Over the past few weeks, Robin Thicke LOST HIS EVERLOVING MIND by revealing that not only was he drunk and high and drowning in sleaze sauce all throughout the "Blurred Lines" recording process, but he wasn't even the guy who wrote the rapiest song of summer 2013 -- that honor goes to Pharrell Williams or Marvin Gaye, depending on who you ask. Either way, the Robin Thicke jig is up. The clock struck midnight, the naked girls turned back into pumpkins, and Robin Thicke reverted to his normal self after his Pharrell Godmother released the spell on him.
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What rhymes with skeevy?
As easy and fun as it is to make fun of Robin Thicke, when he sobers up, he's probably going take comfort in the fact that he's the latest in a long, beautiful line of artists who were "inspired" by those who came before them. And half the time, the guys doing the copying weren't ripping off someone badass like Marvin Gaye. For example:
#4. Chuck Berry's Signature Riff Came From the Big Band Era
Poor Chuck Berry. Here at Cracked, we've mentioned how everyone from The Beach Boys to The Beatles pillaged his music and lyrics until the man was left with nothing but a ridiculous squat-walk to call his own. Back to the Future, for reasons that are lost to both logic and history, thought the joke of white people stealing black culture and calling it their own was too good a laugh to pass up. In BttFworld, the most Caucasian boy in a movie chock-full of whiteys single-handedly invented rock music, and it was the Berry family who did the stealing. You know what's really sad? A small portion of our audience didn't have any pop culture reference for Chuck Berry until I brought up the "Johnny B. Goode" scene.
More like Michael J. ROCKS. I'm sorry.
For those of you who've never heard "Johnny B. Goode," welcome to Earth and tell us about your space travel technology. After that, have a listen to one of our planet's first rock anthems:
That opening riff, roughly translated as "Der NER NER NER NER nernerner (etc.)" set the stage for every rock moment that came after it. In fact, if you were asked to pick five musical seconds that told the world everything they needed to know about rock music, the opening guitar of "Johnny B. Goode" would probably be it. That or "Barbie Girl" by Aqua, but only because you're an ironic jokester who can't resist the opportunity to make everyone around you uncomfortable. But there's a problem with the "Chuck Berry Invented Rock 'n' Roll" narrative. The name of that problem is a band called Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and their song "Ain't That Just Like a Woman." Listen and see if you can spot the similarities:
Chuck Berry didn't write that riff. He stole it, note for note, from a guitarist he later called his idol, Carl Hogan. Twelve years before "Johnny B. Goode" was a glimmer in Chuck's eye, Carl Hogan played that iconic riff on a 1946 R&B album. And Berry later admitted to studying it and incorporating that riff not just into "Johnny B. Goode," but also "Roll Over Beethoven" and a whole other song called "Carol." The man we would later declare the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll" sired his babies with another man's sperm, so to speak.
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But he definitely used his own ding-a-ling.
So, knowing that Chuck Berry built his career on a riff he got from another artist, you might think he'd be a little forgiving when The Beach Boys pulled the same trick on him by turning "Sweet Little Sixteen" into "Surfin' USA." Incorrect! When the lawsuit eventually came, Murry Wilson (the Beach Boys' dad, or BBD for short) was so spooked by the prospect of going head-to-head with The Father of Rock 'n' Roll that he just handed Chuck the whole song. For years, the sole credit under "Surfin' USA" was Chuck Berry.
Suck on that, Marty McFly.
#3. "Folsom Prison Blues" Was a Woman's Love Ballad
Johnny Cash had a lot of influences swirling through his jet black mind when he wrote the 1955 hit "Folsom Prison Blues." For one thing, he'd just wrapped up his own military service, which probably felt a little bit like a prison sentence at the end of the day. While stationed in Germany, he watched Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison, a 1951 B-movie so forgettable that watching it immediately gives you amnesia (unless you're Johnny Cash). Oh, and there was one more thing that influenced Johnny Cash when he wrote "Folsom Prison Blues." A 1953 song called "Crescent City Blues."
For anyone too lazy or too confused to listen, Johnny Cash lifted the melody, phrasing, and envying of fancy food-eating by people on trains straight from the original torch song. He wasn't even sneaky about it. For example, while Johnny's first line is, "I hear the train a'comin / It's rollin' 'round the bend," Gordon Jenkins, the composer of "Crescent City Blues," opened his version with, "I hear the train a'comin / It's rollin' 'round the bend." Twinsies! Crescent City's narrator follows that line with, "I ain't been kissed lord / since I don't know when." Johnny flips the lyrics so that he hasn't seen the sun shine, also since he doesn't know when. Calendars and watches are not priorities for these sad sacks of trainspotters.
Different kind of trainspotters.
Both narrators take a quick break from their self-pitying to imagine the food provided to the train riders, because this was before the days when riding an American train meant your parents had sent you a one-way ticket back home after you failed at something. In the Crescent City / Folsom Prison Universe, people on trains weren't carefully mapping out their hobo encounter escape plans for the next train station, like they do now. They were eating pheasant and caviar. Or, as Johnny speculates, drinking coffee and smoking big cigars. Either way, we're talking about the Snowpiercer train existing in someone's imagination in the 1950s. The difference is that while Johnny wrote his song through the eyes of a ruthless but adorably curious killer ("I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die"), composer Gordon Jenkins wrote the original song for a lonely woman watching her life pass her by. And she has a name.
How do you do?
Sue, as in "A Boy Named Sue," the song about a guy who's forced to go through life with a girl's name. Of course, Cash didn't write "A Boy Named Sue" -- Shel Silverstein penned that one. But if you ask me, "A Boy Named Sue" was Cash's subconscious attempt at making amends for stealing "Crescent City Blues," especially since his first live performance of "A Boy Named Sue" was at a prison show (San Quentin, not Folsom, because the gods of irony were sleeping and missed a beautiful opportunity).
When Johnny wrote his version of "Crescent City Blues," he was a nobody who had no idea anyone would ever hear his little ripoff. And believe it or not, he was almost right. Nobody noticed the Crescent City theft until 1969, when Johnny sang the song on a national TV show. The lawsuit from the composer came shortly after, and Cash ponied up $75,000 before anyone nicknamed him the "Man's a Hack."