10 rock songs that were ripped off from other artists

10 rock songs that were ripped off from other artists

Rock and roll has never been considered the most diverse genre in the world. Most of the greatest rock songs of all time only have three chords, so there’s going to be a bit of overlapping here and there. Then again, there’s a fine line between drawing influence from something and then taking it as your own, and countless acts ranging from The Beatles to Metallica have crossed it over the years. 

Although every one of the songs listed below turned into massive hits, they got there by riding the coattails of some of their idols. From all different genres of music, these artists saw it fit to take some of their favourite tunes in their record collection and repurpose them for their own needs, either playing them slightly differently or raising the key.

While each of these songs were ripped off, not all of them were created the same way. Sometimes artists like to copy the same vocal melody that they’ve heard in some of their favourite songs, and other times they use a simple guitar riff or lead figure and build an entirely different track around it. 

Even though the artists might have thought they were in the clear, some of the lawyers begged to differ, suing most of them for copyright infringement and making them pay the original artists a sizable compensation. Despite the questionable origins though, each of these songs stands out as a good way of keeping rock and roll going. Not every fan has heard your record collection, so why not throw in one of your favourite licks?

10 rock songs that were ripped off:

‘I Saw Her Standing There’ – The Beatles

The tides of rock were turning when the Beatles burst onto the scene with their debut album. While they began life as one of the most charming bar bands out of Liverpool, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ was the first taste most fans got of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s songwriting partnership. That…and a little help from Chuck Berry.

When talking about the origin of the song, McCartney admitted to taking the bassline of Chuck Berry’s famous ‘I’m Talking About You’ for the song, saying: “I played exactly the same notes as he did, and it fitted our number perfectly. Even now, when I tell people, I find few of them believe me; therefore, I maintain that a bass riff hasn’t got to be original”.

Despite McCartney’s pilfering of Berry’s riff, it didn’t seem to matter to fans in the midst of the British Invasion. This was the start of something new for rock and roll, and the Fab Four had put some magic behind Berry’s original line.

‘Given to Fly’ – Pearl Jam

When Pearl Jam started out, they intended to be a love letter to the music they listened to as kids. Mike McCready was dialling in the same tones as Jimi Hendrix, while Stone Gossard wrote funky riffs in the style of Jimmy Page. In fact, the band might have worn their Led Zeppelin influence a little too much on their sleeve on ‘Given to Fly’.

After the song became a hit on the radio, the leading guitar figure bore a strange resemblance to Zeppelin ‘Going to California’, having the same hypnotic tone accompanied by Vedder singing a melody that was not unlike what Robert Plant belted out on the original version. While the song still caught the ear of rock radio, Plant did point out the issue when he met them later on.

When catching the band playing in the area, Plant mentioned to McCready how similar both tunes sounded, even calling their version ‘Given to California’. Although the Led Zeppelin man claimed the similarities to be all in good fun, it wasn’t the last time the British band found themselves fighting over copyright issues. 

‘Master of Puppets’ – Metallica

In the mid-1980s, there was no one else doing what Metallica was. After releasing their smash debut Kill Em All, the band were the leaders of thrash metal, bringing a punk edge to the sounds of heavy guitars and gruff vocals. For all of the influence they were getting from bands like Motörhead, one of the glam rock gods found their way into an iconic song.

When the band were working out the bugs for the song ‘Master of Puppets’, one of the connecting riffs that Cliff Burton offered was lifted from ‘Andy Warhol’ by David Bowie. While the Starman’s version is played on an acoustic guitar, Metallica’s take is like the original has been pumped full of steroids and played at breakneck speed.

Although Burton admitted to the influence, the rest of the song was all original, painting the picture of drugs pulling you down to hell. Metallica may have been showing us all kinds of heavy metal that no one had heard, but it never hurts to take some influence from the classic rock playbook. 

‘Dani California’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Around the mid-2000s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were entering their evergreen period. After getting John Frusciante back in the band, Stadium Arcadium was a look at everything that made the band tick over a double album’s worth of material. While there were homages to funk, punk, and rock, one artist they probably listened to a lot was Tom Petty.

Opening up the first disc, ‘Dani California’ is a laid-back, funky romp that talks about the wonders of California. While nothing here is out of the Peppers’ usual wheelhouse, the chord progression is taken note for note from Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’, only changing around a couple of notes to make the track roll out a little bit better. 

For as much money was in it, Petty wasn’t looking to go to court over the dispute, thinking that those chords are just part of traditional rock and roll. Considering the amount of rock history that’s covered in the original video, Petty’s chord may as well be another part of the holistic homage.  

‘Hangar 18’ – Megadeth

There’s always a certain degree of shame that comes with ripping somebody off. Even though artists spend years trying to write a great song, some of the greatest songs end up coming from someone completely different, as you just rewrite what was already there. In the case of ‘Hangar 18’, Dave Mustaine actually came under fire for ripping off himself.

Before Mustaine became the leader of Megadeth, his time in Metallica actually made for a few overlapping riffs between the two bands. Although ‘Hangar 18’ is based on the sketches that Mustaine had, the song’s crux was taken from Metallica’s ‘The Call of Ktulu’, where Metallica redid Mustaine’s old parts. 

Mustaine had asked Metallica not to use his riffs if they were kicking him out of the band, but the rest thought they were too good to throw in the trash. Even though Metallica beat Mustaine to the punch, trying to outdo your friends using your old riffs is a refreshing way to get revenge. 

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Nirvana

Every member of Generation X knows where they were the first time they heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. After being served nothing but hair metal for almost a decade, Kurt Cobain was here to tear down all the phoniness of rock and roll. Even though ‘Teen Spirit’ was the ultimate grunge anthem, its origins were in the world of AM radio rock.

Although the scratchy guitars are instantaneously identifiable, the basis of the riff came from Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’, with Cobain playing the song in a different key and moving the chords around. The melody was completely different, but the rhythm was kept in place, making the whole song feel like a weird mirror image of the original.

Considering Cobain’s wit, this might have also been completely intentional. Boston was a symbol for some of the cleanest rock and roll there was, and this was the ‘90s answer to that kind of rock. Things were sounding way too sterile, and it was time for something that sounded a little bit dirty.

‘Life on Mars?’ – David Bowie

Every artist has to cut their teeth before getting famous. While David Bowie seemed to fall out of the sky at first, he was originally in the songwriting business, writing English lyrics of French ballads and selling them to the radio. Every artist also faces rejection, though, and Bowie was pissed when he saw his song recontextualised.

After penning the lyric ‘Even a Fool Learns to Love’, Bowie was shot down by the company, who took the instrumental to Paul Anka and turned it into ‘My Way’. Instead of getting payback the old-fashioned way, Bowie went into the studio for Hunky Dory with ‘Life on Mars?’, which used the exact same piano figure and vocal melody as the original song. 

When looking at both back to back, though, they couldn’t be more different, with Bowie singing about what kind of life lives beyond our existence on Earth. While this song laid the groundwork for characters like Ziggy Stardust a few months later, Bowie did have the last laugh on his rejector, adding ‘for Frankie’ to the liner notes of the album in tribute to Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘My Way’. 

‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ – Oasis

There could easily be a completely separate list of songs that Noel Gallagher took from others for himself. Outside of his love for the Beatles, Gallagher was never a snob about his taste and would often shoehorn the odd lyric or an entire guitar riff of another for his own use. Though some may be a bit more hidden than others, there’s no getting around the glam sounds of ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’.

When combing through songs for Definitely Maybe, Gallagher copied this riff from ‘Bang a Gong’ by T. Rex, down to the heavy blues figure that opens the song. Outside of a few string bends, the riff was untouched, which guitarist Bonehead immediately shot down because of how similar it sounded.

After giving it a Britpop twist, though, ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ became an anthem for the hedonistic lifestyle, where there’s nothing worth working for, and you can easily do the white line whenever you fancy. When you’re talking about rock history, is this song a work of genius or just a brash cribbing from rock’s past? The answer. Both. 

‘Whole Lotta Love’ – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin have gotten a lot of flak over the years for being one of the world’s greatest cover bands. Despite having some bonafide rock classics to their name, Zeppelin have also taken some of their classics from already existing songs. Although they always tried to credit their influences where they could, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was the first time they tried to pass off a blues standard as an original.

Though the main riff that opens the song belongs to Jimmy Page, the basis behind the lyrics actually comes from Willie Dixon. Robert Plant had originally thought of Dixon’s lyrics to ‘You Need Love’ as a placeholder, but using the line “way down inside, woman you need it” fit too perfectly with the song they were writing. 

This wasn’t even the last time the band would do this on the same album, restructuring the blues standard ‘Killing Floor’ as ‘The Lemon Song’ while giving the proper credit to Howlin Wolf. As much as Zeppelin may have loved the world of blues, it was never about stealing songs. Blues is all about borrowing from tradition, and this was just tradition repeating itself. 

‘My Sweet Lord’ – George Harrison

After years of living in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison was free to do whatever he wanted in the early ‘70s. Building up a library of fantastic songs, All Things Must Pass was the first time the rock world saw Harrison as a bonafide superstar, with ‘My Sweet Lord’ holding it all together. While Harrison was riding high, the old school of rock and roll had something to say about the melody.

Despite changing the lyrics and key, Harrison had unconsciously borrowed the song from the Chiffon’s hit ‘He’s So Fine’, reorienting the song about affection from a boy to affection from God. Though Harrison insisted that he’d never heard the original, it didn’t hold up in court, leading to him attributing the songwriting royalties to the authors of ‘He’s So Fine’.

While the end of the legal battle shook Harrison’s confidence as a songwriter, he did mention the ridiculousness of the trial later in his career, penning ‘This Song’ about the whole experience in court. Being accused of copyright infringement is never fun, but Harrison was at least able to see the funny side of it all by the end. 

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