Friday, August 29, 2008


Modern Times or Modern Plagiarism?

Before I went off and bought Bob Dylan's "Modern Times" album a few weeks ago, I'd heard most of the songs on the Internet and I'd quickly read a few reviews online, from Rolling Stone and so forth. I think it was RS that kept identifying bits of music or lyrics that were derivative or stolen from specific other old songs.

I didn't worry much about that because I knew Bob started out as a folkie and they stole from each other and from their predecessors. After I bought the album, though, I forgot all that shit. From time to time, I'd notice that his song, "Beyond The Horizon" sounded SO FAMILIAR. At one point I decided that it sounded like some whole class of songs from the past--that generality would have satisfied me if I hadn't heard "Red Sails In The Sunset" on the jazz radio station one day and I realized that THAT was the tune he'd stolen! Though I hadn't heard it a lot lately, it is an awfully well-known song for him to pilfer. But, everything is up for grabs in today's music, even at the top! But with today's lawyers, one doesn't always get away with it, I hear.

I never knew until this year that Apple got sued by Chuck Berry's lawyers because the John Lennon line, "Here come old flat-top, he come grooving up slowly" was a recognizable ripoff from one of Berry's songs! Apple lost or gave way, I'm not sure which.

Lennon was still alive at the time of the suit and a part of the settlement was that he'd record x number of Berry's songs, which was probably no great burden for an ex-Beatle in the throes of reliving his rocker youth! I guess when you listen to too many pop songs for 20, 30, or 40 years, you can't tell what you're creating or what you're remembering! Dylan's old enough to claim all sorts of enfeeblement of the mind. Too bad, but it's a good legal defense!

Actually, I have more sympathy for unconscious thieves of bits of song or literature. I often think of some great line, then realize it's something I remember from some song or book! Long ago, I had a line I liked a lot, "a foggy knight in mourning", that I thought I'd use in a poem some day until reality crashed down on my head and I realized that "A foggy night and morning" is the name of the last chapter in Thomas Hardy's "Far From The Madding Crowd". That rained on my parade. Or something! Now that I think of it, wasn't Joe Biden (democratic candidate for vice president) accused of plagiarism about 20 years ago when his eventual defense was the same as mine, that he'd forgotten where the line came from! Politicians and poets, who can you trust?


  1. I thought those lines from "Come Together" were an open and obvious allusion to the Chuck Berry song. Since when did literary allusions become plagiarism?

  2. I read that Apple paid up, so I guess it was "legally" true. I still don't know what Berry song that was, though. Guess I was as ignorant as the masses on that one.

  3. Took me a while to get around to the research, but the Berry song was "You Can't Catch Me." Here are the lyrics:

    I bought a brand-new air-mobile
    It custom-made, 'twas a flight de ville
    With a pow'ful motor and some hideaway wings
    Push in on the button and you will get a scene

    Now you can't catch me, baby you can't catch me
    'cause if you get too close, you know i'm gone like a cool breeze

    New jersey turnpike in the wee wee hours
    I was rollin' slow because of drizzlin' showers
    Here come a flat-top, he was movin' up with me
    Then come wavin' goodbye a little' old souped-up jitney
    I put my foot in my tank and i began to roll
    Moanin' siren, 'twas a state patrol
    So i let out my wings and then i blew my horn
    Bye bye new jersey, i'd be come and gone


    Flyin' with my baby last saturday night
    Not a gray cloud floatin' in sight
    Big full moon shinin' up above
    Cuddle up honey, be my love
    Sweetest little thing i've ever seen
    I'm gonna name you maybellene
    Flyin' on the beam, set on flight control
    Radio tuned to rock 'n' roll
    Two, three hours have passed us by
    I'll be 2 dropped to 5:05
    Fuel consumption way too fast
    Let's get on home before we run out of gas


    Doesn't seem like that much resemblance.

  4. Sounds slightly familiar, but you're right that it's quite a stretch from one old flat-top to another! Maybe the Beatles just didn't want to argue about it. It does seem silly, though.


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