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Famously Stolen Songs: The Crooks of Music

August 2, 2011

Theft has always been the most frustrating crime to fall victim to. This injustice can leave you without some of your prime possessions, with a nagging sense of confusion and unsatisfiable vengeance.

Just ask our “Baskettcase” columnist, Jeremy Baskett, whose Bedford-Stuyvesant home was tainted by crooks this week, who mercilessly stole numerous electronics, including his laptop computer, which Jeremy relies on to contribute articles to the site.

English alternative rock band The Verve most likely did not steal our columnist's computer, but they did steal a Rolling Stones jingle, which resulted in millions of dollars in lawsuit settlement.

While we will probably never discover the cowardly thieves, we can at least, write about it. In light of the worst tragedy to occur here at Hot Hot Music, we’re going to take a glance at some famous crooks and the accused thieves of the music industry; namely, artists who have fallen under suspicion of stealing beats, harmonies and song structures.

These artists have been vilified as blood-sucking leeches, using the brilliant construction of former songs as a template for their own hits.

Note: we are not a legal courtroom here at HHM; rather, think of us as the prosecuting attorney.

Vanilla Ice

Arguably the most infamous song stealer of all-time, one-hit wonder Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” will forever linger in speculation of thievery. After its 1989 release, listeners quickly noted an identical bassline from Queen and David Bowie’s 1981 collaboration “Under Pressure.” While the album did not credit Bowie or the members of Queen, no lawsuit ever surfaced publicly concerning the issue. Many believe a hush deal was reached between the parties, with Ice, born Robert Van Winkle, paying Bowie and Queen an undisclosed settlement to prevent any impending lawsuit. Either way, Ice’s only cornerstone as an artist is doomed to an eternity of doubt and criticism.


Coldplay

These British favorites have been targeted by multiple artists for musical plagiarism. The allegations began in 2008, when guitar whiz Joe Satriani cited Coldplay’s single “Viva la Vida” for its inescapable similarities to his own composition, “If I Could Fly.” Satriani sued the band, eventually winning an out of court settlement in late 2009. Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, closely monitored the legal proceedings, as he also claimed that “Viva la Vida” drew inspiration from one of his songs, 1973’s “Foreigner Suite.” Stevens never brought a lawsuit against the band, although he was highly outspoken of the incident. As if Coldplay hadn’t suffered enough shame for the song, a small Brooklyn band, Creaky Boards, also claimed to be the melody’s original composers. Maybe this song should just be laid to rest forever?

Gorillaz

British reggae artist Eddy Grant was absent from headlines since his 1983 hit “Electric Avenue” faded into the new century. However, in 2010, Grant made headlines with his accusations against fellow British musician Damon Albarn and his enigmatic musical project Gorillaz. The band’s first single of their third album, “Stylo,” sounded strangely similar to Grant’s B-side for “Electric Avenue,” entitled “Time Warp.” Grant was extremely outspoken with media, stating, “my song sits almost note to note with their release and this is a blatant rip-off. I would like the outcome to be that the band admit they lifted my song – that I have a full credit for the song and an apology from the band.” It is notable however, that Grant did not demand any money or file a lawsuit, but rather just requested full composition credit for the song. Here’s to ‘who knows if he’ll get it.’ Cheers.

The Verve

Why is it always the one-hit wonders? 1990s alternative rock band The Verve experienced their 15 minutes of fame with their hit single “Bittersweet Symphony,” which quickly caught the attention of elder rock fans who noted its similarities with The Rolling Stone’s 1965 song “The Last Time.” While the band originally requested to use a sample from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, the original composers and side project of Stone’s producer Andrew Loog Oldham, the band was later cited for using ‘too much’ of the song. An Abkco Records lawsuit followed, which resulted in Keith Richards and Mick Jagger receiving full credit for the tune, as well as an astounding 100% of its profits. Ashcroft and the Verve continue to perform the song to the occasionally booing crowds, while Richards noted in a 1999 interview “I’m out of whack here, this is serious lawyer shit. If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.” That’s bittersweet redemption for the Stones.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 15, 2011 12:46 am

    …And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
    Many new engineers risk ridicule & exclusion
    for lifting music that doesn’t belong to them and incorporating it into their own works & claiming from it.
    it’s much safer to “re-create” famous riffs with instruments the composors didn’t use, change 10% & it’s considered different & original: e.g. lady gaga “born this way”/Madonna ” Express Yourself”
    the tracks are considered lawfully different because the circumstances of creation are completely different, the words are different and the instruments are different although the underlying structure of the composition “share” meme characteristics, they are completely different through the use of complex sequencing.

    MUSIC SPEAKS TO EVERYONE, ON DEEP, INTIMATE LEVELS REGARDLESS OF LANGUAGE OR BORDERS. IT ALWAYS HAS AND IT ALWAYS WILL!
    It’s creation is in the hands of living angels who seek to teach us the craft & menacing demons who seek to keep it hidden to plagerise and hurt the angels who write the songs that speak directly to the spirit within all of us.

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