Talent Borrows, Genius Steals: The Top 3 Music Plagiarisms of 2014

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Contrary to popular belief, plagiarism isn’t always bad. Ok, maybe if you’re a journalist or an author it is, but borrowing and stealing from one’s predecessors has always been an essential part of music. Taking riffs and melodies from past artists can be justified, and can even end up being pretty cool if you do it right. With that in mind, let’s look at the top three, say, most interesting music pilferings of 2014.

NOTE: This article isn’t meant to be a cynical attack on the creativity of these artists. I’m intending it to be more of an exposé on how current artists borrow from older ones, which has been going on since the beginning of music history.

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1. Lykke Li discovers that Daniel Johnston’s songs really do last a long time:

Swedish musician Lykke Li released her album I Never Learn in May of this year. One of the songs on it, “No Rest for the Wicked”, sounds suspiciously like a Daniel Johnston track, “Some Things Last a Long Time”, from his 1990 album, appropriately titled 1990.

Interestingly enough, Lykke Li out together a playlist of some of her favorite songs for the Huffington Post in 2011, and “Some Things Last a Long Time” was one of the songs she picked. She also had this to say about the songwriting genius that is Daniel Johnston: “Daniel is one of my heroes, somehow he always seems to pin down the complexities of life in just one phrase; Some things last a long time… Some things last a long time…yes.”

This is one of those music thefts that doesn’t really bother me at all. While the piano chords are the same in both songs, Lykke Li animates them beautifully, crafting an entirely different song using the same backbone. It’s almost a tribute to Daniel Johnston, a respectful throwback to one of Lykke’s inspirations.

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 2. Mac DeMarco takes a page out of The Kinks’ “Picture Book”:

Okay, this one kind of makes me mad. This is one of those cases where the very first song I hear from an artist is obviously plagiarized, and that almost turns me off to the artist completely. It happened with Muse, who ripped off a song by my favorite band, and it happened with Mac DeMarco too. I hit play on Mac DeMarco’s newest album, and all I hear is The Kinks’ “Picture Book” in DeMarco’s song “Salad Days”. The main melody of  “Salad Days” is strongly reminiscent of “Picture Book”, and the “la la la” section is directly lifted from the 1968 classic.

The Kinks are such an under-appreciated band. They’re not rock and roll heavyweights like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, but they wholeheartedly deserve to be. They were massively innovative and influential to decades of pop music. The Kinks pretty much invented hard rock and indie pop, two disparate genres that can be traced back to the same band. But somehow, they became more and more obscure as the years went on and their influence grew. Only hardcore music aficionados are really aware of their significance in the music world. So, musicians can take elements of their songs without the public knowing. In fact, Green Day ripped off the very same song as Mac DeMarco for their 2000 song “Warning”.

Once again, I am not condemning all borrowing and/or stealing in music. But it just seems unfair to yank song elements from a musical underdog like The Kinks, a band which is relatively obscure among today’s youth. Add that to the fact that neither of these acts really brought anything new to “Picture Book” and it just leaves me feeling uneasy.

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3. Bleachers Take a Big Old Dumpweed on Blink-182:

I have no idea how I feel about the last entry on this list. I’m not even sure if it’s intentional plagiarism, or just a weird coincidence. Or it could even be some George Harrison-style subconscious plagiarism. All I know is, right after I reviewed Blink-182’s Enema of the State in August, I heard a song on the radio that sounded strangely like “Dumpweed”, the opening song on the album. It was Bleachers’ “I Wanna Get Better”:

Maybe it’s just me. To be honest, I’m just not a fan of the type of music that Bleachers makes. Jack Antonoff, the frontman of Bleachers, is also a member of the band Fun, and both bands put out similar stuff. It’s that ultra-commercial pseudo-indie music. It just doesn’t grab me. And it doesn’t help when I catch them plagiarizing red-handed. Or at least I think I did. There’s probably some music theory-related explanation as to why these songs are different, but sound the same. I don’t know enough about theory to tell you that. I can only tell you what my ears hear. And just like Shakira, my ears don’t lie. Or something like that.

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