Music Plagiarism is an Art form in itself. You’ve got to have the minimum of artistic nous and skill to pinch the creative juices of another. Picasso is supposed to have said ‘’A good artist borrows, a great artist steals’’; though I’m not sure former Beatles member George Harrison would agree as ‘subconscious music plagiarism’ took hold one fine day in the 70’s. But Mr Harrison is not alone in this underground venture of nicking someone else’s musical gear to feather his own cap as The Kinks guitar riff or Boney M’s verse material will testify; music plagiarism is taken from eclectic experiences and labelled as pastiche. So who else got their musical fingers burnt and to what cost?
George Harrison – A Musical Borrower
It was February 19th 1981 that George Harrison was ordered to pay ABKCO Music $587,000 for his borrowing from the Motown group the Chiffons track ‘’He’s So Fine’’ for his own inspirational folk ballad ‘’My Sweet Lord’’. Indeed it was some time later that Harrison said his true inspiration of musical plagiarism for his song was Edwin Hawkins gospel track ‘’Happy Day’’. In court music experts agreed there were many similarities between ‘’He’s So Fine’’ and ‘’My Sweet Lord’’ including the 3-syllable title,3-note descending melody line and tempo indication.
Music Plagiarism Of Note
Either way, Harrison’s workings are still of profound musical and religious interest today and are testament to the term ‘holding a tune’ some thirty plus years later. Today, musicians continue to arrange manuscripts from simplistic acoustic guitar chords to more complex digital piano scorings with the infamous 3-note melody line proving an endearing hook across the bar:
B F#m B //Am D Am D Am D Am D
‘’My Sweet Lord’’ ‘’Do-lang, do lang, do- lang, He’s so fine, Wish he were mine’’
Music plagiarism or otherwise, ‘’My Sweet Lord’’ has gone on to be borrowed by numerous artists since its inception. From Ronny Aldrich who arranged an ‘easy listening’ version for digital piano to vocal settings sung by Dolly Parton complete with backing choir singing ‘’Hallelujah’’ refrains and making full use of Harrison’s signatory slide-guitar technique in the bridge. Now is that borrowing?
As T. S. Eliott is reported to have said ‘’One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows’’. It looks like someone’s been borrowing in the poetry section too! Either way – it’s down to a fine Art!