In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: The lead singer of the Old 97’s since 1993, Rhett Miller is one of the hardest-working musicians in alt-country. He’s released 10 studio albums with the 97’s, plus six under his own name. His latest, The Traveler, is out now on ATO Records.
The A.V. Club: Are you ready to talk about Michael Bublé?
Rhett Miller: I really agonized about this because I’ve been trying so hard to be positive. Originally I thought about doing the David Allan Coe racist songs, because he’s so creepy and I had to do a gig with him once and it was just like a redneck, you know, whatever. I decided that would be too negative. And then I thought, oh, I can give Michael Bublé some shit. Let’s do that.
AVC: Out of all the Michael Bublé songs, why is this the one you picked?
RM: So, Michael Bublé is eminently hateable on his own without any personal reasons. It’s just his persona or his music. I don’t know him personally. I have heard some stories, but that’s all secondhand stuff.
I didn’t really dislike him personally until a couple of years ago I was in a restaurant and a song came on, and the person with whom I was eating said, “Hey, isn’t that you?” And I listened for a second and I felt like, “Oh, yeah…” You know, in a restaurant you can’t really hear what’s happening. I thought, “Yeah, that’s my song. That sounds like ‘Perfume.’” Which was the single off the 97’s Grand Theatre Vol. 2 in 2011. And as the song went on I realized, wait, there’s a pre-chorus section; that’s not in the song. And then it hit the chorus, and the chorus was different from my song, but weirdly, the lyrics in the chorus were the lyrics in my song. And so I Shazam-ed it, of course, and I figured out it was the Michael Bublé song called “It’s A Beautiful Day.” Then I went and did a little investigation, and it turns out that the verse of his song uses the same chord progression as “Perfume,” and that’s fine, because it’s a chord progression that we stole from Pachelbel’s Canon. The theme from Ordinary People. I’m not inventing the wheel with that chord progression. But it’s very close. His is one step up—I think ours is in C and his is in D. So it’s the same exact chord progression, which, like I said, wouldn’t be that weird because it’s a pretty common chord progression, if, when he hit the chorus, he didn’t use the same lyrics that are at the heart of our chorus, which are “it’s a beautiful day.”
At that point I’m thinking this can’t just be a complete coincidence. So I researched it, and who knows? There’s a whole team of writers on the song. It wasn’t just Bublé. In fact, who knows if he was even in the room when the song was written. And the song itself is pretty mean-spirited. Again, I’ve written mean-spirited songs where I’ve been happy about a breakup in a song, and I maybe haven’t said the nicest things about the person or the character in the song who’s breaking up, but once I felt like he was ripping me off, then the character in the song seemed even more like a jerk.
AVC: Have you done anything about it? What can you do? Is it enough just to prove the chords are the same?
AVC: “Uptown Funk?”
RM: “Uptown Funk.” Yeah. Both of those, they weren’t such strict rip-offs that I would’ve necessarily thought that they would be a gimme, and both of those, the people who claimed they were being ripped off won, so maybe I could get somewhere.
I don’t know. I don’t see Michael Bublé and his legal team bending over, capitulating to me. But I know in my heart that he is sleeping on a bed of money that he stole out from under my children’s dinner plates. Is that enough of a mixed metaphor?
AVC: And here I was thinking you didn’t like Michael Bublé because he wears a motorcycle jacket and he’s Canadian and he’s singing for grandmas.
RM: Well, Canadians are so sweet in general. I mean, Kids In The Hall, Dave Foley and Bruce McCulloch? Very sweet guys. I have a lot of Canadian friends, I love hockey. But Michael Bublé, already he was nails on a chalkboard to me. That smug expression on his face… I don’t know, man. Once I decided he was ripping me off, all bets were off. And like I said, I try not to hate on people, but I can’t help it with this guy.
AVC: Do you know any of the writers on his song?
RM: Well, my song came out in 2011 and it was not even our biggest hit—we’ve never had a hit—but it was out there and it was a single, and we do pretty well in Canada, and there were a number of radio stations in Canada that played it. I did research it enough to see that at least one of the other writers on the song was Canadian—I think they were all Canadian—and whatever. I’m not going to accuse anybody of anything, but it did seem a little fishy to me. It was the same chord progression and the same lyric at the heart of the chorus. Come on. You’re better than that, Bublé.
AVC: I don’t know a lot about the actual mechanics of songwriting, but how many chord progressions are there? There are a limited number of sounds, and we have to be hitting some sort of max.
RM: You’re right. It’s not an infinite number, and especially when you’re talking about working within the confines of the Western scale, there’s a circle of fifths that dictates that there’s only a certain number of chords that quote-unquote “go together,” and so once you’re working within all those confines, yeah, it’s a finite number of chord progressions. And especially if you really talk about rock ’n’ roll, or even Western classical music. Like I said, it’s Pachelbel’s Canon. I stole it from somebody who stole it from somebody who stole it from somebody who stole it from Pachelbel who stole it from somebody else. So I am being frivolous by accusing anybody of anything, but he made a lot of money and I still haven’t, so I get to be the underdog in this scenario.