Posts Tagged ‘Natalie Cole’

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
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?


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.


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.


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.”


More Copy Borrow Steal


July 29th, 2007 1 comment

A most intense year. I fell heavily in unrequited love (we were closest of friends instead, FFS), and I had the worst day of my life. One morning in January I received my call-up papers for the apartheid army — there was no way I’d go, but what to do other than leaving the country (and leaving behind the woman I hoped would love me back)? Refusing military “service” was punishable by six years in jail. After a Savuka concert that night, which I had to watch on my own after getting separated from my friends, I crashed the car I was about to sell to my friend Claude, and was lucky to to get away with a mashed-up lip, cut chin and sprained finger, since I was wearing no seatbelt (playing on tape at the time was Bruce Springsteen).

The army situation became an opportunity: it turned out that one could receive an exemption if one studied. So I registered at a college to complete my matriculation. From there I went on to university to study Sociology and Political Studies (the refuge for people who have no idea what to study). By the time I had completed my studies, it was safe to ignore call-up papers. Musically it was generally a terrible year, except in dance music, which hit a high.

Jevetta Steele – Calling You.mp3
The fantastically atmospheric theme song of the fantastically atmospheric film Baghdad Café (not to be confused with the train-wreck sitcom based on the film). The Percy Adlon film, originally titled Out Of Rosenheim, was originally released in 1987. It hit the South African circuit in 1989. I watched it twice at the movies, and several times on video that year.

Michelle Shocked – Anchorage.mp3
I was in bed with the woman I loved when this song played on the radio one afternoon. Alas, we were both dressed and there were other people in the room, resting after a day at the beach. Gah! I can’t say I would know other Michelle Shocked songs. I taped the album, but didn’t rate it. Except this song; it’s great. Oh, and hello to my two loyal readers in Anchorage!

MarcAlex – Quick Quick.mp3
The South African hit of early 1989. Brothers MarcAlex not only filled the dancefloors with this innocuous discopop tune, but people everywhere were singing it. It’s a catchy number, very much of its time (it even has a sax solo in it). After a few more inferior hits, Marcalex’s gradual disappearance was barely noticed or bemoaned.

Gipsy Kings – Djobi Djoba.mp3
I could never get much enthused for the works of the Gipsy Kings, nor for the criticism of them. At the time I often DJed at parties, by dint of having the biggest and best record collection. As a party mover, this song worked. And where I live, it still does.

Roberta Flack – So It Goes.mp3
Flack’s reputation is slightly tarnished by her duets with the likes of Peabo Bryson (though their “Maybe” was great). Fact is, Roberta Flack is one of history’s great soul singers. Her 1988 Oasis album, which yielded this unassuming track, was quite lovely in the “Quiet Storm” sort of way. As I listen to it right now, I can smell 1989.

Natalie Cole – Miss You Like Crazy.mp3
Guess whom I associate this song with. Oh the tears this song soundtracked; just hearing it now knots up my stomach all over again. The album this is from, Good To Be Back, was actually pretty good. Especially the swinging vibe of the title track.

De La Soul – Me, Myself And I.mp3
Fabolous, 50 Cent, Ludacris, The Game and all these contemporary hip hop gubbins are pissing on the legacy of De La Soul. Fiddy and his ilk are really an outgrowth of the MC Hammer vs Vanilla Ice battle for the crown of rap kings via the deplorable gangsta rap scene of the ’90s (OK, I’m not an expert on hip hop, it just seems like it to me). So where can we find the influence of De La Soul today?

Soul II Soul – Back To Life.mp3
Black Box – Ride On Time.mp3
Ten City – That’s The Way Love Is.mp3
A trio of dance classics from a golden era. Soul II Soul were innovators from a British dance culture; Black Box was the best slice of Euro disco (though replacing the generously proportioned singer with a thin waif in the video was criminal); Ten City was a Chicago act produced in Germany, drawing from ’70s soul, House and Euro to create a quite unique sound.

Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians – Friends.mp3
I bought this album because I thought I was supposed to like it. Hearing Brickell even now tends to remind of all the frustrations I felt in 1989. This song is an exception — nice vocal performance, a good melody, and wonderfully stroppy lyrics that give the finger to bad friends, of whom I’ve had my fair share.

Martika – Toy Soldiers.mp3
When I played this a few minutes ago, my 12-year-old son came in, singing along. I asked how he knew that song. He told me Eminem sampled liberally from it on a song called — and here we learn that Eminem is a true innovator — “Like Toy Soldiers”. I didn’t want to like this song after Martika’s redundant cover Carol King’s “I Feel The Earth Move”. But, pssst, it is actually quite good, at least within the context of Top 40 hits of 1989.

Mango Groove – Special Star.mp3
Oh, South Africans were proud of the multi-racial Mango Groove, which combined joyful pop with local musical genres, revived the pennywhistle (giving dues, as in this song, to the master of the art, Spokes Mashiane), and gave wider exposure to the miners’ tradition of gumboot dancing. Mango Groove foreshadowed the New South Africa. Alas, by the time the New South Africa was born in 1994, Mango Groove was no more. Singer Claire Johnston’s beautiful voice is now usually heard singing the national anthem before rugby internationals in South Africa. But “Special Star”, with its multiple pace changes and that exuberant pennywhistle, is rightly a towering classic in local pop history. (Previously uploaded)

Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes.mp3
I know, it’s not from 1989 at all (it appeared on 1986’s So). Why is it included in a 1989 nostalgia trip? Two words: Say Anything. Which came out in 1989 and created one of the most iconic moments in ’80s cinema.


And so we reach the end of my nostalgia trip through the 1980s. I will no

t attempt to do the 1990s, which are a blur to me (Mariah Carey was big in the ’90s, yes?). The 1970s on the other hand… Oh yes, I’ll do the 1970s soon.