Tag Archives: ELO

Good artists copy, great artists steal: Tom Petty, Sam Smith and so many others

13 Feb

Especially in the wake of Sam Smith cleaning up at the Grammys, I’m sure you’ve been waiting with bated breath for me to chime in about the revelation that Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne will each get 12.5% of his royalties for the mega-hit “Stay With Me” because of the similarities between its melody and that of “I Won’t Back Down.”

Sorry to take so long to comment about this because … well, I’m torn.

No surprise I’d like to come down on Tom’s side, especially as he graciously said in his Facebook page statement there was no lawsuit and he has no hard feelings because “these things can happen.” Smith stated that when the similarities were pointed out, his team agreed to name Petty and Lynne as co-writers even though he hadn’t ever heard Petty’s song because “I am 22 years old.” (Snap!)

But here’s the thing: Petty’s people hunted down Smith’s for royalties, even though he just shrugged it off when other acts blatantly ripped off his work on purpose. To wit:

  • “Dani California” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers mimics the licks and the lyrics of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (although this YouTubian blames their common producer, Rick Rubin)
  • The Strokes admitted they lifted a lot of “American Girl” in their 2001 tune, “Last Nite” – which, according to Petty, “made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’”

So why did he go after Sam Smith? There can be any number of cynical reasons, leading off with Lynne and Petty wanting a piece of his revenue stream to see them into their sunset years. Perhaps this is also part of some kind of campaign to remind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame folks to induct ELO on the ballot next year.

As for me, I’d like to think it’s retribution on behalf of their great friend and fellow Wilbury, George Harrison.My Sweet Lord

He's So Fine“My Sweet Lord” was the first single off of Harrison’s 1970 solo album, All Things Must Pass. In January 1971, music publisher Bright Tunes sued him over similarities between Harrison’s hit and “He’s So Fine,” a Ronald Mack song made popular by The Chiffons in 1963. The suit lingered on for years and was settled in favor of Bright Tunes when the judge determined Harrison had committed “subconscious” plagiarism and owed $1.6 million in damages. But from the start, Harrison contended he was actually inspired by a different song: “Oh, Happy Day,” a hymn that was in public domain.

The additional kick in the head? By the time the suit went to trial in 1981 (having begun in 1976), Bright Tunes was owned by Allen Klein, Harrison’s manager who had advised him when the suit began. Harrison eventually bought Klein out for $587,000 to settle the case, and it took until 1998 to wrap up all the loose ends. It cast a lingering pall over Harrison’s songwriting, although he found a way to laugh about it at the time:

(Extra points if you can identify the comely blonde juror in the black hat.)

So, in my vain hope that Tom Petty was being somehow altruistic when he sloughed off thousands of dollars from a man who had no knowledge of his music, I choose to see the “Won’t Back Down”/”Stay With Me” settlement as karma … because in the music business, what goes around, comes around.

See you on the flip side …

P.S. Love is on the airwaves! Get your copy of Love and Other B-Sides for the Valentine in your life!

Roll over, Beethoven

8 May

I floated a number of topics for this post … including famous bagpipe solos in rock history.*

Flying V is for Violin

Flying V is for Violin

Instead I’ll focus on other non-traditional rock instruments: the ones found in the strings section. For instance, this Mazda ad caught my ear while I was sitting through previews ahead of Iron Man 3 this weekend, not because of the snazzy car but because of the head-banging cellists playing a Kinks song in the middle of the Utah salt flats.

There are a plethora of older rock songs featuring strings (“Yesterday” by the Beatles and “Touch Me” by the Doors comes to mind) and the newer examples aren’t always the folkie/country/ Mumford and Sons-ish Depression chic bands, either. As a matter of fact, I’ll be seeing the Airborne Toxic Event next week, featuring Anna Bulbrook on viola. It seems

 the sky’s the limit for a kid with a bow and a dream.

Maybe for the first time ever,  elementary school orchestra can be the first step toward rock superstardom.

This is all the more top of mind after my 11-year old daughter’s orchestra concert this week. They acquitted themselves well for 65 fifth graders who had been playing for about six months, focusing on a few simple classical standards (“Can-Can”, snippets of Mozart) as well as well-known favorites including “Over the Rainbow” and “Star Wars.”

Note that as she's rehearsing Offenbach she's wearing a Slash t-shirt ...

Note that as she’s rehearsing Offenbach she’s wearing a Slash t-shirt …

Then the special guests did a set. They were the high school’s electric strings ensemble, ABC Strings, short for “Anything but Classical.” My daughter and her friends were intrigued by the violins’ alien shapes and their hot rod paint jobs. (“You can even get the horsehair in different colors,” she told me admiringly.) With all that awesomeness at their disposal, though, I wish they had selected less pedestrian material: they went for the easy choices and played “Don’t Stop Believin'” and a Queen medley.

Yet at that point I had to wonder, when does classic rock turn into classical music?

It’s not so much that orchestral instruments are playing more rock. I think it’s the start of the inevitable evolution of musical taste and expression. I can foresee a time centuries from now when kids who want to study music seriously will begin by playing rock songs. This will not be because they’re pop songs instead of stuffy symphonies, but because this music expresses something meaningful about the human spirit that will continue to resonate for all time … even if you play it on a violin … while wearing a yellow cape.

See you on the flip side …

* By the way, the three bagpipe songs I came up with were:

1. “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)” – AC/DC
2. “Tessie” – The Dropkick Murphys
3. “Big Country” – Big Country (uh, wait, that’s a guitar playing that solo … d’oh!)

What would you add?

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