Music plagiarism is big news in almost any era. Sure, Robin Thicke and Pharrell had to shell out $5 million to Marvin Gaye's estate for their "Blurred Lines" infringement and there was the whole Tom Petty/Sam Smith debacle in recent music history, but singers have been ripping off other people's songs since recorded music first came on the scene, and even before that. What are the most blatant ripoff songs, which obviously stole music, lyrics, or both from other tracks?
Chances are, your favorite band has either intentionally or purposefully stolen someone else's lyrics or melody - and probably had it done to them as well. While some plagiarism cases are extremely well known (George Harrison stealing the melody of "He's So Fine," or John Fogerty being sued for plagiarizing himself, for example) there are almost limitless examples of songs being plagiarized. Some were successful, others got slapped down with huge judgements.
These blatant cases of musical plagiarism cross genres, decades, and styles, showing that musicians stealing from each other is no rarity. Is your favorite song a rip off of another famous musician? Find out in the list below!
"Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice vs. "Under Pressure" by Queen
Perhaps the most blatant ripoff on this list, Vanilla Ice was sued by Queen and David Bowie for stealing their riff from "Under Pressure" in his 1989 hit "Ice Ice Baby." Although Vanilla Ice's song was the first hip-hop song to top the Billboard charts, the legacy of the song is tarnished by the stolen sample.
All four members of Queen and David Bowie were later credited for the riff, and were compensated with both money and a writing credit for the song.
Here's "Ice Ice Baby":
And now listen to "Under Pressure"; you'll have no trouble spotting the similarities:
"Live While We're Young" by One Direction vs. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash
Another "homage" to classic rock by One Direction, "Live While We're Young" steals the iconic opening chords to The Clash's classic "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." Like the band's earlier pilfering of "Baba O'Riley," it serves to draw the ear of older listeners while not being extensive enough to merit a plagiarism claim.
Well played, boys. Well played. Here's "Live While We're Young":
And The Clash performing "Should I Stay or Should I Go":
"Sorry" by Justin Bieber vs. "Ring the Bell" by White Hinterland
In 2016, indie artist White Hinterland (whose real name is Casey Dienel) sued Justin Bieber, claiming that his song "Sorry" stole an eight-second vocal riff from her song, "Ring the Bell." Skrillex, who wrote and produced the song, was also named in the suit. In 2017, White Hinterland dropped the suit.
Take a listen below to hear for yourself.
Check out the beginning riff in Dienel's song:
And the one in Bieber's:
"Best Song Ever" by One Direction vs. "Baba O'Riley" by The Who
Fans of Brit boy band One Direction took to Twitter in panic that the group's new single "Best Song Ever" was going to be purged from the Internet due to a lawsuit from some old codger named Pete Townshend, for ripping off some band they'd never heard of called The Who.
While "Best Song Ever" clearly lifts the iconic opening guitar chords from "Baba O'Riley," the rest of the song is totally different, and band said the lift was done as a tribute. Townshend took it in good humor, saying he liked the song and had no trouble with it.
"Best Song Ever":
"Baba O'Riley" (live, with Pete Townshend beating the crap out of a tambourine):