Untangling the DNA of ‘Uptown Funk’


Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ 2014 global megahit “Uptown Funk” has generated some otherworldly sales and streaming numbers, and at over one billion views, it ranks as the fourth most watched YouTube video of all time (in case you’re curious, “Gangnam Style” by Psy is number one).

However, in a situation akin to Robin Thicke’s 2013 smash “Blurred Lines”, it seems the song has become another lightning rod for copyright controversy and discussion of the question of authorship vs inspiration.

The song’s throwback sound echoes the early 80’s and artists such as Prince, Zapp, The Time, One Way and even Earth, Wind & Fire.

But in terms of the song’s feel, probably no song can claim greater influence than “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was (Not Was), as evidenced by this mashup of the two:

Yet, despite the mashability of “Dinosaur”, there are two songs to which “Uptown Funk” owes even greater debt–in this case, literally, since the writers of both have now been given songwriting credit on the Ronson hit. They are Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything” and the Gap Band’s “I Don’t Believe You Wanna Get Up and Dance (Oops, Upside Your Head)”.

Listen for the interpolated sections of both songs with their corresponding relevant sections of “Uptown Funk”.

So a song with four original credited writers will now have its royalties split six ways, with the songwriting teams responsible for the other two songs now receiving an equal share each.

Stay tuned; maybe attorneys representing Don and David Was of Was (Not Was) will be ringing up to argue for a piece of the pie. The increased publicity drawn to the issue of musical copyright infringement by the “Blurred Lines” judgment in favor of Marvin Gaye’s heirs, combined with the fact that contemporary artists seem unable to create retro-sounding music without actually borrowing the actual content of older music, mean this type of story–and this type of song–will begin to sound increasingly familiar.

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