Several years ago, just as the CD era was winding down, I bought a disc from a bargain bin at Walmart. The recording was by the band Foreigner, and it included several songs from the band live and in concert. My favorite track on the recording was a version of the song “Juke Box Hero.” In it, guitarist Mick Jones (formerly of the band Spooky Tooth) goes wild and does his best Jimmy Page. In fact, the song morphs into the Led Zeppelin classic “Whole Lotta Love.” It’s a fantastic homage from one great band to another great band, and it reminds me of when the band Styx performed a live version of “I Am the Walrus.” Their version is stunning and pulling it off live is something the Beatles never even tried. Phenomenal.
I have a feeling that, in these cases, the surviving members of both The Beatles and Led Zeppelin were honored by the homage paid to them by Foreigner and Styx. It seems it’s okay, or even honorable, for one classic rock band or performer to imitate others as long as proper credit is given or the appropriate level of tribute is paid. Heck, even parody seems to be just fine (see Flo and Eddie, Weird Al or the Rutles).
Clearly, however, there is a line where tribute stops being considered tribute. Consider the recent court case where the surviving members of the band Spirit sued Led Zeppelin, claiming that the opening of “Stairway to Heaven” was lifted from the Spirit song “Taurus.” Led Zeppelin so far has prevailed in court, but I am not so sure. I listened to both songs. They sure sound alike to me.
Perhaps I’m not the best judge of whether something as serious as plagiarism has occurred in music. In many cases, certain classic rock songs and bands sound a lot like other songs and bands to me. Many of these similarities in sounds have caused legal issues and have ultimately been settled in court.
To me the song “My Sweet Lord” sounds a lot like “He’s So Fine.”
The song “Ghostbusters” sounds a lot like “I Want a New Drug.”
“Surfin’ USA” sounds to me just like “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
Heck, John Fogerty, the genius behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, once got sued for plagiarizing himself! Plus, in my opinion, these days everything sounds the same. I can’t tell the difference between one rapper and the next. I know this: if I was a rapper I’d go by the name Gum. Good Lord, that sounds like one of my dad’s bad jokes!
All of this reminds me of the many times I’ve heard a song that I was certain was by one band, and it turned out to be another! Play the songs below for someone who claims to know their rock and roll. Can they guess the name of the band? Can you?
SONG 1: NOT THE BEATLES
1965 – THE KNICKERBOCKERS “Lies”
SONG 2: NOT THE BEACH BOYS
1964 – JAN AND DEAN “Little Old Lady From Pasadena”
SONG 3: NOT DURAN DURAN
1982 – ABC “The Look Of Love”
SONG 4: NOT AC/DC
2007 – AIRBOURNE “Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast”
SONG 5: NOT AL STEWART
1986 – PET SHOP BOYS “West End Girls”
SONG 6: NOT LED ZEPPELIN
2018 – GRETA VAN FLEET “Safari Song”
SONG 7: NOT YES
1976 – STARCASTLE “Lady Of The Lake”
SONG 8: NOT PRINCE
1985 – READY FOR THE WORLD “Oh Sheila”
SONG 9: NOT ARETHA FRANKLIN
1965 FONTELLA BASS “Rescue Me”