A Musical People’s History Of The Top Ten Worst Plagiarisms In The Course Of Human Events

First there was Victor’s post on top Geek Anthems, which was echoed soon after in a way too suspicious post on CNN’s website. So it’s my turn to chime in. And then there were three.

But this is not a tale of two blog posts, Victor already covered that. The best laid plans of mice and men don’t always work out, sometimes things fall apart, sometimes people’s original work gets left behind in a series of unfortunate events.

I ain’t saying that was plagiarism. It’s hard to figure out exactly where that line is anyways, and it’s not like there’s a guide for the perplexed lying around. It’s a good topic though, good excuse to come up with a top ten list of my own.

But there are just so many to choose from. Since that last row started with music, and that’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, how about we keep with that.

10. Jamiroquai

This one’s too easy it almost seems unsporting. When is something plagiarism and when is it an homage? I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that he’s spent his life trying to be Stevie Wonder. I can think of worse goals, and he does get pretty fly for a white guy. It’s almost silly to link, it’s everything, the entire catalog. But for a little refresher:

9. Led Zeppelin

Now what do you say when you’re faced with one of the most talented and original bands of a generation, who almost singlehandedly created an entire genre of music and are probably up there with Elvis Presley and The Beatles as a group that forever altered everything that came after them, and did things nobody had done before and nobody has done since.

But… maybe took a few liberties with giving proper credit, especially early on, and according to some actually lifted from their contemporaries, not just old blues songs they probably assumed were considered tribute rather than copying.

Hard to say, but they have to be included, there’s enough evidence here and here or actually listen to some very interesting snippets at this Top 10 style blog post, though you’ll have to remember or re-search a lot of the clips that have been pulled down. The originals cited are the interesting part though. Here’s one:

Wait that post I linked to was a Top 10? Ugh, see how hard it is to be original?

Regardless, I’ll stand by the opening line — in the balance Zep was wildly original, that’s clear enough, but there’s some compelling stuff above, and more importantly, it’s only fair given my plans for a savage beat-down of the #1 entry. You’ll have to wait for that.

8. The Strokes

Back to shooting fish in a barrel for moment. It’s hard to find much original about the Strokes. If you own a Television album that is. But this side-by-side remains the gold standard:

7. Oasis Vs. The Beatles

Continuing the “firm grasp of the obvious” in plagiarism theme we come to Oasis, who managed to channel the bubblegum pop side of the Beatles, the subtlety of a 2×4, and the good natured familial bliss of the Bible’s Genesis Chapter 4 with an intoxicating blend of smug arrogance and idiocy so distinctive I think it deserves its own dedicated word in the dictionary.

Again, the videos do the talking. Come on guys, couldn’t

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you have at least picked a different color?

6. George Harrison

Turnabout is fair play, in an easy segue, we come to George Harrison’s own run-in. This one resulted in a lawsuit. One Mr. Harrison didn’t win mind you.

5. Steely Dan: Ricky Don’t Lose That Number

Nowdays we might call this sampling. But this wasn’t made nowdays was it. Save some time, the first 20 seconds should tell you all you need to know.

4. CreedPearlJam

This would be a pitiful footnote if it wasn’t for the fact that Creed somehow managed to sell tens of millions albums and fill stadiums, which makes it a painful reality worthy of the top half of our list. The inclination is to barrage you with Pearl Jam and Creed comparisions, but let’s break from the A/B format for a moment and try to show why this actually matters. A guy that can sing could have been on this stage getting deserved attention. Skip to about 59 seconds in:

(PS – This one spawned one of my favorite headlines in awhile)

3. Nickelback vs. Nickelback

Sometimes a level of musical awfulness is reached where there are no antecedents, where sounding like someone else — anyone else — would actually be a major improvement. But when you’ve dedicated and sacrificed your entire life to reach the highest levels of suck then sometimes you reach a lower bound. When you’re as bad as it’s possible to be, logic dictates that changing anything would make you slightly better. It’s just an attribute of being unable to get any worse.

In that case, you’re presented with no choice for a follow up but to suck in the same way:

If you’re listening in stereo and have a balance (left/right) adjustment alternate one speaker with the other to hear what’s going on here. It ain’t pretty)

2. The Amazing Story Of the “Amen Break”

This has to be one of the most intriguing plagiarism stories in modern/popular musical history. How did a few second drum break from a semi-obscure soul side come to span half a dozen genres, and actually create a few from scratch. Don’t ask me, ask the creator of this amazing video:

1. Whitesnake: In The Still Of The Night

I’ll admit it, some of my first tentative forays into being a hardcore music geek began with hair metal. I mean sue me, what do you think is going to happen when you schedule childbirth so your kid comes to peak adolescent music acquisition age in 1987 or so.

Sorry I missed out on the Cure until later, I couldn’t afford black nail polish at the time. But I do remember some kind of big dust-up over someone named Robert Plant calling the guy from the band Whitesnake “David Cover Version.” (Yup, tis true)

I didn’t get it.

But boy do I now — the brazenness of this one hasn’t dimmed one bit a quarter century on. In a crowded field where being original is nearly impossible and ripoffs abound, this one still wins by miles.

See if you can spot the references. Or just refer to the while you watch cheat sheet below…

Play by play…

Oh my god look at him, did he actually steal the hair, I mean literally with scissors, or… OK then, here we go, the song kicks off with solo vocals, alternates with guitar riff. Everyone hears Black Dog here. That’s old news, but did you catch the opening riff of Immigrant Song in there too? Whoa.

Alright then, song kicks along, clearly derivative but it’s got a groove to it, nobody’s perfect… let’s see…

Oh snap! At the 2:00 mark things really start to get ugly. The signature Plant-style octave spanning vocal sweep is bad enough, but the breakdown? Are you really going to do that hi-hat thing and cymbal chime thing [mid-section, Whole Lotta Love] and then at the same time do the “Oooh Baby” [Led Zeppelin, Every Song Ever Recorded: 1968-1980] thing? I mean really?

Face palm. We haven’t even hit the halfway mark yet.

Moving along, it’s time to bring in the fake string section keyboards. Aha, looks there were copies of In Through The Our Door and Physical Graffiti lying around [All Of My Love, Kashmir]. Then again, keyboards were still kind of novel even then, lots of bands were experime….

WAIT HOLD ON PRESS STOP FOR A SECOND WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST SEE? Oh lord no he didn’t. Pause video, click back to 3:43 mark. Yes that’s what it was, the dude is pretending to play guitar with a f’king violin bow. Yougottabekidding. There is one person officially authorized to do that, Jimmy Page (fine, also Nigel Tufnel). Mr. AquaNet I regret to inform you that are not one of them.

Does this song really still have two minutes left to go? They must just physically tired from this level of larceny by now. Reassuringly the guitar solo rips off someone new, Eddie Van Halen. No worries, by the mid-80’s, literally everyone on the planet wanted that sound, hell Michael Jackson couldn’t help himself. Excusable. OK, drummer turns the beat around (getting better there guys, but you never did realize what made Black Dog so f’king amazing did you? It was apparent simplicity underpinned by totally mind-bending time signature trickery. Sublety, you don’t has it.)

Now they’re vamping for an outro, they’ve made their mark by now right. This must be over. Oops, not really, let’s bring it on home (er, sorry) for the ending with some thick rifftastic action that sounds oddly familiar yet again. Couldn’t resist just one more hit off the pipe could you.

Breathtaking. Top that.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ve always wanted to see a side-by-side of Jamiroquai and Stevie- damn, even more ‘inspired’ than I’d realized. Zeppelin’s is a jawdropper and the Strokes/Petty is equally revelatory.

    But I’m probably happiest to see the Amen Break- my all-time favorite YouTube video. Good call on that one. It blows my mind.

  2. I’ve always wanted to see a side-by-side of Jamiroquai and Stevie- damn, even more ‘inspired’ than I’d realized. Zeppelin’s is a jawdropper and the Strokes/Petty is equally revelatory.

    But I’m probably happiest to see the Amen Break- my all-time favorite YouTube video. Good call on that one. It blows my mind.

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