Musical Deja Vu Class of 2014 [Midyear Report]

Despite all the uproar (pun intended) over “Roar” last year, we submit one can make a stronger case of plagiarism with “Dark Horse.”  Any student of dance music should immediately notice the similarity between the musical arrangement of this Katy Perry hit and the classic 1980s dance album cut “Moments in Love” by Art of Noise (never released as a single stateside).  No matter, thanks to Juicy J, “Horse” has made history in another way (see Killer Hits).

The use of assertive sax on Ariana Grande’s “Problem” does call to mind other brassy numbers by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (“Thrift Shop”) and Kanye West (“Gold Digger”).  While that won’t get you in legal trouble, the notes played on this instrument are awfully close to C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now).”

Michael Jackson’s demo track “Love Never Felt so Good,” recorded in 1983 and posthumously released this year, contains a few notes that are almost identical to Jackie Moore’s 1979 dance hit “This Time Baby.”

You can’t take the next two cases to court, but the playing of the guitar in each song recalls something old.  Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong” is reminiscent of “Message in a Bottle” by The Police.  And Maroon 5’s “Maps” seems to be inspired by Geto Boys’ hip-hop classic “Mind Playing Tricks on Me,” which samples “Hung up on My Baby” by Isaac Hayes.

Released on the heels of “Wake Me Up!” by Avicii, Pitbull’s “Timber” may have been inspired by that international smash.  And for some reason, every time we listen to “Timber,” we’re reminded of “Swingtown” by The Steve Miller Band.  We’re not done with Mr. Worldwide just yet…his “Wild Wild Love” shares a few notes with Talking Heads’ “Wild Wild Life.”

We don’t know what to make of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.”  Some people on the Web keep insisting it’s an interpolation of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”  If that’s the case, it’s well-disguised.  Note that the writers of the Petty song are not credited on the Smith track, which is perhaps how it should be.

As the onslaught of boom (big room) house music continues, we listen to at least one dance instrumental every week that sounds like something we’ve heard before.  We won’t list them all here.

Finally, this may not be plagiarism, but Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” sure sounds like vintage Gwen Stefani (think 2005’s “Hollaback Girl”).

Musical Deja Vu Class of 2013

Perry Gets Gaga’d:  Us Versus the Web Mob, Round Two

We revealed before we didn’t think Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” was all that close to a Madonna song (see below).  We’re ready to do battle with the Web mob again.  As soon as Katy Perry’s “Roar” is released, the Internet immediately compares it with Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.”  Before everyone feels sorry for Bareilles, we’d like to drop this little bombshell.  A part of “Roar” actually sounds more like—drum roll, please—The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” (sing it at a faster tempo and you’ll get what we mean).  “Roar’s” instrumental track also reminds us of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” a little bit.

Speaking of Gaga 

With so much attention on Perry’s new single, the Web mob has seemingly given “Applause” a free pass.  That’s too bad because its intro is reminiscent of Sublime’s “Date Rape.”

Blurred Legal Lines

The irresistible “Blurred Lines” is that way precisely because the Robin Thicke song is the sonic equivalent of familiar comfort food.  The musical arrangement is similar to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up – Pt. 1.”  The background squeals sound like a tribute to Michael Jackson.  And we’re sure other people can find more similarities to other songs.  So how does Thicke respond to all the plagiarism talk?  He has filed a preemptive lawsuit against the Marvin Gaye estate and the owner of Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways.”  This is either a brilliant legal maneuver or sheer chutzpah.

The R&B singer has mentioned in an interview that he was inspired by the Gaye song.  So what’s at issue, according to his lawsuit, is whether you can copyright a song’s “sound and feel.”  (Interestingly, software companies have waged legal battles over the “look and feel” of an application’s user interface.)  We’re no legal experts, but we believe there’s case law to show you don’t need to copy a song note for note to be held liable.  His legal problem is not that his song sounds like a certain genre but that it’s similar to a specific song.  We suspect he will lose unless his legal team can find multiple examples—the bigger the hits the better—of songs that sound like Gaye’s No. 1 single from 1977.  We can’t think of any.

Same Direction

When something happens once, you can dismiss it as an accident.  When it repeats again and again, it could be intentional.  We mentioned before how the intro to One Direction’s 2012 hit “What Makes You Beautiful” is similar to “Summer Nights” from the “Grease” soundtrack (see below).  Well, the same problem reared its ugly head again on “Live While We’re Young,” whose intro sounds like a riff on “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash.  And now the intro to “Best Song Ever” is like an ode to The Who’s iconic “Baba O’Riley.”

While we’re on an intro tip, we should point out how much the intro to The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather” calls to mind Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.”

Few People Care Because It’s Not a Big Hit

If you listen to Paramore’s “Still Into You” without the vocals, the instrumental track will instantly recall “Easy Lover” by Philip Bailey With Phil Collins.

Karmin Copy [September 2012]

Since the Internet has become a virtual town hall or international bulletin board, any gaffe can instantly go viral all over the world.  Ask certain politicians and public figures in general.  As far as music is concerned, plagiarism rarely goes unnoticed in the Web’s echo chamber.  The first time we listened to Karmin’s “Hello,” we thought one passage sounded awfully familiar (more on that later).

The year 2011 was full of musical blunders.  Lady Gaga found out the hard way when people—thanks to the Internet—started comparing “Born This Way” to Madonna.  We still say “Alejandro” from the previous year is closer to “Don’t Turn Around” by Ace of Base than “Born” is to Madonna’s “Express Yourself.”  Well, who are we to argue with the Web mob (the wob)?  And we submit Lady Gaga’s “You and I” recalls “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes.

Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3x” “borrowed” two lines from Calvin Harris’ “I’m Not Alone.”  Belatedly, Harris was given writing credits for “Yeah 3x.”  Did Brown and company really think no one on the Net would notice?

Leona Lewis’ “Collide” actually sampled Avicii’s “Penguin” (itself a remake of “Perpetuum Mobile”).  Sampling is not considered plagiarism, but after Avicii declared on the Web that Lewis’ people never got permission to sample his recording, “Collide” was eventually released with Avicii’s name added as performer.  Collision indeed.

The intro to One Direction’s 2012 hit “What Makes You Beautiful” is similar to “Summer Nights” from the “Grease” soundtrack.  The Queen-like a cappella is obvious, and the more we listen to “Some Nights” by Fun, the more we hear echoes of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia.”  And that brings us back to Karmin, whose second single sounds like a carbon copy of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (the “Hello, hello, how low” part).  Here’s a bit of trivia:  There’s a songwriter who’s worked on both “Hello” and “Collide.”

A word to the wise:  Before releasing a record, what companies should do is test it with one of those song ID software programs.  If a song’s “fingerprint” is judged to be similar to something else, it’s time to do a little rewriting—or give credit where credit’s due.  Of course, no software will tell you there’s any problem with Muse’s “Uprising.”  But as anyone who’s familiar with Blondie’s “Call Me” knows, it only takes two notes.

We almost made it through this column without mentioning the curious case of Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones” album.  Copying other people’s sampling ideas may not be plagiarism—if only because he gave Avicii and Bingo Players writing credits from the start—but it’s the same kind of lazy work that was Will Smith’s modus operandi (when he would sample a big chunk of a song’s instrumental track).

Flo Rida could have waited at least 12 months before co-opting Avicii’s “Levels” and Bingo Players’ “Cry (Just a Little).”  This is a strange twist on the early days of rock and roll when white artists like Pat Boone and Elvis Presley recorded covers of R&B songs, making them more acceptable at mainstream radio stations.  Sixty years later, mainstream top 40 stations played Flo Rida but mostly ignored Avicii.

“Wild Ones” also includes a contemporaneous remake of Ivan Gough & Feenixpawl’s “In My Mind” featuring the same vocalist (or is it a sample?).  The most charitable thing we can say about Flo Rida is that he has good taste in dance music.

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