The music industry has a long history of taking what they want and apologizing later. No, we don't mean cover songs, because cover songs require attribution. What we mean is the not-so-honorable tradition of the swipe, those songs built from chopping up other songs and trying to sneak under the radar. Today Scott's picked five of his favorites from the swipe files. Maybe you know them already? He'll start with a song from a man often alleged to help himself to ideas, one Mr. Paul Simon:
El Condor Pasa (If I Could)
This lovely flute-heavy Simon and Garfunkel ballad was actually composed by Alomia Robels but it's unfair to call it stolen. To Paul Simon's credit, he originally thought the song was public domain and was very polite about sharing the publishing when he found out it wasn't. Robles' son described the court case as almost friendly and both parties walked away smiling. But even if it was accidental… it's still a swipe.
And that's what we're looking at today! Inside you'll find a few more swipes, and, as always, just click on the image to enjoy the song we're discussing. Once you've read them all, feel free to add your own swipe candidates in the comments. See you after the jump!
The Lemon Song
Now, it's hard to say someone's really stolen the blues. After all, the blues are supposed to evolve and build on what came before, and those basic notes that live near the heart are so primal, it seems everyone has the right to puzzle it out their own way. However, in the case of Led Zeppelin… well, when 100% of the legal songwriting credit goes to "Page/Plant" but the last words of the song send you to a pre-existing near-sound alike from Howlin' Wolf… I just gotta go with swipe.
My Sweet Lord
This one is pretty well known, thanks to the case where a judge ruled George Harrison had infringed on The Chiffons by accident. However, the resolution of the case is kinda complex. See, the Beatles' old manager Allen Klein first represented Harrison in this case, then went out and bought the rights to "She's So Fine" right before the verdict came down. The result was that Harrison owed Klein the money, which turned Klein a nice profit (plus legal fees, most likely.) Obviously the court decided this was a jerk move and reduced the damages, so Klein didn't get as much as he'd hoped. When all was said and done, Harrison ended up with the rights to both hits, the songs stayed in print and everybody got some money… but even though he was a nice guy about it, it's still a swipe!
Come As You Are
Kurt Cobain was hailed as a pop music genius, but you know what they say. "Talent borrows, genius steals." Compare Nirvana's pretty wobbly-water intro with this earlier song from Killing Joke. And yes, there was a lawsuit. Of course, after Cobain's death, it seemed a bit cruel to keep a lawsuit alive, so Killing Joke let it go and there was never a final verdict. Even still, a rumor says Dave Grohl might have played on Killing Joke's 2003 album for free, as a sort of apology for the whole affair. Naturally it's impossible to confirm, and since this is the music industry we're talking about, that rumor comes with a huge grain of salt. All one can be sure of is that the court of public opinion says… swipe!
Of course there's a difference between a sample and a swipe, but I think this Biz Markie song is noteworthy because much of the fair use troubles lead back to Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. Singer Gilbert O'Sullivan took offense that his one-hit wonder was sliced up without permission, and in the lawsuit that followed, royalties became something very different. Samples now had to be cleared well in advance, and almost overnight the world of hip hop became something a lot less mercurial. Today the track itself is no longer on any Biz Markie album and you can't even find it on the iTunes store. Because of that, we're saying it might have started as a playful homage, but it ended up… as a swipe.
Okay, now it's your turn. What swipes do you love, or maybe hate? Hit the comments and educate us, and don't forget to cite the originals! Then maybe join us in the Woot.com Music Monday Turntable FM room for some more music fun? We'd love to have you join our gang.