Pop-lifting (Part 1): Eagles, Beatles, Beach Boys and Their Stolen Music

stand upparker

lennoniggles

The other day I got into my car and the first thing I did–just like I was taught in Driver’s Ed class–was to check the CD player. As I switched the function from radio to CD and landed on track 3 where I’d left off listening, I heard parts of Ben Harper’s ‘Steal My Kisses’ and Belle & Sebastian’s ‘If She Wants Me’ back to back. It sounded a little like this:

 

A weird coincidence only, most likely. But It did get me thinking about some of the more heinous song-on-song crimes that have been perpetrated throughout the years. I’m talking about artists lifting musical ideas from other artists without necessarily giving credit where it’s due. I’m talking about the scandal of Pop-lifting…

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‘Ghostbusters’ by Ray Parker Jr. lifted from ‘I Want a New Drug’ by Huey Lewis

The producers of the film Ghostbusters approached Lindsay Buckingham to write a theme song based on his successful contribution of ‘Holiday Road’ to National Lampoon’s Vacation. When Buckingham declined Ray Parker Jr. took the job and wrote the ‘Ghostbusters’ theme. He was promptly sued by Huey Lewis, whose hit ‘I Want a New Drug’ had been a hit earlier that same year and sounded eerily like ‘Ghostbusters’ (ok maybe not ‘eerily’ but still…).

The two settled out of court, with Columbia Pictures paying a settlement to Huey Lewis. The details of this settlement were to remain confidential and were until Lewis made comment about his payment on an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. Parker then sued Lewis for breach of confidentiality.

What’s really weird is that the bass line the two songs share that made them so similar, is also quite similar to that of M’s ‘Pop Muzik’, a number one hit in late 1979.

Here’s an excellent mashup showing why Ray Parker got Ghostbusted:

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‘Come Together’ by The Beatles lifted from ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ by Chuck Berry

‘Come Together’ is pretty much a slowed down, heavier version of Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ with different lyrics–mostly.

The song got John Lennon sued by Big Seven Music Corp, the publisher of Berry’s song. They settled out of court, but a pissed off Lennon vowed to record three more of Big Seven’s songs. He got around to releasing two. Both appeared on his Rock n Roll album and one of them was ‘You Can’t Catch Me’. (The third, ‘Angel Baby, went unreleased until after his death). Big Seven sued and won another award ($6,795) then released an album of Lennon’s unauthorized outtakes in a move designed to embarrass Lennon. This time Lennon sued and won, to the tune of $84,912.96. I’ll always wonder how it came down to that 96 cents…

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‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ by the Beach Boys lifted from ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ by Chuck Berry

And speaking of Chuck Berry, rock n roll’s most ripped-off figure was pretty ticked off to hear ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ on the radio one day. It’s very nearly a note-for-note rip-off of his ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’. He sued and won royalties and a songwriting credit. It gets weirder: The lyrics of ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ also seems to have been ‘inspired’ by another song, Bobby Rydell’s ‘Kissin’ Time’, which names various American cities. And ‘Kissin’ Time’ borrows melodically from…yup, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’. It all comes back to Chuck.

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‘Hotel California’ by Eagles lifted from ‘We Used to Know’ by Jethro Tull

When the Eagles toured as opening act for Jethro Tull in their earliest days a song from Tull’s live set and written by Ian Anderson made an impression on songwriter Don Henley. It took a while, but about half a decade later his masterwork, ‘Hotel California’ showed the influence of the earlier song. As far as I know, no one sued anyone. But it is interesting to note how un-original Henley’s magnum opus actually is.

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‘Take it to the Limit’ by Eagles lifted from ‘If You Don’t Know Me by Now’ by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes

And while we’re on the subject of the Eagles, let’s take note (why not, everybody else is doing it) of Randy Meisner’s ‘Take it to the Limit’. The opening string arrangement comes across as a homage (to put it politely) to Harold Melvin’s R&B hit of three years earlier, written by Gamble and Huff. It was also, incidentally, the first Eagles single not to feature either Henley or Glenn Frey on lead vocals.

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So, here’s to the Originals–the Chuck Berrys and Ian Andersons and Huey Lewis’ of the world–those who sometimes have to sue to get the recognition (and money) they deserve. It’s high praise when artists of the stature of Don Henley, John Lennon and Brian Wilson tap your musical legacy for ideas.

berry

See also: Pop-lifting (Part 2): Avril, Rod and Bob Marley Found Guilty | Every Moment Has A Song (edcyphers.com)

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. john
    Jan 01, 2013 @ 11:09:07

    Another great post. Thanks. I knew Come Together had a Chuck Berry shout-out in the flat-top line, but thought it was a tribute. Didn’t think of the whole song as a slowed-down larceny.

    The Sweet Little Sixteen larceny did seem outrageous. The story is a small data point on racism in our society, but I suppose you can also make it a story with a just outcome considering Chuck Berry ultimately wins the litigation.

    And then the question of what is swiping and what is genre-busting (or even, within genre) borrowing? Musicians and bards have been developing and creating and entertaining us this way for millenia, no?

    You’ve got all larcenous rather than creative examples in your post. One that I don’t know enough music to understand is the charge against Chuck Berry himself for swiping Ida Red to create Maybelline. I can hear the country-Texas Swing genre-busting in what he takes from those strands to blend into his Maybelline, but I don’t hear the larceny in that one. Doesn’t sound to me like much of a straight knock-off.

    A few Ida Reds, including a couple of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys — one with a hot jazz trumpet in it. Swiping, or genre-busing?



    Anyway, Happy New Year and thanks for all the posts.

    Reply

    • Ed Cyphers
      Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:26:51

      Well, although I’ll be careful about using language of thievery unduly (at least from here on out) I think it’s fair to use “stealing” as a description at least in the cases where the aggrieved party sued successfully.

      Be that as it may, Chuck Berry gets his comeuppance in my next Poplifting post! Stay tuned…

      Reply

    • Ed Cyphers
      Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:40:02

      As for the issue of Lennon and Berry’s songs “coming together” as it were, I read that Lennon once admitted “You Can’t Catch Me” influenced the writing of his song. Of course, he went on to say that “It’s NOTHING like the Chuck Berry song…” (true in a sense) and that it “remains independent of Chuck Berry or anyone else on earth” (also true in a sense).
      And such a seemingly self-contradicting statement is SO Lennon, isn’t it?

      I’d add that it’s a superior and more significant song, which is also true in many such cases (Although I love Tull’s “We Used to Know” I don’t think I’d make the claim for its superiority or greater significance to the world than “Hotel California”.

      But I think it’s also fair to say other than the “flat-top” line the two songs share some melody as well.

      Reply

      • Ed Cyphers
        Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:56:50

        Oh, forgot to address one or two more things:

        My purpose in the post is to focus on the relatively larcenous examples. They’re usually more interesting I think. But I agree most or all good songwriters borrow from previous stuff–how could you not? As great as the Beatles were, it’s interesting to note they were no different. I have more good examples coming up.

        But I’ve decided to leave others alone. For example a claim that McCartney’s “Yesterday” may have been inspired by Nat Cole’s “Answer Me My Love”, which has lines like ““Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay, won’t you tell me where I’ve gone astray”. But the case for Nat’s subliminal influence of Paul crumbles when you remember McCartney originally gave his song the lyric “Scrambled eggs, oh my darling you have lovely legs”.

        Reply

        • Ed Cyphers
          Jan 01, 2013 @ 13:59:38

          …and the “Ida Red” seems to contain the seeds of “Maybelline” but not enough to build a legal case, for what my opinion’s worth. Perhaps more an example of the “genre-busting” you refer to.

          Reply

  2. Trackback: Songs You May Have Missed #340 | Ed Cyphers
  3. Stacey
    Jan 05, 2015 @ 09:46:42

    Excellent post, Ed! I especially enjoyed listening to the ‘Ghostbusters’ / ‘I Want a New Drug’ mashup.

    Reply

  4. Ed Cyphers
    Jan 05, 2015 @ 19:07:25

    Thanks Stacey! Great to see your comments.

    Reply

  5. http://perryphik.tumblr.com
    Jan 08, 2015 @ 05:35:09

    There’s certainly a lot to learn about this issue.

    I like all of the points you made.

    Reply

  6. Debbie
    Feb 20, 2018 @ 21:51:25

    Hopefully by now you are informed enough to know that when the Eagles opened for Jethro Tull, Don Felder wasn’t in the band yet, and the chord progression is a very common one. There was no lawsuit b/c Tull himself knew it was a weak case.

    Reply

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