–By Jake Paine
Whether it’s Bruno Mars and The Police or Lady Gaga and Madonna, there are those sound-alike songs that we all know, and jump right out at us in stereo. It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so compliments must be in vogue, right? With many of the 21st century’s biggest pop songs drawing strong, unshakeable comparisons to other high-profile tracks, we decided to take a deeper look. Here are 12 songs that sound weirdly like classics. Is it just us?
Drake featuring Majid Jordan’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and Prince’s “Strange Relationship”
Perhaps it’s a reach to some, but Drake’s Nothing Was The Same single, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” seems to have a “strange relationship” with Prince’s Sign O’ The Times album cut. The pounding bassline, and whimsical accents seem to carry over from one sensuous superstar to another. With the Drizzy single video pulling extensively from Miami Vice, it’s plausible that all things 1987 was on the Canadian rapper-singer’s mind when he made a slow-and-low jam about his own complicated intimate aesthetic. That tempo and structure between both songs, as well as their attitudes are by no means out of bounds.
Prince’s “Strange Relationship”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert’s “Same Love” and Brother Ali’s “Forest Whitaker”
Seattle’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are underground hip-hop veterans who broke through in a major way in 2012. “Same Love” featuring Mary Lambert remains a benchmark moment for hip-hop fans, in being one of the highest-profile songs in the genre to lambast homophobia, as well as express solidarity with gay marriage. However, for listeners of independent 2000s hip-hop, the song’s delivery, production, and even its premise are arguably linked to another MC’s ballad. Minneapolis’ Brother Ali, who has become a leading voice in independent Hip-Hop, largely broke through back in 2003 in large thanks to his autobiographical song, “Forest Whitaker.” Built around a piano and a breakbeat, the Rhymesayers artist spoke about being albino, overweight, legally blind, and perceived as ugly, while still looking for love and acceptance. With over a million views on YouTube, and some subversive reactions from Ali looking for credit he feels he’s owed, both of these songs deserve props for their courage.
Brother Ali’s “Forest Whitaker”
Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell & T.I.’s “Blurred Lines” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”
In 2013, Pharrell Williams dusted off the disco in a string of hits recorded with the likes of Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, and Robin Thicke. For Robin’s Blurred Lines title track and lead single, it blurred the lines of imitation and interpolation, at least according to Marvin Gaye’s estate. The 2013 #1 had the “sound” and “feel” of Gaye’s two-part 1977 tongue-in-cheek jab at his label and disco, “Got To Give It Up,” also a #1. With a trial planned for early next year, it’s now in the judicial system’s hands to determine just how much those production elements, vocal deliveries, and crooning ad-libs belong to the late Motown/Tamla Records superstar. In any eveny, dance floors are the true beneficiary of these overlapping chart-toppers.
Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”
One Direction’s “One Thing” and Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way”
Between the decades, boy-bands have been accused of being, well—formulaic. Some of the things that worked for The Beatles worked for Jackson 5, and even for New Kids On The Block. So why wouldn’t London’s One Direction look to Orlando’s Backstreet Boys’ 1990s reign as a guiding light? 2012’s Top 40 hit “One Thing” had a lot of overlap in the delivery and arrangements to 1999’s BSB #1, “I Want It That Way.” Both bands have no problem flooding the charts with a wide array of hits, but with One Direction also being accused of borrowing some riffs from London’s sacred rock legends The Who, is Simon Cowell’s TV-born mega-pop quintet biting off more than they can chew?
Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way”
The Strokes’ “Last Nite” and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl”
Back in 2001, The Strokes’ sophomore single “Last Nite” called back to grittier, unpredictable days of rock & roll. The youthful energy of the song helped pave the way for a lo-fi garage resurgence, and made The Strokes centerpieces of the movement. With youth, irreverence, and tons of energy, the song and lyrics matched perfectly. The tones and drums in the song’s opening, contained a strong likeness to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ 1977 hit. Based on a Bo Diddley song in its own right, the song was the kind of rock that was emblematic of a ‘70s hit—evocative, melodic, and contagious. Asked about the overlap in the 2000s, Petty waved off any contempt, and gave props to The Strokes—who called the similarities intentional. By mid-decade, the New York City band was opening up for the pride of Gainesville, Florida on tour. Undoubtedly, Fast Times At Ridgemont High-era Jennifer Jason Leigh could sneak out to either one of these hits.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl”
Green Day’s “21 Guns” and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line”
In 2009, Green Day scored yet another Top 40 hit with 21st Century Breakdown sophomore single, “21 Guns.” The song used a fragmented delivery, infectious to listeners, that seemingly references the canons and firing rhythms of a 21 gun salute. To others, however, the song borrows its building, call-out chorus from Electric Light Orchestra’s 1977 Top 10 “Telephone Line.” Jeff Lynne made a song about loneliness that employs the togetherness of a harmonic chorus. Billy Joe Armstrong grew up in those same ‘70s that saw ELO’s tremendous impact across the landscape of music, and perhaps worked in some elements into his own versatile and veteran outfit.
Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Line”
Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” and Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”
One of the most outspoken, polarizing figures of music in the 2000s, Kanye West, went for the jugular while making his Yeezus album last year. Intended to break convention from both expectations as well as his own acclaimed catalog, Yeezus’ first single was “Black Skinhead.” With a rapid-fire drum line, West brought his rants to music and asserted why he’s different. The 2013 avant-garde single, which reached the Top 100, sounded a lot like a similar 1996 statement made by mainstream industrial metal star Marilyn Manson. Co-produced by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, the song was inspired by some of the writings of Frederic Nietzsche, as was much of the Antichrist Superstar album it belonged to. While West’s lyrics were more personally based, the take-by-force singles rattled the mainstream in search of making statements, with an overlapping drum pattern and boisterous, repetitive chorus to wave the flag.
Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”
Haim “The Wire” and The Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight”
The three Haim sisters are unashamed fans of ‘70s pop-rock, and their crossover breakthrough debut album Days Are Gone paid homage to Fleetwood Mac via “Honey & I” and “Honey Hi.” But within all of D.A.G.’s singles, “The Wire” sounds extremely close to another 1979 high-profile song. With the hand-claps and percussion overlap, at nearly the exact same tempo, “The Wire” nods to The Eagles’ #1 single from The Long Run, “Heartache Tonight.” With commercial endorsements, this hit song by the young L.A. band is perhaps another clever homage to one of the biggest exports from the City Of Angels’ musical scene.
The Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight”
The Rapture’s “How Deep Is Your Love” and Sisqo’s “Thong Song”
When a modern dance-punk band releases a song titled “How Deep Is Your Love,” skeptics might immediately brace themselves for an unwelcome Bee Gees cover. However, New York City’s The Rapture is way better than that. Instead, the DFA Records outfit teamed with Phoenix’s hit-making producer Phillipe Zdar to charm 2011’s In The Grace Of Your Love with a single that subtly reworks the bridge Sisqo employed back in 1999 dedicated to women’s bikini bottoms. The Rapture had a laugh in their biggest track to date, tapping into the Dru Hill member’s solo pinnacle, which has never quite “bottomed out.”
Sisqo’s “Thong Song”
Jessica Simpson’s “A Public Affair” and Janet Jackson’s “Together Again”
The title track single for Jessica Simpson’s 2006 comeback effort was transparent in sampling Madonna’s “Holiday” and interpolating Diana Ross’ rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” However, perhaps by citing those sources, Simpson’s album released around her divorce with Nick Lachey may have missed a credit to another iconic female vocalist. The breathy vocals of the Top 20 hit were quite striking in their likeness to that of Janet Jackson, especially around her Velvet Rope era. One can hear Simpson’s new delivery and draw the parallels to that of Miss Jackson, who was a master in making complicated songs about breaking up and getting back together in the public eye.
Janet Jackson’s “Together Again”
U2’s “Vertigo” and The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
U2’s Top 10 single from 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was reportedly inspired by Bono’s growing disgust with capitalism and its dizzying effect on his club-going moments. To some, the mere mention of “Vertigo” conjures visions of Jimmy Stewart’s feet dangling overtop San Francisco in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock mystery-thriller. With that said, the progression in the 2000s rock chorus bear striking similar resemblance to The Supremes’ 1966 #1, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,”—something that speaks to the notion of “vertigo” both by definition and in film. U2 are no strangers to grand references in their music and lyrics, so perhaps this is something subtle-yet-deliberate?
The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
Timbaland featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake’s “Give It To Me” and Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off”
Part of Timbaland’s place in hip-hop as a super-producer comes from the fact that the Virginia native rarely relies on samples for his hits. Instead, influenced by early EDM like Drum & Bass and Jungle, the multi-genre master creates other worldly rhythms and invents indelible melodies. That may not have exactly been the case with his 2007 #1 hit “Give It To Me,” assisted by close affiliates Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake. The hit single was a subliminal diss (on Timb’s part) towards rival Scott Storch, but the arrogant moment in the sun also wove in a melodic chorus arrangement that seemingly belongs to the late Jermaine Stewart. Stewart’s 1986 Top 5 single “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” was an R&B/Pop hit, rooted in a message to practice safe sex and abstinence in the wake of the AIDS virus. Tragically, AIDS would take Jermaine’s life in 1997, a decade after the hit, and a decade before Tim, Furtado, and JT came extremely close to honoring the chorus melody during one of Timbo’s many reigning moments.
Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off”
[Photo: Getty Images]