Accusations of Plagiarism Are Nothing New in Music World, writes the San Luis Obispo blogs. Maybe Coldplay should cover the Barenaked Ladies song “It’s All Been Done.”
According to this story (watch the video!) posted on CNN’s web site, Coldplay has been fighting charges from guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani that their song “Viva La Vida” was ripped off from Satriani’s “If I Could Fly.” The debate has been going on for a while now — Satriani has actually pursued the charges in court — but CNN noted how YouTubers have been engaging in the debate as well by comparing the songs. This guy , for instance, did a comprehensive analysis and garnered over 670,000 views.
While there are clearly some similarities, I agree with Coldplay — that any similarities are probably a coincidence. I mean, come on. There are only so many chord combinations, right? A lot of people think “Viva La Vida” also sounds like “The Songs I Didn’t Write” (yes, an ironic title) by the Creaky Boards. And, as my features department colleague Sarah Linn wrote in the comment section, even the former Cat Stevens has claimed inspiration for this song, saying “Viva La Vida” sounds a lot like his 1973 single “Foreigner Suite.”
I think he’s off his rocker. But whatever. This is nothing new. The most famous ripoff claim comes from the Chiffons, who successfully sued George Harrison, saying his song “My Sweet Lord” was overly inspired by their song “She’s So Fine.” The lawsuit inspired Harrison to write “This Song,” which comes with this great video that pokes fun of the whole lawsuit.
More recently, one hit wonder Tommy Tutone suggested that Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere“ featured a guitar riff similar to the one he used in his song “867-5309 (Jenny).”
Some claims are really a stretch. I was surprised when I heard that Jimmy Jones was suing Culture Club, saying “Karma Chameleon” borrowed too much from “Handyman.” (Not even close.) I guess Jones didn’t get enough royalties when James Taylor’s cover became a hit. Art being derivitive, I think you have to expect some songs to sound like others.
But the key question is: Does the influenced song take the original in a new direction? Sure, “My Sweet Lord” follows the “She’s So Fine” pattern. But can you imagine not having “My Sweet Lord” — arguably (but not really arguably) a much better song?
If it comes down to choosing a song by the Chiffons or an ex-Beatle, there’s really not much to think about.
Coldplay at the New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA (10 June 2009):
Pictures from the Times-Picayune