Jun 222011

A car commercial on TV recently perked up my ears for two reasons. First, the sound of the jangling guitar and bass moving beneath it, were suspiciously similar to the outro of “American Girl.” I mean, like rip-off similar, even though it was only a couple of bars of music. And it was not the original recording.

Second, it gave me déjà vu about another car commercial blatantly ripping off Tom Petty some years ago. I can’t find any reference to it, but I sort of recall Petty suing them about it; it seemed to me as if they probably wanted to use his song but he didn’t want to license it, so they just recorded a new sound-alike. I think it was a car cruising along a curvy two lane road among rolling hills of brown grass, to a tune that was a direct rip-off of the opening power chords of Petty’s “You Wreck Me,” not long after its 1994 release. (Ironic theme title for a car, if have that right!) Does anyone recall the details on that one, or am I imagining it?

What other accusations of gross musical theft come to mind? “My Sweet Lord”/”He’s So Fine” is the most famous case (court case, at least) that comes to mind for me. Maybe we should omit rap sampling of rock music because that list would be endless!


  21 Responses to “Suspiciously Familiar Jingle”

  1. tonyola

    The Beach Boys stole the opening of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” for “Fun, Fun, Fun”.

  2. I love when commercials do this and marvel at the fine line they must be treading. There’s a local (Philadelphia) add that has background music that couldn’t be more similar to KISS’ “Rock ‘n Roll All Night.” How do they get away with that and then we hear reports of people getting busted for basing a jingle around an obscure indie rock tune?

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    I do this very thing for a living (used to do it full-time, before the economy went in the crapper), and I can tell you that composers are routinely asked to emulate popular songs — closely enough that they capture the “vibe” of the original, but not so closely that anybody gets sued. It’s a fine line, and it does get crossed with some frequency. Not by me, though!

  4. bostonhistorian

    The first song I remember hearing and thinking “that’s a rip-off”, was Ray Parker Jr.’s theme for Ghostbusters, which steals from Huey Lewis’s “I Want A New Drug”. I wasn’t surprised to learn years later the producers had apparently asked Huey Lewis to write the theme and he turned them down.

  5. misterioso

    Ah, the fabulous 80s…when ripping off Huey Lewis was the path to success. Good times.

    According to wikipedia, anyway: “When the similarities between this song and the theme song of the 1984 film Ghostbusters were heard, Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for plagiarism, claiming that Parker had stolen the melody from “I Want a New Drug”. Lewis had been approached to compose the main theme song for the film, but had to decline because of his work on the soundtrack for Back to the Future.

    In 2001, in an interview on VH1’s Behind the Music, Lewis mentioned the suit, implying that Parker had paid a financial settlement as part of the original agreement. This allegedly breached a confidentiality agreement in the aftermath of the first suit, and led to a countersuit by Parker.”

  6. Nirvana copied the guitar riff for “Come As You Are” from Killing Joke’s “Eighties”. The latter reportedly brought suit, but dropped it after Cobain’s death.

  7. trigmogigmo

    Ah, that’s why it sounded so familiar from the get-go. If I were arguing Killing Joke’s case in a lawsuit, I’d say the slight differences are due to errors in transcription and inability to play it at the desired tempo….

  8. BigSteve

    Many people have appropriated the Ticket To Ride drumbeat, but Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Girl is probably the most famous.

  9. BigSteve

    And speaking of the Beatles, let’s give it up for Lies by the Knickerbockers, the most perfect appropriation of the style of Beatles ’65/VI where you can’t actually point to anything specific that was ‘stolen.’

  10. mockcarr

    The One I Love by REM seems like a rewrite of Hey Hey My My by Neil Young.

  11. mockcarr

    Also, Strangers When Me Meet by the Smithereens uses the outchorus of the Byrds Feel A Whole Lot Better as it’s outchorus.

  12. Let’s not forget that Teen Spirit is just a sped up version of Blue Oyster Cult’s Godzilla.

  13. I’ve mentioned it here before but Fogarty got sued by Saul Zantz because The Old Man Down The Road sounded too much like Run Through the Jungle, both of which he wrote.

  14. ladymisskirroyale

    But Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” got there first: 1976 to BOC’s 1977. Nirvana must have loved both bands.

  15. The Kinks are nicked all the time — Veruca Salt’s Seether comes to mind first for me.


    Nina Gordon is easier on the eyes than Ray, however.

  16. tonyola

    Pink Floyd’s nicking the style and feel of “Have a Cigar” for “What Do You Want From Me?”. Oh wait, they’re both by Floyd, aren’t they?

  17. shawnkilroy

    I can’t find it online, but in the late 80s or early 90s, Tom Waits sued Doritos for hiring a sound alike after he turned them down.

  18. tonyola

    It could be argued that Led Zeppelin have been the most blatant of thieves in that many of their songs are uncredited reworkings of old blues standards.

  19. Coldplay stole “Viva la Vida” from Joe Satriani. And then I looked it up and I guess everyone stole it from everyone else.

  20. Not to beat up Nina Gordon too bad — but she ripped off Enya on Tonight And The Rest Of My Life — after she quit Veruca Salt.


    Of course — Enya ripped off her former band Clannad. For some reason, Enya’s Watermark is in my CD collection — I think my sister in law must have left it at my house.

  21. I believe Huey and/or The News actually got a co-writer credit on “Ghostbusters Theme” after the suit!

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