When ‘Born this way’ came out it was a pretty clear copy & paste of Madonna’s Express Yourself, as I discussed here. No one denies that, not even the artists – they just say that ‘everything is cool’. Of course, Madonna herself has been the subject of many lawsuits in the other direction … but more on that later.
Now Lady Gaga is in trouble again, this time accused of stealing ‘Judas’ from a similarly-titled ‘Juda’. You can read some details here, but I won’t go into it anymore right now. What I thought would be more interesting is to take five songs that were stolen to one degree or another and feature the original song! I will link to the copy-cat on YouTube in case you want to check it out!
One of the most hilarious things I ever saw was a clip of Vanilla Ice explaining how ‘Ice Ice Baby’ was ‘totally different’ because it went ‘dum-dum-dum-da-da-dum-dum … da-dum-dum-dum-da-da-dum-dum’, whereas Queen’s song went ‘dum-dum-dum-da-da-dum-dum … dum-dum-dum-da-da-dum-dum’. You can see Ice Ice Baby here, or the superior Jim Carrey parody from In Living Color!
Here is Queen’s Under Pressure featuring David Bowie:
Perhaps the highest profile case of musical plagiarism was brought against former Beatle George Harrison for his song My Sweet Lord,. The Harrison song is gorgeous and moving … but the melody and structure is clearly lifted from the original in what was later called ‘subconscious plagiarism’.
Rock legends Led Zepplin seem to have taken the bride’s mantra of ‘something borrowed’ quite to heart: their name came from a term used in off-hand discussions in London pubs by musicians at the time, their style borrowed heavily from groups like The Who and the Jeff Beck Group, and there are about a half-dozen of their most popular songs that have been shown to be ‘inspired’ by others, to the point where songs like Whole Lotta Love have bluesman Willie Dixon as a writing credit. But perhaps their most iconic song, Stairway to Heaven, recognizable instantly by the opening guitar riff – a riff that was lifted directly from the band Spirit’s song Taurus. While no one now remembers Spirit, in 1969 Led Zepplin was the warm-up act for Spirit and would definitely have heard the song!
I had mentioned you’d be hearing more about Madonna. She has been sued more than a dozen times, and entire websites are devoted to how she has made a name for herself by repurposing icons from the 50’s and 60’s. One of her most iconic songs, Vogue, was also one of the most blatantly copied – right down to the dance moves! Her song came out in 1990 (video here), a year after the song by Malcolm Mclaren called Deep in Vogue came out. Mclaren states “I found myself on the same bill as Madonna at some Greenpeace concert and I remember her watching my dancers voguing from the side of the stage. A few weeks later she had stolen all my dancers, brought out her own single and carried it over into the mainstream. The cheek of her!”
Here is Malcolm Mclaren and his video for Deep in Vogue:
And my final one, while certainly not the worst, is my most favorite. For anyone who picked up a guitar from the mid-1970s on, perhaps the first rock guitar riff they would learn was Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’. Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord had grown up steeped in jazz and classical and had no doubt heard the immensely popular Astrid Gilberto recordings with Stan Getz, Gil Evans and others made in the early 60’s. One song, translated as “Maria Quiet”, has the exact motif starting at 15 seconds in. It was simplified and apparently became a jamming riff for guitarist Richie Blackmore and drummer Ian Paice and ended up being turned into a full song.
Can you think of any other examples of songs that are copies of others? Aside from current pop songs, that is – we already know they all use the same songwriting teams!