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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Column: JUSTIN T. HO

Pablo Picasso once said “bad artists copy, good artists steal.” Sure. We all know that Led Zeppelin stole from early blues artists like Muddy Waters; that Wolfmother stole from Led Zeppelin and so on. As any musician should know, it’s hard to find an artist that doesn’t “steal,” or better said, “borrow,” from someone else.

But from here forward, a sharp distinction should be made between stealing and borrowing. Stealing is when an artist directly takes from one song and shamelessly places it into their own, either through entire audio segments or little under-the-table snippets. Timbaland, for example, stole the instrumentals for Nelly Furtado’s “Do It” from Finnish musician Tempest (no, he didn’t sample, and sampling isn’t a catch-all excuse for everything).

This isn’t borrowing. Borrowing happens all the time, and it’s musically valid. They aren’t the same thing, and if you think so you’re probably wrong. All you self-proclaimed music sleuths haven’t found anything controversial, so really, stop trying.

“Red Hot Chili Peppers stole from Tom Petty”

This one’s hard to put a finger on. Many believe the song “Dani California” (a number that anyone should know if they’ve ever been to a UC Davis football game) stole from Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane.” It’s certainly plausible – the drum beat, guitar part, syncopation and key are almost exactly the same. But stealing? I can just imagine RHCP and producer Rick Rubin in a lavish record studio listening to Petty’s song on Youtube, cackling as they carefully duplicate the song. Just kidding, I can’t.

Honestly, why would a band as popular as Red Hot Chili Peppers steal from a rock icon as popular as Tom Petty? Especially something so basic? The A minor-G major-D minor-A minor chord progression is what most people first learn on guitar, so really, Petty’s song was hardly novel either.

“Coldplay stole from Joe Satriani”

Whether you like him or not, Joe Satriani is by any standard a great guitarist. If anyone thinks otherwise, go back and listen to your shitty Guns N’ Roses Greatest Hits album and keep worshipping Angus Young. But recently, Joe Satriani charged Coldplay with “stealing” the riff from “If I Could Fly” in “Viva La Vida,” one of Coldplay’s most recent singles. When Chris Martin sings “I used to rule the world …,” you’re apparently hearing a Satriani guitar riff.

Yeah, they’re similar. Someone with no knowledge of music would probably think “Viva La Vida” copied and pasted Satriani’s riff right into the chorus. And that’s the problem – the two songs sound similar to people who don’t know anything.

You’d think someone as talented as Satriani would know the difference between stealing, emulation and plain-old coincidence. There’s a limited amount of ways that three notes in an extremely common pattern (the first four notes in a major scale) can be mixed together. Get over yourself, Satch. Your new band Chickenfoot sucks, and you know it. Don’t try to use a Best Buy ad campaign to get over the fact that Sammy Hagar’s voice doesn’t go well with anything.

“Porcupine Tree stole from Pink Floyd”

If you’ve heard of this controversy, congratulations. Porcupine Tree’s most recent album The Incident starts out with a 55-minute epic, divided into 14 sections. Many people think that the longest section of the album, “Time Flies,” directly steals from Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” starts off with a fast-paced, somewhat complicated strumming pattern, and “Time Flies” begins with a repetitive, almost redundant acoustic intro. Listen to the songs – they’re really nothing alike.

Nay-sayers: First off, learn how to strum a guitar. Second, learn rhythm. There’s nothing similar between the two songs other than the fact that there’s an acoustic guitar, fast strumming and that the two bands come right after each other on my iPod. They don’t even share the same time signature.

If you don’t know anything about music, chances are you’re wrong if you make these claims. Yes, Pink Floyd is a huge influence on Porcupine Tree, but there’s really no similarity. At all.


JUSTIN T. HO is definitely right about this. E-mail him with your boring, useless definitions of the word “sampling” at arts@theaggie.org.


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