A few centuries before Robin Thicke and Pharrell first listened to Marvin Gaye, a young musician in Vienna was looking for inspiration.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart needed a story and a hook for his upcoming opera. So, he borrowed music and specific plot elements from “The Beneficient Dervish,” an opera composed by some fellow musicians in Vienna, according to classical music scholars. Soon thereafter, Mozart premiered “The Magic Flute” at the city’s legendary Theatre auf der Wieden.
Thicke and Pharrell may be in the headlines today after a jury ordered them to pay Gaye’s family $US7.5 million for copying the music of Gaye’s dance classic, “Got To Give It Up.” But it’s just the latest example in a long history of musicians getting inspiration from their predecessors.
In addition to Mozart, the Beatles borrowed lines from the big-band classic, “In the Mood,” for their 1967 hit, “All You Need Is Love,” Johnny Cash plagiarized from a blues song for his classic “Folsom Prison Blues,” and Madonna lifted parts of “Frozen” from a 1980s song by a Belgian songwriter.
And so on and so on. Musicians have always borrowed rhythms and melodies and lyrics from others. Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” itself has been non-controversially sampled 14 times. So when does that type of homage cross the line? It comes down to money, pride, modern copyright law and money, again.
Many songs that sample music never become hits and languish in obscurity. In other cases, it’s difficult to prove outright theft. (When Andrew Lloyd Webber was sued for allegedly stealing the music for the theme song to “Phantom of the Opera,” the jury in the case found the composer innocent of plagiarism.)
Below are some hits that take their inspiration from other songs. Take a listen to both (new and old) and make up your own mind:
New: The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”
Old: Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood”
New: Led Zeppelin’s “Bring It On Home”
Old: Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home”
Now check out the Robin Thicke and Pharrell song that a jury ruled infringed the copyright for Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.”
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