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Did Abdul Get Assist? : A Backup Singer Sues Her Label, Charging Deception

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Is Paula Abdul the only woman singing lead vocals on her smash debut album, “Forever Your Girl?”

Not according to Yvette Marine, one of three singers credited with background vocals on the album, which has sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. and made Abdul one of the hottest properties in dance-pop.

Marine--a former member of the Mary Jane Girls vocal group who earns her living recording song demos and commercial jingles--claims that at least two songs on the album, “Opposites Attract” and “I Need You,” feature a composite lead vocal track utilizing two distinct voices: Abdul’s and hers.

On Monday, the singer filed a “false and deceptive packaging” suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Virgin Records, Abdul’s record company, seeking proper credit and compensation for her vocal contributions. No dollar figure is attached.

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“All I’m asking for is what’s fair,” said the 25-year-old Woodland Hills resident. “I’m not saying Paula didn’t sing. I just want credit given where credit’s due. We both sang lead and I feel Virgin ought to give me proper billing and pay me appropriately for my supporting vocals.”

Abdul could not be reached for comment, but her publicist Eliot Sekular called the litigation “ludicrous.”

Virgin Records’s lawyer Joe Yanny also disputes the charges.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to (get) either money or a record contract for this singer by using a threat to ruin the career and reputation of Paula Abdul,” he said. “The suit has no basis in fact or law. Virgin has already done a scientific analysis of ‘Opposites Attract’ and the voice prints prove that Paula is singing the lead vocal.”

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This is not the first case in which a studio session singer has sued a record company seeking proper billing on “false advertising” charges. R&B; singer Martha Wash filed suit last year against RCA, A&M; and Sony Records, claiming each firm hired models to lip-sync to unauthorized recordings of her voice in separate videos by Black Box, Seduction and C+C Music Factory.

But Marine’s suit involves more subtle issues in what may be a growing area of pop litigation: “deceptive packaging.”

The singer claims she was paid $126 per hour for several days’ work to lay down background and lead “guide” vocal tracks for Abdul on the two songs. While it is not uncommon for an established artist to rehearse with a studio “guide” track during the initial stages of a recording, the track is usually discarded once the song has been memorized by the singer, recording industry sources said.

In the Abdul case, Marine alleges that Virgin--without authorization--combined her lead guide track with Abdul’s vocal track in the song’s final mix, misrepresenting it to the public as one voice.

Why did Marine wait two years to sue?

“When I first heard the record (in 1988) I was surprised but I didn’t say anything,” she said. “Initially, I got all caught up in the excitement of being associated with such a successful project. But when the thrill wore off, I thought, well, what can I do? How can a little singer in my position go up against such a big company?”

Marine said she has tried to contact Abdul to explain her position, but the video star has yet to return a call.

“My problem is not with Paula, it’s with the record company,” Marine said. “I have nothing but absolute respect for Paula’s talent. I’m not trying to cause trouble.”

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Sidney Kibodeauz, a contract administrator for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the organization that represents session singers in Los Angeles, said that Marine is not likely to win the suit.

“As far as AFTRA is concerned, the record company has fulfilled their obligation to this singer,” Kibodeauz said. “It is highly doubtful that the union would take her side in court.”

The Abdul lip-sync flap first surfaced last month after Marine was allegedly misquoted in a Globe tabloid article stating that Abdul did not sing at all. She contacted Virgin to explain the mishap, but says she was given the cold shoulder.

After a business affairs lawyer hired by Marine failed to negotiate a settlement with the company last month, Marine’s manager, Rick Barlowe, scheduled a meeting with Virgin co-managing directors Jeff Ayeroff and Jordan Harris.

“The record company refused to settle unless Yvette would publicly deny that she sang the co-lead vocal with Paula,” Barlowe said. “Then they tried to play hardball with us, implying Yvette would never work again.”

Virgin’s Ayeroff denied the charges.

“I feel personally offended buy Mr. Barlowe’s comments,” Ayeroff said. “I feel sorry for her. This is a sick manipulation of this woman’s talent by a boyfriend who claims to be her manager and a lawyer looking for his name to appear in the Los Angeles Times. It is not factually true. It’s just another sordid Hollywood tale of exploitation.”

But Steven Ames Brown, the singer’s attorney, disagrees. Brown--who filed the lip-sync suits against RCA, A&M; and Sony on behalf of Martha Wash--has subpoenaed Abdul’s original master tapes from Virgin and hired an audio specialist to verify Marine’s allegations.

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“The problem with all these record companies is that you have to sue to get them to respond,” Brown said. “Yvette’s career is not the only issue at stake here. When a company seeks to deceive consumers, the case sparks an even greater issue of community concern. The public has a right to be told the truth.”

Last November, Milli Vanilli frontmen Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan were stripped of their Grammy after the photogenic duo admitted they never sang a note on their hit album “Girl You Know It’s True.”

But even before the Milli Vanilli scandal broke, Adbul was one of several key pop figures--including Janet Jackson, Madonna and New Kids on the Block--whose “live” performances were often dogged by allegations of lip-syncing.

In Monday’s suit, Marine claims that she was not the only singer employed to help beef up Abdul’s lead vocals on the debut album. The suit also asks that proper vocal credit be given to other unnamed singers who she maintains assisted Abdul with lead vocal chores on various other songs.

ABDUL AND ‘YOUR GIRL’

THE RECORDING

* “Forever Your Girl” premiered on the Billboard magazine album charts in November, 1988, and was listed almost 2 years, including 11 weeks at No. 1.

* Estimated sales of “Forever Your Girl”: 7.5 million in the United States, 10 million worldwide.

* Five singles from “Forever Your Girl” reached the Billboard Top 10, including four No. 1’s: “Straight Up,""Forever Your Girl,” “Cold Hearted” and “Opposites Attract.” “The Way That You Love Me” was No 3.

AWARDS

* Abdul won four MTV Video Awards in 1989 (for female artist, dance, choreography and editing). She won a 1989 Emmy for her choreography on “The Tracey Ullman Show,” two American Music Awards in 1990 (female vocalist and dance artist), and a Grammy this year for short-form video for “Opposites Attract.”


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