A common motivation, if not theme in pop and rock music is pain caused by relationships and hardship. Simply because lawyers are often present in these situations, trying to help, they get painted with a broad brush of condemnation.
As in real life, as in pop music. Lawyers get blamed for resulting legal hardships in spite of their best efforts even though they could not nor should they take responsibility for the events causing or leading up to the hardship which so inspired some song-writer such as this snippet from the 1988 hit Don't Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin [YouTube]:
Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed.
Don't worry, be happy.
The land lord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy
Lood at me I am happy
Don't worry, be happy
Here I give you my phone number
When you worry call me.
In any event, as contemporary music represents a snapshot of society at a given time, and since lawyers usually (but not always) get involved only where there is trouble, it would stand to reason that the portrayal of lawyers in pop and rock music is unfairly but definitively unfavorable.
In The Title
In the hundreds of thousands of pop songs written and released over the decades, there are the occasional song that misappropriate the word lawyer right in the title. For example, the 2007 release California Sex Lawyer [YouTube], by the very unknown band of Fountains of Wayne, and then two titles of the rock-metal UK group Fall Out, as follows:
- I'm Like a Lawyer With The Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You) [YouTube]; and
- Our Lawyer Made Us Change The Name Of The Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued [YouTube].
That last title really kicks and includes lyrics resembling legal advice often given clients: "It's not worth the hearing you'll lose."
A Bit Part
When it comes to lawyers and the law, some songwriters just state the obvious such as this from Madonna (American Life, released in 2003, YouTube):
I got a lawyer and a manager
An agent and a chef
Three nannies, an assistant
And a driver and a jet
Even Merle Haggard had things to say about lawyers in his song Reno Blues:
Way out in Reno, Nevada
Where romance blooms and fades
A great Philadelphia lawyer
Was in love with a Hollywood maid.
Come, love, and we will wander
Down where the lights are bright
I'll win you a divorce from your husband
And we can get married tonight.
In that song, the lawyer gets his comeuppance when the jilted ex-boyfriend, nicely styled Wild Bill, does something unspecified but the song ends with these words so you can guess:
"Now back in old Pennsylvania, among the beautiful pines, there's one less Philadelphia lawyer, in old Philadelphia tonight".
Lawyers can get in trouble in love, in song too. Witness Jackson Browne 1983 Lawyers in Love [YouTube]:
I can't keep up with what's been going down
I think my heart must just be slowing down
Among the human beings, in their designer jeans
Am I the only one who hears the screams
And the strangled cries
Of lawyers in love.
George Harrison (1943-2001), formerly of the Beatles wrote the lyrics of Sue Me, Sue You Blues [YouTube] released in 1973. The lyrics present like he has some life experience with these kinds of things as he had ... the break-up of the Beatles and especially ownership of the songs, brought on by a long, bitter legal battle:
You serve me, and I'll serve you
Swing your partners, all get screwed
Bring your lawyer and I'll bring mine
Get together, and we could have a bad time
It's affidavit swearing time
Sign it on the dotted line
Hold your Bible in your hand
Now all that's left is to
Find yourself a new band....
Hold the block on money flow
Move it into joint escrow
Court receiver, laughs, and thrills
But in the end we just pay those
lawyers their bills
Warren Zevon (1947-2003) of Werewolves in London fame, also wrote the song Lawyers, Guns and Money, released in 1978 [YouTube]:
Now I'm gambling in Havana,
You know I took a little risk.
Send lawyers, guns and money,
C'mon daddy won't you get me out of this? hey!...
In Typical Male [YouTube], Tina Turner must have surprised her fans the first time they put this on their CD-player and these lyrics came out (but no surprise to lawyers, of course, as we're all mostly very loveable people). Again, a kicker song so stand up, grab the nearest lawyer (an articling student will do and even a judge), turn up the volume, and check it out:
Tell me lawyer what to do
I think I'm falling in love with you
Defend me, from the way I feel
Won't you give me some advice
On how to handle my private life
I'm sure that we can make a deal
I confess I'm a fool for a man with a clever mind
But your intellect ain't no match for this heart of mine…
So put your books aside
Loosen off the suit and tie
Open up your heart and let me in"
Jean Wyclef's Pablo Diablo [YouTube] is another keeper, presented as a court transcript:
[Lawyer:] Your honor, I would like to call my first witness to the stand. All the way from East L.A., your honor, Pablo Diablo.
[Pablo:] Hey! Guantana mira. Hey, my lovin' is for everyone, man. Do you know it reminds me of the summertime in the bungalows of Spain, all night in the park.
Eh, you would hear your music. It would be on the eighth floor, but the pongos they reach up there, man! We used to keep the whole neighborhood up. Guantanamara!
[Lawyer:] Thank you, Pablo, for nothing. Jesus Christ, what a moron. No further questions, your honor.
In It's Over [YouTube], released in 2013, Rod Stewart speaks the brutal truth of the scorched-earth legacy of some over-feisty lawyer letters when a divorce or other family law file is just being opened:
"All the plans we we had together
Up in smoke and gone forever
Poisoned by the lawyer's letters
There is a similar theme in the 2012 song I'll Keep the Kids [YouTube], an original piece by country music's Montgomery Gentry. For family law lawyers and, sadlyt, far too many people that have had to use the court system to separate from their spouse especially with children involved, this song hits too close to home:
You don't have to holler,
And we don't have to fight.
We can settle all this, right here
Right now, tonight
No need to call no lawyer
You don't have to pack no bags
It's obvious, all you want is
Half more than your half....
Take all our family pictures
And my records off the wall
And any other sign of livin' proof
That I lived here at all
Can't help but not see a couple little things,
Not there on your list.
So if you don't care,
I'll keep the kids
The Courthouse Like the Hospital
This important sampling of references to the law and lawyers in modern pop and rock music is not intended to be comprehensive. What is attempted here is a representative mix showing that the courthouse, like the hospital, is often the venue for despair, despair for which the people running around in black and white uniforms are neither responsible for nor are they supposed to be exacerbating it.
Despair, perhaps more so than any other human emotion, really kicks the songwriter and the poet into high gear. Because of the presence of lawyers in the courthouse, or the association some people unfortunately make between the profession and despair, lawyers are not an uncommon visitor to the poetry and songs of pop and rock songs. Lawyers are rarely the cause of despair. In fact, it could be argued that the role of a lawyer is to walk their clients through a legal situation so that they suffer as little despair as possible except, possibly, the unavoidable legal bill.
At the end of the day, most lawyers are regular people, grown-up little nappy-headed boys and girls.
- Ed. Note: with thanks to Dave Blinsky who reminded me of Jackson Browne's 1983 hit.