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Copy Borrow Steal – The Collection

March 26th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Copy Borrow Steal

 

Like many people, I’m conflicted about the jury’s decision that the inspiration Pharrell and Stripey Rapey Guy took from Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up for their hit Blurred Lines constitutes plagiarism. Much has been said on the subject, and I still don’t know where I stand. The precedent the verdict has set disturbs me.

It seems that the real credit for Got To Give It Up resides not with Marvin Gaye. On his blog David Hepworth writes: “It was recorded from various jams, often surreptitiously, by Marvin Gaye’s engineer Art Stewart, who is quoted in David Ritz’s Marvin Gaye biography Divided Soul saying, ‘Marvin wasn’t sure of what I was doing but he left me alone to piece the song together.’”

The Marvin Gaye family seemed to be reaching points of hubris in the wake of their courtroom triumph, making the claim that Pharrell also ripped of Marvin’s Ain’t That Peculiar for Happy. Apart from the fact that the songs sound nothing alike, the battle would not be the Gayes’ to fight, but for Smokey Robinson, who produced it and co-wrote it with the other Miracles.

So, with all that mind, here’s a collection of songs from which later artists borrowed, copied or stole, or which otherwise bear strong resemblance. Some led to courtcases that found in favour of the original artist or were settled out of court. Others might have inspired the later writer, and some might be purely coincidental, taking into account that there are only so many chord progressions.

Some artists were pretty honest about where they borrowed from, especially The Beatles — George Harrison cheerfully admitted that he nicked from The Byrds for If I Needed Someone. Likewise, Chuck Berry was quite open about it that his breakthrough hit Maybelline was a reworking of Bob Willis’ 1938 song Ida Red.

Of course there are loads more examples that might have been included. I’ve tried to include tracks that are lesser known.

The most famous plagiarism case, at least before the one involving Pharrell & Thicke, is George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, which supposedly ripped off The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine. In his defence, Harrison said that he took inspiration rather from the Edwin Hawkins Singers hit Oh Happy Day, though more in vibe than in melody. And if one listens to Billy Preston’s version of My Sweet Lord, recorded and released before Harrison’s, then one might be open to giving Harrison the benefit of doubt.

The most involved story here is that of the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time, which Jagger and Keef quite evidently ripped off from the Staple Singers song, which in turn has been said to have borrowed from the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama’s 1953 song of almost the same title.

The Last Time (Stones version) was adapted in 1966 as an instrumental by their manager Andrew Loog Oldham. He sold his contract to the cut-throat Allen Klein. By 1997, Klein controlled the Stones’ 1960s back catalogue. At that time British band The Verve secured permission from Klein to use Oldham’s string loop as a sample for Bitter Sweet Symphony. When Klein heard an advance copy of the song, he threatened to sue, claiming that the use of the sample exceeded what had been agreed on. The band and publishers settled on a 50/50 royalties split.

As the album hit the shops, Klein reneged on the agreement and demanded 100%, successfully so, because by now the album could not be pulled from the shelves. The out-of-court settlement was a defeat for the Verve – and, to some extent, for Oldham. All royalties were ceded, and the songwriting credit went to Jagger & Richards, even though their version of The Last Time had no significant influence on Bitter Sweet Symphony. And they picked up a Grammy for Ashcroft’s song…

The progression from Otis Redding’s Try A Little Tenderness, from crooner song to soul classic, goes back to 1951: his take was only the fourth (and final) stage of the tune’s evolution as a soul classic.

Before Otis, Sam Cooke had recorded a fragment of the song as part of a rather lovely medley on his 1964 Sam Cooke At The Copa album. It was in fact that fragment which gave Stax executives the idea that Redding should cover it in 1966. Otis did so with great reluctance, not because he hated the song, but because he felt he could not measure up to his by now deceased hero Cooke. Produced by Isaac Hayes and backed by Booker T & the MGs, Redding did all he could to mess up the song so that it could not be released. He failed, and the song is now irrevocably his.

Redding apparently knew only Cooke’s version (hence the abridged lyrics). Cooke in turn had decided to include Tenderness in his medley after having heard the song on Aretha Franklin’s 1962 album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin. As fine an interpreter of songs as Franklin would become (and already was at the age of 20), her version — soul-inflected vocals backed with an easy listening string arrangement — seems to have drawn from that by the forgotten Little Miss Cornshucks, whose 1951 recording was the first to Try A Little Tenderness the R&B treatment.

Some of these songs featured in the Copy Borrow Steal series, with backstories. The series was inspired Tim English’ fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-copied covers. Songs in blue are NOT included, but are the songs that copyborrowedstole or otherwise have intentional or coincidental similarities with or were inspired by the older songs. PW in comments.

  1. Edwin Hawkins Singers – Oh Happy Day (1968)
    CBS: George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
  2. Jorge Ben – Taj Mahal (1976)
    CBS: Rod Stewart: Da Ya Think I’m Sexy
  3. Bobby Womack – (If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It (1975)
    CBS: Rod Stewart: Da Ya Think I’m Sexy
  4. The Javells & Nosmo King – Goodbye Nothing To Say (1974)
    CBS: Maxine Nightingale: Right Back To Where We Started From
  5. William Bell – I Forgot To Be Your Lover (1971)
    CBS: Van Morrison – Have I Told You Lately
  6. Natalie Cole – Our Love (1977)
    CBS: Seal – Kiss From A Rose
  7. Badfinger – Day After Day (1971)
    CBS: Joe Jackson – Breaking Us In Two
  8. The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965)
    CBS: The Beatles – If I Needed Someone
  9. Johnny Ace – Pledging My Love (1954)
    CBS: John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)
  10. Spirit – Taurus (1968)
    CBS: Led Zeppelin – Stairway To Heaven
  11. Robert Johnson – Terraplane Blues (1937)
    CBS: Led Zeppelin – Trampled Underfoot
  12. Rex Griffin – Everybody’s Tryin’ To Be My Baby (1936)
    CBS: Carl Perkins – Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby
  13. Bob Wills – Ida Red (1938)
    CBS: Chuck Berry – Maybelline
  14. Hank Williams – Move It On Over (1947)
    CBS: Bill Haley & The Comets – Rock Around The Clock
  15. Little Miss Cornshucks – Try A Little Tenderness (1951)
    CBS: Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness
  16. Sam Cooke – Try A Little Tenderness/(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons/You Send Me (1964)
    CBS: Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness
  17. Horace Silver – Song For My Father (1964)
    CBS: Steely Dan – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
  18. Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972)
    CBS: Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out
  19. The Banana Splits – The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana) (1969)
    CBS: Bob Marley – Buffalo Soldier
  20. Humphrey Lyttleton – Bad Penny Blues (1956)
    CBS: The Beatles – Lady Madonna
  21. Staple Singers – This May Be The Last Time (1961)
    CBS: The Rolling Stones – The Last Time
  22. Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama – This May Be The Last Time (1953)
    CBS: Staple Singers – This May Be The Last Time
  23. Paul Robeson – No More Auction Block (1962, folksong)
    CBS: Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind
  24. Burl Ives – Lord Randall (1960, folksong)
    CBS: Bob Dylan – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

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  1. halfhearteddude
    March 26th, 2015 at 05:40 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. stonefish55
    March 26th, 2015 at 07:19 | #2

    Wasn’t the Chiffons song that Harrison allegedly ripped off “He’s So Fine”?

  3. O.B. Dan
    March 26th, 2015 at 07:56 | #3

    Yes, it was “He’s So Fine.” I used to play a nice intermingled medley of the two that was built around spiritual aspect of “My Sweet Lord” that transcended into “He’s So Fine” as well as the chord runs did.

  4. Bo
    March 26th, 2015 at 08:44 | #4

    thanks a lot. Very interesting.

  5. JohnnyDiego
    March 26th, 2015 at 11:53 | #5

    According to the TED Radio Hour of March 20, 2015 the only truly original event was the Big Bang.
    http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/?showDate=2015-03-20
    While it might seem obvious that some songs (Surfin’ USA, My Sweet Lord, etc.) are out and out ripoffs, everything we create is just building upon what we have already learned. Nothing is truly original. Even Charlie Parker built upon and expanded something.

  6. halfhearteddude
    March 26th, 2015 at 12:22 | #6

    Of course it was. Lapse of concentration. I’ll fix it in the text…

  7. J. Loslo
    March 26th, 2015 at 16:14 | #7

    Thanks; I love this stuff. I remember, upon first hearing Roger McGuinn’s cover of “If I Needed Someone,” thinking how perfect the song was for McGuinn. Guess there was a reason for that.

  8. GarthJeff
    March 26th, 2015 at 16:54 | #8

    Maybe a little deeper, if you look harder…..The Universal Mind.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emzGAxSrKYM

  9. snakeboy
    March 26th, 2015 at 23:47 | #9

    Now where have I heard that tune before? Good concept and one that can go for a while. Thanks for having open ears.

  10. Sonic
    March 27th, 2015 at 15:22 | #10

    I see that you included “Stewball” by the Hollies in the playlist, but it is not mentioned in your article. What song is it copied/borrowed/stolen from?

  11. pete
    March 27th, 2015 at 19:51 | #11

    Stewball is much older than Pledging My Time, and in some versions even closer to Happy Xmas, though admittedly Lennon was more likely to have listened to Johnny Ace than Peter, Paul and Mary (where I first heard it) or The Greenbriar Boys, and I don’t know where they got the tune from. Heck, maybe it actually was Johnny Ace!

  12. halfhearteddude
    March 28th, 2015 at 11:44 | #12

    My understanding is that the bits of “Stewball” that sound like “Happy X-Mas” were first used in the Greenbriar Boys’ version, which The Hollies (whose version I bonus-tracked) covered. I am not certain about it, so I didn’t want to include that in the article. Perhaps the Johnny Ace melody lingered with Lennon and was reinforced by The Hollies’ version?

  13. Jay Schiavone
    March 28th, 2015 at 19:54 | #13

    “Surfin’ USA” was a deliberate exercise and Chuck Berry gets a writing credit on the label. @JohnnyDiego

  14. stonefish55
    March 28th, 2015 at 21:22 | #14

    @halfhearteddude
    Everybody’s entitled to the occasional lapse of concentration mate. Thanks for all the work you do in putting these things together.

  15. Derek
    March 28th, 2015 at 21:23 | #15

    I believe ZZ Top admitted borrowing “La Grange” from John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom.” They even use the same vocal technique Hook used in “Boom Boom” at the beginning of the song.

  16. March 29th, 2015 at 03:06 | #16

    @Jay Schiavone He gets label credit NOW, but only after legal action. The original 45 credited Brian Wilson–see http://www.45cat.com/record/4932us

  17. March 29th, 2015 at 12:09 | #17

    How about The Dam Busters March with Doris Day’s I’ll never stop loving you!
    PS Great blog!!

  18. JohnnyDiego
    March 30th, 2015 at 10:43 | #18

    @Brett Alan
    Thanks. You beat me to the punch. (Smokey Robinson for Mary Wells.)

  19. dogbreath
    March 31st, 2015 at 09:50 | #19

    Fascinating stuff, even if I don’t need to know the back histories – just loving the songs. Thanks for the comp!

  20. Marc Krizack
    April 17th, 2015 at 03:10 | #20

    Some candidates

    Hank Williams – The Honky Tonk Blues
    Hank Williams – Long Gone Lonesome Blues
    Tommy Duncan – Gamblin’ Polkadot Blues

    ALSO

    Ndidi – Dark Swing
    Haddaway – What is love?

  21. Michael
    December 8th, 2016 at 05:43 | #21

    Have a listen to the Irish standard “Danny Boy” – definite elements of melody and phrasing appear in Morrison’s “Have I told you…”

  22. halfhearteddude
    December 9th, 2016 at 09:12 | #22

    Interesting. I’ll have a close listen.

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