“Art is theft.” Pablo Picasso quipped this unusual line, seemingly in an attempt to endorse theft as a valid means of artistic inspiration. While any one person’s stance on the morality of this statement can differ wildly from the next, it is clear that this “theft” is prevalent in every art form. However, it is clear in every lifted chord progression to each rehashed riff, music may well suffer Picasso’s idiom the most. Bands sue each other frequently for the rights to what they believe to be rearranged versions of their own songs, for an example, see Coldplay vs. four different bands on the rights to their “Viva La Vida”, or George Harrison’s battle with The Chiffons for “My Sweet Lord”. Music is often plagued by repetition, as there are only so many chords to use, and so many riffs and to write. Still, lawsuits plague the musical domain, partially due to a feeling of entitlement to the “original” artists, and partially due to the persistence of musical plagiarism as a concept in and of itself. Music has built upon itself for millennia, and, although there are some cases of extreme plagiarism wherein a lawsuit would be merited, many cases are simply built upon the greed of the artists who is being “infringed upon.” That being said, here are a few cases I have noticed where musical plagiarism is rather evident, and, whether it should be punished or not, should be acknowledged. Their individual placements on the list are based on a few criteria: the popularity of the groups being compared, the acclaim of each song, and the degree of plagiarism involved.
10. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” by Metallica vs. Bleak House’s “Rainbow Warrior”
This is a fairly open and shut case in terms of the plagiarism involved. The main riff to the song “Welcome Home” was stolen directly out of “Rainbow Warrior” by Bleak House. This riff really is the driving force behind the song. If further evidence is needed of the plagiarized material, James Hetfield of Metallica came forward and confirmed the plagiarism in an interview here. Metallica already have quite the bad reputation for musical plagiarism, especially for a band that has sued many Napster and file sharing users for stealing their songs via Peer-to-Peer software, and this only served to reinforce their reputations as hypocrites. Plus, just look at them.
Not pictured: Intelligence
A video link for Bleak House’s “Rainbow Warrior”:
One for Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”:
9. “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John vs. Pat Boone’s “Speedy Gonzales”
This comparison is slightly tougher to draw, as there was no open admission to the plagiarism by Elton John. However, the theft is blatant enough in and of itself. The post-chorus “Na-Na” section of John’s “Crocodile Rock” is a rather remarkably similar rearrangement of Pat Boone’s earlier, 1962 hit, “Speedy Gonzales.” It shares almost all of the melody notes of this portion with the Boone song, and, although the rest of the song’s melody seems to be original enough, this hook is a vital part to the song, lifted directly from Pat Boone. Here is (apparently) the Crocodile Rock himself, singing John’s or Boone’s song, you can be the judge on which it is.
“NA—NA-NA-NA-NA-NA—-NA-NA-NA-NA-NA—–NA-NA-NA-NA-NA”, says the most literal thing I have ever seen
Interestingly enough, this is not the first instance where an Elton John song has benefited from some sweet Boone. Elton reworked Boone’s “Candle in the Wind” into a song of mourning for Princess Diana, and the aforementioned single then became the top selling single ever at that point. I cannot tell, though, if this makes me upset at Elton or happy with him, as he has pulled both off with no lawsuits to speak of and very little negative press.
A link to a video comparison of the two songs:
8. “Dazed And Confused” by Led Zeppelin vs. Jake Holmes’ “Dazed And Confused”
As if the title alone were not enough, the resemblance between the two songs is unreal. The chords, vocal melody, and even many lines of lyric are lifted directly from Jake Holmes’ original and directly into Led Zeppelin’s more bombastic sequel. This is one of the more blatant thefts of theirs, but certainly not the worst, and only a very small portion of the expanse that Zeppelin stole throughout their tenure. For instance, here you will find a long list of songs Zeppelin had taken from other artists, many being old delta blues standards that time seems to have forgotten. Considering Zeppelin didn’t even have the decency to change the titles more often than not, instead choosing to edit the author’s information to “Page/Plant”, the plagiarism is fairly easy to spot and very incriminating. Zeppelin has been sued for many songs, but this was initially not one of them, as Holmes sent Robert Plant a letter asking for recognition, “or at least a thank you”, that has gone unanswered to this day.
“Dear Led Zeppelin,
Please don’t be dicks?
Love and kisses, Jake Holmes”
Holmes has only recently decided to take legal action, asking for one million dollars in damages and back royalties, which would not be a bad thing to award him, given the success the song saw that he was never paid for. This is absolutely not the first successful lawsuit against Zeppelin, either. They were sued by Anne Bredon, who successfully regained ownership to her song “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, and was awarded back royalties, as again, prior to this, Zeppelin only had “Page/Plant” listed as the sole writers for their song. Additionally, “Stairway to Heaven” is alleged to have been lifted from Spirit’s “Taurus”, and it is easy to make the case for that as well, being that they sound TOTALLY ALIKE. Almost totally, anyway, there’s a slight melodic differentiation in the third line of the Spirit song, but that aside, it was a fairly easy-to-spot steal.
For the video comparison of Dazed and Confused (at two minutes and thirty eight seconds in):
7. Green Day’s “American Idiot” vs. Jo, Young-nam’s “Dosiyo annyung”
Perhaps I’m not being fair on this one, but this Green Day melody seems to be almost totally lifted from the Korean singer’s original. How Billy Joe Armstrong could have heard this song I really do not know, but the evidence is fairly incriminating. I just was not aware that Armstrong is such an avid listener of Korean Pop music. Both songs are strikingly similar in their melody lines, and Green Day’s seems to be at the very least influenced by Young-Nam’s song. That being said, that is really where the similarities end. Young-nam claims that he deserves royalties of some kind, and that his song was absolutely ripped off. I contend it is highly possible, and that both do sound eerily close. No legal action has thus far been taken, although it seems to be underway.
At least, it will be, when he comes down from whatever he’s on.
A video link comparing the two:
6. The Strokes’ “Last Night” vs. Tom Petty’s “American Girl”
This comparison feels farfetched to me, especially with my impaired judgment (Strokes fans forever!). However, I will concede that the intro and overall aesthetic of the two songs are very similar. Additionally, the chord progressions used are very similar, and so is the highly octave-focused guitar riff employed post-refrain. The vocal melodies of the two songs are distinct enough to make a case for originality vocally, at the very least. This does not mean, of course, that The Strokes did not piece together their own song from bits of Petty’s, which does seem to be the real truth, and hinted at by The Strokes themselves here. Petty himself noticed the interview with The Strokes where they admitted to adapting “American Girl” and endorsed it, stating, “That [admission] made me laugh out loud. I was like, “OK, good for you.” It doesn’t bother me.”
Hail Tom Petty, King of Ambivalence.
A video comparison of the two songs by youtube musician Sadowsk1:
5. Green Day’s “Warning” vs. The Kinks’ “Picture Book”
Once again, another Green Day song that appears to have been lifted from an earlier song. Particularly in this song, the bass line is entirely taken note for note from The Kinks’ “Picture Book”, as well as the chords and rhythm of the song. The song doesn’t even try to hide its source beneath other instruments or arrangements. It instead resorts to the same theft that Green Day is famous for, the in-your-face, tooth-grinding variety that makes you wonder how the members of Green Day sleep at night.
On second thought, I’m not sure they do.
A Side by side comparison between the two, and two additional supposed plagiarisms of The Kinks’ song:
4. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” vs. Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers: Evidence that sometimes sobriety isn’t for everyone.
Yes, a second Petty song is on the list for being appropriated. Apparently, Petty is some kind of major influence on Rock music or something. Additionally, he doesn’t seem to be suing any of the artists that “borrow” from him, so that paints him an easy target for aspiring plagiarists. “A lot of Rock ’n’ Roll songs sound alike”, said Petty, of the comparison between his “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California”. I do believe some serious comparisons can be drawn between the two, however. The chord progression is exactly the same, the vocal melody shares many of the same notes in sequence, the arrangement is similar, the mastering and production mirror each other, and both of the songs have a nearly identical drumbeat to tie them together. “Dani California” is clearly ripped from Petty’s original, and, although an open-and-shut case, Petty stood up for the Peppers and defended the same sentiment Picasso expressed earlier in this list. “Art if theft” seems to be absolutely true in this case, and a non-rectified theft it was.
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”:
3. Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger” vs. John Lennon’s “Imagine”
This one isn’t nearly as incriminating as many on this list. Of course, with that said, Oasis owes its entire career to The Beatles. The Beatles influenced every note they ever laid to tape, and I could make a convincing case for Beatles thefts in their music, especially the lyrical references and allusions they can’t seem to help from indulging in, like referencing The Beatles in song is a drug.
Pictured: Noel Gallagher, about to receive a sweet hit of placing Easter-Egg references to John Lennon songs.
Finally getting to the music at hand, though, the intros of the two songs being compared are very similar in tone, dynamics, and melodic construction. Additionally, the chord progressions themselves are the same, and Oasis loves The Beatles. Noel openly admitted to lifting riffs directly from George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” here for their song “Supersonic”, claiming as defense that all the best riffs have been played in one capacity or another already. That statement in itself is circumstantial enough to say they probably did steal, or at least pull influence from John Lennon’s “Imagine”. However, I was not satisfied with only providing this much as proof of blatancy, so, The Beatles are referenced right in the lyrics to “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. The “So I’ll start a revolution from my bed” line is a reference to Lennon’s bed–ins that occurred in 1969. Very subtle, Mr. Gallagher. As subtle as a loose freight train in Times Square.
A video link for comparison:
2. The Beatles’ “Taxman” vs. The Jam’s “Start”
Are The Beatles truly above reproach? Am I crazy to condemn The Beatles for any reason? The short answer is yes, although The Chiffons, Chuck Berry’s publisher, EMI, EMI, EMI a third, fourth, and fifth time, and former Beatle Paul Mccartney himself would disagree with that sentiment here. Regardless, though they are probably my favorite Classic Rock act of all time, with some of what is debatably the best music of all time.
And the coolest styles, regardless of, or perhaps due to, Amish Lennon.
The Beatles did indeed have moments where their sources were not tremendously well hidden, however, and “Taxman”, a George Harrison original, was one of these songs. “Taxman”, upon first listen, seems to be a blatant rip-off; perhaps as blatant as their appropriation of the driving riff to “I Feel Fine” from Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step”. However, the song “Taxman” does have slight melodic and rhythmic differences that seem to hint that Harrison was at least trying to make the song his own. The main bass groove, however, does seem to be lifted directly, which is the main complaint I have with the song’s “original” composition.
A side-by-side comparison video:
1. The Offspring’s “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” vs. The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”
This one is going to be fun. I’ve never been a huge Offspring fan in the first place. They were always, in my opinion, one of the 90s’ dullest novelty acts. They also had a tendency to be incessant musical borrowers, often with little tact in their compositions when utilizing other artists’ material. However, focusing on simply this one song, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?”, one clearly hears in the chorus the sweet, bouncing bass line that keeps you company nearly the entire song in The Beatles’ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. Then, after doing slightly further investigation, you begin to hear other similarities. The vocal line parallels The Beatles’ tune nearly perfectly, only offering a rare divergence into the unfamiliar that is primarily introduced in the verses of The Offspring’s song. The guitar and background chimes in the chorus of “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” also clearly parallel the sound of The Beatles’ original. The Offspring’s song is more frantic, and it feels as if the singer is constantly screaming, typical of their usual sound. I believe The Beatles’ song is a stronger song in general, despite the fan appeal “Why Don’t You Get a Job” garners from Offspring fans. The Californian punk band has thus far not admitted guilt for the plagiarism, and it is doubtful they will, due to having no threat of legal action against them, partially due to The Beatles’ dissolution, and partially due to their apathy for The Offspring. Yes, The Offspring did have a hit with their song indeed, but not one as big as the original. Not this time. No one can best The Beatles, and The Offspring can’t even seem to capture their lawyers’ attentions.
No matter how blonde you may make your hair, Dexter Holland, they will never care.
One last side-by-side comparison: