When you think, â€œI’ve heard that somewhere before,” it could well be, as demonstrated in English’s exploration of borrowed music.
Musicians, just like writers and painters, sometimes borrow from other artists. It is that gray area between influence and rip-off, and English treads it lightly, and with good humor. This little treatise into same-sounding music is as much a celebration of the art as it is a query into credit and accountability. English is not a lawyer, and though he is interested in whether various artists had access to the music they seem to have borrowed heavily from, he is more interested in simply pointing out the similarities and dealing out gratifying anecdotal nuggets. Most readers will understand what English is getting at when he talks about a song’s groove, pattern or variation, but it helps to have some background in musical structure to follow his arguments, as when John Lennon cautioned Yoko Ono, when laying down â€œI’m Your Angel,” â€œagainst recording the song in 4/4, as opposed to 3/4 time, saying â€˜you’d get in trouble,’ ” since otherwise it might make Eddie Cantor unhappy. Nor is English so much into pointing fingers as simply enjoying himself, describing how the Rolling Stones’ â€œThe Last Time” echoes the Staple Singers’ â€œThis May Be the Last Time,” or that the Strokes’ â€œRazorblade” bears an uncanny resemblance to Barry Manilow’s â€œMandy.” Infrequently, though with verve, English pulls out a knife: Phil Collins’s â€œ â€˜Everyday’ borrows its recurring synthesizer riff directly from the chorus of [the Human League’s] â€˜Human.’ Since the monotonous melody of â€˜Everyday’ is a variation of the riff, just about the whole song sounds like â€˜Human.’ ” Some associations may leave you scratching your head–J. Geils’s â€œLove Stinks” via the Troggs’ â€œWild Thing” via â€œLouie Louie”–but there’s no disputing the sad tale of John Lee Hooker, robbed by one lawyer after another, and enough to make you question ZZ Top’s honor.
Much fun here, as chords, riffs and upbeats turn some mighty egos into a barrel of monkeys.