Friday, October 12, 2007

Papa Would Beg, Borrow, Steal to Pay His Debts

The discussion in comments regarding Bob Dylan's "Rollin' and Tumblin'" led me to think about which pop records have borrowed motifs, chord changes or even entire songs from what has gone before. Here's a list of examples -- leaving out those that have inspired litigation or instances like Elvis Costello's "When I Was Cruel," which borrows a line from Abba's "Dancing Queen" in a clear homage -- that you the reader may feel free to add to:

* The White Stripes' "Fell in Love With a Girl" steals its central riff from the Pretenders' "Middle of the Road"

* Pavement's "Silence Kid" takes its melody from Buddy Holly's "Every Day"

* The chorus of Elton John's "I Don't Want to Go On With You Like That" steals from the chorus of "Love Potion No. 9"

* Shakira's "Underneath Your Clothes" is pretty much the same song as the Bangles' "Eternal Flame"

* The organ line in Bruce Springsteen's "Factory" is the same as the melody of "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar

* The opening of Prodigy's "Firestarter" is exactly the same as the opening to the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog"


rob said...

Ah, the Pretenders... True originals.

Tom, where do you stand on the "Whiter Shade of Pale" controversy? Does the guy who played the organ solo deserve an author credit? The English court system has been agonizing over this for years. A couple years ago, they decided playing the organ solo means he wrote 40% of the song. (The guy who wrote the words has appealed, because he thinks he wrote 100% of the song.) Pink Floyd’s back-up singer was recently awarded an author credit for going “whoa-oh, whoa-oh, WOOOW” on “The Great Gig In The Sky.” (And why not—that’s the whole song.)

The idea of songs having authors, or being original, is a relatively recent development, isn’t it? Shakespeare never claimed to be the author of anything. I think Dylan’s right to treat author credit as a silly joke. I also think he should sing “Eternal Flame.”

T. Nawrocki said...

It seems to me like a band that puts songs together in a studio ought to credit the entire band for writing it, like R.E.M. always does. I know Andy Summers has been grumbling for a while that he wrote the guitar part for "Every Breath You Take," which is not just most of what Puff Daddy ended up using but the musical backbone of the song. The time to bring this up, Andy, was back when "Synchronicity" was coming out, not now. Good luck extracting any money out of Sting's pocket now.

The best (and by best, I mean most horrifying) writing creidt is on the Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony," which reads "'Bittersweet Symphony' was written by Jagger-Richards, lyrics by Richard Ashcroft." If you learn anything from OPC, kids, let it be "Don't mess with Allen Klein."

Anonymous said...

And wasn't the upshot that Verve had its one-hit-wonder hit, yet saw not a sou?

(That said, "creidt"? You're doing this just to mess with our heads now, aren't you?)

Mark Lerner said...

Funny you should mention the execrable "Every Breath You Take," as it is ripped off from the even more execrable "More Than I Can Say" by Leo Sayer. Even the bridge. See for yourself.

I'm pretty sure that "Shakespeare never claimed to be the author of anything" is, if not patently false, at least a mtter of healthy debate.