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Le Tigre sue in doo-wop lyrics dispute

By | Published on Tuesday 12 October 2021

Le Tigre

Two former members of Le Tigre have gone legal in a song-theft dispute, though it’s the electronic rock outfit who have been accused of the song-thieving. However, they argue, the songwriter accusing them of song-theft didn’t actually write the lyrics they are accused of lifting and – anyway – the way they employed those lyrics was fair use under US copyright law.

This dispute relates to the 1999 Le Tigre song ‘Deceptacon’. It has some similar lyrics to Barry Mann’s 1961 single ‘Who Put The Bomp (Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)’. Mann’s song goes “Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?”, while ‘Deceptacon’ has the lyrics “Who took the bomp from the Bompalompalomp? Who took the ram from the Ramalamadingdong?”.

According to Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman of Le Tigre – a band that pretty much wound up in the mid-2000s, albeit with a couple of reunion projects more recently – a representative for Mann now insists that their 1999 song infringes the copyright in ‘Who Put The Bomp (Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)’. Quite why this is all coming up now isn’t clear.

However, in a legal filing that seeks court confirmation that no infringement occurred in 1999, Hanna and Fateman argue that Mann himself borrowed the lyrics they are accused of lifting. According to Pitchfork, their legal filing states: “Mr Mann did not create these vocables or song titles; rather, it appears that Mr Mann and his co-writer copied them from black doo-wop groups active during the late 1950s and early 1960s”.

“Specifically”, they go on, “it appears that Mr Mann took ‘bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp’ from The Marcels’ distinctive version of ‘Blue Moon’, which sold over a million copies, and ‘rama lama ding dong’ from the Edsels’ then-popular ‘Rama Lama Ding Dong’. In short, the ‘Bomp’ lyrics at issue are not original to Mr Mann, and defendants have no legitimate copyright claim in them”.

Mann’s 1961 track was basically a novelty record lightly mocking the nonsense lyrics that are common in doo-wop songs, so his lifting of those lyrics from earlier songs could be seen as parody, and therefore he and co-writer Gerry Goffin weren’t infringing the copyright in the earlier doo-wop tracks, because their use of those lyrics would arguably be ‘fair use’.

But so would Le Tigre’s use of those words nearly four decades later, says the new lawsuit. Where Le Tigre borrowed from ‘Bomp’ for ‘Deceptacon’, they add, their lyrics have “a new meaning that is directly at odds with and a clear criticism of the message in ‘Bomp'”. Which, they say, is also fair use.

Mann’s reps are yet to respond to Hanna and Fateman’s legal filing.