Every artist "steals" a little, whether they realize it or not. For instance, we talk about how some musician was "influenced" by music they grew up with, even if sometimes that influence consists of outright stealing and/or barely remixing a classic. That's just the way it works.
But sometimes, it's even more blatant than that. In fact, some of the most successful musical acts in history based huge chunks of their careers entirely on plagiarism. Like...
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Led Zeppelin are remembered for two things: banging a groupie with a mudshark and recording songs that rocked harder than any band had ever rocked before. Too bad a bunch of that s**t was stolen.
Don't believe us? Well, here's a whole laundry list of songs they stole; but if the words of a dawn-of-the-Internet era website aren't enough to convince you, consider their classic song "Dazed and Confused."
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A young Jake Holmes played a song of the same name (and chords, and lyrics kind of) at a show in 1967 where he was opening for The Yardbirds, who featured--say it with us!-- Jimmy Page on guitar. "Dazed and Confused" became a mainstay of The Yardbirds live sets and eventually found its way onto Zep's 1969 debut album, where it was credited to... nobody. Holmes never took legal action but he did eventually send Page a letter asking for acknowledgement and maybe a little gas money if he could spare it (he could). The letter went unanswered.
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But who cares, right? We're talking about Led Zeppelin here. The band who wrote "Stairway to Heaven" man! It's the most popular song in the history of sound! It's the song that was playing on the van stereo when your father shot the load that would become you into your mother's moist and eager lady parts! That one song is enough to secure the legacy of 10 bands!
Too bad they jacked that s**t too. The opening notes (and easily the most recognizable part) of "Stairway" were taken almost note-for-note from a song called "Taurus" by Spirit.
How did nobody notice that? Because nobody knows who the hell Spirit is. But for the record, Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit on their first U.S. tour, so it's safe to assume they were familiar with the band. Repaying an opening spot on a tour of the States by stealing a guitar riff is sad, but what's even sadder is that Spirit's guitarist, the awesomely named Randy California, knew exactly where "Stairway to Heaven" came from but was too nice of a guy to say anything - he just wanted them to say "Thank you."
They never did.
The Black Eyed Peas
If you don't know who the Black Eyed Peas are, you're either a time traveler or have recently woken up from a coma (and in either case, congratulations!). The rest of you already know how insanely successful they are, despite having some of the worst music imaginable. What you probably don't know is that very little of that music is actually theirs.
For instance, a young rapper named Phoenix Phenom recently accused the Peas of ripping off her song "Boom Dynamite" and calling it "Boom Boom Pow." On the one hand, the only similarities are with the beat and the "boom boom" part. On the other hand, the beat and the "boom boom" part is as much of the Black Eyed Peas that we can listen to before our souls begin to atrophy.
In hip-hop, there are two schools of thought when it comes to sampling. Some people follow the P. Diddy method, which does involve spending a f**k-ton of money, but the upside is you get to take a huge, steaming, shiny-suited s**t all over pretty much any beloved song of your choosing. But it's not for everybody. The Vanilla Ice method of blatantly stealing a song and hoping nobody notices may work better for the cash strapped.
We tried to chalk all this up to an overworked will.i.am, who "makes" most of the beats for the group. Writing original songs is hard enough, imagine having to do it while also balancing the daunting task of finding something for those two weirdoes who aren't Fergie to do. But no, even solo they can't be trusted. For instance, back in 2007 will.i.am grabbed a hefty chunk of Daft Punk's "Around the World" (without asking) to use in his first single. For some reason, Daft Punk wasn't too happy about the whole deal.
But by far the worst example of song plagiarism is Fergie's hit single "Fergalicious," which is pretty much just J. J. Fad's "Supersonic" with slightly altered lyrics and a remarkably amped up realization that you're listening to all that is wrong with music when you hear it.
This isn't sampling so much as stealing an entire goddamn song, and since (as usual) the original artists got screwed over, Fergie's now facing a lawsuit of her own.
A band so hardcore they have the word "metal" in their name, Metallica is probably the most influential rock group in the last 30 years. What's odd, though, is that they've managed to be so influential without actually cranking out very many original songs at all. Check out "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," as compared to Bleak House's "Rainbow Warrior":
If there was any doubt in your mind that "Sanitarium" was a rip-off, James Hetfield confirmed it in an interview, although he said that the band in question "shall remain anonymous." Just the kind of d******d statement we've come to expect from Metallica over the years, but it doesn't end there.
Sharp-eared YouTubers have spotted several more suspicious songs, like "My Apocalypse," "End of the Line" and "The Day that Never Comes" that were stolen from The Offspring, Pearl Jam and Joe Satriani respectively. There's also one that alleges "The Unforgiven II" was a rip-off of Iron Maiden's "Children of the Damned"; but that's just ludicrous! The truth is, both of those songs are actually stolen from Jimi Hendrix's "1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) ." And then there's the one Metallica song that even your grandmother loves, "Enter Sandman."
Office spreadsheet pioneers, Excel, found out way after the fact that "Enter Sandman" was a quite shameless rip-off of their absurdly titled "Tapping into the Emotional Void." Kind of adds a whole new twist of irony to that Napster fiasco, yeah?
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.
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 f*****g 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 f*****g 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.
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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