The 5 Most Famous Musicians Who Are Thieving Bastards

#2. Deep Purple

The opening guitar riff from Deep Purple's "Smoke On the Water" is quite possibly the greatest riff ever. A riff that is as unforgettable as it is easy to play. You know how when you toss an infant in a swimming pool and they just instinctively know how to swim? If you hand that same infant an electric guitar, they will play the opening riff from "Smoke On the Water." Even if you think you have never heard it, once you hear it, you'll instantly recognize it.

This is known as the "Fran Drescher Effect."

Coming up with something that undeniably catchy is hard to do. Just ask the musicians Deep Purple stole it from.

You might be wondering, not without justification, who the hell the musicians are in that second song. Well, the singer is Astrud Gilberto and the pianist is Gil Evans. While that probably means nothing to you, your grandparents just creamed their pants (we'll keep tossing in references to your elder's naughty bits as long as you'll keep reading them). What we're saying here is that any self-respecting jazz enthusiast would be very familiar with their music. So if one of Deep Purple's members was, say, an extremely talented jazz pianist who got his start playing jazz in jazz clubs, that would seem a little bit damning.


But hey, this is all circumstantial, right? It could be some sort of crazy coincidence. Except that Deep Purple has done this sort of thing before. Check out "Black Night," which took its lead riff from Ricky Nelson's "Summertime"; or "Burn," which grabbed its opener from George Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm"; or "Child In Time"; which is pretty much a direct rip-off of It's A Beautiful Day's "Bombay Calling." Basically, Deep Purple's songwriting process consisted of "steal an obscure jazz song and turn it up to 11."

Of course, not all of Deep Purple's songs were stolen from obscure American jazz bands. Take for example "Fireball," which was stolen from an obscure Canadian rock band. Hooray diversity!

Deep Purple didn't really try to keep any of this stuff a secret; heck, the liner notes for one of their "Greatest Hits" albums flat-out admitted it, while their lead singer talked at length about stealing material in interviews. And yet they never faced accusations of plagiarism once in their entire career.

#1. Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber is the closest thing the theater world has to a superstar. He has six Tony Awards, three Grammys, an Oscar and the longest-running musical in Broadway history. And he probably doesn't deserve any of it. Why? Check this out.

Yeah, that was the opening theme from Phantom of the Opera sounding a whole lot like Pink Floyd's "Echoes." After finding out about the theft, Floyd frontman Roger Waters took immediate legal action... oh, wait, says here he actually just said "life's too long to bother with suing fucking Lloyd Webber." But he did toss this line into his song "It's a Miracle."

"Lloyd Webber's awful stuff/Runs for years and years/An earthquake hits the theatre/But the operetta lingers/Then the piano lid comes down/And breaks his fucking fingers."

Surely that's just as satisfying as collecting on unpaid royalties. But anyway, this sort of thing isn't what Webber really makes his money with. No, his real M.O. is ripping off classical composers.

For example, his critics point out that very little of the music in Requiem was actually made by Webber, while even his supporters reluctantly admit that "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar was a reworked version of Mendelssohn's "Violin Concerto." However, the most appalling theft is of Puccini's "La Fanciulla del West" in Webber's "Music of the Night":

When we heard the similarities, we were like, "Why, that cad!" and then we was all, "Clearly the chromatic scale of the adagio movement was transposed into pianoforte" before adding, "this is tomfoolery!" as a fine mist of steam coated our monocles. OK, you got us. We have no idea what was going on in those two songs. We don't even know if we're listening to the right part.

But the Puccini estate could hear it just fine, and leveled a lawsuit against Webber; more importantly, Webber heard it too and settled out-of-court, the universal message for "guilty."

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For more folks who made it big by being swindlers, check out 5 Great Men Who Built Their Careers on Plagiarism and 5 Famous Inventors (Who Stole Their Big Idea) .

And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 05.05.10) to see which of our articles Webber stole for his next musical: Cracked Express.

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