The Animals vs. Back to the Future

The Animals vs. Back to the Future

Just for fun, here’s an example of one of those terrific little melodies that pops up here and there, but is found in such separate stylistic zones and used to such different ends that the similarities are fairly oblique. In this instance, we hear an echo of the Animals song “Dont Bring Me Down” in the central thematic motif of the score to Back to the Future. Written for the group by famed songwriting partnership Goffin/King, the song contains a repeated figure played by eminent organist Dave Rowberry, who had a significant role in shaping the band’s latter-day sound. The Back to the Future theme, written by Alan Silvestri, makes very different use of the same basic figure, turning it into the triumphant calling card of the trilogy’s sound design.

It’s noteworthy that Animals leader Eric Burdon, well known for harboring reservations about the pop-oriented, hit-making material his band was regularly pressured to record, radically altered Carole King’s original melody in favor of his own so that really only Gerry Goffin’s lyrics remained. The song represents a fascinating “Animalization” of a fairly typical boy/girl lyric, transforming it into something with real bite — though the songwriters’ demo recording is scarce, the organ riff was presumably also unique to the Animals’ recording.

Alan Silvestri - "Back to the Future Main Theme" (1985)
The Animals - "Don't Bring Me Down (Intro)" (1966)
The Animals - "Don't Bring Me Down (Chorus)" (1966)

 

On something of a tangent, “Don’t Bring Me Down” was actually one of three hits passed from the Brill Building to the Animals, a trilogy which David Johansen pays brilliant homage to in this MTV video from 1984:

 

Led Zeppelin vs. The World

Led Zeppelin vs. The World

“If the lyric hadn’t been stolen, the music would have been lesser for it… It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that… well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

-Robert Plant

 

Editor’s Note:

This has been a hot topic for many years and Ben did an awesome job writing this up. I added some notes and the best images I could find on Google 😛

Got anything to add to this list? Add it in the comments below!


Led Zeppelin is certainly no stranger to this site, which to a degree is inevitable with any highly mimicked, vastly popular band. However, most of their coverage thus far has revolved around what others have taken from the group, despite the likelihood that they themselves are one of the most infringing acts in the history of rock. A few glowing moments and an admirable knack for myth-making aside, Jimmy Page & co. borrowed far and wide for both riffs and whole songs, indebting Led Zeppelin not only to their contemporaries but even more substantially to specific old blues tunes — and yet it often went officially unacknowledged by them. Indeed, a cursory glance through old Zeppelin vinyl reveals that even tracks which were later assigned proper songwriting credits in the CD era — after the band was repeatedly taken to task — were initially devoid of any mention of their origins. Hand it to Led Zeppelin: at least they had good taste, borrowing from some of the day’s finest acts past and present.

What follows are samples of tunes that were originally notated as being solely written by the band — delusions since debunked.

Jimmy Page's "zoso" Saturn sigil

Start by considering the back-to-back examples offered in “Your Time Is Gonna Come/Black Mountain Side”, a one-two punch of plagiarism found on their 1969 debut.

The first is pretty straightforward:

Traffic - "Dear Mr. Fantasy" (1967)
Led Zeppelin - "Your Time Is Gonna Come" (1969)
Robert Plant and Steve Winwood on ThatSongSoundsLike.com

Robert Plant and Steve Winwood (Traffic)

 

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Tommy Tutone vs. Bruce Springsteen

Tommy Tutone vs. Bruce Springsteen

It’s hard to argue with the propulsive immediacy of “Radio Nowhere“, the guitar-driven opener and primary single on Bruce Springsteen‘s Magic, especially coming as it was in 2007 on the heels of several records that were a bit more heavily wrought. While Magic as a whole is perhaps a little slighter than his other works of the decade, he sounds the alarm with one hell of riff-laden wake-up call. It’s as much a demand for celebration (“I just want to hear some rhythm/I want a thousand guitars/I want pounding drums/I want a million different voices speaking in tongues”) as a self-fulfilling musical revitalization, with Springsteen pleading “Is there anybody alive out there?” again and again to his own E Street Band’s multi-tracked guitars and thundering percussion.

It’s doubtful that Springsteen had Tommy Tutone‘s telephone digit confection “Jenny” in mind while composing his call to arms, but the chord structure is related, and the two choruses can certainly be transposed over one another. It doesn’t help matters that the tempo and gait of the two songs are very close, though at least the key signature creates a marked distinction… to say nothing of the difference in spirit between the two.

Both are fine songs in their way, but what’s really striking is how much sheer content “Radio Nowhere” has in comparison: hitting the chorus twice in the first minute alone, it’s a whirlwind of cultural reference and rousing thoughts, riding high on the wrenching economy of that endlessly-repeated riff.

Tommy Tutone - "867-5309/Jenny" (1982)

and then:

Tommy Tutone - "867-5309/Jenny (Chorus)" (1982)

 

Bruce Springsteen - "Radio Nowhere" (2007)

and later:

Bruce Springsteen - "Radio Nowhere (Chorus)" (2007)