Pop, rock, and R&B oldies that make me think about another one.
“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)
Steve Miller probably should have shared the publishing royalties from “Rock ‘N Me” with Free’s Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers, or at least given them a co-songwriting credit, for so liberally inserting an interpolation of the classic guitar hook from “All Right Now” into Miller’s namesake band’s second number-one single on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones (1971) vs. “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner (1978)
A familiar opening guitar riff strikes again. Fortunately for Foreigner’s Mick Jones and Lou Gramm, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards didn’t hold them accountable, as they did Richard Ashcroft 19 years later when The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” sampled an orchestral cover of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” that actually sounded nothing like its source material.
“Trans Europa Express” by Kraftwerk (1977) vs. “Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)” by Jonzun Crew (1983)
I hope the German band Kraftwerk received credit at some point for its musical contributions to Jonzun Crew’s 1983 Lost in Space album. The influence of “Trans Europa Express” was all over the place on Space (particularly on the singles “Pack Jam,” whose haunted-house minor-key interpretation/interpolation of Kraftwerk’s most-famous motif was the short-lived electro-funk group’s best musical moment, and “Space Is the Place”), just as it had dominated Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s pioneering 1982 rap single “Planet Rock,” which did give Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider proper songwriting credit.
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)
Sometimes when I listen to “Fall in Love with Me,” a Grammy-nominated top 20 single by Earth, Wind & Fire, I superimpose the lyrics of Diana Ross’s “Mirror Mirror” on its melody in my head without missing a single beat. It’s too bad these early ’80s hits are largely forgotten today because they’d make an awesome retro-’80s mash up.
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)
Every so often back in the day, when my radio dial landed on an adult contemporary station, it would happen. What I expected to be the second of Eric Carmen’s two late-’80s comeback singles would turn out to be the first of Smokey Robinson’s two late-’80s comeback singles, from the previous year.
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)
Hill strikes me as being a stern and potentially litigious woman. I’m surprised she didn’t make a federal case out of “Case” when Mya was headed all the way to number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 with her biggest hit. Its soundalike intro came a mere two years after Hill’s single appeared on her multiple-Grammy-winning The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
“Pon de Replay” by Rihanna (2005) vs. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé (2008)
The backing music track of “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna’s debut single, could almost pass for the backing music track of “Single Ladies,” Beyoncé’s biggest hit, only slightly faster. The familiar drumroll is officially known as the “Diwali Riddim,” and it made pre-Rihanna top-five appearances on Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” a 2003 chart-topper, and on one-hit-wonder Lumidee’s 2003 number three “Never Leave You (Uh Oooh, Uh Oooh).”
“1 Thing” by Amerie (2005) vs. “Take This Ring” by Toni Braxton (2005)
If nothing else, I’m shocked that Amerie’s brilliant Rich Harrison-produced-and-co-written top 10 single didn’t spawn a lot more near-imitations than Braxton’s Libra album track, which is actually more like Harrison’s homage to himself, since he wrote and produced it, too.
I guess a hand-me-down “Ring” is better than no “Ring” at all.