Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - March 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is the Sam Smith Song a Rip Off of Tom Petty's Song?

Is the Sam Smith Song a Rip Off of Tom Petty's Song?

Technically, here is why it is....


"Stay With Me"?  why no,  " I Won't Back Down"....

 I'm not going to attempt to educate the reader to the nomenclature I'm using, so I'm going to get down to brass tacks.   

 The verse to "Won't Back Down" features a chord progression that works as follows: vi for half a bar, V for the second half of the measure, then I for a measure.   This is identical to the Sam Smith song.   The progression repeats twice, then for a third repeat IV replaces I.  On the 4th repeat vi, V, I reappears.

 Structurally, the Sam Smith song is identical, save Petty's "left turn" to IV on the 3rd repeat.  But, both feature a 2 bar progression that does 4 rounds, effectively the same.

 That alone is not enough to constitute "copying", progressions are quite generic typically, and while I think one can argue that a progression can infer a melody, here it does not. However, as I present here, the chord progression provides the context for how a simple melodic theme is copied in the Sam Smith song.

The melody to both songs are based on a descending themes.  Initially, though, the first marker that sets up the recognition of the Tom Petty song is that the Sam Smith melody leads in off of the 3rd to the 5th of the I chord, on the fourth beat and the following 8th note ("and I", "won't you"), stacatto.

 Again, this alone isn't something I consider "super original", I could probably scrape up other examples.  The problem is that within the composite of this section of both songs, it is "strike 1" in my opinion.

 The rhythmic gap in both vocal melodies sets up for both melodies to hit the root of the vi chord on beat 2.  This is what I consider to be "strike 2" - the same part of the chord, on the same beat.  Furthermore, Strike 3 would be that the first syllable in both sustain until the & of beat 3.  At this point I consider the Sam Smith song struck out, but there is more.

 The rest of both melodies work the same way: they follow the root of the first two chords, then land on the third of the I.  Strike 4.

 Strike 5: the 4-& cadence returns as the pickup on the second repeat through the progression.

 Strike 6: on the third repeat of the progression on both songs, the melody's rhythm becomes syncopated over the rhythm section.

 Strike 7: the "payoff" - the hook, of both songs - the title of the songs are repeated as a resolve on the I chord on the 4th repeat of the chord progression.

I could get more detailed, but I don't see the need to.  In my experience of analyzing multiple songs daily during guitar lessons, this is maybe par for the course these days, I've heard more egregious thievery.  On the other hand, the thing about this particular example is that, as shown above, the *composite* across time of both sections has many points that are conceptually the same. 

 In other words, it's not just a couple of notes of a melody placed in a new context (ala hip hop productions), but obviously a contemplated effort to create a conceptual facsimile of the Petty song.  The really bad thing in my opinion, is that these days singers are so well produced that their delivery is so filled with faux conviction, I think that blinds people to the derivative nature of the music itself.

 Which from a guitar playing standpoint is the take away from this post.  Playing with complete conviction is important, it can hide many a "musical" flaw.  Eddie VanHalen plays some things that one could construe as being "musically questionable", but he does it in such a way that the attitude he conveys in his execution blinds one to that.  Same can be said for many classic jazz greats.  "Free jazz" would not exist but for conviction in execution.  Even John Coltrane can be heard on bootleg recordings getting really, really "out" - but you accept it because of how he's doing it, you know that it's part of the process.

 Which is contrary to the Pop Music Machine Process: the conviction is being used to pull one over on the audience.