Tuesday, 9 January 2018


It's nice to talk about something other than politics occasionally.

Although I suppose, if one were intent on being a real pedant, everything we talk about and discuss are 'politics' of some variety. Even the porn industry doubtlessly has its politics. Though admittedly, you're less likely to find them discussed in The Sunday Times.

Rock star sues pop star

I read this morning that Radiohead are suing Lana Del Ray for ripping off their song 'Creep': a song I happen to know rather well, and loved dearly as a kid. Apparently Ms Ray's song 'Get Free' was more than a bit reminiscent of the Oxford-born misery-peddlers' original masterpiece. But that's not something we're unaccustomed to today, is it?

As a man approaching thirty-nine, I can safely say the ageing process brings with it select joys, such as nasal hair, random strands sprouting from your ears, aching joints, and the inability to walk up stairs without farting. But also a keen ear for popular music that's been ripped off by whippersnappers.

Musical plagiarism is something I'm torn about. I trained as a musician for the entirety of my childhood education and beyond; I'd also say my musical tastes are pretty eclectic by anyone's standards. And as any self-respecting music fan would probably have to acknowledge, nearly everyone has borrowed something from someone else. I remember the day I discovered one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most iconic theme tunes - 'The Phantom of the Opera' motif - was nicked pretty much directly from Pink Floyd's 'Echoes': it was quite a revelation, and one I hadn't expected.

But listening to other musicians is how budding musicians develop and grow. Hell, it's how most things develop! It's called progress. Houses and buildings constructed today are built upon the architecture of previous generations. Cars today are based on older ones that originated in the early Twentieth Century. It's a very natural order for things. The saying "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" holds true in many situations, not least in music. And I'd generally hate to think that any musician or author should hold rights to a good chord progression simply because they got there first; there's only so many physically possible for a start.

'Self determined'

The other thing is, not all musicians are songwriters - some don't possess that gift, and/or instead follow careers as performers, performing the work of others. For some reason this is perfectly acceptable if you're a classical or jazz musician, performing the works of Bach or Miles Davis, but if you choose more recent popular music... still in living memory, there's often a peculiar snobbery about it. Especially in the UK. I know. I sang in the number-one 'tribute band' in the world for five years, selling out arenas and theatres worldwide...outselling even 'legitimate' bands I loved growing up - something that often astounded me. But there was still always that stigma of being 'cheap knock-offs' in Britain - where we as a population are generally spoiled, self-entitled, overly hostile, critical of those with talents far exceeding our own, and keen to put down anyone and everyone we can.

Sorry. What I mean to say is, we're 'self determined'.

The point is, I'm not averse to musical ideas being re-formed and rebranded. In fact I rather enjoy it - in fact I possibly feel slightly smarter for being able to recognise the influences! So I was certainly rather shocked to read Radiohead are demanding 100% of the royalties from Lana Del Ray's song, 'Get Free'. That seemed a bit extreme. If Ed Sheeran can get away with re-writing/releasing TLC's 'No Scrubs' under the name 'The Shape Of You' - and be on top of the charts for a whole frickin' year - how badly could Lana have ripped off 'Creep'?

Then I listened on Spotify. Wow. Fair play. As shameless plagiarism as it comes. Bad Lana.

It's one thing to borrow an element of a well known song... a motif, a rhythm, a chord progression, even a lyric.... quite another to literally 'borrow' the exact same chord progression for the entirety of the song and the same structure, not acknowledge the theft, then pass it off as entirely your own. Lana's vocal line in 'Get Free' is very different, but it's unmistakably 'Creep' underneath.

Very bad Lana. Or so I thought.

Taking the piss

Keen to share positively anything worth discussing on social media that's NOT politics related these days (I'm keen to hold on to the few remaining friends I have), and knowing a fairly plentiful pool of musicians, I thought it was worth a sardonic post.

Lo and behold... literally moments later, a couple of friends corrected me - pretty much schooling my own musical knowledge. Musical education never ends; it's a beautiful thing.

It turns out that 'Creep' by Radiohead itself was an incredibly blatant plagiarism of another famous, older song. A song that somehow, until now, had escaped me - called 'The Air That I Breathe' (no, not the Simply Red version) by The Hollies. And that Radiohead themselves were apparently sued for exactly the same thing by the song's composers Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood!

Again, I had a listen. (From the consumer point of view, admit it, Spotify is great.)

If anything, the plagiarism is even more striking. Lana, or her production team, nicked the chords and wrote her own soulful vocal tune to go over the top. Radiohead nicked the chords and the vocal melody!

That makes the whole situation entirely ridiculous. You can't sue someone for plagiarising what you've obviously already plagiarised?! That's like doing a caricature of the Mona Lisa, then complaining someone else has done their own.

I do have admiration for Radiohead. No one paints musical despair and angst quite like those chaps, and it's often quite beautiful. A healthy respect for them too, given their support of the fight for justice for Scott Johnson: the drum technician tragically killed in Canada in 2012. But come on guys... haranguing a young pop star for nicking a song you already nicked is frankly taking the piss. Take it as a compliment and move on. You're rich enough, you're still making money from music today, and hypocrisy is a truly ugly trait.

They could have even been really cool, and offered to do some kind of mash-up.

One can't help but think of all the problems the world is facing at present, the vast fortunes both Radiohead and Lana Del Ray have amassed. The people struggling even to eat, or keep a roof over their heads. The doubtlessly exorbitant court costs and lawyer's fees incurred by the law suit, or the resources it will occupy instead of worthy causes and situations crying out for justice. And it leaves rather a sour taste.

On a lighter note, I now understand why every generation typically grumbles about the music of those later, complaining "it's all been done before".

It really has.

No comments:

Post a Comment