Monday, October 22, 2007

Has everything finally been written?

Recently I was looking at a TV news station's website when an article caught my eye. It said My Sweet Lord Makes Waves Again. My first thought was, "My goodness, is someone suing George Harrison's estate?!" Death, taxes, and lawsuits?! With a quick click of the mouse I discovered the article was actually about that weird chocolate life-sized (at least as far as anyone knows for sure) Jesus. But it got me thinking again about a subject that crosses my mind every time I hear certain songs: Just what is the line between plagiarism and...and...not-plagiarism? George Harrison had to pony up beaucoup bucks when it was decided that even though he had "subconsciously" and "unintentionally" copied "He's So Fine" when he wrote "My Sweet Lord" - copy it he did. Well, we've already seen the Twinkie Defense, so why not this? Still, it makes me wonder- is there any combination of musical notes and phrases (in Western music at least) that hasn't been previously used by somebody? Just to be clear, I'm not talking about song titles. You can use the same title over and over as long as it's a completely different song. Take, for example, "Runaway." According to my Google search (and this was just the first 12 pages) that title has been applied to songs by the following artists: Avril Lavigne. Bon Jovi, Bubba Sparxxx, Cartel, The Corrs, Del Shannon, Jamiroquai, Jefferson Starship, Linkin Park, Nelly Furtado, Pandora, Pink, Tech N9NW, The Thompson Twins, Wyclef Jean, and Zebrahead. I didn't go over all of them with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, but I'm reasonably sure each one is a totally different song. And BTW, for the baby boomers out there, it took until page 10 for Del Shannon to show up! How things do change! Meanwhile, beside titles, copy-catting of song words and melodies also happens. Gary US Bonds even wrote a song complaining about it, although it seems to me that he kind of copied his own songs as much as anyone else. That's not particularly a criticism; I really like all his songs. It's just an observation.

Okay. The following are pairs of songs, mostly from the vintage years, that I think sound an awful lot alike, either in whole or in part, but to my knowledge did not end up in court. And hey, I sincerely hope I don't get anybody in trouble or anything...

Chuck Berry "Havana Moon"
The Kingsmen "Louie Louie"

Chicago "I'm a Man"
The Doobie Brothers "Long Train Running"

Airplane "Jane"
Toto "Make Believe"

Bobby Rydell "I Wanna Thank You"
Huey Piano Smith "Don't You Just Know It"

Johnny Ace "Pledging My Love"
The Shells "Better Forget Him"

The Harptones "Sunday Kind of Love"
Tim Tam & the Turn Ons "Wait a Minute"

Elvis "Suppose"
John Lennon "Imagine"

Ral Donner "Run Little Linda"
Dion & The Belmonts "Runaround Sue"

Well, there you go, that's my list. But I think the question still remains open. What do you think?


mike said...

Seems like similar songs were very popular in the 50's and early 60's. Heres 2 sets ive heard abouyt. Theyre comming to take me away and Rainy day women. And sloop john b with Rhinestone cowboy

Deborah said...

Those pairs are great! And all the more intriguing because of the sheer incongruity between each one. I think there used to be a lot of those song cover battles. A famous one that comes to mind is "Hang on Sloopy" done by both Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Kingsmen. Those kinds of chart competitions are mostly discouraged these days, however. As I recall, ten years ago everyone concerned had a huge hissy fit when both Trisha Yearwood and LeAnn Rimes released the same song (see Wikipedia "How Do I Live")almost simultaneously. Back on the original topic, I just purchased a book about famous rock and roll lawsuits. Will get back to you all with any choice tidbits I find. Peace out.