Inspiration, by its very nature, draws upon the influence of pre-existing factors: first comes an incident, person, place, concept or tangible item, then the emotion one attaches, and finally, the resulting artistic creation. When it comes to “studied” artforms such as music, most practitioners originally enter the craft by learning/mastering the works of others, before they begin to compose themselves. Accordingly, when the time for the latter endeavour comes around, the techniques and ideas of their idols with which they’ve become familiar inevitably end up entering into their own works; sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much. In other words, it goes without saying that every artist is influenced by someone.
All of this brings me to today’s topic at hand: that of “ripping off” the works of others. Following my longstanding tradition of ending each year with a controversial countdown, below I’ve compiled a list of what I feel are some of the hands down WORST rip-offs in contemporary popular music history.
But, before we get to the muckraking, I feel it’s necessary to point out the definitions of “homaging” and “sampling” to clarify that I’m NOT referring to either of these practises. Rather, my list overviews songs which have blatantly ripped off the material (ie: the song melody) of someone else’s in its near identical or precisely identical form, and attempted to pass it off as “original.”
Definition: the intentional AND importantly CREDITED borrowing and incorporation of lyrical, melodious or riff fragments from songs of artists who’ve greatly inspired you into one or several of your own works.
Aim: To give recognition, credence, “props” and/or thanks
Example: Veruca Salt’s bridge in “Save You” plays on the lyrics/melody/guitar work of Nirvana’s “Negative Creep”
Definition: typically involves looping a familiar/well-known rhythm/riff to act as the “backing track” for a new melody. May be intentional OR unintentional, credited OR uncredited. Primarily associated with rap and/or techno music.
Aim: varies, may be similar to what is intended to be accomplished through homaging, an attempt to rework a song with one’s own flavour (similar to doing a really different take on a cover tune like Chris Cornell’s cover of M.J.’s “Billie Jean”) OR an attempt to earn an easy hit single by capitalizing on an already popular tune and merely adding new lyrics and/or a slightly new vocal line. The latter aim is the MOST common.
Example: Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” samples The Police’s “I’ll Be Watching You”
To play the devil’s advocate temporarily, I should mention it’s been argued that at this point in popular music history, virtually every tuneful/melodic chord pattern, annoyingly catchy percussion rhythm, and instantly memorable vocal hook has been pretty much done to death. Given all of this, some suggest that “true originality” is no longer possible.I have my own opinions on the matter, but I’ll let you all mull that one over for yourselves.
My theory is this: we have a limited number of major labels (and indie labels which are merely thinly veiled subsidiaries of majors) who run approximately 80% of the mainstream music marketplace. Said labels have limited songwriting teams working for the vast MAJORITY of ALL of their top-selling artists.
While on the surface, it appears there is a wide variety of different types of musicians/music styles being represented, when you have the SAME people pumping out tunes for everyone, it results in an extremely skewed creative playing table (musically, lyrically, and otherwise). Furthermore, considering the industry is obsessed with jumping on the “fad wagon” signing every band/act that looks or sounds remotely similar to whomever is currently topping the charts, it’s NOT difficult to see why so many songs/artists are becoming increasingly indistinguishable (in ALL regards).
Perhaps a business analogy would prove illustrative: when you have a single large media conglomerate that oversees the content of 100 daily newspapers, it’s NOT surprising to see that all of those newspapers will contain highly similar if NOT identical stories in them week-to-week irrespective of their location (barring extraordinary local “breaking news”) because it’s CHEAPER to merely replicate/rehash old content that you know sells than to either bring on new creative staff or allow your current staff to go out into the field, pitch their own stories and conduct hard journalism research.
It’s not, however, like this trend is all that new considering that for years during the beginnings of “rock’n’roll” (when it was still known as “rhythm and blues”), because of racial segregation and discriminatory legal and broadcast practises, white artists like Elvis got away scot-free ripping off the tunes of much MORE talented and rarely acknowledged African American players. What is new though is the rate of rip-off crossover between supposedly distinct “genres” and the instant popularity of “artists” who’d be NOTHING if it weren’t for clever marketing tactics which again merely rip-off what’s already worked in the past.
So…without further adieu and in no particular order, I welcome you all to listen to these tracks side-by-side and see if you can hear the undisputable “coincidences” (and I use that term loosely):
1) The Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye in the Sky” Vs. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”
2) Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” Vs. Aaron Lewis’ “Country Boy”
3) Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” Vs. Chad Kroeger’s (feat. Josey Scott) “Hero” (*as noted originally by Shirley Manson from Garbage)
4) Madonna’s “Express Yourself” Vs. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”
5) The Beatles” “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” Vs. The Offspring’s “Why Don't You Get a Job?” (*pay particular attention to the choruses)
6) Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” Vs. U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
7) Tom Jones’ “Delilah” Vs. Fastball’s “The Way”
8) The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” Vs. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (*VERY famous lawsuit!)
9) Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” Vs. The Black-Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?”
10) Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” Vs. The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” (*note The Beach Boys, at least, have admitted they are hugely influenced by Berry…perhaps because SEVERAL of their tunes have been accused of ripping his off)
11) Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes” Vs. Fefe Dobson’s “Stuttering” (*no doubt they have the SAME songwriter)
12) Lillix’s “It’s About Time” Vs. Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” (*same note as for number 11)
13) Collective Soul’s “The World I Know” Vs. Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” (*most apparent when listening Sam Tsui’s cover of Christina Perri’s song as it’s in the SAME key as the original Collective Soul tune)
14) Joe Satriani’s “If I Could Fly” Vs. Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” (*Satriani did issue a lawsuit. The case was dismissed... I suspect some sort of pay-off to keep quiet was involved.)
15) Astrud Gilberto’s (feat. Gil Evans) “Maria Quiet” Vs. Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” (*being that the latter song contains one of the most well-known and widely regarded guitar opening riffs in rock history, this one will break your heart)
16) The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” Vs. Sublime’s “What I Got”
17) Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” Vs. Megadeth’s “Mechanix” (*Dave Mustaine was in Metallica at one point so it’s NOT really that surprising. Metallica too though have been accused of ripping off Excel and Iron Maiden, among others, which has caused some to question how they exactly justified being so up in arms about people "stealing their material" via Napster if in fact their "original music" regularly "steals" from others...but we won't go there.)
18) Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane” Vs. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” (*Verses ONLY)
19) The Rolling Stones’ “Get Off of My Cloud” Vs. The Rubinoos “I Wanna be Your Boyfriend”
19) Muddy Waters’ “You Need Love” Vs. Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” (*the titles themselves are a pretty good giveaway)
20) Jethro Tull’s “We Used to Know” Vs. The Eagles’ “Hotel California” (Verses ONLY)
Here’s one hell of a WHOPPER:
21) The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” Vs. The Doors’ “Touch Me” Vs. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” Vs. Jet’s “Are You Gonna be My Girl?”
And finally, the top rip-off artist awards go to Britney Spears (well, at least her songwriters) and John Fogerty for successfully ripping off THEMSELVES:
22) Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” Vs. “Oops I Did it Again” (*as popularized by the comedy troupe SuperGirly)
23) CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” (written by Fogerty) Vs. John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road” (*at least Fogerty got sued for his really lame attempt.)