Musical plagiarism or just influence?
This is a subject i’ve wanted to write about for a long time now but i’ve only just found the time to get down to it tonight. The song that made me decide to finally commit to this post was Owl City’s “Fireflies”. I heard it on the radio at work and although i find myself humming along to its undoubted catchiness i still can’t get the fact that he’s ripped off The Postal Service out my head. First time i heard it i actually thought it was a new Postal Service song. He even makes himself sound like Ben Gibbard through extensive autotuner and compression use. Yet i had to laugh when i read an interview with him in which he stated that he had only ever really heard a few Postal Service songs before and that they hadn’t really “caught his ear”.
Here’s the section:
“I’ve become more of a fan (of The Postal Service) having started Owl City, actually. I had some friends in high school that would have it playing in their cars and stuff. It was cool, but it never really caught my ear. It’s kind of ironic, looking back at it, because a lot of people do relate the two projects. I can totally see it now, but I didn’t really then, for what it’s worth.”
Hmmm…..sorry Owl City but i get a pungent waft of bullshit when i read that.
VIDEO: Owl City – Fireflies
VIDEO: The Postal Service – Such Great Heights
But i’m not picking on or singling out Adam Young for being influenced by The Postal Service. All i’m saying, all i’m asking is how does it come across? Is it plagiarism or coincidental influence/inspiration?
Some of my favourite bands have been hugely influenced by others to the point of almost sounding like them so i’m not saying it’s a bad thing, don’t get the wrong idea. Interpol clearly listened to Joy Divison. A Place To Bury Strangers obviously owned some My Bloody Valentine records. Josh Homme grew up with Black Sabbath and Black Flag. Boards of Canada have heard Brian Eno. I could go on. Put it this way if there was no Jesus and Mary Chain there’d be no BRMC and if it wasn’t for The Cramps or The Birthday Party i’d imagine Eighties Matchbox would sound a bit different. So it is a GOOD thing to be influenced.
Without a shadow of a doubt one of the hardest things to do in music is create a truly original sound. There’s that much music around that it’s nearly impossible to create a song that cannot be compared to another band or another song. Personally i feel that bands are now labelled as “the new insert famous band name here” too much, there’s nothing wrong with comparisons but it get’s a bit boring when every week some new band are being labelled as the new Sex Pistols, the new Oasis, the new Green Day or the new Babylon Zoo. Ok, forget that last one. In fact forget them all, i’m not a fan of any of the bands i mentioned, they’re just the first famous-ish ones that popped up. I have in fact been guilty of labelling bands once or twice myself to be honest. On this very blog actually, i believe i said Japandroids could be the new Death From Above 1979 but i did state that i also don’t like labelling bands.
“….Make no mistake, these guys have the potential to be the new Death From Above 1979. Although to be honest i don’t like comparing bands to each other, it’s not fair on either so instead i’ll just say the Japandroids sound like they might be influenced by DFA and it’s a badge they seem to wear with pride.”
But that’s going slightly off subject. This is about the plagiarism/influence debate not labelling bands. So back to it, here’s a few examples of apparent plagiarism. Some are obvious, some are slightly similar.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs vs Love and Rockets
The Accused: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Gold Lion
The Original: Love and Rockets – No New Tale To Tell
Hockey vs anything by Tom Petty (this was a suggestion by Emma)
The Accused: Hockey – Song Away
The Original: Tom Petty in general
Elastica vs Wire
The Accused: Elastica – Connection
The Original: Wire – Three Girl Rhumba
Green Day vs The Kinks
The Accused: Green Day – Warning
The Original: The Kinks – Picturebook
Nirvana vs Killing Joke vs The Damned
The Accused: Nirvana – Come As You Are
The Other Accused: Killing Joke – Eighties
The Original: The Damned – Life Goes On
Couldn’t find an embeddable (is that a word Kempy?) video for this one so here’s the MP3
So it can be everything from drum beats to chord progression and rhythms to vocal delivery, it’s more or less all been done before by someone somewhere. That’s not to say there’s nothing original left but it is does make for a good debate on similarity, comparisons and the old age debate of a blatant rip off. And what does it tell us about music today? Has it really all been done? Or is that unknown chord still out there waiting to be found?
I mean, bands take influences on board, of course they do. If you grow up listening to certain music and then you yourself begin to play music, of course you’re going to have taken something from the music you love. The chances are that the band you love and are influenced by have themselves been influenced by someone else. It’s an endless line of influence, a knock on effect, a domino effect, musical dominoes if you like.
I only discovered about three years ago that what i thought was part of one of the best Queens of the Stone Age drum intros ever is in fact copied straight from a Black Flag song. One of the opening drum segments of “Song For The Dead” and the intro to “Slip It In” are pretty much identical. Queens of the Stone Age actually came out and stated that the intro to “Song For The Dead” is in fact an homage to Black Flag. All together now….Awwwww, bless.
I, myself have questioned what i come up with when writing tracks or making music. I constantly find that i tell myself “oh you can’t have that at the breakdown bit, it sounds too much like QOTSA” or “you can’t use that intro, it sounds like a Mogwai rip off”. Just the other week i wrote a song that i thought sounded too much like something Boards of Canada would compose, i kept it in mind anyway and called it “Bored Of Canada”. It sounds a little bit like this one by the reclusive legends…
So the whole thing i’m getting it here with this post is..
When does influence become plagiarism? Or does it all? Is it mere coincidence?
It’s a subject that is and always will be open to debate.
Also, feel free to leave any other songs you believe to be plagiarised. I’d like to here what others think.
S.I.T Wolf X