Stop me if you've heard this one before: Owl City and other successful rip-offs
If Adam Young ever cops to stealing, he'll be in good company
There’s no denying that Adam Young’s dreamy electro-pop project Owl City has achieved a lot in its short existence, leap-frogging from a home-recording project to a No. 1 single (“Fireflies”) to Young playing sizeable venues like The Rave/Eagles Ballroom on Sunday in just a few short years. But, if you believe the always-skeptical press, he didn’t get there alone: Many have pointed out the similarities between Owl City and The Postal Service, the now-defunct, similarly dreamy electro-pop project of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. And while Young has cited Gibbard as a major influence, he always stops short of coming clean about aping The Postal Service’s style, to which we say: Why? Plenty of musicians have been caught stealing, and—even when it results in a lawsuit—they’ve managed to thrive. Here are five other famous “musical rip-off” win-wins that should encourage Young to own up already.
Wire / The Stranglers vs. Elastica
Like Young, Elastica loved its influences so much that it really wanted to be them—specifically art-punk band Wire, which very rightfully accused the British group of reprising the intro riff to “Three Girl Rhumba” for its signature hit, “Connection.” It also couldn’t help noticing the similarities between its “I Am The Fly” and Elastica’s “Line Up”; a plagiarism suit followed. Pretty soon, another of Elastica’s oft-cited influences, The Stranglers, realized that “Waking Up” sounded an awful lot like “No More Heroes,” and decided to join in. Both cases were settled out of court.
The aftermath: Elastica gave The Stranglers a co-writing credit on “Waking Up” and Wire preemptive credit on its sophomore album, The Menace. Meanwhile, thousands of U.S. kids were introduced to two amazing bands they may never have heard otherwise, and Elastica’s debut went gold.
Cat Stevens vs. The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne might seem loopy, but the man had sense enough to cop to the similarities between his band’s “Fight Test” and Cat Stevens’ “Father And Son” before anyone else could, telling Rolling Stone, before the song even came out, that he knew it would draw comparisons. And when it came time for Stevens (known today as Yusuf Islam) to speak up, it was handled quickly and amicably between their publishing companies, with the artists agreeing to split the royalties.
The aftermath: Coyne—who almost never fails to mention Stevens when he performs “Fight Test” live—came out looking gracious and loveable, while Stevens finally got some post-9/11 press completely unrelated to terrorist watch lists.
The Kinks vs. The Doors
Critics were quick to point out similarities between The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” and The Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night”—little things, like the riff and vocal melody. It seemed like a surefire plagiarism suit, but The Kinks never acted on it: According to a 1999 interview, Dave Davies said he and brother Ray decided it was “a silly idea,” something he expands (somewhat bitterly) upon in 1996’s Kink: An Autobiography.
The aftermath: Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek later admitted the similarities, even referencing it in the liner notes of The Doors box set. Dave Davies has been known to get a laugh by sarcastically slipping a “Hello” verse into live performances of “All Day.” No one would argue that either band’s legacy has been affected—and certainly there are more popular reasons for people to dislike The Doors.
The Rubinoos vs. Avril Lavigne
No one ever accused Avril Lavigne of originality, which is why so many took not-so-secret pleasure in hearing that her omnipresent 2007 hit, “Girlfriend,” might be a blatant rip of “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” from '70s power-poppers The Rubinoos. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a case: Only the chorus was similar, and even that shared elements with other, more famous songs like the Rolling Stones’ “Get Off Of My Cloud”—which preceded The Rubinoos’ song by several years.
The aftermath: That didn’t stop Lavigne’s management from avoiding a costly lawsuit by tossing money at The Rubinoos, who then backed down from their claims. Questionable motives aside, they got more press (and spins) than they’d had in nearly three decades, and Lavigne got to look like a pop diva.
Joe Satriani / Cat Stevens / Creaky Boards vs. Coldplay
Apparently the only artist who didn’t have a hand in crafting Coldplay’s mega-hit “Viva La Vida” was Coldplay: Joe Satriani says it’s lifted from his 2004 instrumental, “If I Could Fly;” Cat Stevens, perhaps emboldened by his success with The Flaming Lips, claims it’s part of his 20-minute “Foreigner Suite;” and little-known Brooklyn band Creaky Boards decided the similarities to their ironically titled “The Songs I Didn’t Write” weren’t coincidental, because they were pretty sure they’d once spotted Chris Martin at one of their shows (which Coldplay denied). Satriani and Coldplay settled, Stevens “forgave” them and invited them to tea, and the Creaky Boards—realizing, perhaps, that both songs’ rather flat vocal melodies sound like they’ve been kicking around since at least the Middle Ages—backed off.
The aftermath: Satriani looks like a petty dick but still got paid, Stevens looks like a saint, and people looked at Creaky Boards—which is all they ever really wanted. And “Viva La Vida” is still on the radio 12 times a day.