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Good composers borrow; great composers steal. Some composers get caught. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 rip-off songs.
For this list, we’ll be ignoring sample heavy songs and focusing on hit tunes where the similarities spawned threats of legal action or triggered actual lawsuits and litigation. Enjoy!
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#10: The Kinks “All Day and All of the Night” (1964) vs. The Doors “Hello, I Love You” (1968)
Although The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger denied his band copied the chord-driven main riff, The Kinks’ music publishers found these two singles were just a bit too similar. UK courts agreed; and so a deal was eventually struck entitling The Kinks to a large share of “Hello, I Love You”’s British royalties. The Doors’ song credits remain unchanged but Ray Davies’ bank account certainly hasn’t.
#9: Muddy Waters “You Need Love” (1962) vs. Led Zeppelin “Whole Lotta Love” (1969)
By cranking the tempo and volume of the blues, Led Zep helped pioneer hard rock and heavy metal. But sometimes, they stuck just a bit too close to their roots. While it took them a long time to get caught, the rock icons were finally sued in 1985 for “Whole Lotta Love”’s whole lotta similarities to the Willie Dixon-penned Muddy Waters classic. Though things were eventually settled out of court, it wasn’t the only time the British rockers were accused of borrowing material, as even “Stairway to Heaven” has been tainted by calls of plagiarism.
#8: Joe Satriani “If I Could Fly” (2004) vs. Coldplay “Viva La Vida” (2008)
Take notes on this one; you’ll need ‘em. First, Creaky Boards suggested Coldplay had ripped off their ironically titled tune “The Songs I Didn’t Write,” however; the British rockers had recorded a demo of “Viva” prior to that song’s first performance. Then, Joe Satriani stepped up, lawsuit in hand, claiming Chris Martin and crew borrowed from his “If I Could Fly.” Things got even more complicated when Yusuf Islam, formally Cat Stevens, joined in on the fun, pointing out that all of these songs sounded like his “Foreigner Suite.” Satriani’s case was later dismissed in 2009.
#7: The Kinks “Picture Book” (1968) vs. Other Garden “Never Got the Chance” (1997) vs. Green Day “Warning” (2000)
And now: how not to file a lawsuit. In 2001, Colin Merry, songwriter for an obscure English band called The Other Garden sued Green Day, claiming that “Warning” was copy of his song “Never Got the Chance.” The band’s lawyer threatened to sue the punk rockers for as much as $100,000, despite the fact that Merry admitted both his and Green Day’s songs had the same, distinct riff as “Picture Book” by The Kinks. Needless to say, the lawsuit was eventually dropped.
#6: Huey Lewis and the News “I Want a New Drug” (1984) vs. Ray Parker, Jr. “Ghostbusters” (1984)
Who you gonna call? A lawyer, if you’re Huey Lewis. Lewis was actually asked to write a theme for Ghostbusters but passed on it to write music for Back to the Future. So when Ray Parker, Jr.’s theme for the supernatural comedy came out sounding suspiciously like “I Want a New Drug,” Lewis cried plagiarism. It was settled out of court almost a decade later and, when The News frontman spilled the beans on the confidential settlement on TV, Ray Parker, Jr. turned the tables and sued Lewis in 2001.
#5: Creedence Clearwater Revival “Run Through the Jungle” (1970) vs. John Fogerty “The Old Man Down the Road” (1985)
In a very odd move, John Fogerty was sued for sounding like… himself. As owner of CCR’s song catalogue and his label during his Creedence days, Fantasy Records claimed “The Old Man Down the Road” ripped off “Run Through the Jungle.” The swamp-rocker beat the case by bringing a guitar to the stand and demonstrating that the two songs were in fact quite different—and that you couldn’t actually plagiarize yourself.
#4: Marvin Gaye “Got to Give It Up” (1977) vs. Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams “Blurred Lines” (2013)
In one of many controversies that plagued this summer hit, Robin Thicke actually sued Marvin Gaye’s family for alleging the singer had plagiarized the late soul artist. While Thicke admitted he was inspired by “Got to Give It Up,” he and co-writer Pharrell Williams contend they’re essentially not the same—citing different chords, keys, and more. Bridgeport Music also became involved due to claims “Blurred Lines” sampled Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways.”
#3: The Rolling Stones “The Last Time” (1965) vs. The Verve “Bitter Sweet Symphony” (1997)
In this case, The Verve obtained the rights to sample the Andrew Oldham orchestral version of the Stones classic. But the issue here is how much the band used, and in the opinion of the Rolling Stones’ manager, it was way too much. While royalties for “Bitter Sweet Symphony” were intended to be split evenly between the two groups, the song’s massive success caused the Stones to demand 100% of the royalties and the song writing credits. Ironically, it was David Whitaker who actually composed the strings section that The Verve sampled so freely in their hit.
#2: The Chiffons “He’s So Fine” (1962) vs. George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” (1970)
Soon after releasing his solo hit, the former Beatle found himself at the center of a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Bright Tunes. George Harrison was accused of plagiarizing the Ronnie Mack-penned tune “He’s So Fine” and the courts ruled he had sub-consciously copied The Chiffons’ smash and would owe nearly $1.6 million in damages. But the story doesn’t end there. After Harrison fired his manager Allen Klein during the trial, Klein seized the opportunity to buy the copyright to “He’s So Fine.” The courts ultimately decided Harrison would only have to pay Klein’s ABKCO Industries $587,000 and he ended up with the song’s rights.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- David Bowie “Boys Keep Swinging” (1979) vs. Blur “M.O.R.” (1997)
- The Hollies “The Air That I Breathe” (1974) vs. Radiohead “Creep” (1992)
- Killing Joke “Eighties” (1984) vs. Nirvana “Come As You Are” (1992)
- John Lee Hooker “Boogie Chillen’” (1948) vs. ZZ Top “La Grange” (1973) vs. Chris Isaak “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” (1996)
- Bryan Pringle “Take a Dive” (1999) vs. Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” (2009)
#1: Chuck Berry “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958) vs. The Beach Boys “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (1963)
For our number one pick, we chose the instance in which Brian Wilson openly and knowingly used the music to a Chuck Berry hit. The Beach Boy felt the track was the perfect setting for his surfing themed lyrics but neglected to credit Berry upon its recording and release. Although “Surfin’ U.S.A.” is meant to be viewed as a tribute, Berry’s publishing company was unimpressed and forced Wilson’s manager so surrender copyright to the rock and roll pioneer’s publisher Arc Music.
Do you agree with our list? Which songs do you think are complete and total rip-offs? For more original Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.