority shareholder in Northern Songs, and approached Dick James with an offer for his portion of the company.

Grade's persistence gradually paid off, despite James' initial resistance, and as Apple Corps descended into chaos the publisher decided to bail out.

In 1969, within days of Allen Klein becoming manager of The Beatles' business affairs, Dick James offered to sell his stake in Northern Songs to Sir Lew Grade and ATV for 35 shillings per share. The sale went through on 27 March, while John Lennon and Paul McCartney were each honeymooning with their new brides.

Following the sale, ATV owned 35 per cent of Northern Songs, and Grade publicly offered £9.5 million for the rest of the company. James later visited Lennon and McCartney at the latter's London home and explained the situation. Both were angry at not having been given the opportunity to buy the shares themselves, and launched a counter bid for Northern Songs for 42 shillings and sixpence per share.

The Beatles jointly owned 31 per cent of Northern Songs stock. The race was on to persuade various individuals and consortiums to sell enough for one party to control 51 per cent of the company. The large corporate investors, however, preferred ATV's offer - a London consortium which owned 14 per cent of the company refused to back Apple's offer after John Lennon protested at being "sick of being fucked by men in suits sitting on their fat asses in the city."

Lennon's actions persuaded the consortium to sell to Grade. The sale netted more than £1 million for both songwriters, but lost them their control over their songs.

I think Dick James might have carved Brian up a bit. I mean, what happened after Brian died? Dick James Music Company - a fucking multi-million music-industry company. Northern Songs, not owned by us; and NEMS, not owned by us. That was all Brian and his advisors' setting up.

And Dick James has actually said that he made us! I'd like to hear Dick James's music, please. Just play me some.

John Lennon

Dick James formed DJM Records in 1969. He had signed Elton John and Bernie Taupin as songwriters two years previously, and the label issued all of their releases until 1976. In 1982 a royalty dispute began between James and Elton John, which resulted in a court case in which the songwriter was awarded more than £1 million.

Dick James died in London on 1 February 1986 from a heart attack.

12 responses on “Dick James

  1. mike hampton

    It just goes to show the sort of sharks there are in the music business. I think it’s criminal that John and Paul never owned any of their songs.It’s like having your babies taken away from you.If they’d been offered a decent lawyer the situation would have been sorted out and they wouldn’t have been sxxt on by unscrupulous music moguls who didn’t care about them anyway.

  2. NEIL

    The article states that James worked hard on behalf of the group. The only thing he and his cronies worked hard at was in enriching themselves at the Beatles expense.

  3. Joseph Brush

    Previous to the Beatles, there had been other robberies in rock n’ roll concerning song-writing as far as publishing (and claims of co-authorship as well). Artists such as Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry, for instance, suffered from one or both of the enterprises I mentioned above.
    Since the Beatles triumph was only equalled previously in rock n’ roll by Elvis Presley, there was no comparable measuring stick that existed. Unlike Elvis, the Beatles were successful song writers.
    Brian Epstein’s main experience in music before signing the Beatles was in managing a local record store. When Northern Songs was created, Epstein had only managed the group for about a year and a half. His contributions in that time frame was obtaining more gigs, putting them in suits and his undying belief in the Beatles. These contributions were integral to the Beatles’ success.
    In retrospect, however, his woeful lack of knowledge in dealing with London sharpies cost John and Paul dearly (and George as well to a lesser extent).

    1. Mark Hornak

      George Martin, to his everlasting credit, refused a percentage by James for sending the Beatles his way and although he never said out right, he hinted that he thought the Beatles got screwed and was glad he “could sleep at night”

  4. Gary McAuley

    What’s not stated here is that Dick James gave J&P an extraordinary deal in 1962…normally songwriters owned NONE of their own copyright. And J&P hadn’t even had a Top 10 hit as yet.

    And it certainly needs to be stated that Dick James aggressively worked on behalf of the Beatles. It was money in his pocket to do so, and he certainly did, getting them television exposure in the early days as well as calling all his radio contacts and simply giving the Beatles and Brian Epstein his office to use anytime they were in London.

    An average publishing deal in 1962 would have had Dick James owning 100% copyright of J&P’s songs. He didn’t do that. Give him some credit.

    1. Robert lamont

      As one around at that time in another Tin Pan Alley publishers office, I totally agree with your comments regarding ownership of songs. Songwriters normally got 50% of royalties and the music publisher the remainder but retained total ownership of the song for the full term of copyright then 50years after death of the last writer. To give a share of the ownership was unheard of, that was to follow a few years later. We had Gordon mills and les reed under contract for “Its not unusual ” on a 50/50 and as Gordon became more successful we increasingly adjusted our percentage and ultimately ownership of songs with him. Interesting how people forget the different values we had in those days

    2. Mark Hornak

      It was still a bad deal regardless and it was held over their heads for yrs. A publisher only gets 20% now and it took yrs of court rulings to get that. Brian should have never gotten a penny for song writing royalties. Period. NEMS was created because of the Beatles’ success and they never got a dime of that !

    3. Mark Hornak

      My man, no publisher in history ever got 100% The publisher should never get more than 20% Go check out songs by Sammy Cahn, Hoagy Carmicle. James was a rip off even in those days. It was Brian Epstein’s fault. You don’t have a clue to what you’re talking about. Who in the hell ever told you a publisher gets 100% ? They saw you coming too !

  5. Gary McAuley

    It is patently false J&P didn’t understand profits of songwriting when they signed an agreement with Dick James. They had already received a number of royalty checks based on “Love Me Do” by that point; pretty handsome money at that given what they were making on stage, and this was not money being shared with George or Ringo. It was strictly J&P’s money.

    To rewrite history that J&P in late 1962/early 1963 “didn’t know” you could own a song – is incorrect.

  6. cravinbob

    Hindsight is always 20/20 they say and if there is a case to prove it here it is. John and Paul made a lot of money regardless. Had it been a badly written contact or they signed under duress a court probably could have negated it somehow. It is hard to do all the work and songwriters need publishers for the most part as there are many ways to market songs and receive payments. John later hired Allen Kline who was a crook from day one so John apparently learned nothing but Paul did. So much for “genius”!
    Artists are not really into financial dealings as we all know. Willie Nelson took his problem in stride saying he knew he was successful when he learned he owed the IRS 16 million dollars. Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote and performed “Working For MCA” for their record signing party. The song’s lyrics warned the suits that they were going to be watched and count every penny! Most bands never realized that hotels and limos etc was coming out of their end of the deal! Even artwork on album covers! One band’s manager refused contracts like that and forced the company to foot the bill for everything, the notorious and often brutal Peter Grant who managed Led Zeppelin. Grant had four aces and the record company knew it.

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