Great art often inspires great art. But when the artist that inspires you isn’t feeling you back, it can get awkward—quickly.
Teens of Denial, the new LP from Matador signee Car Seat Headrest, is scheduled to be released next Friday, May 20. It’s the first new material he’s written and recorded since signing to the venerable Beggars Group label early last year; 2015‘s Teens of Style was essentially a collection the greatest hits from the more than a dozen albums he released on Bandcamp before being plucked from obscurity by Matador’s Chris Lombardi. The record is still dropping on May 20, but now, it will be a digital-only release, since every single copy that Matador printed and shipped is being recalled and set to be destroyed.
How did this happen? Well, the original version of Teens of Denial — advance copies of which were distributed to press months ago — contains a song titled “There Is A Policeman In All Our Heads, He Must Be Destroyed (Good People),” which contains elements of The Cars classic “Just What I Needed.” It outright lifts the opening riff, but wanders off into a completely new vocal melody, forming a new song. The song’s outro reverts back into the original riff, this time incorporating Ocasek’s lyrics: “I don’t mind you comin’ here/ And wastin’ all my time/ ‘Cause when you’re standing oh so near/ I kinda lose my mind/ It’s not the way you cut your hair…” before trailing off into “…it’s a pretty nice haircut.”
It’s clearly built on Ocasek’s song, and not a cover, so Matador needed to negotiate a license to sample Ocasek’s work. And for their part, they say they did: in a press release, they say the label “…had negotiated for a license in good faith months ago, only to be told last week that the publisher involved was not authorized to complete the license in the United States, and that Ric Ocasek preferred that his work not be included in the song. Matador regrets that it was not informed of this much earlier, and has made changes to respect Mr. Ocasek’s wishes.”
Regardless of what you (or Ric Ocasek) thinks of the song, it should go without saying a songwriter has the right to refuse the use of their work in a commercial product. But it also seems like kind of a dick move; the song is clearly an homage, and he would have gotten some of that Adele money that Beggars Group has been rolling in since 21. Somewhere along the line, the label blew it, failing to do its due diligence in securing the proper license to sample the song. But they also clearly were doing so in good faith — Ocasek must have really hated “There Is A Policeman In All Our Heads, He Must Be Destroyed (Good People)” to force Matador to recall and destroy every copy of the record in circulation (and presumably, existence, though a few copies will undoubtedly fall through the cracks and fetch healthy sums on eBay and Discogs.com).
For his part, Will Toledo — the stage name of the young songwriter who writes the Car Seat Headrest songs — is taking it in stride, and re-recorded a new song in place of the one Ocasek ordered pulled. The new song, cheekily titled “Not What I Needed,” will appear on both the digital and the delayed physical versions of the LP, which is ambiguously slated for a “summer” release. “It’s not merely an edit,” Toledo said in the press release, “it is its own thing, about half a minute longer than the original track, and goes in a much different direction. Honestly, despite the apparent clusterfuck, I had fun doing it, and I think it’s a stronger song now.”
Ultimately, Matador is out a nice chunk of change for the records they had to recall, and their release schedule is probably a little jacked up, too. And really, it’s their fault, so they can’t really blame Ocasek for exercising his copyright. But jeez, Ric, lighten up! If anything, this would have helped sell (or, more likely, stream) more records by The Cars. Let the kid live. Now people just think you’re a penis.