One of the biggest stories in the world of pop music over the last week has been the (pardon the pun) upROAR over whether or not Katy Perry’s new single “Roar” borrows a bit too liberally from Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” (see: Is Katy Perry A Sara Bareilles Kopy Kat?). If you ask us, both songs are under suspicion for lifting the opening piano line of “Something Beautiful” by Robbie Williams, so we feel like neither party can claim absolute innocence here.
It’s worth noting that this is neither the first—nor will it be the last!—instance when one songwriter accuses another songwriter of cribbing a riff or a melody. With that said, it’s time to present you with this: the Top 10 Rip-Offs In Pop Music History.
The Case: OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder is one of the most prolific and in-demand songwriters in the game. Unfortunately for him, he gave the same arrangement to both Kelly Clarkson and Beyoncé, which resulted in one of the most contentious stories of the last decade. As soon as Kelly found out that her track “Already Gone” was a carbon copy of Bey’s “Halo,” Clarkson went nuclear, putting Tedder on very public blast. She tried to have the song removed from her 2009 album All I Ever Wanted, but the album had already been pressed by the time she discovered the similarities between the two tracks.
The Case: Noel Gallagher, formerly of Oasis, is one of the most notorious, um, borrowers of famous melodies in the history of pop music. For this song off the band’s massive debut album Definitely Maybe, Gallagher was accused of lifting the verse of the 1971 song “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” which became world famous when it was used in a Coca-Cola commercial later that decade. That band, The New Seekers, sued Oasis for damages and were ultimately awarded $500,000. Gallagher’s response? “Now we all drink Pepsi.”
The Case: The Chili Peppers are lucky that Tom Petty is one of the mellowest dudes in all of rock music. Their 2006 track shares the same chord progression (not to mention key!) as Petty’s 1993 song, but Petty refused to try and cash in on the similarities by taking Anthony, Flea and the guys to court. “I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there,” Petty told Rolling Stone at the time. “And a lot of rock & roll songs sound alike.”
The Case: “Hey hey, you you, I wanna be your boyfriend,” sang The Rubinoos in one of the great power pop songs of the 1970s. “Hey hey, you you, I wanna be your girlfriend,” sang punk pop princess Avril Lavigne in 2007. Notice any similarities there? The Rubinoos certainly did, who sued Lavigne back in 2008. The two sides settled out of court, and although the settlement remains confidential, we’re betting The Rubinoos sang “Hey hey” all the way to the bank.
The Case: On the surface, it wouldn’t appear that these two songs have much in common. After all, one is chock full of advice that a father is giving to his son, and the other comes from an album about a young Japanese girl battling an army of pink robots. However, immediately after listening to these two tracks, the sonic similarities between the two jump out at you faster than you can say “YOSHIMI!” The two acts settled the matter fairly amicably, with Stevens getting 75% of the song’s royalties, but Lips frontman Wayne Coyne got the last word in. “I am really sorry that Cat Stevens thinks I’m purposefully plagiarising his work,” he said in an interview. “I am ashamed. There is obviously a fine line between being inspired and stealing. But if anyone wanted to borrow part of a Flaming Lips song, I don’t think I’d bother pursuing it. I’ve got better things to do. Anyway, Cat Stevens is never going to make much money out of us.”
The Case: Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann is known for two things, primarily: her super sexy sneer and the way she shamelessly raided the catalog of 70s post-punk icons Wire for her band’s debut album, one of the most popular albums of the BritPop era. Wire took her to court, but in a weird twist, didn’t receive any compensation for this thievery. That’s what you get for hiring a lousy barrister, we guess!
The Case: Ray Parker, Jr. might not be afraid of any ghosts, but he certainly was afraid when he showed up in court after getting sued by Huey Lewis. You see, back in the early 80s, Lewis had been working with Columbia Pictures on composing a theme song for their upcoming film Ghostbusters, but backed out of the project when the producers for Back To The Future came calling. So imagine Huey’s surprise when he heard Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters,” which sounds nearly identical to Lewis’ hit “I Want A New Drug.” The case was settled out of court, Huey got a paycheck, but then was countersued by Parker in the early ’00s after Lewis blabbed about the settlement on an episode of Behind The Music. Our bad, Huey!
The Case: Coldplay has been the focus of a number of plagiarism claims over the years—see this story about “Viva La Vida,” and this one about “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall”—but this track was a rip-off that they straight up copped to. Martin handwrote a letter to Kraftwerk begging them to be listed as co-writers of this song before any controversy heated up, and the band agreed.
The Case: Similar to the Chili Peppers and Tom Petty story we discussed earlier, Green Day avoided having to write a big check to the Kinks due to the kindness of Ray Davies (the two songs feature a nearly identical circular riff). In a weird twist, though, Green Day was threatened with a lawsuit for copyright infringement not by the Kinks, but rather by a British band called Other Garden. The case never reached court, but if we were to place Billie Jo’s hand on a bible, we’re guessing he’d cop to lifting the riff not from Other Garden, but from The Kinks.
1. The Accused: Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”
The Original: Queen & David Bowie, “Under Pressure”
The Case: When is a sample not a sample? When the artist (in this case, Vanilla Ice) claims that the sample has been tweaked just so so that it’s no longer considered a sample. Hilariously, Vanilla Ice initially claimed that this song was an original composition, but ultimately recanted that statement and gave co-songwriting credits to the parties responsible for one of the most recognizable basslines in all of music.
[All Photos: Getty Images]