Falcone's Crossroads

Where This Meets That

Falcone’s Friday Five: Musical Copycats

There’s a famous quote whose source is, ironically, debated: “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”

Today’s Friday Five explores this philosophy applied to music.  Musicians writing music is not exactly monkeys writing Shakespeare; because western music is based on a 12-note scale, there are bound to be some notable similarities between songs from time to time, but here are five songs where a line was crossed.

I’ll leave it to you to determine whether each artist “borrowed” or “stole” (or simply paid homage) or is “good” or “great” (to my ear, some are neither).

1)  The first verse of Sublime’s 1997 “What I Got” sounds strikingly like The Beatles’ 1968 song “Lady Madonna”.  Not sure what it sounds like after that; never made it past the first verse (not a fan).

2)  Speaking of “Madonna”, Lady Gaga is the only artist on this list to ripoff, ahem, actually ripoff is the right word, an entire persona.  But as songs go, her 2011 song “Born this Way” (ironically) copies Madonna’s 1989 song, “Express Yourself”.

3)  Butthole Surfers’ 1996 song “Pepper” is, nearly from beginning to end, Beck’s 1993 song “Loser”.

4) I’m not a Foo Fighters “fan” per se, but I definitely respect founder Dave Grohl as an artist.  Imagine my surprise when I first heard their 2009 song “Wheels” and immediately recognized it as Tom Petty’s 1991 song “Learning to Fly”.  A couple interesting notes, though: Grohl actually played with Tom Petty’s band for a brief stint between Nirvana and Foo Fighters, and “Wheels” shares thematic elements with the Petty track. These would lead me to hope the latter song is homage to the former, but it doesn’t show up on the song credits, so . . .

5)  From one “fly” to another . . . I first heard Pearl Jam’s 1998 song “Given to Fly” when I saw them perform in Atlanta in 2000. I was immediately struck by its vocal similarity to Led Zeppelin’s 1971 song, “Going to California”.  Pearl Jam has acknowledged the influence, and during a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Zeppelin singer Robert Plant joined the band on stage, and they segued “Given to Fly” into “Going to California”.

I know there are tons of such cases in music, but if you want to pile on, feel free to do so with a comment!


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