Bleats

Katy Perry Is Ruled To Have Ripped Off A Song But She's Far From The First

Let's be honest, there's only a finite number of notes out there.

Katy Perry has just lost a court case which ruled that her song ‘Dark Horse’ “improperly copied” Flame’s 2008 song ‘Joyful Noise’. Supposedly it’s about the beat which… look, you be the judge as to whether anyone got ripped off.

But she shouldn’t be ashamed. The history of musical lawsuits going in unexpected directions has a rich history and has involved some pretty high profile numbers.

For example:

‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Got To Give It Up’

Blurred Lines was already controversial for sounding awfully like a smirking endorsement of date rape, but that wasn’t what got it dragged before a judge.

No: in an impressively The Castle move, it was the subject of a case over the vibe of the thing. Specifically, that it ripped off the mood of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’.

And the songs sound a bit similar, but up until this point a song had to lift a recognisable melody or chord progression to be considered plagiarism. This time around it was the rhythm, elements of the arrangement and the “feel” of the track, which hadn’t previously been thought to be copyrightable.

This set a dangerous precedent for artists ever making something which was inspired by something else. Over 200 artists co-signed a brief used in the 2018 appeal, which still failed to overturn the ruling.

The case was also notable for supposed co-writer Robin Thicke insisting that the song was entirely written by Pharrell Williams. Solidarity, Rob!

‘Down Under’ and ‘Kookaburra’

In another weird case the publishers of ‘Kookaburra’ (as in “…sits in the old gum tree-ee”) successfully argued that Men At Work ripped off the melody via Greg Ham’s flute riff.

What’s even weirder is that no-one had noticed until it was a question on Spicks and Specks in 2007. Ouch.

The 2010 case and appeal was cripplingly expensive for both sides and reportedly broke Ham’s heart, and he passed away in 2012.

The lesson here: music trivia has wide reaching consequences.

Bonus: Don’t lift things from the Rolling Stones

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, like many artists, do not own the rights to much of their early material

The Verve – or, more accurately, singer/wongwriter Richard Ashcroft – never made any bones about the fact that ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ was based around a sample from a Rolling Stones song, specifically an orchestral version of ‘The Last Time’ which was used with permission from Decca Records, but not by Alan Klein who owned the publishing, and who demanded 100 per cent of the song.

However, in May 2019 it was announced that the situation had been sorted and the rights had reverted to the band.

If that seems a bit petty, a similar situation happened in the early 90s to the rather less well known Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine for their song ‘After The Watershed’, which contained three Stones-related words in the chorus (“Goodbye Ruby Tuesday”). Three. Freakin’. Words.

There was an injunction which killed the song’s radio play, and then Jagger and Richards were added to the credits as co-writers.

Which means that the men who wrote the horrifically sexist ‘Under My Thumb’ are also credited with writing one of the most brutally grim anti-child abuse songs of all time. Yay?

The Village People Were Almost Marvel Heroes Because YMCA Is A Superpower

It's fun to stay at the… um, Avengers compound?

It’s an amazing but true story: The Village People were almost Marvel heroes.

Yes, those Village People. ‘YMCA’. ‘In The Navy’. ‘Macho Man’. Those ones.

Look, the Avengers could have been a very different movie, that’s all we’re saying.

On paper there are a lot of Marvel heroes that really shouldn’t work but have become beloved parts of the canon. A talking racoon? A Norse god with a magic hammer? A wizard with a sentient cape?

But six singing and dancing disco men? That seems like a challenge beyond even Kevin Fiege.

And according to Cracked it nearly entered the canon because of a film treatment in 1980 for that beloved Marvel household name: Dazzler.

Dazzler is an X-Men character created via that most noble and inspiring of artistic inspirations: corporate advertising tie-ins.

Marvel had come up with the idea of creating a new character in the X-Men comics and simultaneously holding a talent quest to find a female singer to “be” Dazzler, to record with Casablanca Records: home of artists like KISS, Donna Summer and the Village People.

Before long this idea turned into a TV special and then a possible feature film. Comic writer Jim Shooter was given four days to come up with an outline. And it’s amazing, and also an exciting insight into an era that was clearly a lot more liberal about chemicals in the workplace.

His concept involved Marvel heroes like Spider-man fighting criminals (including Cher and KISS) alongside Dazzler and the Stompers – the characters played by the VPS – which would include:

THE MOTORCYCLE COP – has a nightstick that’s charged with crackling energy
THE COWBOY – twirls an unbreakable lasso that he controls as if it was alive
THE CONSTRUCTION WORKER – has a jackhammer that can create small earthquakes
THE LEATHERMAN – is super-strong and wields an unbreakable chain

…and so on.

The problems started early as disco’s brief heyday was already over by mid-1980, and in any case the Village People had their own flop movie to attend to in the form of Can’t Stop The Music – a film starring the band alongside Steve Guttenberg and the future Caitlyn Jenner.

It’s a curious piece of cinema, basically, although there’s no denying that it would have been enlivened by including a magic living lasso.

Needless to say, this film never eventuated and the Village People never became the Marvel heroes they deserved to be. However, Dazzler did finally turn up in a Marvel film this year, having a bit of a sing in X-Men: Dark Phoenix.

Sadly, the VPs didn’t join her. Shame. We bet they’d have YMCA-ed the hell out of that film.

Reminder: 'Torn' Is Not A Natalie Imbruglia Original, But It Is The Song That Made One Direction

It's a valuable lesson in how a cover version can absolutely eclipse the original artist's vision.

You can count the times when a cover version wildly eclipses the original on one hand – but ‘Torn’ is proof that it can be done and also that Natalie Imbruglia is basically a genius.

Yes, ‘Torn’ isn’t her song. But let’s be honest: it absolutely is her song, even if she was the third artist to release it.

Um, hi?

if you want to follow the forging of the Crown of Torns, it was first demoed by Anne Preven, who co wrote it with her guitarist Scott Cutler and her producer (and former bassist with the Cure) Phil Thornally.

Preven and Cutler then formed a band called Ednaswap in LA and released the song in 1995. And man, it sounds SO VERY 1995. Ah, those glory days of alt.rock…

But they didn’t even get to record it first: that honour went to Lis Sørensen, in 1993 who made it a minor hit in Denmark (as ‘Brændt’, which literally means “burned”).

Imbruglia’s version isn’t all that different to Sørensen’s and keeps the somewhat streamlined chord progression (compared with Ednaswap’s version, at least) and yet is about a billion times better.

It’s also produced by Thornally, which is how our Nat heard of the song. See how it works?

And let’s not underestimate that video.…

And then One Direction made it part of their legend by making it the first song they ever performed together – it was the song that convinced Simon Cowell to take them to the very tippity top. And just look at them emote!

So, in short: the people who wrote the song did the version that the fewest people heard or liked. But at least they still get publishing royalties. That’s gotta be a nice little earner.

And Preven and Cutler have made a hell of a career writing for other artists, including the award-winning ‘Listen’ from Dreamgirls.

So, songwriters: the trick is to work with a former goth superstar, get a Scando pop star to cover it, then have an Australian soapie star make it an international smash, and then have it trigger the formation of the biggest boy band of all time.

Easy!

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