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Copy Borrow Steal – The Collection

March 26th, 2015 22 comments

Copy Borrow Steal

 

Like many people, I”m conflicted about the jury”s decision that the inspiration Pharrell and Stripey Rapey Guy took from Marvin Gaye”s Got To Give It Up for their hit Blurred Lines constitutes plagiarism. Much has been said on the subject, and I still don”t know where I stand. The precedent the verdict has set disturbs me.

It seems that the real credit for Got To Give It Up resides not with Marvin Gaye. On his blog David Hepworth writes: “It was recorded from various jams, often surreptitiously, by Marvin Gaye’s engineer Art Stewart, who is quoted in David Ritz’s Marvin Gaye biography Divided Soul saying, “˜Marvin wasn’t sure of what I was doing but he left me alone to piece the song together.””

The Marvin Gaye family seemed to be reaching points of hubris in the wake of their courtroom triumph, making the claim that Pharrell also ripped of Marvin”s Ain”t That Peculiar for Happy. Apart from the fact that the songs sound nothing alike, the battle would not be the Gayes” to fight, but for Smokey Robinson, who produced it and co-wrote it with the other Miracles.

So, with all that mind, here”s a collection of songs from which later artists borrowed, copied or stole, or which otherwise bear strong resemblance. Some led to courtcases that found in favour of the original artist or were settled out of court. Others might have inspired the later writer, and some might be purely coincidental, taking into account that there are only so many chord progressions.

Some artists were pretty honest about where they borrowed from, especially The Beatles “” George Harrison cheerfully admitted that he nicked from The Byrds for If I Needed Someone. Likewise, Chuck Berry was quite open about it that his breakthrough hit Maybelline was a reworking of Bob Willis” 1938 song Ida Red.

Of course there are loads more examples that might have been included. I”ve tried to include tracks that are lesser known.

The most famous plagiarism case, at least before the one involving Pharrell & Thicke, is George Harrison”s My Sweet Lord, which supposedly ripped off The Chiffons” He’s So Fine. In his defence, Harrison said that he took inspiration rather from the Edwin Hawkins Singers hit Oh Happy Day, though more in vibe than in melody. And if one listens to Billy Preston”s version of My Sweet Lord, recorded and released before Harrison”s, then one might be open to giving Harrison the benefit of doubt.

The most involved story here is that of the Rolling Stones” The Last Time, which Jagger and Keef quite evidently ripped off from the Staple Singers song, which in turn has been said to have borrowed from the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama”s 1953 song of almost the same title.

The Last Time (Stones version) was adapted in 1966 as an instrumental by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham. He sold his contract to the cut-throat Allen Klein. By 1997, Klein controlled the Stones” 1960s back catalogue. At that time British band The Verve secured permission from Klein to use Oldham”s string loop as a sample for Bitter Sweet Symphony. When Klein heard an advance copy of the song, he threatened to sue, claiming that the use of the sample exceeded what had been agreed on. The band and publishers settled on a 50/50 royalties split.

As the album hit the shops, Klein reneged on the agreement and demanded 100%, successfully so, because by now the album could not be pulled from the shelves. The out-of-court settlement was a defeat for the Verve ““ and, to some extent, for Oldham. All royalties were ceded, and the songwriting credit went to Jagger & Richards, even though their version of The Last Time had no significant influence on Bitter Sweet Symphony. And they picked up a Grammy for Ashcroft”s song”¦

The progression from Otis Redding”s Try A Little Tenderness, from crooner song to soul classic, goes back to 1951: his take was only the fourth (and final) stage of the tune”s evolution as a soul classic.

Before Otis, Sam Cooke had recorded a fragment of the song as part of a rather lovely medley on his 1964 Sam Cooke At The Copa album. It was in fact that fragment which gave Stax executives the idea that Redding should cover it in 1966. Otis did so with great reluctance, not because he hated the song, but because he felt he could not measure up to his by now deceased hero Cooke. Produced by Isaac Hayes and backed by Booker T & the MGs, Redding did all he could to mess up the song so that it could not be released. He failed, and the song is now irrevocably his.

Redding apparently knew only Cooke”s version (hence the abridged lyrics). Cooke in turn had decided to include Tenderness in his medley after having heard the song on Aretha Franklin”s 1962 album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin. As fine an interpreter of songs as Franklin would become (and already was at the age of 20), her version “” soul-inflected vocals backed with an easy listening string arrangement “” seems to have drawn from that by the forgotten Little Miss Cornshucks, whose 1951 recording was the first to Try A Little Tenderness the R&B treatment.

Some of these songs featured in the Copy Borrow Steal series, with backstories. The series was inspired Tim English” fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-copied covers. Songs in blue are NOT included, but are the songs that copyborrowedstole or otherwise have intentional or coincidental similarities with or were inspired by the older songs. PW in comments.

  1. Edwin Hawkins Singers – Oh Happy Day (1968)
    CBS: George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
  2. Jorge Ben – Taj Mahal (1976)
    CBS: Rod Stewart: Da Ya Think I”m Sexy
  3. Bobby Womack – (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It (1975)
    CBS: Rod Stewart: Da Ya Think I”m Sexy
  4. The Javells & Nosmo King – Goodbye Nothing To Say (1974)
    CBS: Maxine Nightingale: Right Back To Where We Started From
  5. William Bell – I Forgot To Be Your Lover (1971)
    CBS: Van Morrison – Have I Told You Lately
  6. Natalie Cole – Our Love (1977)
    CBS: Seal – Kiss From A Rose
  7. Badfinger – Day After Day (1971)
    CBS: Joe Jackson – Breaking Us In Two
  8. The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965)
    CBS: The Beatles – If I Needed Someone
  9. Johnny Ace ““ Pledging My Love (1954)
    CBS: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)
  10. Spirit – Taurus (1968)
    CBS: Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven
  11. Robert Johnson – Terraplane Blues (1937)
    CBS: Led Zeppelin ““ Trampled Underfoot
  12. Rex Griffin – Everybody”s Tryin” To Be My Baby (1936)
    CBS: Carl Perkins – Everybody”s Trying to Be My Baby
  13. Bob Wills – Ida Red (1938)
    CBS: Chuck Berry – Maybelline
  14. Hank Williams – Move It On Over (1947)
    CBS: Bill Haley & The Comets – Rock Around The Clock
  15. Little Miss Cornshucks – Try A Little Tenderness (1951)
    CBS: Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness
  16. Sam Cooke – Try A Little Tenderness/(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons/You Send Me (1964)
    CBS: Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness
  17. Horace Silver – Song For My Father (1964)
    CBS: Steely Dan – Rikki Don”t Lose That Number
  18. Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972)
    CBS: Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out
  19. The Banana Splits – The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) (1969)
    CBS: Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier
  20. Humphrey Lyttleton – Bad Penny Blues (1956)
    CBS: The Beatles – Lady Madonna
  21. Staple Singers – This May Be The Last Time (1961)
    CBS: The Rolling Stones – The Last Time
  22. Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama – This May Be The Last Time (1953)
    CBS: Staple Singers – This May Be The Last Time
  23. Paul Robeson – No More Auction Block (1962, folksong)
    CBS: Bob Dylan – Blowin” In The Wind
  24. Burl Ives – Lord Randall (1960, folksong)
    CBS: Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain”s A-Gonna Fall

GET IT!

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Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 5

March 8th, 2012 4 comments

I haven”t done a Copy Borrow Steal for ages. Inspired by Tim English” fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), it really is a very occasional series: this is the fifth article in two and a half years. In this instalment we’ll look at a Van Morrison hit that sounds a bit like a soul number from 1968/71; an early Elvis hit written almost a hundred years earlier; and a Led Zeppelin song that doesn’t draw inspiration from some blues singer, but from the Doobie Brothers.

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William Bell – I Forgot To Be Your Lover (1971).mp3
Billy Idol ““ To Be A Lover (1986).mp3
Van Morrison ““ Have I Told You Lately  (1989 “” YouTube)

When Van Morrison wrote Have I Told You Lately, the committed and exceptionally gruff Christian was addressing God. Four years later, Rod Stewart donned his lounge lizard suit and turned it into the soup of mush  that now serves as one of a trinity of über-love songs which grooms croon to their wives (the others are Joe Cocker”s version of You Are So Beautiful and Clapton”s Wonderful Tonight).

Have I Told You Lately is utterly gorgeous, and very much a Van Morrison song, and therefore best heard in the version by one of the greatest songwriters of any generation. So I feel almost sorry to point out that the very line that gives the song its title is almost identical to the opening line of William Bell”s I Forgot To Be Your Lover, in melody and lyrics.

Far be it for me to accuse Morrison of plagiarism, or even deliberately copying somebody else”s melody. Morrison could even plausibly claim never to have heard the William Bell and Booker T Jones composition, which was a hit for Bell in 1968 and then was re-recorded for the soul singer”s 1971 album Wow”¦ (it”s the slightly longer 1971 version featured here, because it is the more uncanny-sounding one).

Perhaps Van Morrison, a soul fan who described himself as a soul singer, heard it and forgot about it. Maybe it resided in the deeper recesses of his subconscious iPod, a forgotten but not erased memory, jogged perhaps by Billy Idol”s 1986 cover of  I Forgot To Be Your Lover, then retitled To Be A Lover (though Idol probably covered the George Faith version of 1977). Whatever the case, the similarity of the opening of Bell”s song and that of Morrison”s is striking.

Van Morrison doesn”t like his songs posted on blogs, so you”ll have to forgive its absence here.

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Frances Farmer – Aura Lea (1936)
Shelton Brothers – Aura Lee (1938)
Elvis Presley ““ Love Me Tender (1956)

Look at the label for Love Me Tender, Elvis” first ballad to be released as a single, and you”ll find the writing credits as listing singer”s name and that of one Vera Matson “” and neither had any hand in writing the title song of Elvis” debut movie. The melody was in fact written in 1861 by an English-born chap called George R Poulton (1828-67) for the song Aura Lee, which would become a hit during the US civil war (a time in which the film Love Me Tender is set). It was popular with soldiers from both sides; so much so, it is said, that enemies by day would sing the song together across their positions at night.

Aura Lee made a comeback (as Aura Lea) in 1936 when it featured in the film Come And Get It, in which it is sung by the tragic Frances Farmer.

By the 1950s, Aura Lee was in the public domain, and with copyright out of the way, the Oscar-winning film composer and arranger Ken Darby (The King And I, Porgy & Bess, South Pacific “” all as co-arranger ““ How The West Was Won) was commissioned to write new lyrics for what would be Love Me Tender. When the songwriting credits were assigned, Poulton”s name was missing. Elvis received his customary co-writing credit, and Darby ceded his rightful credit to his wife Vera Matson. The reason for that related to the distribution of royalties, but Darby had an even better explanation: “Because she didn”t write it either.”

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The Doobie Brothers ““ Long Train Running (1973)
Robert Johnson – Terraplane Blues (1937)
Led Zeppelin – Trampled Underfoot (1975)
In Sounds Like Teen Spirit, Tim English fingers just a few songs by Led Zeppelin which one might say benefitted from an overzealous spirit of drawing inspiration from the work of others. Some blues musicians successfully sued Led Zep for plagiarising their work; many others have provided the basis for songs by the hoary old rockers but have not been credited; and sometimes they even needn”t be.

By the band”s own admission, the lyrics for Trampled Underfoot, a stomper from 1975″s Physical Grafitti album, drew inspiration from Robert Johnson”s 1937 hit Terraplane Blues, and drummer John Paul Jones has said that he borrowed the beat from Stevie Wonder”s Superstition.

English has spotted another influence: the verses of The Doobie Brothers” 1973 hit Long Train Running, saying it “betrays obvious melodic, rhythmic and even lyrical similarities” to the Doobies” track. He does not allege plagiarism (and that is always refreshing when discussing Led Zep songs), but speculates that the band probably heard Long Train Running during their 1973 tour of the US, which coincided with the Doobie songs” residence in the charts.

Whether Tim has a point, you decide.

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Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 4

May 18th, 2010 7 comments

In the fourth instalment of this series we”ll look at Chuck Berry”s hit that deliberately borrowed from a country tune, a song that made a four-stage transition from crooner standard to soul classic, and Bob Marley”s possibly unintended homage to a kids” TV show. I should stress that I”m not suggesting plagiarism or other unethical actions by anybody (let”s save that for the inevitable mammoth Led Zep post).

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Dykes Magic City Trio – Ida Red (1927).mp3
Bob Wills
& his Texas Playboys – Ida Red (1938).mp3
Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys – Ida Red Likes The Boogie (1949).mp3
Chuck Berry ““ Maybellene (1955).mp3

Chuck Berry himself said that he based Maybellene, his debut record, on country musician Bob Wills” vocal version of the traditional fiddle number Ida Red, recorded in 1938. Released on Chess in July 1955, Maybellene was a breakthrough song for the nascent rock & roll genre. Berry”s debut single was the first rock & roll record performed by a black musician to break the Billboard top 10 (those were pioneer days; bear in mind that Elvis was still a regional star and yet to sign with RCA).

Playing the piano at that session was Johnny Johnson, who had given Berry something of a break in 1952 when he let him join his Sir John Trio, and to whose prodigious drinking Berry”s later hit Johnny B. Goode was dedicated. One of the trio”s staple songs was a take on Ida Red, based on Wills” 1938 recording. Berry, already brimming with charisma and showmanship, had taken that song to Chess in Chicago, and signed for the label as a solo artist. Pragmatically, Johnson and the third member of the trio, drummer Ebby Hardy, became members of Berry”s backing band. Now Leo Chess suggested that Ida Red be remodelled as a 12-bar blues, with different lyrics. Johnson reworked the arrangements, and Berry came up with the lyrics about the car and a girl, those rock & roll staples.

Bob Wills claimed that he played rock & roll decades before the genre was invented. He can”t have meant the sound itself, but the fusion of musical influences from across the racial divide, and the innovative use of instrumentation in the western swing sub-genre of country which Wills helped pioneer. On Ida Red, which preceded Wills breakthrough hit New San Antonio Rose by two years, Wills used drums, which were very unusual in country music (a term which wasn”t even known yet). The song, one of several riffing on the Ida Red character, had first been recorded  in 1924 by Fiddlin’ Powers & Family, and to greater public attention by the Dykes Magic City Trio in 1927. Wills put the tune to a 2/4 beat and gave the it new lyrics, which borrowed from a 1878 song called Sunday Night, written by Frederick W Root. In 1949, Wills revisited Ida Red with a sequel titled Ida Red Likes The Boogie.  Berry and Johnson may well have known that version, and one can imagine how it might have served to inspire Maybellene (just listen to the guitar), but it is the 1938 recording only which they have credited as the template for the song.

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Ruth Etting – Try A Little Tenderness (1933).mp3
Bing Crosby ““ Try A Little Tenderness (1933).mp3
Little Miss Cornshucks – Try A Little Tenderness (1952).mp3
Aretha Franklin – Try A Little Tenderness (1962).mp3
Sam Cooke – Medley-Try A Little Tenderness/(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons/ You Send Me (1964).mp3
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness (1966).mp3

Before it became a soul standard, Try A Little Tenderness was a standard, first recorded by Ray Noble and his Orchestra in 1932, and a year later by Ruth Etting, then by Bing Crosby, and subsequently by vocalists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Jimmy Durante.  Otis Redding is being credited with reinventing the song as a soul tune, but his take was only the fourth (and final) stage of the tune”s evolution as a soul classic.

Before Otis, Sam Cooke recorded a fragment of the song as part of a rather lovely medley on his 1964 Sam Cooke At The Copa album. It was in fact that fragment which gave Stax executives the idea that Redding should cover it in 1966. Otis did so with great reluctance, not because he hated the song, but because he felt he could not measure up to his by now deceased hero Cooke. Produced by Isaac Hayes and backed by Booker T & the MGs, Redding did all he could to mess up the song so that it could not be released. He failed, and the song is now irrevocably his.

Redding apparently knew only Coke”s version (hence the abridged lyrics). Cooke in turn had decided to include Tenderness in his medley having heard the song on Aretha Franklin”s 1962 album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin. As fine as an interpreter of songs as Franklin would become (and already was at the age of 20), her version “” soul-inflected vocals backed with an easy listening string arrangement “” seems to have drawn from that by the forgotten Little Miss Cornshucks, whose 1951 recording was the first to Try A Little Tenderness the R&B treatment.

Born Mildred Cummings in Dayton, Ohio, in 1923, Little Miss Cornshucks came to the notice of future Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun while performing in a Washington club during her 1943 US tour, where her stage appearance was based on the rural shtick her name suggests, wearing the shabby dress she would later sing about. She was the first artist he recorded, and thereby the impetus for what would eventually become Atlantic Records (on which Aretha Franklin would record, though in 1962 she was on Columbia). Little Miss Cornshucks broke through as a recording artist in the latter years of the 1940s, particularly with her signature song So Long. Soon her star faded. In 1952 she recorded on three different labels, including Columbia. Her version of Try A Little Tenderness, however, was released in late May on Coral, a subsidiary of Decca, for whom she had recorded So Long.  Little Miss Cornshucks soon drifted away, just as her imitator Miss Sharecropper started to find success on Atlantic as LaVerne Baker. She died in 1999. (Read the full story of Little Miss Cornshucks at the excellent No Depression archives)

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Banana Splits – The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) (1968).mp3
Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier (1980).mp3
This series was inspired by Timothy English”s books Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), a collection of “stolen melodies, ripped-off riffs”. The book includes a number of surprising instances of soundalikes. One of the least expected is the connection between the theme song of a late 1960s US television kids” show and a Bob Marley hit.

Buffalo Soldiers, a song about a regiment of black soldiers who fought in wars against Native Americans on the side of their oppressor, was recorded during the 1980 sessions for  Marley”s Uprising album (it was a posthumous hit in 1983 after inclusion on the Legend album). English writes that “in the middle, and again at the end of Buffalo Soldier, Marley breaks into a wordless note-for-note rendition of ““ of all things ““ the Banana Splits Theme.” He is referring to the woy-yoy-yoy ad lib, which does indeed sound exactly like the beginning and chorus of the theme song, written by Mark Barkan, who also wrote Manfred Mann”s Pretty Flamingo, and Richie Adams, both of whom also contributed to The Monkees and The Archies (other writers for the Banana Splits show included Gene Pitney, Al Kooper and Barry White).

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was a late “60s kids” TV show modelled loosely on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and The Monkees, with stuffed animals taking the parts of the musicians (yeah, I know). English alleges no plagiarism on Marley”s part, but speculates that a little known passage in the life of Robert Nesta Marley  might have implanted the relatively obscure TV theme “” it just scraped into the Billboard top 100, peaking at #96 in February 1969 “” in the great man”s head. Periodically, the pre-fame Marley would live with his mother Cedella in Wilmington, Delaware, working at the Chrysler assembly line. One such spell, with his kids in tow, was half a year from April to October 1969, just as the Banana Splits show was running on Saturday morning TV and its theme possibly received some residual radio airplay…

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Copy Borrow Steal Vol. 3

November 13th, 2009 14 comments

Did the Beatles borrow from a 1956 jazz hit before their song was shamelessly copied by a 1990s alternative group? How did Rod Stewart get around a plagiarism lawsuit? Does Seal”s mega-hit Kiss From A Rose borrow from Natalie Cole? Did Keith Richards and Mick Jagger really never hear k.d. lang”s Constant Craving? Why am I writing the intro in question format? Could it be because the Copy Borrow Steal posts are not intended to directly accuse songwriters of plagiarism (except when they do)? Shall we proceed to the meat of the post?

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Jorge Ben ““ Taj Mahal (1976).mp3
Bob Dylan – One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later) (1966).mp3
Rod Stewart ““ Do Ya Think I”m Sexy (1978).mp3
Steve Dahl – Do You Think I’m Disco
(1979).mp3
jorge benIt didn”t go down well when Rod the Mod donned the leopard-print spandex tights and satin shirt to cash in on the disco boom. His fans were appalled, the disco purists even more so, and the disco haters went into overdrive. Radio jock Steve Dahl was prompted to organise the despicable record burning at Chicago”s Comiskey Park in part because of Rod”s single (for my views on Comiskey, go here). Dahl later released the non-genius spoof Do You Think I’m Disco. In the outrage, few noticed that the chorus of Rod”s song (and, for that matter, Dahl”s) was lifted almost wholesale from Brazilian jazz maestro Jorge Ben”s samba-funk workout Taj Mahal, which he has recorded at least three times since its first appearance in 1972 (featured here is the 1976 version).

rodDo Ya Think I”m Sexy was written by Stewart with his drummer, Carmine Appice. But clearly, it was largely plagiarised, so Jorge Ben threatened to sue. Rod deftly outmanoeuvred him, and Ben (who also wrote the bossa nova standard Mais Que Nada) saw no profit from it. Stewart grandly announced that future royalties of his ripped-off track would go to UNICEF, at whose proto-Live Aid show he sang “his” song. Ben “” now known as Jorge Ben Jor, after somehow royalties due to him were paid to George Benson “” later complained that UNICEF never even contacted him about the agreement. He was not happy about having been ripped off, but would have been fine with his melody being lifted if only Stewart and Appice had asked him.

Da Ya Think also lifts that synth hook from Bobby Womack”s 1975 track (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It. The Can-Smashing Robot blog, however, believes to have spotted another subtle rip-off: Al Kooper”s organ hook at 2:59 in Bob Dylan”s One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later). You decide. But as you do, think about this: Dylan”s track appeared on Blonde On Blonde; Stewart”s on Blondes Have More Fun. Coincidence?

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Humphrey Lyttleton – Bad Penny Blues (1956).mp3
The Beatles ““ Lady Madonna (1967).mp3
Sublime – What I Got (1996).mp3

lytteltonThe piano riff of Humphrey Lyttleton”s Bad Penny Blues, played by Johnny Parker, allegedly inspired Paul McCartney ivory-tinkling on Lady Madonna. Engineered by the legendary Joe Meek (who should have received the producer credit), it was the first British jazz number to reach the UK Top 20. Lyttleton, a jazz traditionalist, did not like the song on account of Meek”s innovations.

The aristocratic Lyttleton, who died in April last year, was a colourful character. Apart from playing jazz, he was also a cartoonist for the Daily Mail (which at the time evidently still employed left-leaning characters). At school, he played in a band with the journalist Ludovic Kennedy, who died last month. The trumpet was his constant companion, it seems. During the war, he reportedly landed on Salerno beach during Operation Avalanche with gun in one hand and trumpet in the other. On VE Day, the BBC filmed him celebrating the defeat of Nazi Germany sitting in a wheelbarrow playing his trumpet. For 40 years he presented a jazz programme on BBC radio, retiring the month before his death. He also appeared on the BBC radio comedy quiz show I”m Sorry, I Haven”t Got A Clue; one of his replacement after his death was the magnificent Stephen Fry. And in 2001, he contributed to Radiohead”s Life In A Glasshouse.

To spoil a good story, McCartney says that the piano on Lady Madonna was in fact inspired by Fats Domino, whose vocal style he also tried to replicate. And, in fairness, I can”t hear much similarity between Lyttleton”s and McCartney”s songs.

There is, however, more than just a little similarity between Lady Madonna and alternative rock outfit Sublime”s 1997 hit What You Got. The latter”s first verse melody is almost identical to that of the Beatles” song. Apparently the Sublime song, released after lead singer Bradley Nowell”s death, was based on a song by called Loving by Jamaican dancehall singer Half Pint. He gets a writer”s credit; McCartney doesn”t.

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Natalie Cole ““ Our Love (1978).mp3
Seal ““ Kiss From A Rose (1995).mp3

natalie_coleYou”ll have to make your own mind up about this: to me, the piano intro of Natalie Cole”s 1978 song Our Love sounds suspiciously like the scatted intro of Seal”s 1995 hit Kiss From A Rose (a song I can”t say I”m particularly partial to, though I”ll allow that Seal”s vocal performance is pretty good).

Natalie Cole”s song was written by Chuck Jackson & Marvin Yancy, and covered in 1997 by Mary J Blige, though I don”t remember her version at all. Cole”s version was a US #10 hit; Seal”s, written for the Batman Forever soundtrack by Seal and Trevor Horn, topped the US charts.

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k.d. lang ““ Constant Craving (1992).mp3
Rolling Stones ““ Anybody Seen My Baby (1997).mp3

kdlangOne of my favourite passages in Timothy English”s fascinating book on songs that have copied, borrowed or stolen, Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy) concerns the Rolling Stones” Anybody Seen My Baby from the mostly mediocre Bridges To Babylon album. It”s 1997 and Keef is playing the soon-to-be-release album to his daughter and her friends. As the chorus of Anybody Seen My Baby begins, the girls launch into the chorus of k.d. lang”s Constant Craving. Richards and Jagger denied having consciously heard lang”s mammoth hit of 1992 (nor, as English pointedly notes, did the producer, engineer, session musicians or record company honchos, it seems).

However, by the time Ms Richards and pals had alerted Keef to the potential plagiarism, the marketing machine for Bridges To Babylon was already in overdrive, and the track could not be pulled. The pragmatic, and honourable, solution was to add Lang and her co-writer, Ben Mink, to the writing credit. As for Richards, he later told CNN: “If you”re a songwriter, it can happen. You know, it”s what goes in may well come out.”

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Copy Borrow Steal: Beatles edition

September 4th, 2009 10 comments

In this series, of which this is the second instalment, I am to a large extent guided by Tim English” fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), which inspired it in the first place. It must be stressed that I am not necessarily imputing unethical behaviour on part of those who created music that sounds like somebody else”s. A reader calling himself Fudge, in his comment to the first post, explained the legal case for plagiarism: “In terms of songwriting, lawmakers decided that melody and chord structure are the basis of the song (in terms of pop music anyway) and therefore those parts are the most protected. I think the term is “˜interpolate”. That”s why The Jam can “˜borrow” “Taxman” for “Start!” and not get sued, or Steely Dan can nip Horace Silver”s cool bass line.”

I will also include a few songs where similarity has been suggested, but I can”t see it. You shall be the judge. Let me know what you think.

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Nat “˜King” Cole – Answer Me My Love (1961).mp3
Ray Charles ““ Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Yesterday (live in Blackpool) (1965).mp3
nat_king_coleIn my introduction to the first instalment, I cited Paul McCartney”s concern that he unconsciously plagiarised (the technical term for that is cryptomnesia) Yesterday as an example of a songwriter”s scruples. In his comment to the post, Mick alerted me to a suggestion in 2003 by British musicologists that Nat “˜King” Cole”s Answer Me My Love from 1953 “” available here in a 1961 re-recording “” inspired McCartney on a sub-conscious level (and kindly uploaded the song as well).

The case here rests on a line in Cole”s song which does bear some resemblance lyrically and in its phrasing. Cole sings: “Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay, won”t you tell me where I”ve gone astray” (0:38). McCartney”s line goes: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now I need a place to hide away.” The musicologists suggested that McCartney must have been aware of the Cole song but kindly allowed that the influence was subliminal.

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

To my mind, this is hardly a case of Byron stealing from Shelley. It is not the most unlikely coincidence when two lyricist 12 years apart arrive at similar rhymes to the word “yesterday”. The phrasing charge doesn”t stick either. Yesterday was floating around with nonsense lyrics (“Scambled eggs, oh my darling you have lovely legs”) until McCartney eventually wrote the lyrics while in Portugal. He could not really phrase the lyrics in many other ways over the existing melody. Others have suggested that he borrowed the structure and chord progression from Ray Charles” version of Georgia On My Mind. I don”t quite see that. So in more than 40 years, the best theories to support the notion that the most famous pop song of all time was influenced by other songs concern a generic rhyme and a song that sounds nothing like Yesterday. Members of the jury, there is no case.

Instead, enjoy this live performance of Yesterday, recorded at the Blackpool Night Out, with George Harrison”s introduction, “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks”, and Lennon”s attribution of the performance to Ringo at the end.

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Freddie Lennon – That’s My Life (My Love And My Home) (1965).mp3
Freddie Lennon – The Next Time You Feel Important.mp3
John Lennon ““ Imagine (1971).mp3

freddie_lennonIn early 1940 Alfred Lennon impregnated Julia and soon left her with little John Winston who”d barely hear of his seafaring father again. Alfred predictably turned up when the Beatles became successful. A reunion with his son was icy “” funny enough, John was not impressed with the old man”s sudden paternal interest. Still, John later bought the old man a cottage. In the interim, Alfred tried to cash in by recording a self-justifying single, a precursor for My Way in many ways (in a “I”m a good bloke, ain”t I? I just like the sea more than my offspring” fashion). To John, the single was a running joke; he”d play it as a gag for his friends.

Tim English in his book suggests that John might have been unconsciously influenced by his father”s novelty record when he wrote Imagine. English refers to the stately tone of both songs, which in itself is no smoking gun. More crucially, he points to the similarity in the chord progression in the verses. These are not terribly complex or unusual, but the similarity is recognisable. Still, even if John was not in any way influenced, it is a delicious irony that John Lennon”s hypocritical hymn to idealism bears a resemblance to his father”s ridiculous novelty record. As a bonus, I”m including the b-side to Freddie”s single as well (it”s pretty awful).

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The Hollies ““ Stewball (1966).mp3
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Merry X-Mas (War Is Over) (1971).mp3

holliesWe might acquit John from nicking chords from his Dad, but his Christmas standard will have the jury wanting exonerating evidence before it can acquit. Stewball, an American folk song adapted from a British ballad about an 18th century racehorse, had been recorded many times before Lennon wrote Merry X-Mas. The folk-influenced Lennon might have been familiar with the versions by Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Peter Paul & Mary or Joan Baez. It is likely too that he knew the Hollies” version, which appeared on their 1966 album Would You Believe?. Their version sounds close to Lennon”s song in arrangement, apart from the distinct melodic similarity.

Did John directly plagiarise? Well, Stewball came from a folk tradition in which melodies were routinely recycled and adapted with new lyrics. Bob Dylan did that with Blowin” In The Wind (see here) sounding more than just suspiciously like No More Auction Block. If we want to get Lennon off the charge on a technicality, at least we have recourse to a defence based on precedent.

merry_xmasEnglish refers to another inspiration, acknowledged by Lennon: the arrangement, by Phil Spector, was lifted from a song Spector and George Harrison had produced for Ronnie Spector, titled Try Some Buy Some (later recorded by Harrison). Apparently the song was so bad, Ronnie thought her husband and George were joking when presenting her with it. Harrison later put another arrangement from the Ronnie sessions (which she did not record) to his hit song You.

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The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (Take 1) (1965).mp3
Bob Dylan – 4th Time Around (1966).mp3

rubber_soulIn his book, English writes that John Lennon almost had a fit when he heard 4th Time Around on Bob Dylan”s Blonde On Blonde album: it ripped off Norwegian Wood, which the Beatles had released a little earlier on Rubber Soul. One can understand Lennon”s point: listen to 4th Time Around a few times, and latest by the third time around the similarities become glaring, especially two-thirds of the way through, and not only in subject matter.

Of course, Dylan had influenced Lennon profoundly. You”ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is John”s musical homage to acoustic Dylan. It”s fair to say that without the Dylan influence, John would not have written something like Norwegian Wood. Posted here is the first take of Norwegian Wood, recorded nine days before the version which made it on to the album. Some people prefer this take.

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The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965).mp3
The Beatles – If I Needed Someone (1965).mp3

byrdsAnd if Dylan ripped off Norwegian Wood, the Beatles borrowed and adapted the jangling guitar intro of the Byrds” version of Pete Seeger”s Bells Of Rhymney for If I Needed Someone. Still with Dylan in mind, it is of interest to note that he was influenced to go electric by the Byrds and the Beatles. And just to add to the mix, the Byrds” Gene Clark was moved by She Loves You to abandon the straight folk of the New Christy Minstrels, and instead co-found the Byrds, who borrowed further from the Beatles to get their guitar- and harmony-based sound (Tim English notes that Roger McGuinn bought his essential 12-string Rickenbacker after seeing Harrison use one in A Hard Day”s Night).

Harrison cheerfully admitted, in public and to the Byrds, that he had copied the intro to If I Needed Someone from the Byrds” song, which had just been released when the Beatles recorded Rubber Soul.

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The Beatles – Taxman (alternative take) (1966).mp3
The Jam ““ Start! (1980).mp3

taxmanThis is the rip-off every fan of English music immediately thinks off. As Fudge said, copying a riff does not constitute legal plagiarism. Here The Jam lifted the guitar and bass riff from Harrison”s rather mean-spirited complaint about having to pay taxes (which, admittedly, were punitive in Britain). The guitar and bass parts in Taxman, incidentally, were played by McCartney. Harrison took over Lennon”s rhythm guitar, and John (who contributed the bipartisan falsetto “Ah ha Mr Wilson; Ah ha Mr Heath”, replaced in the take featured here with the line “Anybody got a bit of money”) did tambourine and backing vocals duty. Start! Was The Jam”s second UK #1 hit after Going Underground.

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Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972).mp3
Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (2004).mp3

boogalooRingo Starr wrote his hit after having a dinner with T. Rex”s Marc Bolan who repeatedly used the word “boogaloo” (I am happy to dismiss the story that Boogaloo was Ringo”s nickname for Paul McCartney, who was engaged in legal action with the other Beatles at the time). The song was produced by George Harrison and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand appeared on the scene in 2004 with Take Me Out, supported by a superb video. Take Me Out sounded a bit like a mash of several unfinished songs. It was Libertines singer and celebrity junkie Pete Doherty who, in an unfamiliar moment of lucidity, accused Franz Ferdinand of copying the riff and song structure of Ringo”s song. Apart from Boogaloo”s riff, the “I know I won”t be leaving here” bridge certainly bears a close resemblance. Theft or not? What do you think?

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Copy, borrow, steal: Rikki’s number & Sibelius’ swans

July 29th, 2009 12 comments

Few things at once delight and annoy the music fan as much as spotting a melody, a riff or a lyric lifted from another song. The delight resides in the act of knowing; the more obscure the source, the greater the pleasure. The irritation rests in the suspicion that an artist we admire has committed an act of plagiarism. How can one listen now to many Led Zeppelin classics knowing that Page and Plant didn”t just draw inspiration from other people”s composition, but irrefutably plagiarised artists they claimed to admire, and not give them a credit (except, belatedly, under the duress of legal action)?

Not all similarities in songs are plagiarism, of course. Some reference another piece of music with a knowing nod and a wink, as George Harrison did when he too inspiration from the Ed Hawkins Singers” Oh Happy Day for My Sweet Lord (of course, we can”t sounds_like_teen_spiritknow to what extent he knowingly plagiarised the Chiffons” He”s So Fine “” see here for more on that). It is quite possible that more than one people might have had the same good idea (it might well be that somebody has written this exact sentence before me in a similar context). It is plausible that a melody, riff or hook heard a long time ago has worked itself into the composer”s subconscious, and thus internalised emerges as something original, or at least presumed original. When Paul McCartney woke up with the melody for Yesterday in his head, he asked anyone who”d listen whether it sounded familiar to them. It didn”t. McCartney was scrupulous in ascertaining that the idea was indeed his. Not everybody is.

Timothy English wrote a fascinating book on songs that copy, borrow and steal, titled Sounds Like Teen Spirit (Website and Buy), which inspires this new series. And I will liberally draw ideas from it (having been in contact with Timothy I know he won”t mind). And since this blog is named after a Steely Dan song from the Pretzel Logic album, it seems right that this new series should kick off with a song from that album. The second segment does not feature in Sounds Like Teen Spirit, the scope of which excluded reference to works from the world of classical music.

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Horace Silver ““ Song For My Father.mp3
Steely Dan ““ Rikki Don”t Lose That Number.mp3
Stevie Wonder ““ Don”t You Worry “Bout A Thing.mp3

horace_silverYes, Steely Dan”s biggest hit borrows liberally. The opening keyboard riff that runs throughout the song was lifted was lifted from the title track of jazz legend Horace Silver”s 1964 album, released on Blue Note (and featuring Silver”s Cape Verde-born father on the cover). Silver was a pioneer of the percussive hard bop form of jazz, but Song For My Father, written after a visit to Brazil, has more of a funky bossa nova vibe.

Steely Dan”s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker famously fused their jazz sensibilities with their rock direction, so it seems appropriate that their biggest hit, reaching #4 in the US, should have borrowed from a jazz classic. Evidently sampling a riff so faithfully, even from a piece regarded by many as a classic, did not qualify its creator for a co-writer credit: Horace Silver is not credited on Rikki Don”t Lose That Number. The titular Rikki, incidentally, may be the writer Rikki Ducornet, who claims that Fagen, whom she knew in college, once did giver her his number at a party (Fagen has not commented).

Had Silver sued Steely Dan, he probably would have won. Writers have secured credits for much less (and others have gotten away with much more!). He also might have succeeded in litigating against Stevie Wonder”s use of Song For My Father’s horn riff as an inspiration for the melody of 1973″s Don”t You Worry “Bout A Thing.

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Sibelius – 5th Symphony 3rd Movement.mp3
The First Class ““ Beach Baby.mp3
Strawberry Switchblade ““ Since Yesterday.mp3

first_classOnly nostalgists and one-hit wonder devotees might remember The First Class or Strawberry Switchblade. Beach Baby was The First Class” only hit, in 1974. The First Class was one of the names under which British singer Tony Burrows and songwriters John Carter and Ken Lewis released some of their songs. While Beach Baby was The First Class” only hit, Lewis and Carter were behind other one hit wonders. They were the Flowerpot Men, who had a solitary hit with Let”s Go To San Francisco in 1967, while Burrows fronted Edison Lighthouse, who had a massive hit in 1970 with Love Goes Where My Rosemary Goes, as well as with White Plains (My Baby Loves Lovin”) and Brotherhood Of Men before they hit the Eurovision trail. Carter had previously also enjoyed chart success as a founder-member of The Ivy League (Tossin” And Turnin”).

strawberry_switchbladeStrawberry Switchblade, one of the few acts I ever caught live before they had a hit (The Housemartins and R.E.M. are the others; besides them, I was a jinx to every unknown act I saw), emerged from Glasgow”s punk scene to make some beautiful pop in the mid-“˜80s, produced by John Deacon of Queen (so much for the punk revolution). Since Yesterday was released in November 1984, but hit the UK top 5 only in February 1985. They released only one LP and a couple of singles in Japan before splitting and disappearing.

Sibelius thinks about another pop riff.

Jean Sibelius contemplates creating another pop riff.

As the attentive reader may have worked out, both pop songs sample from Sibelius 5th symphony. The horn riff that opens Since Yesterday so gorgeously appeared a decade earlier in an interlude on Beach Baby (at 3:05) which unashamedly and deliberately recreates the sound of the Beach Boys, producing a rather good pastiche.

Jean Sibelius wrote his 5th Symphony in 1915 at the request of the Finnish government which wanted to mark the composer”s 50th birthday by declaring it a public holiday. It was revised twice, and it is the final revision from 1919 that is most commonly performed. Sibelius said the recurring horn motif which the two pop bands would adopt more than half a century later was inspired by the sound of swan calls. For both acts, the songs that used Sibelius” swan call represented “” and you know that I can never resist a criminally bad pun “” their swansong.

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