Tribute or Rip-off: 10 Songs that Sound Like Someone Else

The recent Robin Thicke vs. the estate of Marvin Gaye debacle has left a bad taste with plenty of music fans and reminded plenty of folks of the blatant similarities—intentional or not—between numerous songs released over the years. With this list we’re not gonna concentrate on, say, two metal bands with individual songs that sound suspiciously alike or artists who’ve based their careers on sounding like another artist, but with artists aping the sound/style/vibe of another artist as a one-off and not plagiarizing an actual song. Here we go, in alphabetical order by artist:

1. AMERICA “Horse with No Name”
Man, did these guys get grief for allegedly ripping off Neil Young back when this song was released as their debut single in 1972. To add insult to injury, it replaced Young’s “Heart of Gold” atop the charts in the US. But America have never shunned from admitting the song was indeed inspired by Young, even though the backlash was quite harsh at the time. Pretty sure the royalties from this one—it’s their biggest single—helped ease that quite a bit, tho.

2. BEATLES “Two of Us”
Even a highly original act has influential sources they swear by. According to the late Ian MacDonad in his Beatles chronology Revolution in the Head, John and Paul spontaneously broke into the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” after running thru this one in the studio.
3. BECK “Debra”
Mr. Hansen has disowned this one in recent years, but his sonic emulation of a certain purple monarch was reportedly the highlight of many of his late ‘90s set lists.

4. FOO FIGHTERS “Wheels”
He’s admitted to being a fan, played drums with him on SNL, and begrudgingly turned him down to join the Heartbreakers to start the Foos, so the fact that Dave Grohl wrote a song in the same vein as a Tom Petty tune should surprise no one.

5. JELLYFISH “Joining a Fanclub”
The late great San Francisco quartet recorded some classic yet distinctive power pop on their 1990 debut album. But their influences really came to the foreground the second time out, especially on this track, which would not be out of place on a mid-‘70s Queen album.

6. SIMPLE MINDS “Don’t You Forget About Me”
Back in 1985, EVERYONE thought this was Billy Idol when they first heard the song that broke Simple Minds in the US, courtesy of the John Hughes teen flick, The Breakfast Club. Truth be told, it was offered to Mr. Sneer first, who promptly turned it down.

7. THE STROKES “12:51”
Somebody reeeeeaaaaaaally likes that first Cars album, huh?

8. SUGAR “A Good Idea”
Even tho it’s still news to fans of both artists—even at this late date—it’s a fact that Bob Mould always envisioned what has become, arguably, the most popular track of his post-Hüsker Dü career to be a Pixies tribute. And not just the music and the arrangement, but the lyrics, too. Of course, Black Francis and co. were big Hüsker Dü fans, so this one brings it around full circle.

9. WEEN “Freedom of ‘76”
Did the boys from New Hope, PA pay tribute to Prince or the classic Philly ‘70s soul they both grew up with on this track? We’ll let you decide.

10. WILCO “Heavy Metal Drummer”
According to Ira Robbins’ Trouser Press Guide, "aping Pavement [on this song] is an amusing but worthless parlor trick”. Maybe. Cool tune, tho.


Like That Roberta Flack/Donny Hathaway Song

In our '00s recap we put together a list of bands who'd broken up during that decade, as well as a solo artist who'd retired. As of late 2013, a third of 'em have returned. (Although one of 'em was a one-off.) Which ones do you see coming back?

Ryan Adams *
Armor For Sleep
At the Drive-In ^
The Dismemberment Plan *
Ben Folds Five *
Guided by Voices *
The Mayfield Four
Ministry *
Red House Painters
The Rollins Band
12 Rods
Violent Femmes

* reunited
^ one-off reunion


Never Had Anything to do with Kansas


This week was the 35th anniversary of the release of Toto's self-titled debut, which has always come across as the one piece of anti-schlock in the band's catalog, particularly during their commercial heyday. Well, nothing like revisiting an album decades later and having hindsight crush any possible positive re-encounter you may have had in mind. Weak prog flourishes, under-cooked yacht rock, and stylistically all over the place, the album is redeemed by one bonafide classic: "Hold the Line", which was inexplicably buried deep into Side 2 as Toto's penultimate track. Huh?

Toto hasn't aged badly production-wise, but its scattershot, lowest common denominator approach to songwriting--which, with one exception is all the work of keyboardist David Paich--is exactly what one would expect from a bunch of '70s session musicians accustomed to playing on a plethora of commercially successful records. Then it got bigger and worse. But that's a story for an other day.