Wednesday, July 27, 2016

It seems to me I've heard that song before.

When I was in college, I had an English instructor who really enjoyed the subject. His bachelor’s degree was in Marine Biology, but he happened to do some work in a lab with a man to whom the subject was a hobby – a passion. That man was named John Steinbeck.

With an inspiration as Steinbeck, my instructor’s interests turned from Marine Biology to English. He wrote a number of books including a biography of Peter Mark Roget – father of the thesaurus.

One day in class my instructor brought up the subject of plagiarism. He was renown enough to be asked to review manuscripts of textbooks for English education. One such book had a poem, supposedly written by a student of the author of the book. My instructor recognized it – he had read that poem in a publication that had, as I recall, a nationwide readership of perhaps fifty people. One of those people happened to be my instructor. That was enough to stop the textbook writing career of that author dead in its tracks. 

Plagiarism may be overt in the written word. In music, however, it may crop up subliminally. A songwriter may get a chord progression in his head and he may go with it, not realizing it had been heard before.

Often times it is not a conscious act on the part of a songwriter to rip off from another songwriter, but it can happen despite one’s best intentions.

A famous case is a judgment against George Harrison for his song “My Sweet Lord,” which was held to be a copy of the Chiffon’s 1963 hit “He’s So Fine.”

When you compare the two, you know the reason behind the judgment.

Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery.  The Beatles song “Ticket To Ride” was released on April 19, 1965 (and went on to be a number one record in May).

Brian Wilson demonstrably was a Beatle fan. On April 30, 1965, the Beach Boys recorded a song that was to be the B side of their hit “Barbara Ann.”

She’s got a ticket to ri-i-ide, girl don’t tell me you’ll wri-i-ite. Oh, and how about a jangly guitar lick in there as well.

Peter Townsend has written a number of great songs over the years, classic originals all of them. If you are a real Who fan, you may know this one from when the group was known as the “High Numbers.”

A real original by Pete Townsend from 1964.

Unless you know the US R&B charts from 1963

In 1968 the Grassroots had one of their biggest hits, a song called “Midnight Confessions.” (We’ll ignore the fact that it was really Carol Kaye who really played the bass on the hit record.)

Imagine how bad the Grassroots may have felt a year and a half later when the Gentys took the same basic sound and made a record with it.

But don’t feel too bad for the Grassroots.

There are only so many things under the sun. I’m glad my paycheck does not depend on doing something new.


  1. Nice post, I knew half of those...the British half LOL

  2. I'd LIKE to think there's something new under the sun, but you're probably right. Musicians have it worse than writers. There are many more words and phrases than there are notes and chords.

    Very nice post Matt.

  3. That was fun, Matt. Takes my mind off of other thing, for a while