20 Songs That Would Result In Copyright Lawsuits If They Were Released Today
Plagiarism’s been a sticking point in popular music ever since money got involved, with everything from hip-hop sampling to Weird Al parody to stylistic homage coming under fire from whatever quarters generally feel concerned about these kinds of things (i.e. labels, mostly). Sometimes, the most you get from soundalike controversies is an excuse to have music-dork arguments — at its best, something like the bizarre coincidence of RCA labelmates Sweet and David Bowie going 1-2 on the UK charts with the remarkably similar-sounding and near-concurrently-recorded “Block Buster!” and “The Jean Genie” respectively. (The only action Bowie took against Sweet, at least apocryphally, was addressing them as “you bastards” when he ran across them at a nightclub.)
And at its worst? People get sued. Whether it’s MPB great Jorge Ben going after Rod Stewart for (supposedly unwittingly) swiping 1976 África Brasil samba-disco classic “Taj Mahal” for “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” (with a side order of Bobby Womack), the parameter-shifting controversy over “Blurred Lines” not-quite-sampling Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” or the perpetually-unsettled matter of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” nicking from Spirit’s “Taurus,” there are constantly cases made over who owes who, not just artistically, but financially.
But then there’s the question of why artists do this kind of thing, even all-time greats like James Brown or New Order or Nirvana. Sometimes artists claim mere coincidence; the old “there’s only so many notes” argument applied to scenarios like the aforementioned Jean Buster Block Genie case. Sometimes you get a situation like Elastica’s knowing imitations of Wire and the Stranglers on songs like “Connection” and “Waking Up,” where recognizable homage seems like an open nod to influence that still draws lawsuits and out-of-court settlements. Sometimes it’s a total style jack — Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” as a shameless Chic-alike, for instance — but not easily connected to a specific work. And sometimes it’s one of those weird subconscious situations where a musician hears a song, only to later forget they heard it and assume they came up with the melody or the beat when it surfaces in their memory later on. Best of all are the scenarios where the element that gets “ripped off” has become so ubiquitous over time — think the opening drum figure to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” — that it’s considered part of pop music’s common language, and nobody even gets mad.
The real egregious stuff can still happen — fandom lingo likes to call this kind of thing the “Jimmy Hart Version,” in honor of the Gentrys songwriter turned pro wrestling theme composer who, among other things, ensured that WCW star Diamond Dallas Page strutted to the ring to the tune of the most butt-ass naked imitation of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” imaginable. But the more interesting stuff is the litany of cases where you can pretty much tell something’s up, yet nobody went so far as to actually try to prove it in court — the nagging suspicions that start debates that rarely actually get settled. Here’s twenty of the best from the last fifty years.
The Velvet Underground - "Sweet Jane" / Tommy James & The Shondells - "Crimson And Clover"
Maybe it’s a troll, or maybe it’s the 2010s equivalent of a mislabeled Napster MP3, but there’s actually a clip on YouTube with over 100,000 views that attributes Tommy James & the Shondells’ ether-frolic pop classic “Crimson And Clover” to the Velvet Underground. This would be funny enough if it wasn’t for the popular notion that Loaded highlight “Sweet Jane,” which would go on to become a signature favorite for both the VU and solo Lou Reed, borrowed casually if noticeably from the Shondells hit. I admit it’s a contentious candidate for a list like this — both songs are descending-three-chord tunes with simple progressions, not exactly an esoteric notion in rock, while the vocal melodies are about as stylistically far apart as you can get without switching genres entirely to, say, death metal. But you can still find music-world lifers like Tim Sommer pointing out the similarity like it’s a total gimme. At the very least, you’ve got a fantastic mixtape segue.
Van Morrison - "Crazy Love" / The Band - "The Weight"
As far as Van-meets-the Band-based chutzpah goes, it’s pretty damn hard to top his full-force George Best-kicking performance of “Caravan” in The Last Waltz — the wildest bit of physical performance Scorsese would ever film until DiCaprio’s “trying to get in a Countach while zonked on ludes” scene from The Wolf Of Wall Street. But double that up with the fact that “Caravan” comes from the same Moondance LP that Van did one of the most blatant lifts of the eminently liftable “The Weight” — recorded in summer of 1969, just a little more than a year after the Band’s Music From Big Pink dropped — and you’ve really got something. Commentary from either party on the resemblance is sparse at best, though the fact that Aaron Neville’s 1996 cover version of “Crazy Love” featured “Weight” writer Robbie Robertson might be a quasi-subliminal nod. Inadvertent or not, the resemblance has also been noted by … [squints] Jensen Ackles from TV’s Supernatural? Huh. Anyways, here’s some guitar tabs for you mashup enthusiasts.
James Brown - "Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved)" / David Bowie - "Fame"
You’re crazy for this one, James. Long story short: Bowie and his Young Americans band had been jamming on a song called “Footstompin’,” a funkified cover of a 1961 Top 40 hit by the Flares. Guitarist Carlos Alomar threw in a guitar riff so lightning-hot that Bowie and company (with a nudge from John Lennon) decided that the cover should be rewritten as an original, hence “Fame” and Bowie’s first US #1. Most of the nitty-gritty details I’ll happily cede to expert Bowieologist Chris O’Leary if you want to go deeper, but the big catch here is that James Brown’s 1976 Xerox of “Fame” is so damned blatant for a reason. See, Alomar used to be part of Brown’s band in the late ’60s, albeit briefly and never on wax. And Brown — in embattled mode for a few years thanks to declining chart success, IRS back-taxes investigations, massive band turnover, and lawsuits against the radio stations he owned for failure to pay ASCAP — tried to throw a pop-chart Hail Mary in an effort to battle back against the disco hits he figured were diluting his vision. After all, if Alomar was part of his band at some point, surely he had developed that riff — or at least the stylistic education needed to inspire said riff — under Brown’s aegis. The point was eventually moot, at least legally: Bowie’s said to have decided that they’d sue in the event that “Hot” became a hit, but nobody felt like going to court over a song that didn’t even make Top 30 R&B.
The Jam - "Start" / The Beatles - "Taxman"
Yes, OK, the Beatles are possibly the most influential musical act of the Postwar 20th Century, maybe even one of the most influential pop-culture phenomena, period — I don’t need to belabor that. But that makes the idea of even mid-profile artists evoking their compositions both ludicrously obvious and fairly understandable. And in 1980, the Jam’s profile was higher than mid — they were British rock’s Great Mod Hope, in the midst of a streak that notched 18 UK Top 40 singles in a mere five years. Nostalgic yet contemporary, you could forgive them if they diverged from their burgeoning eclecticism and did a number like “Start!” that sounded uncannily like the opening cut to Revolver — albeit an arguable improvement, adding an additional emphatic note to that bassline and swapping out aggrieved-rockstar money gripes for lyrics about the power of fleeting camaraderie by happenstance. But when you put a song like that on an album like Sound Affects — an album that starts with their own superior take on capitalism’s pitfalls, “Pretty Green,” and follows up “Start!” with Paul Weller’s greatest songwriting achievement “That’s Entertainment” — the needle veers pretty drastically from “cheap hacky knockoff” to “masterful homage” where intent’s concerned.
Blondie - "Call Me" / Black Sabbath - "Children Of The Grave"
Maybe it was some post-disco-backlash overcompensation that inspired Giorgio Moroder to not merely “go rock,” but go as much rock as possible in co-writing Blondie’s smash-hit American Gigolo theme. And circa-Master Of Reality Black Sabbath? Try finding something more rock than that on short notice while still allowing for enough distance of time for benefit of the doubt, at least in August ’79 when “Call Me” was recorded. It’s not just the avalanche groove or the iron-rhino-stampede of Tony Iommi’s riffs that you can hear echoed in the Blondie song; it’s the bouncy cadence that both Ozzy and Debbie deliver their lines with — even if the contrast between the respective lyrical themes of “youth revolution” and “glamorous sex work” is a little bit starker. (They’re both pro-love, though, in any case.) If this were a competition, Sabbath would win points for the better everything’s-melting ending, Blondie for the better Francophonic bridge. But both bands were generally agreed to operate in such different universes that it seems more bizarre a coincidence than anything offense-worthy. Besides, the newly-solo Ozzy probably had a lot more on his mind in 1980 — and too much bad blood with his former bandmates to expend any extra energy scuffling with Harry and Moroder, too.
Genesis - "Misunderstanding" / Sly & The Family Stone - "Hot Fun In The Summertime"; The Beach Boys - "Sail On, Sailor"; Toto - "Hold The Line"
The early years of Genesis as a Phil Collins-dominated prog-gone-pop juggernaut yielded this modest hit — at least, modest compared to two of the ones it’s most readily comparable to, and most of Genesis’ own that followed in the extremely lucrative decade to follow. “Misunderstanding” feels like another one for the “more homage than ripoff” file, if only because it’s an admitted lift of all three of these songs — but think of this as an endpoint for the diminishing returns of that particular choppy piano groove, and combined with the imagery of a thinning-haired, Hawaiian-shirted divorcee Collins cruising around LA in an old-timey Ford convertible, it could be uncharitably interpreted as an accidental metaphor for a certain generational complacency. But maybe the real difference is geographical: A bunch of guys from Surrey would probably approach the California Summer Vibe in a more received-wisdom way than the San Franciscan Family Stone, the LA studio-rats Toto, or the none-more-Golden State Beach Boys would ever have to. And that’s when, plagiarism or no, the ideas feel more blatantly secondhand.
Nick Lowe - "Stick It Where The Sun Don't Shine" / Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Green River"
The second-greatest songwriter to be called out for ripping off an old Creedence Clearwater Revival song — outdone, it should be noted, only by John Fogerty himself — there’s a pretty solid reason Fogerty didn’t sue Lowe: As of 1982, he didn’t actually own the copyright to “Green River.” Fantasy Records did, which led to the long-running artist’s rights case of Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc. that the United States Supreme Court eventually ruled in Fogerty’s favor in 1994. How Lowe got away with it is a less-discussed matter than the identity of “Stick It”s venom-spattered target, a sort of smaller-scale pub rocker take on the “You’re So Vain” mystery (“Your lust for life is costin’ a packet/ Time’s running out for you and your rotten racket”). Some think it’s his old Rockpile bandmate Dave Edmunds, who he’d had a falling out with, while others believe it’s actually about the band’s ex-manager. Or, hey, maybe it’s about some shitty label owner, which Fogerty would probably find amusing.
New Order - "Blue Monday" / Donna Summer - "Our Love"
Disco’s revenge took on many forms in the early ’80s: On Frankie Knuckles’ terms, that’s what Chicago house music was, Detroit’s techno movement split the atom by splitting the difference between Moroder and Kraftwerk and P-Funk, and the same man who wrote the title cut to the zillion-selling Thriller, Rod Temperton, rode his way into Michael Jackson’s inner circle on the Groove Line. But across the Atlantic, where disco fever dispersed without getting the same death sentence it got in the States, the post-punk crowd went “what else can we do with this 4/4” and made synthpop one of the defining sounds of the decade. New Order’s “Blue Monday” was one of the titans of the genre, a single so successful that its sales filled Factory Records’ coffers long enough to get drained by Happy Mondays’ antics nearly ten years later. It shouldn’t be too surprising that its origins lie in a Donna Summer Hot Stuff single dropped back when Ian Curtis was calling the shots — that palpitating kick-drum from the chorus to “Our Love” is impossible to resist for anyone with an enthusiasm for electronic grooves — though I suppose Peter Hook could feel comfortable with admitting to its theft considering his bassline might be the most-remembered part of the song. Then again, that was sourced from Ennio Morricone’s score for For A Few Dollars More, and considering some of the other purported sources of inspiration — from Klein + M.B.O.’s big-in-Manchester Italo classic “Dirty Talk” to a parodic art-synth goof by a one-off called Gerry And The Holograms — maybe “Blue Monday” stands tallest as a monument to well-done pastiche.
Koji Kondo - "The Underground Theme" / Friendship - "Let's Not Talk About It"
Imagine if Nintendo took a big financial hit because the single most iconic console game series they (or anyone) would ever develop led to a massive lawsuit from the brother of the guy who did the score to Tootsie. But there it is, plain as day: the fiddly little tumbling bassline that served as the BGM to World 1-2 in Super Mario Bros., played six years before by Abraham Laboriel on the Don Grusin-penned “Let’s Not Talk About It” as part of the smooth jazz one-off supergroup Friendship. Why weren’t any suits filed? Who knows, but in the court of YouTube comments and gamer forums, the verdict seems to be somewhere between “no way, this is a total coincidence, you’re crazy for even thinking this” and “hey isn’t it funny Nintendo pulled this stunt and now they issue copyright takedowns for fan work,” so it’s only partway settled depending on what kind of console-warrior partisans you believe. I will say this: As far as historical legacies go, looking back to big-in-Japan fusion groups like Friendship and Casiopea as partial inspiration for the current-gen gamer-fueled infatuation with future funk is one of those fun little history-as-Möbius strip notions worth soaking in for a while. Also, reproducing the original Friendship song as an NES-style “8-BIT REMIX” is a hilarious idea.
Andrew Lloyd Webber - "The Phantom Of The Opera" / Pink Floyd - "Echoes"
Picture it: It’s 1972, and the not-yet-Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, coasting off the growing success of Jesus Christ Superstar but struggling to create a follow-up, goes to the picture show to try and take his mind off things. So he gets zooted out of his gourd and takes in a concert documentary: Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii. And his brain is absolutely obliterated by the spectacular two-part performance of Meddle‘s side-long epic “Echoes.” (I would pay good money to hear Paul F. Tompkins riff on this purely theoretical scenario for a few minutes.) More than a dozen years and an Evita/Cats/Starlight Express-fueled West End hot streak later, Webber conjured up a melody for his theme to 1986’s Phantom Of The Opera that sounded suspiciously like the recurring bass/guitar riff in “Echoes” — one that felt pretty blatant, considering the Floyd had grown exponentially more popular than they were in ’72, what with that album with the prism on the cover selling all the copies in the world and all. Floyd bassist/co-writer Roger Waters likely had every right to point a few lawyers Webber’s way, but in 1986, he was already too preoccupied with the prospect of suing his own actual former bandmates for trying to carry on without him — a decision he’d come to regret later on. And even then, some court battles weren’t worth the headache, as Waters remarked to Q Magazine in November 1992: his then-new album Amused To Death had him ethering the composer on “It’s A Miracle” (“Lloyd Webber’s awful stuff/ Runs for years and years/ An earthquake hits the theatre/ But the operetta lingers/ Then the piano lid comes down/ And breaks his fucking fingers”), and the interview featured more hilariously surly dismissal of the man’s work (“It has no value. It is shallow, derivative rubbish, all of it, and it makes me very gloomy”). But in the end, Waters concluded that the “Echoes”/Phantom similarity “probably is actionable. It really is! But I think that life’s too long to bother with suing Andrew fucking Lloyd Webber.”
The Replacements - "The Ledge" / Blackfoot - "Highway Song"
God love ’em, the Mats were always down for tweaking punk purists’ notions of what constituted Real Rock ‘N’ Roll, even if it manifested most frequently as drunken audience antagonism. Dig this consecutive string of shambolic arena-rock tributes from a notorious tour-ending OKC-recorded ’84 show, released the following January as The Shit Hits The Fans: Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special,” Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” Zep’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Heartbreaker,” Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love,” and Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak.” (“Not a normal set, but we’re not sure what one is anyway … plenty of poop, but we like it,” reads the j-card.) Shit, their most beloved record has a KISS cover, and it owns. It might be simplifying things a bit too much to call them classic rock with distortion, even their Sire-era, post-Bob Stinson records. But the Trouble Boys-acknowledged fact that the Paul Westerberg-penned, semi-autobiographical one-take wonder “The Ledge” copped its riffs from “Highway Song” by Southern rockers Blackfoot seems like one of those simultaneously scandalous and revelatory nods to usually unspoken influence that could’ve startled some fans if it was more common knowledge. Maybe it might’ve been if MTV wasn’t so quick to stifle the video for “The Ledge” because PMRC fever meant songs about suicide were total non-starters.
Escape Club - "Wild Wild West" / Elvis Costello - "Pump It Up"
Inside baseball moment: I wanted to keep this list to soundalike songs by bands that are critically respected and/or overwhelmingly popular, but the one-and-a-half-hit wonder that was Escape Club (anyone remember “I’ll Be There”?) is an exception I 100% needed to make. “Pump It Up,” Elvis Costello’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Dangerous Power Of Horny, was in itself something of a tribute to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” which Costello freely admitted in his autobio Unfaithful Music And Disappearing Ink. (Hilariously, this admission was in the context of Dylan himself lamenting to Costello that U2’s “Get On Your Boots” had ripped Costello off.) But Escape Club’s US #1/UK #0 “Wild Wild West” is even more egregious a lift than what Bono & Pals did, an absurdity compounded by its brief ubiquity and its total inanity. “Pump It Up” was anxious and inebriated and scowling at its own libido; “Wild Wild West” was about how hott chixxx were helpful in distracting you from the specter of World War III. The Los Angeles Times‘ Jim Washburn eviscerated them in November ’88, the same week they hit #1, calling “Wild Wild West” “a slavish steal” of “Pump It Up” and implicitly suggesting that Escape Club were the official band of the ruling-class yuppie aliens from They Live. Now fated to be the third-most-relevant song of that title behind Will Smith and Kool Moe Dee, “Wild Wild West” headed for the ’90s and got hopelessly lost along the way.
Nirvana - "Come As You Are" / Killing Joke - "Eighties" / The Damned - "Life Goes On"
Layers upon layers upon layers: It’s that claustrophobic guitar riff, run through different effects and put through different (though not that different) tempos, that crested through three different successively more popular punk-disciple iconoclasts and started the kind of authorship arguments that tend to obscure how flat-out amazing all three songs are. Just look up the most-viewed YouTube clips of its origin point, the punk legends the Damned and their Strawberries album cut “Life Goes On,” and you’ll see uploaders warning that they’ll have none of that who-did-it-best yammering (“I’M NOT ACCEPTING COMMENTS IF IT’S ABOUT NIRVANA OR KILLING JOKE. GO FIND ANOTHER VIDEO TO DEBATE THAT OLD TOPIC”). I will say in Nirvana’s defense that the “Eighties” riff does sound more like the “Life Goes On” riff than “Come As You Are” sounds like “Eighties,” though I (marginally) prefer Killing Joke’s heavier backbeat among all three. As for the lyrical motifs, it’s almost like they’re answering each other: The Damned were about continuing in the face of devastation, Killing Joke saw that perseverance perverted into a hellish rat race to be the richest asshole with a mushroom cloud tan, and Nirvana insinuated that it was this rat race that crumpled one’s sense of self into a nervous mass of socially-presenting contradictions. The Nirvana/Killing Joke rift that followed sparked rumors of legal action that never fully materialized, Dave Grohl sat in on Killing Joke’s 2003 self-titled, and “Come As You Are” got subsumed into the Marvel marketing machine. I guess everybody’s damned sooner or later.
Weezer - "Undone - The Sweater Song" / Pixies - "I Bleed"
Right, sure: Who didn’t rip off Pixies? They almost singlehandedly popularized the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic in what in their day was called college rock, and tons of bands still chase their particular flavor of lyrical unreality. Still, I’m gonna have to pull my hater card and go off about all the horror we could’ve been spared if Frank Black took one listen to Weezer’s debut single and sued them out of existence. We could’ve still gotten the Blue Album, but been spared all the sturm und drang involved in Weezer trying to live up to and/or shrug off the Blue Album. We could’ve been left without the need to grapple with the sexist and Orientalist themes in Pinkerton and the tendency for the second-wave emo bands it influenced to split the difference between shoegazing and navelgazing to ruminate on their dicks. We could’ve been free of Rivers Cuomo’s mortified efforts to escape the orbit of each successive album, unscathed by Raditude and Hurley and all the band’s other efforts to alternately dodge and piss on their own shadows. We could have not had to deal with “Back To The Shack” flogging rockist-nerd “disco sucks” sentiment in 20fucking14. We could have gone without Toto’s “Africa” being smugly escorted into meme hell. But hey, at least Cuomo eventually fessed up that “Undone” was indeed a ripoff … of Metallica’s “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).” If you say (it ain’t) so, my guy.
Pearl Jam - "Given To Fly" / Led Zeppelin - "Going To California"
Less than three years after showing up on Mike Watt’s Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? to warn that “kids of today should defend themselves against the ’70s,” Eddie Vedder tried another approach: shamelessly evoking the ’70s. That went over a lot better, and the Vedder/McCready-penned “Given To Fly” became one of the most popular singles Pearl Jam ever cut, peaking at the top of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks and just falling one slot short of the Hot 100’s Top 20. (This in an era where nobody but DJs bothered buying singles — what with record companies not wanting to sell them and all.) And while Robert Plant could probably get an eyerolling “you’re one to talk” for it, he did wind up going on SiriusXM’s Pearl Jam station in 2015 and ribbing McCready in person for the similarities between “Given To Fly” and Led Zeppelin IV‘s “Going To California” — albeit in a no-bad-blood sort of way. By that point, it had become a running gag: At one Plant-attended concert in Sweden a decade earlier, Vedder actually introduced the Pearl Jam song as “Given To California,” and they went all-in on the gag when Plant joined them onstage at the Chicago House Of Blues in October 2005 to cover Zep’s song legit.
Green Day - "Warning" / The Kinks - "Picture Book"
Speaking as an official Old Person (Xennial Division), I can remember the initial, Dookie-era backlash to Green Day as clear as day, and one of the gripes I remember the clearest is that Billie Joe Armstrong sang with a “fake English accent.” As someone who initially liked Green Day a lot, then quickly veered to “these guys are poseurs” thanks to mercurial teenage self-consciousness and an amazed discovery of the Buzzcocks, that accusation stuck with me. But I had just enough time as a fan to dig into their discography (which I eventually sold for baseball card money — gotta get that Hideo Nomo rookie) to discover their semi-secret ingredient: They really liked the Kinks. The “Basket Case” single included a remarkably faithful cover of “Tired Of Waiting For You,” and there you go. Now that the big knock against Green Day is less “phony British” and more “idea takers,” the resemblance between the main riff in “Warning” and the 1969 The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society single “Picture Book” is Wikipedia-level common knowledge, so I just give Green Day credit for being able to resist ganking that Kinks chorus wholesale, too — it’s an earworm.
The Strokes - "Last Nite" / Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - "American Girl"
Whew, the Strokes: When a really good album meets really bad discourse. Rock Is Back! But these guys are rich??? Something something Indie Hipsters cocaine trucker hats Williamsburg. God help us. Basically a band that should’ve been the Cars of the W years got blown up into something more absurd, and part of that was the big question of who they were ripping off, with a widespread inexplicable consensus that the answer to this question was the Velvet Underground and Television. (Right, as if Is This It was thoroughly riddled with “Sister Ray”s and “Marquee Moon”s.) But one of the accusations sort of stuck for a while, and when Tom Petty was asked whether “Last Nite” sounded too much like his breakthrough hit by Rolling Stone in 2006, he shrugged it off, claiming he got a laugh out of it when his tourmates admitted to the lift. That was at the same time he shrugged off claims that he was going to sue the Red Hot Chili Peppers for “Dani California” sounding similar to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” so he was probably feeling pretty magnanimous back then. Things change, though: In 2015, he went so far as to settle out-of-court with Sam Smith over whether “Stay With Me” sounded too much like “Won’t Back Down” — maybe that imitation wasn’t sincerely flattering enough?
Beck - "Paper Tiger" / Serge Gainsbourg - "Melody"
Sea Change was the big moment where critics started to really deeply examine Beck and, rubbing their chins thoughtfully, mused: Our wacky irony boy is all grown-up now! And sad! This means something. But in their rush to anoint the album as one of the best of a downer-dominated 2002 — a year that felt like a relentless Wilco/Interpol/Sigur Rós/Flaming Lips heartache occasionally broken up by deeply necessary spins of Missy Elliott’s “Work It” — one particular song got a bit of wary notoriety. There was a certain resemblance between the bass-twanging orchestral swoon of “Paper Tiger” and the main motif of Serge Gainsbourg’s renowned 1971 concept record La Histoire de Melody Nelson. And even with Beck’s history of repurposing music — somewhere between a Fluxus pop-art sensibility, folk music’s reinterpretive traditions, and good old-fashioned sampling — he wound up getting his share of callouts. That said, it’s still my favorite song on an album I’ve grown to like (but not, y’know, Midnite Vultures like). And if it helped him land that gig producing Charlotte Gainsbourg’s IRM, it was worth it.
The White Stripes - "Seven Nation Army" / The Bob Seger System - "2+2 = ?"
This is one for the I-don’t-hear-it-but-a-lot-of-folks-do file, and kind of funny in the sense that the White Stripes’ song has taken on its own “this song is no longer yours” life as a borderline-public-domain sports/protest-chant cadence (which Jack White admittedly gets a thrill out of). But the similarities between “Seven Nation Army” and a young Seger’s “fuck your Army” anti-‘Nam protest do seem there, at least in spirit, even if they largely feel like Detroit lineage more than ripoff turf. (One enterprising bootlegger even put them as an A/B on a 7″ in 2005.) The word of choice seems to be “inspired,” and you could make a case for Seger doing his own variation on the Animals in the first place, but once Jack White actually told Stephen Colbert in 2011 that “2+2 = ?” was his favorite Seger song, speculation stirred up all over again like a spoon in a yogurt container. All I know is, if Jack White ever really ripped off anyone musically, I hope it was for “Aluminum” because I want to hear more rock that wonderfully ugly.
LCD Soundsystem - "Dance Yrself Clean" / The Pool - "Jamaica Running"
When you’re the kind of band that stakes so much of its reputation on being by and for total music geeks, one of the risks that comes with it is that no matter how obscure a lift is, someone will find it. This is one of those cases where the potential brazenness of the uncredited jack move — somewhere between cover and remix — is potentially outweighed by the sense of tribute that comes with finding some unheralded (or at least underheralded) artist and giving cratediggers and historians an opportunity to agitate for that artist’s rediscovery. Patrick Keel, the synth artist behind the Pool, passed away in 2014, and there’s little record of the possibility that he even knew about the similarities at all. But there’s one remarkable catch to this story: While the Pool single was largely lost to time and obscurity outside Keel’s native Austin, Texas, “Jamaica Running” B-side/quasi-dub “Jamaica Resting” appeared on a 2010 German compilation called Elaste Volume 03 – Super Motion Disco — which came out two months before This Is Happening was released, but a month after recording was completed. Unless James Murphy finagled himself a promo copy a few weeks early and subsequently whipped up a brand-new opener for his album, we can chalk this up to a bizarre something-in-the-air coincidence, and hope that the Elaste comp got Keel at least some of his due when he was still around to earn it.
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