The origins of certain riffs and hooks have long been an obsession for us at One A Day. Like the truly failed historians that we are, David and I have obsessively, ruthlessly documented where the popular sounds of today came from, whether that be Eminem’s sampling of Labi Siffre, James Blake covering Feist, Girl Talk mashing Black Sabbath with Ludacris, Kanye lifting Aphex Twin or Drapht picking up little-known garage rock pioneers The Heirs. In fact, you could say we’d made an art of tracking down the footnotes of long-forgotten Wikipedia stubs, straying into websites designed in 1992 on Netscape or whatever in an endless search to find the beginning of all music which is in fact…nothing.
Shy Child are well aware of this. It’s something that singer Pete Cafarella told me last year when I’d just heard their second album Liquid Love, a record which, despite being released in one of the worst years for music, has stuck firmly in my most-spun list since then. The penultimate moment of Shy Child’s celebration of sharing/plagiarism/outright stealing comes in at track 5, aptly titled ‘The Beatles’.
Shy Child – ‘The Beatles’
Aside from being a totally awesome slice of falsetto groove-pop, there is a very obvious message present in this song, which will be the catalyst for the extraordinarily long-winded and ultimately over-inspired crate-digging in which you are somewhat complicit at this moment. “I’m totally in support of stealing. The best art in the world is stolen and re-used,“ said Carafella, and given that he was part of a band that had existed in a twinkle of the music universe’s eye, it was hard to believe him. Especially when you consider the fact that ‘The Beatles’, as you may hear, happily nabs the hook from Nelly Furtado’s collaboration with Timbaland, ‘Say It Right’ without so much as a wink in her direction. But here’s the idea (which they sing, naturally, over the delightful contour of Furtado’s chorus), that I find quite interesting:
‘If it feels so right how can anybody call it wrong?/Jealousy belongs to everyone/Wanting turns to needing/And then we take from wherever we can get it/But we give it back just like it was our own…”
Everyone knows about postmodernism and the end of the ‘one truth’ as we know it, so Shy Child’s funk-inspired homage to homage should come as no surprise to anybody who’s ever listened to recent releases by The Wil.i.am Inflated Ego Project/Black Eyed Peas. What they’re saying, at least to me at this current point in the afternoon, is that everyone rips off The Beatles, but it’s cool, man. some kids don’t vibe on the Fab Four. They get their Revolver psych-kicks from Tame Impala or whatever. And that’s OK, because The Beatles were bigger than Jesus and if people still quote the gospel and attribute it, it’s completely acceptable.
Alternate lyrics in the repeat chorus read: “Songs and keys belong to everyone/Like you’ve never heard The Beatles before.” Indeed that’s true, and surprisingly, it’s even true of The Beatles themselves. Thanks to a bizarre set of circumstances which involves plundering my new editor’s playlist at work to discover John Lennon’s 1975 covers album Rock And Roll and seeing a rad photographic exhibition of the first Beatles tour of America in 1964 today at Blender gallery, a piece of very curious information of which I was previously unaware has made Shy Child’s claim look a whole lot more legitimate. And that is that Rock And Roll , as well as being an easy way to make Lennon cash towards the tail-end of his career, was also a legal requirement after he lost a lawsuit to Big Seven Records for infringing copyright.
The Beatles – ‘Come Together’
I know, I know. The Beatles? Infringing copyright? There goes religion. But despite being slowed down and lyrically altered, there was no way Lennon could adequately disguise the fact that ‘Come Together’ sounded an awful lot like Chuck Berry (one of his idols’) ‘You Can’t Catch Me’. Big Seven owned the rights to the track and the court seemed to think the same way too, as Lennon was made to record his own version of the original (and two other Big Seven songs) as part of the ruling.
John Lennon – ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ (Chuck Berry Cover)
Of course I gleaned all of this information from a web transcript of an article regarding the case that originally ran in 1992. It’s really very interesting and you should check it out if you’re an obsessive like us. There was a whole lot of counter-suing and royalty disputes that happened before and after, too, but I dropped law for a reason.
So what’s the go with homage, anyway? After all, licensing exists for a reason. I learned this the hard way when I prematurely accused Daft Punk of ‘ripping off’ Edwin Birdsong yesterday for ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’, only to retract it when I realised they’d paid through the nose for it.
Maybe Shy Child were right. Maybe John Lennon was wrong. Maybe The Beatles were bigger than Jesus, but Chuck Berry was The Father and Jewish record label owners from the 1970s were the holy ghost. I would ponder this more but I’m getting carpal tunnel syndrome. We’ve become smarter people today. Thanks for taking this journey with me. No refunds.