4 Music Moments Ripped Off From Ridiculous Sources
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.
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:
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.
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.
"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."
Your Favorite Surf Song Was a Greek Bellydancing Song
Hold on to your hats, because I've got some shocking news. Believe it or not, The Black Eyed Peas DIDN'T actually compose the fast-driving guitar in their 2006 dance song "Pump It." Once you've recovered from the trauma-induced heart attack everyone experiences when finding the only Black Eyed Peas song they can recall without consulting Google wasn't actually composed by Fergie or will.I.am. or the other one, another thought might occur to you: of course the Black Eyed Peas didn't write "Misirlou" -- Quentin Tarantino did for his 1994 movie Pulp Fiction, durrrrrr.
It's the song that comes right after, "Any of you flipping dingalings move, and I'll execute every puppyhonking last one of you!"
At this point, the music nerds are probably screaming "WRONG!" It was actually legendary 1960s guitarist Dick Dale who wrote "Misirlou," the song that makes you want to run to the ocean and see what develops, the one that sounds like the surf itself grew a set of arms and strung some octopi into guitars, and this was what happened next. Here's as good a place as any to refresh your memory of the magic that is "Misirlou."
If you've been paying attention, you've probably guessed by now that Dick Dale, like Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash, doesn't get 100 percent of the credit for his signature song. "Misirlou" began its life as many of us did, with vaguely foreign parentage, but no one stepping up to the plate to claim paternity. The ancient melody of "Misirlou" went around the block so many times in Middle Eastern circles that no one knew exactly where it came from. But in the 1920s, an Ottoman Greek composer who moved to America took the melody, named it "Mirsili," which was his local Turkish word for "Egyptian," and recorded a version for the masses. This version had lyrics that were horny as all get-out. Like to hear it? Here it goes:
Did I mention before Dick Dale was "Dick Dale," he was Richard Anthony Monsour, an American kid with a Lebanese dad? By the time Dale started playing his own music, "Misirlou" was firmly entrenched into his brain matter, like when you ask a '90s kid to sing the Duck Tales theme song (brief pause to honor the woo-hoos). The legend is that a fan asked Dale to play a song on only one string. "Aha, you fool!" Dale probably thought to himself, as he remembered seeing his uncle play "Misirlou" on an oud, a proto-guitar-type instrument that looks cooler than it sounds. Dale took the challenge and answered it with an amphetamine-laced version of the song from his childhood.
I feel like if we remembered that "Misirlou" came from the Middle East, all our oil wars would be over by now.
Michael Jackson Got His Dance Style From a Broadway Star
Among the many, many, many, many, MANY things that went wrong with Michael Jackson's adult life was his apparent inability to understand what a human face should look like. Which is especially weird when you realize that one of Michael Jackson's greatest gifts was mimicking people, specifically their dance moves. While most kids were still struggling with remembering to wipe their butts sufficiently, Michael Jackson was carrying his stunningly mediocre brothers on the strength of his yet-to-be-developed voice and impersonation of James Brown's spins, splits, and shuffles. Which he was stupidgood at executing.
"Can you boys on the left take about five steps out of shot? Awesome."
In fact, when Motown founder Berry Gordy talked about the Jackson Five's audition, he specifically called out how 8-year-old Michael danced like James Brown, sang like Smokey Robinson, and intensely studied him (Berry Gordy) while his brothers tuned their instruments. He was a world-class mimic from the very beginning. The Moonwalk, for example, was not an original MJ move. He saw dancers doing the move on Soul Train and asked those very same dancers to personally teach him how to do it. It took three days, but eventually Michael got it down.
Good job, Michael! We're proud of you!
Are you surprised that Michael Jackson pinched dance moves from legends like James Brown and SHALOMAR? Of course not. That's how art works. We all build off of the people who came before us. In fact, this entire column came from a 1982 stand-up set from Jerry Seinfeld. The surprise came when someone noticed that a lot of Michael Jackson's most recognizable dance moves all showed up in one song in an obscure 1974 musical called The Little Prince.
Not that little Prince, although that would have been adorable. In this version, a very famous dancer/director/choreographer named Bob Fosse dances around a heavily-coated child while playing the part of a snake. The details aren't important. Neither is the music, which I'd prefer you turn down while watching this video, since Bob Fosse's singing voice could be best described as "not awesome." Instead, pay attention to the weird ways he angles his legs, like he's about to sit down on a chair, but the chair only has room for one butt cheek.
"PFFFFFFTTTTTT (SQUEAKY FART)
And here's Michael opening every performance of "Billie Jean" with the same stance, with one minor adjustment. See if you can spot it!
Bob Fosse was never comfortable with his receding hairline, so from the 1950s onward, he usually wore a hat in his dances. And he usually wore them shoved forward over his eyes, as if hats are also face masks, which they most certainly ARE NOT. Here he is in 1958, using his hat as an invisibility cloak that's failing miserably.
Here's Michael Jackson also not understanding how hats work:
"It's a hat, but for my eyes and nose.I call it a Facehat. Shamone."
Fair warning: from here on out, things are just going to get spooky. At 1:37, Bob turns his back to the camera, opens his jacket and does this proto-Jackson neck and shoulder roll move that can only be described as "Michaelesque." It's an unfortunate coincidence that Fosse looks like he's flashing the Little Prince.
Let's all forget that Michael Jackson had two children also named "Prince."
Turn Fosse around, give him a red leather jacket. Make him clap over his head and you'll recognize the shoulder/neck thing. Here's where you saw it first:
Remember the Michael Jackson toe stand, a move that didn't even make sense in the Michael Jackson universe? Bob Fosse had a version of that one, too.
But to be fair to both dancers, Michael's father-in-law Elvis did it better.
Fans of Jackson might remember one dance move that was a cross between "I have to pee but I also have to walk across the room" and "Oh God, my appendix." That's a lousy description, but it looked like this:
Imagine walking in place while bending over to touch the floor, and you can do this move.
Or looks like this, if you're Bob Fosse in 1974.
It's probably by this point that you're wondering if I've lost my mind comparing one-to-one dance moves between Michael Jackson and Bob Fosse. And the answer to that question is YES. For every pose I included in this article, I edited out two more that built a stronger case. That's when I realized there's a fine line between "thorough" and "psycho" and let the rest of those Fosse/Jackson dance moves slide. Fortunately, someone else got on the crazy train and did the rest of the heavy lifting for me. Here's a fun compilation of what must have been one person's obsession for six months or so:
For more from Kristi, check out 9 Silly Photos of Serious Historical Figures Goofing Off and 4 Amazing Stories Behind the Most WTF Photos from History.