There is little that’s original in this world. That new crime drama, or latest car, or even the upgraded i-phone – all come with a heavy dose of re-hashed about it. We accept this, look for the changes, and hope that some improvements or additions have been made.
When it comes to songs, we kinda know that that new dance track, or ballad, sounds similar to various others that are out there. Ever think that Oasis sounded a bit like the Beatles? Even they said so. But they were actually sued not by Paul McCartney but by Stevie Wonder over a track that ended up as a b-side (Step Out).
Loads of famous people have been successfully challenged – and over some of their most famous songs: The Beatles (Come Together), Sam Smith (Stay With Me), Pharrell Williams (Blurred Lines), Coldplay (Viva La Vida), Radiohead (Creep), The Beach Boys (Surfin’ USA), Madonna (Frozen) and Rod Stewart (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?). (One is drawn to wonder if the bigger the hit, the more likely a challenge is given the potential sums involved, though it took 40 years for Stairway To Heaven to be – unsuccessfully - challenged).
This point is made by David Tillman:
“When you have a system of musical notes and pitches, there are only so many combinations you can make before the music starts overlapping… Sometimes there’s real theft going on, and sometimes it’s just impossible to come up with a good riff without it sounding similar to some other riff. And sometimes, the courts don’t know the difference… Some songwriters probably deserved to be sued, but others were just the victims of someone inadvertently having had that idea before.”
For the record, Duran were subject to a “brief legal challenge” by Dale Hawkins (died 2010) over similarities in the melody of his 1956 song Suzie Q to Do You Believe In Shame? Suzie Q was subsequently covered more famously by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968) and was one of their biggest hits. It was also covered by The Rolling Stones in 1964 on their second album (they raced through it in under 2 minutes). There have been at least 50 other cover versions up to 2016. Suzie Q even has a history beyond its cover versions as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame chose it as one of the 500 songs that “shaped rock and roll.” (Wikipedia)
Suzie Q is from the Rockabilly era which had a revival in the UK in the mid-to-late 80s. The track was popular back than in that club scene, though whether this is what caused Bobbie McFerrin - he of Don’t Worry Be Happy fame – to cover it in March 1988 is not known.
Do You Believe In Shame? is hardly Duran’s biggest hit, but the similarities in the melody appear evident (not that it was noticed by any reviewer when Big Thing came out in 1988).
The following video features the music of Suzie Q as performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival, with Duran’s lyrics added *
“The members of Duran Duran have always denied that they intentionally copied any other works, and that the similarity of the two songs was based on what they described as a "basic blues progression".”
Duran agreed to amend the writing credits which now must read: “Eleanor Broadwater / A Delmar Hawkins Jnr / J Stanley Lewis / Simon Le Bon / Nick Rhodes / John Taylor”
However, this is not quite the end of the story. The new writing credits need to be contrasted to the Wikipedia comments about the song itself:
"Susie Q is by Dale Hawkins and recorded late in the rockabilly era in 1957. He wrote it with band mate Robert Chaisson, but when released, Stan Lewis, the owner of Jewel/Paula Records, and Eleanor Broadwater, the wife of Nashville DJ Gene Nobles, were credited as co-writers to give them shares of the royalties.”
So what happened to Robert Chaisson in the Duran credits? And how much of Suzie Q did Broadwater and Lewis actually write?
The mystery deepens with Hawkins claiming he actually wrote it by himself!
"Hawkins says that the original publishing paperwork he filled out in 1956 was doctored. A pair of names - Stanley J. Lewis and Eleanor Broadwater - were added to Hawkins's on the publishing sheet without his knowledge, effectively splitting the authorship of the song into thirds. Neither had anything to do with the song's creation, Hawkins points out: Lewis was a record-store owner in Shreveport who carried Chess imprints; Broadwater was the wife of a popular Nashville deejay, Gene Nobles, to whom Chess owed favors." ("Say That You'll Be True", Marty Jones, Denver Westword Music, October 12th 2000)
[‘Chess’ refers to Chess records in Chicago.]
Interestingly, Chaisson is listed as a composer of Suzie Q on the Creedence Clearwater Revival version in 1968!
What is frustrating is that I have been unable to find any other information about Duran’s agreement, even the year in which it was made. It was after 1997 (when the CD reissue of Big Thing came out) and before 2003 (when there are references to it having been completed in an online exchange). Presumably the 2010 Big Thing 3-disc reissue has these credits, but I do not have it to check.
Despite these revelations, Do You Believe In Shame? remains a personal favourite and is a beautiful song. The melody of Suzie Q has been improved by Simon’s lyrics and has had its edges smoothed out by Duran’s soft blues progressions.
You may have noticed that this CL blog has made a point of noting its sources. This is to emphasise how everything is taken from somewhere. Several web pages were clearly cross-referencing (or copying?) each other but did not give their citations. It shows how once information – or a melody – is out there, its hard to know where the inspiration started.
In conclusion, you may be able to find other Duran fan-sites out there with similar topics as those on Cherry Lipstick. But it may those same sites that act as a spur of inspiration to CL, meaning similarity drives innovation rather than imitation. You will be the judge of that.
Of course, even probably the most famous plagiarism case was ultimately unclear. Having ruled that George Harrison’s song My Sweet Lord was “virtually identical” to The Chiffon’s He’s So Fine, it was considered by the judge that Harrison had copied it “subconsciously.” And you can judge the extent to which that sentence is plagiarised, or is simply an amazing coincidence of how information in the public domain can be similarly used, by considering the conclusion of another article here.
* Lyrics added to the video by J.R. Kiss and Inessa Wilson for Cherry Lipstick – as featured on the new Cherry Lipstick You Tube channel.
And here is Dale himself and his original version