Although these songs were fresh, hooky, and inventive, their titles were—like 75 percent of all music—derivative.
In 1995, Jill Sobule's eponymous album included her song “I Kissed a Girl." On the 2008 album, One of the Boys, Katy Perry released a different song with the same title—and it became a smash hit. Was this fair play or song theft?
About six months ago I worked as a bandleader and music director for the 2011 Mint Jubilee, a mammoth charity gala that occurs on the eve of the Kentucky Derby. The acts we were working with were American Idol winners Jordin Sparks and Kris Allen—both wildly talented, fun, and gracious musicians. I'd not played any current pop music for a long time, so this was a welcome change from my twangy norm and a chance to catch up on what's happening in the pop and rock world. But here's what really struck me: Although these songs were fresh, hooky, and inventive, their titles were—like 75 percent of all music—derivative.
We started with Kris Allen's “Live Like We're Dying." Allen's song has a great melody, and a powerful message, but you can't help but notice that the title is clearly taken from the 2004 CMA Song of the Year recorded by Tim McGraw—“Live Like You Were Dying." With a hook like this, the title is the concept. The title demands that you not stray far from the idea of making the most of life, because it's going to end soon. (As my Italian grandfather Joseppi would say, “Memento mori," which essentially means “Remember, you will die.") Granted, the title and message were very close on the Allen and McGraw songs, but the grooves and melodies were unique and Allen's performance was fantastic.
Allen's second song, “Alright with Me," fell into a similar category. This title has been a hit for Cole Porter, George Strait, Patti Labelle, Eric Hutchinson, Tom Waits, the Zombies, and many more. Again, Allen's song, like those by the other artists, had its own thing, but the title itself remains as unique as a mid-sized, black roller bag in an airport baggage claim.
Our next act, the lovely Jordin Sparks, started her set with the aching rocker “Battlefield." Sparks sings like a combination of classic Ann Wilson in “Barracuda" mixed with “Natural Woman"-era Aretha. I could hear her incredible voice before it hit the mic—cutting over my very loud amp and thunderous drums, bass, and thick key pads. That said, Sparks' “Battlefield" thematically follows Pat Benatar's '80s anthem, “Love is a Battlefield"—another case of great titles being recycled.
Look at the song that broke the adorable Katy Perry: “I Kissed a Girl"—a sexy vignette of hot girls making out (which I am not going to hold against anybody). Jill Sobule released her song “I Kissed a Girl" in 1995, complete with an MTV video and modest radio play. Sobule was working around Nashville about the same time that the teenage, Christian version of Perry was recording and working in Nashville, so it's probable that she heard it. Sobule is more than a little pissed about what she calls “song stealing," but the truth is, one cannot copyright a title—whether in a song, poem, book, or movie. You could legally write a book called The Holy Bible or Fight Club, though I doubt many publishers would want to touch it.
Look at William Shakespeare, clearly no hack when it comes to writing a story. By the time he got around to writing Romeo and Juliet, this story with this title had been written before. The plot is based on an Italian poem called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, published by Arthur Brooke in 1562. In 1582, it was rewritten in prose by William Painter. Bill S borrowed a good deal of his version from these two earlier versions. Ultimately, Shakespeare jump-started his imagination with the earlier work, but made it his own. It was the 1591 equivalent of the remaking of Ocean's 11 or True Grit.
I've had a few song-publishing deals and a handful of my songs recorded, but strangely enough, some of my back catalogs (one owned by Warner, another owned by Sony) will occasionally pay me on songs I'm pretty sure have not been recorded. These songs were entered into these catalogs, listed with BMI, but never pitched to any artist I'm aware of. Therefore, chances are that a few dollars of my measly checks may in part be from songs by the same titles registered to the same publishers and performing rights societies. When I brought this to Sony's attention they said, “Don't worry about it. It's small change and it may even be your song." This makes me think I should quickly write songs called “Yesterday" and “Sweet Home Alabama."
There's a great courtroom scene in the 2008 film Flash of Genius that illustrates what constitutes an original creation. The film tells the true story of a guy named Robert Kearns who takes on Ford Motor Co., who he claims stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper. In court, Ford argues that Kearns did not invent anything, but merely strung together a few capacitors. This is paraphrased a bit, but Kearns rebuts by addressing the judge and saying something like, “Can you copyright the word it or was or perhaps the?" The judge replies, “No, you can't." Then Kearns reads Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, arguing effectively that it's not the ingredients—be they words or capacitors—but the order in which one puts them that constitutes an original creation.
Every songwriter is influenced by other songs. That's why we got into the whole creative exercise. Our minds will make connections to what we've heard and borrow at will—sometimes stealing without even knowing it. Outright plagiarism is usually obvious, but sometimes similar work can result from different people having the same idea. It makes sense that if thousands of folks sit around with a guitar every day trying to make up a song, some of these people will hit on the same theme and phrases.
Long ago I read a quote from Eddie Van Halen who said, “There are only 12 notes and how you string them together is your style." My first thought was, “Wait a minute, there are only 11 notes. The 12th note is an octave." Once I got over that, Ed's statement eloquently summed it all up. Whether you are writing notes for a melody or writing words for a song, it's how you arrange the raw materials that matters.
John Bohlinger is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star, the 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.
John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
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Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
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- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
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The Generation Collection of acoustic guitars features the exclusive Gibson Player Port designed to offer a unique and immersive sonic experience.
The G-Bird, the newest addition to the Generation Collection--represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird colliding with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port to add a new dimension to the G-Bird sound. The Gibson Player Port allows players to hear more of themselves as the audience hears it. With a tone that is crisp and resonant, all of the Gibson Generation Collection acoustics are designed to be comfortable to hold and play for long periods of time. All Generation Collection guitars feature the Gibson Player Port, slim, lightweight bodies, a flatter fingerboard radius, Walnut back and sides, Sitka spruce tops, and a stunning Natural finish. Additionally, the new G-Bird, and the G-200 and G-Writer are equipped with LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup systems which amplify deep bass and crystal-clear highs.
The G-Bird represents the glorious legacy of the Gibson Hummingbird with modern sonic enhancement through the Gibson Player Port adding a new dimension to the G-Bird’s sound. The G-Bird features a stunning solid Sitka spruce top and solid walnut back and sides for the ultimate in crisp, resonant tone. This square-shoulder dreadnought delivers all the rich low end and well-balanced mids and highs the original Hummingbird is famous for. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with chrome Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning. The utile neck, with its easy-playing Advanced Response neck profile, is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird also comes equipped with an LR Baggs™ Element Bronze pickup system, so it will always sound as good to your audience as it does to you. The G-Bird is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Modeled after Gibson’s pioneering small-body parlor acoustic guitars from the 1930’s, the G-00 is a top choice for blues and fingerstyle guitar performances. Despite its more compact size, the G-00 achieves a full, balanced sound. The G-00 fills any room with rich tones-which players can hear like never before, with the exclusive Gibson Player Port. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-00 is handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustic guitars. The G-00 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-00 parlor-sized body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-00 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
The G-45, a round-shouldered jumbo, adds the Gibson Player Port to its famous “Workhorse” J-45 style body, which is Gibson’s best-selling acoustic guitar of all time. On the G-45, players can now hear more clearly than ever how this beloved guitar responds to every style and technique of playing. Powerful one moment and soft the next, the G-45 delivers all sounds with incredible dynamic range in an elegant, medium body size. The G-45 is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-45 features a slightly thinner round shoulder body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and play. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-45 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is included.
Gibson’s impressive range of square-shouldered guitars have become an expressive standard for rock, pop, folk, and country artists. The G-Writer is known for its wide range of sounds, from gutsy and loud, to soft and sweet; they are superb for all styles and shine, whether strumming chords or fingering intricate solos. The G-Writer comes ready for the stage or studio with an LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system and the ear-opening Gibson Player Port. The G-Writer is part of the Gibson Generation Collection and like all models in this collection, it is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. It features a solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The G-Writer features a slightly thinner cutaway body, is more comfortable to play and provides effortless access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners deliver solid tuning stability, so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-Writer is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
Gibson built its first “Super Jumbo” SJ-200 as a custom order for country and western singer and film star Ray Whitley, who desired a big, loud, and deep flat-top over which to croon. The SJ-200 quickly became a staple of cowboy singers and horseback troubadours, and then country music, 60’s folk stars, and onto every acoustic guitar genre that has followed. Ray would be proud to hear the booming sound from the Gibson Player Port on the new G-200, which comes ready for the stage or studio with a LR Baggs Element Bronze pickup system. Like all models in the Gibson Generation Collection, the G-200 is handcrafted in Bozeman, MT, by the same highly--skilled craftspeople who make all Gibson acoustics. The G-200 features a beautiful solid Sitka spruce top and solid Walnut back and sides for tone that sounds crisp and resonant. The slightly thinner G-200 cutaway jumbo body is exceptionally comfortable to hold and provides excellent access to the upper frets. The TUSQ nut and saddle, along with the Grover Mini Rotomatic tuners, deliver solid tuning stability so you can spend more time playing instead of tuning, and the utile neck with its easy-playing neck profile is so comfortable you won’t want to put it down. The G-200 is available in Natural finish. A gig bag is also included.
G-Bird | Generation Collection
For more information, please visit gibson.com.