Hey! I’ve Heard That Somewhere Before!

We’ve probably all have done this. Perhaps you may have just heard a new song you really liked and then at the end of the tune you found yourself asking ” Hey, I’ve heard that somewhere before!”

Well it’s probably not news, but musicians and composers have likely been doing this since they learned to bang two rocks together as cavemen. Whether musicians do this intentionally or subconsciously could be up for debate – or in some cases – it actually goes to litigation. It’s called plagiarism!

So, what prompted me to write this blog? Well I’m listening this morning to an interview with the great Americana songwriter, Kris Kristofferson on CBC Radio this morning on their Arts and Entertainment flagship show, “Q” with Jian Gomeshi. Anyways, Kris and Jian get to talking about songwriting back in Kris’ early years. So, Kris gets to talking about hanging out with fellow songwriters of the day, learning their craft and the camaraderie that existed amongst these budding young tune-smiths. Well, it just so happens this one time Kris is hanging at some hippie convention/ festival type thingy with someone? Not important who it was, but there they are listening to Canada’s own Leonard Cohen backstage. Apparently, Leonard in debuting his newest composition “Bird on a Wire”. Now, I’ve listened to that song all my life and even played it on many occasions at coffeehouse jams and whatnot and never suspected anything peculiar about it. Well my bubble was burst this morning when Kris disclosed that his fellow songwriter, upon hearing it, blurted out, ” Hey, Leonard just stole that melody from Lefty Frizell’s “Mom and Dad Waltz!” So, with that I present to you the supposed evidence. You be the judge!

BTW. You may want to listen to this audio clip before viewing the following videos regarding this debate. This is Kris Kristofferson talking on CBC Radio “Q” about approaching Leonard back in the day at a different gathering than the aforementioned. It was there he told Leonard what his friend told him about “Bird on A Wire” being the same melody as Lefty Frizell’s “Mom and Dad Waltz”. And Cohen’s response? Listen here.

Lefty Frizell – Mom and Dad Waltz

Leonard Cohen – Bird on A Wire

Well with that freshly in mind, and on a lighter note, I’d just like to bring to attention the recent hoopla surrounding the unlikely hit “Pants on the Ground” by General Larry Platt of American Idol fame. Well as of recent it has become an internet viral hit and garnered the good General some notoriety, however, is he entirely deserved of this fame? Apparently, two elder gentlemen, known as the Green Brothers, in Detroit think not. The Green Brothers, in fact, have alleged that Larry Platt’s hit “Pants on the Ground” is a take off of their 1996 hit “Back Pockets off the Floor”. Again you be the judge! Videos and article here.

As mentioned before this has been going on forever. I as a songwriter, have even caught myself singing a familiar melody for a new composition. Whilst in the process, I too have said to myself ” Hey! I’ve heard that somewhere before!”. Thereafter, on occasion, I have found myself banging my head against the wall trying to recall its source. However, these days I just tend to move on and try something new because my noggin has a tendency to swell easily! LOL!

Anyways, here are some great videos that contend that many contemporary artist from the 50’s on to Avril Lavigne and Green Day may very well be guilty of this “plagiarism” of which we speak. I know for one Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” is definitely the Beach Boys’ ” Surfin’ USA”. On another note, I read that the Chiffons 60’s hit ” He’s So Fine” successfully won in litigation against George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”. Also, kd Lang was able to get a co-writing credit for the Rolling Stone’s “Anybody Seen My Baby” based on her tune ” Constant Craving”.

Moreover, you will find by watching the following videos that maybe Green Day stole from Bryan Adams – Sum 41 from Coldplay – Chili Peppers from Tom Petty – Lee Ann Rimes from Aqua – Usher from the Beatles – Avril from Rubinoos – and the list goes on and on and on…

Songs With Similar Melodies – Exhibit “A”

Songs With Similar Melodies – Exhibit “B”

In conclusion, “borrowing” inevitably happens whether intentional or by osmosis. I think as musicians with limited chords, it probably will happen at some point. Obviously, as a songwriter, I am not advocating stealing, but I’d like to point out in other art forms stealing is encouraged. I’ve heard it said that Jim Jaramush – or was it Tarintino – when asked where they get their ideas. Their answer? ” Just steal from everyone, but make it your own!”. Moreover, in my other incarnation as a documentary filmmaker, it is always touted around folk of my ilk that “plagarism” is when you steal from one source – versus – stealing from many sources is regarded as “research”. In any event, it seems “imitation is indeed the highest form of flattery” as the old adage goes. Moreover, I suppose it has all been done before, but it is commendable that we always strive to find new ways of doing it and presenting it.

Happy writing or whatever creative art you may endeavor in. Thanks for your visit. Comments welcomed. I hope you enjoyed the read!

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