Mahavishnu Orchestra: Planetary Citizen
Inner Worlds (Columbia CK 52923)
Composed by Ralphe Armstrong.
Recorded: Le Chateau Herouville, France, July-August 1975
Rating: 81/100 (learn more)
One of the reasons the original Mahavishnu Orchestra broke up was because a couple of the players thought they should have received more generous songwriting credits or be able to contribute their own pieces to the band. On Inner Worlds, a product from the third Mahavishnu lineup, the compositions were spread around the band. John McLaughlin let the musicians do their thing. That decision turned out to be the most lucrative one in the career of bassist Ralphe Armstrong, the composer of "Planetary Citizen." The song itself was a playful R&B soul funk number that barely qualified as fusion. It begins with Armstrong's high-pitched falsetto "Hey, hey, hey…." The music instantly breaks down into a funk-out. It was still John McLaughlin, Narada Michael Walden, Stu Goldberg and Armstrong playing this funk. So it was good and intricate even though it was lightweight by this band's standards. The song's refrain, "Are you ready to be … a Planetary Citizen?" fills our ears. It was a catchy tune that maybe could have been a hit for some R&B band. But we fusion fans were glad it was short. If it weren't for what later happened, "Planetary Citizen" would have remained a curious novelty number in the band's discography.
Let's fast-forward. The English soul/hip-hop/rap crossover group Massive Attack made a massive mistake when it recorded its Blue Lines album in 1991. The band, which was also influenced by fusion, would often use samples from tunes from that genre in its finished pieces. Their album's first tune, "Safe from Harm," included a Billy Cobham sample. But its fourth tune, "Unfinished Sympathy," the band would live to regret.
Four years later Ralphe Armstrong was watching TV. He found himself admiring the music in an Adidas sneaker commercial. But it started to sound funny to him. He quickly realized why. It was his music in the commercial! Ralphe's high-pitched "Hey, hey, hey" vocals from "Planetary Citizen" had been pilfered! Ralphe also discovered the music had been used in the movie Sliver. He sued a couple of members of Massive Attack, its producers, Virgin Records, Paramount Studios and of course Adidas. Ralphe had a strong case that his copyrights had been violated. The attitude from the Massive Attack members was dismissive. That would not last. After several years and a few setbacks, most of the case was settled out of court, and Armstrong received a healthy settlement that was far more than he ever earned in the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Armstrong got a gold record because of Massive Attack's sales! He also got enough money to buy a Jaguar, send one son to college and pay off his house. Ralphe Armstrong clearly benefited from being a planetary citizen.
Reviewer: Walter Kolosky