Sam Smith, a secret Tom Petty fan? Or perhaps a subconscious one? Apparently, the mopey soul man’s biggest hit, “Stay With Me,” was so deeply influenced by Petty’s 1989 smash, “I Won’t Back Down,” that the British star and his co-writers are going to share songwriting credits with Petty and his co-writer, Jeff Lynne. (Listen to a fairly damning mashup of the two songs in the above video.) Believe it or not, in the pop world there’s a rich tradition of ripping-off other musicians — and having to fess up later. (And no, it’s not just Robin Thicke, who is headed for a legal showdown with the family of Marvin Gaye over whether his deliciously insidious “Blurred Lines” is too close for comfort to the classic “Got to Give It Up.”) A brief history:
Hit: “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” The Beach Boys
Stolen from: “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Chuck Berry
Huarache sandals be damned, as the Wilson brothers, cousin Mike Love, and a dude down the street record the iconic anthem of the surf music craze, a song so catchy, so of-the-moment, so original it actually used all of the melody from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” — and no one even pretended otherwise. Nobody had to see Judge Judy, but future releases of the song granted Berry credit as the co-songwriter.
Hit: “Whole Lotta Love,” Led Zeppelin
Stolen from: “You Need Love,” Willie Dixon
White hippies stealing from black blues musicians? Say it ain’t so! Yes, Led Zeppelin’s iconic 1969 recording might not sound much like the 1962 Muddy Waters recording of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” but the lyrics were too much alike. Singer Robert Plant fessed up in an interview in Musician magazine, revealing the dangers of vocal improvisation with your shirt open. “Page’s riff was Page’s riff. It was there before anything else. I just thought, ‘well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for.”
Hit: “Ghostbusters,” Ray Parker Jr.
Stolen from: “I Want a New Drug,” Huey Lewis & The News
“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.” Apparently, the makers of the 1984 film also weren’t afraid of monotonous synth pop. They used the Huey Lewis tune as dummy music in early cuts of the film, but couldn’t strike a deal with the “Hip to Be Square” pop star. Enter, Ray Parker Jr., who brought everyone together with his uncredited tribute. Lewis settled eventually, but Parker was angered, years later, when Lewis stated during an episode of “Behind the Music” that Parker had “ripped this song off.”
Hit: “The Old Man Down the Road,” John Fogerty
Stolen from: “Run Through the Jungle,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
Talk about a retread. John Fogerty’s 1984 comeback hit was so similar to his 1970 hit with CCR that he sued himself. Well, not exactly, but Fogerty’s dispute with Fantasy Records boss Saul Zaentz did venture to the theater of the absurd. In the 1970s, the swamp rocker had signed over his CCR publishing rights to the record exec to get out of his contract. When Fogerty re-emerged as a solo artist with the same sound — and same flannel shirt, we might add — Zaentz sued him for sounding too much like himself. Fogerty won, an inspiring victory for musicians everywhere who can’t come up with a new idea.