Copycat Songs

Pop, rock, and R&B oldies that make me think about another one.

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Beyoncé and friends in the “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video (Photo: Columbia Records)

“There is no new thing under the sun,” according to the Book of Ecclesiastes. That’s a pretty dead-accurate observation, but sadly for the likes of Robin Thicke, Michael Bolton, The Verve, and others, it would never hold up as a line of defense in a case of musical plagiarism or copyright infringement.

The history of modern music is littered with instances in which being inspired by and/or paying homage to an earlier work of art has been legally likened to stealing. Oops.

Liability isn’t always as clear-cut as when Huey Lewis filed suit against Ray Parker Jr. over the embarrassing similarities between “Ghostbusters,” Parker’s 1984 number one, and Lewis’s “I Want a New Drug,” a Top 10 from earlier that same year. Columbia Pictures, the studio behind the 1984 film Ghostbusters, may have been wise to settle out of court, considering that Lewis initially had been approached to write and perform the movie’s theme song.

Interesting fact: According to Parker’s episode of Unsung, he wrote Leo Sayer’s 1976 Grammy-winning number one, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” but never received credit or royalties for his work.

As far as I know, no lawsuits were filed over the following songs, and none of them made it to this great article on pop plagiarism that also omitted Lady Gaga’s “reductive” (in relation to Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” according to Madonna) “Born This Way” and The Fugees, who were almost sued by Enya for sampling her 1987 instrumental “Boadicea” on the rap trio’s 1996 breakthrough single “Ready Or Not” without permission.

Aside from the first and third pairs, any suit involving these tracks probably would have been quickly dismissed, but I still think it’s fun to play spot the similarities.

“All Right Now” by Free (1970) vs. “Rock ‘N Me” by The Steve Miller Band (1976)

“Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones (1971) vs. “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner (1978)

“Trans Europa Express” by Kraftwerk (1977) vs. “Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)” by Jonzun Crew (1983)

I don’t recall reading anything about Kraftwerk in the liner notes of the vinyl copy of Jonzun Crew’s album that I had in the early ’80s.

“Mirror Mirror” by Diana Ross (1981) vs. “Fall in Love with Me” by Earth, Wind & Fire (1982)

Interesting Ray Parker Jr. fact number two: Three years before Ross’s 1981 number-eight hit quoted a children’s fairy tale — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — in its chorus, Ray Parker Jr. used a children’s nursery rhyme as the lyrical foundation for “Jack and Jill,” his 1978 breakthrough single with his then-group Raydio that also peaked at number eight on Billboard’s Hot 100.

“Just to See Her” by Smokey Robinson (1987) vs. “Make Me Lose Control” by Eric Carmen (1988)

After the familiar introductions, the songs go to different parts of the pop/adult contemporary aural spectrum, but Robinson and Carmen easily could have traded introductions (doubling Carmen’s to make it as long as Robinson’s) without significantly altering either song.

Interesting fact: Although Robinson wrote most of his own hits throughout his career, he didn’t write this or its top 10 follow-up, “One Heartbeat.”

“Everything Is Everything” by Lauryn Hill (1998) vs. “Case of the Ex” by Mya (2000)

“Pon de Replay” by Rihanna (2005) vs. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé (2008)

“1 Thing” by Amerie (2005) vs. “Take This Ring” by Toni Braxton (2005)

I guess a hand-me-down “Ring” is better than no “Ring” at all.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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