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Top 5 Rip-Off Songs

Top 5 Rip-Off Songs

by Tom Baker, 06 March 2013

Adverts and music go together like cold and flu medicine. You don't really want either of them but they're sometimes shoved down your throat anyway, and if you consume them recreationally there's probably something wrong with you. The trend recently has just been for TV commercials to half-inch a recognisable tune - whether it's the 'YMCA' or the Oompa-Loompa song - and simply sing the companies name to the tune.

In those cases (you'd hope at least) the original songwriters are probably compensated in some way. Maybe with cheap car insurance or second-hand phones? What's much more insidious is the advertising industry's worrying readiness to just rip off the song of a successful artist, usually when the artist in question has refused to let their music be used in some crappy ad. LCD Soundsystem, The xx, even Tom Waits has fallen foul of it. What could a Tom Waits song possibly help to sell, you're probably asking (the answer you have is – I'm a little bit psychic – either 'bones' or 'booze') yourself: read on, Mr/Ms Impatient.

Beach House vs VW

Just up front: I'm fairly philosophical when it comes to bands I like licensing their music to TV shows, films or commercials. So long as it doesn't 'damage' the song itself – as, say, using 'Ring Of Fire' in a haemorrhoid ad might - I'm all for it. It's incredibly difficult to make money in the music industry, now more than ever, so if taking a 30-second chunk from a brilliant indie song means the band who made it can afford to record another album, so be it. It's a necessary evil. I still like Moby's Play, too.

With that in mind, Beach House's rumble with VW is pretty interesting. The song the car manufacturers replicated, 'Take Care', already featured in an episode of New Girl - because the band felt it fit the dramatic storyline - and '10 Mile Stereo' featured in a Guinness advert a few years ago - because the band probably needed some new synth effects or something. They defiantly turned down VW's proposal, however, for a sickly-sweet ad about a dad who buys his daughter a Polo to be his surrogate whilst she's at college. He wants the car to take care of her! Get it?

"It was a crazy moment," said Alex Scally on hearing the identity thieving-track for the first time. "We didn’t give them the song, and they made a very similar song to replace it. The worst thing is that it feels like something close to what we made. A feeling and a sentiment and an energy has been copied and is being used to sell something we didn't want to sell." The thing is, the track by Sniffy Dog (not a band, but – duh – an a firm that makes music for adverts) is quite nice. Because it's almost exactly the same as 'Take Care'.

The Black Keys vs Pizza Hut and Home Depot

Pizza Hut, purveyors of such gourmet fodder as the Crown Cheeseburger Pizza, played a similar little trick on The Black Keys, purveyors of such gourmet blues-rock as 'Gold On The Ceiling'. In fact, that's the very track those Mother Hutters half-inched, with Home Depot preferring to put their own spin on 'Lonely Boy', because I guess DIY is something men do to sublimate their feelings of crippling isolation.

Now again, The Black Keys aren't against their songs being in adverts - 'Gold In The Ceiling' currently soundtracks an advert for Cobra beer - they'd just rather have some say in it. They turned Pizza Hut down (presumably because beer is cooler than pizza or WD40, if just as unhealthy in large doses), and were rewarded by a poor-man's Black Keys playing behind a montage of Cheesy Bites pizzas rotating in mid-air like UFOs from a fifties B-movie.

Unlike the Beach House thing, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney had the clout, cash and cajones to go after these massive corporations in a court of law - and won.

Grizzly Bear vs Troy University

This is probably the funniest example on the list, because there is absolutely no way the thieves in this case could claim mistaken identity. 'The Best U' has swiped the piano-and-harmonies hook of Grizzly Bear's 'Two Weeks' wholesale, but then run it through a cheap keyboard-and-laptop microphone ringer so it sounds like the weird, cheap Bizarro-world versions of pop songs The Smurfs put out in the nineties. I guess a university wouldn't necessarily have the money needed to licence the track legally, but Grizzly Bear are a sort of preppy collegeiate band – maybe they'd have been down with it.

Arcade Fire vs Microsoft

Actually, maybe this one is even funnier. Clearly someone at Microsoft thought that quirky Canadian alt-rock group The Arcade Fires had something, but they weren't quite sure they were all the way to stadium rock hackery. So they decided to nick the vocal melody of 'Wake Up', the euphoric climax of Funeral, and stick a sort of good-time MOR rock 'n' roll guitar high up in the mix to make it a little more, y'know, masses-friendly. In a way you have to admire either the stunning naivety or the amazing bravery of people who think it's okay to steal so blatantly for commercial gain.

Tom Waits vs Everyone

Okay, so you know at the start you were guessing what sort of products could possibly find a sales boost from gravelly-voiced weirdo Tom Waits laying his head on them? Apparently the answer is all of them. Over the years Waits has fought off requests from everyone and everything, and the only one he ever agreed to was, er, a dog food ad, which he narrated himself.

"They always want me to do ads for underwear and cigarettes, but I never did them," said Waits afterwards, conjuring up unappealing images of him half-naked. "I did one and I'll never do it again." And he kept to his word - even when that meant taking both Doritos and Audi to court for hiring 'sound-a-likes' for commercials he'd turned down. He's won every one of these cases, as well - they're even in law textbooks - but the real losers were the wannabe ad execs who had to smoke a thousand cigarettes in a weekend to imitate the singer's gravelly murmur. For Waits this has been going on for years - you think they'd get a clue already.

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