Ever heard a song that rings a bell? Sarah Adams can put your mind at rest whilst questioning the legality of incorporating these ‘golden oldies’ into modern day hits
I’m one of those annoying people who remember random celebrity’s names, film quotes and many other pointless pieces of information that I will constantly bring up in conversation whenever possible. I’ve recently realised this also applies to music where I’ll hear a track and have to tell you as many nuggets of pointless knowledge I’ve been able to stow away over the years. Would I prefer to be able to relay the entirety of pi to you? Yes, but I’ll work with what I’m given. I’ve always thought that I could hear great similarities between songs and suspected that the important people at the record labels, the ones wearing suits and walking up and down long shiny corridors, wouldn’t be too happy about it. Turns out that behind closed doors huge star spangled debates go on about who wrote what.
Personally, if I was the genius behind ‘Summer Nights’ from ‘Grease’ I would be pretty annoyed at One Directions ‘hit track’ ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. For those of you unlucky enough to have heard it, you probably will have also heard how undeniably alike the guitar backing is to the musical. Another example of this tune trading is in Robbie and Gary’s (again) ‘hit track’ ‘Shame’. As a bit of a Beatles freak I can’t believe the similarities to ‘Blackbird’. The opening guitar chords are strikingly similar to that of the 1968 McCartney classic. Surely Macca has enough money to vent his anger, the Take That boys wouldn’t have a leg to stand on (if you’re thinking of a certain divorcee, you are a bad person).
Now, the two previous examples were both innocent discoveries of my own, just from hearing them and connecting a few dots. Little did I know about the dirty tricks of the trade the likes of Google and YouTube would show me. A lot of the accusations floating around are highly unbelievable and nearly non-existent, but some are shocking.
This controversy has been going on for decades; amazingly Vanilla Ice never had the permission to use Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’ in his track ‘Ice Ice Baby’. It is rumoured that Brian May first heard the song in a club in Germany. Upon asking the DJ what the song was, he was told it was currently in the US chart.
Coldplay are apparently huge players in this game, being linked to copying Cat Stevens, Rage Against the Machine and many other artists. Joe Satriani was one of the few who actually did act upon the accusations. The rock guitarist filed a lawsuit against Coldplay claiming that ‘Viva La Vida’ had used his song ‘If I Could Fly’, released four years earlier. The lawsuit was swiftly dismissed in 2009 and they were basically told to sort it out between them.
Rock legend Mick Jagger can even be dragged into this, but managed to avoid the mess. The Rolling Stones noticed that their track ‘Bridges to Babylon’ sounded alike to K.D. Lang’s ‘Constant Craving’. In order to avoid a reputation threatening lawsuit, the band added Lang and her co-writer Ben Mink as composers of the song in the small print, ensuring they both to receive royalties.
But, let’s be fair with this and take a look at the flip side of this argument. This causes for some technical music lingo. There are twelve notes in what is called the chromatic scale, that isn’t a lot for composers to work with. Opposing the accusations of copying between artists is that the similarities are inevitable and melodies sounding alike are expected every now and then. If you can’t think of any examples, search ‘4 Chord Song’ by Axis of Awesome, on YouTube.
Personally, I think that this depends on each case. Some tracks seem to have blatantly stolen an entire melody while others have stumbled across similar progressions or notes.