Bombay Showcase

Even the talented get influenced

Narendra Kusnur  

Copying, chori, theft, lifting, filching, copyright infringement, intellectual property violation, plagiarism, inspiration, coincidence. These words have often been used to describe instances of newer songs sounding similar to older ones. And great musicians have been accused too.

Recently, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant got cleared in a legal case, where the 1960s band Spirit claimed their instrumental tune ‘Taurus’ was copied on the 1971 mega-hit ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The jury decided there was no evidence to prove Led Zep lifted the riff. Others felt both songs had parts similar to a piece by 16th-century composer Giovanni Batista Granata, and even to ‘Chim Chim Cheree’ from the 1964 film Mary Poppins .

Led Zep is now safe. But in the larger context, where does one draw the line? So many songs sound similar. Is everybody a thief? There could be three possibilities. Such tunes could be deliberately plagiarised, smartly adapted giving due credit, or subconsciously inspired.

Let’s take examples, both in Western and Indian music. Obvious copies are R.D. Burman’s ‘ Mehbooba Mehbooba ’ (from Demis Rousoss’s ‘Say You Love Me’) and ‘ Tumse Milke ’ (Leo Sayer’s ‘When I Need You’); Shankar-Jaikishan’s ‘ Dil Usey Do ’ (The Beatles hit ‘Little Help From My Friends’); Bappi Lahiri’s ‘ Hari Om Hari ’ (Eruption’s ‘One Way Ticket’); Jatin-Lalit’s ‘ Suno Zara ’ (Anne Murray’s ‘You Needed Me’) and Anu Malik’s ‘ Tera Gussa ’ (from ‘Happy Birthday To You’), besides numerous Pritam songs.

Smart and credited adaptations have been fewer. For instance, Salil Chowdhury admitted his ‘ Itna Na Mujhse ’, was inspired by Mozart’s ‘40th Symphony’. The opening of R.D. Burman’s ‘ O Hansini ’ was taken from the James Bond ‘Goldfinger’ theme song, but he acknowledged his influence. And even Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy gave credit to Roy Orbison for their Kal Ho Naa Ho hit ‘ Pretty Woman ’.

Next, there’s subconscious inspiration. Two Western music instances: John Denver’s rage ‘Annie’s Song’ is ditto to classical composer Tchaikovsky’s ‘Symphony 5, Movement 2’. The Eagles’s blockbuster ‘Hotel California’ is an obvious take-off on Jethro Tull’s ‘We Used To Know’, released seven years earlier.

And now, some Indian examples. In the 2013 film Lootera , Amit Trivedi was accused of lifting the Rachel Portman’s ‘One Day’ theme. The basic melodies sound similar, but the arrangements are different. Yet, nobody realised both pieces were too close to Nino Rota’s 1968 score ‘A Time For Us’, from Romeo And Juliet .

The same year, the media thrashed A.R. Rahman for lifting Eagle Eye Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight’ on his Jab Tak Hai Jaan tune ‘ Challa ’. The only thing common was the opening guitar strumming, that’s been used in a million songs.

When Rahman deliberately rehashed his Jab Tak Hai Jaan title tune to produce ‘ Tum Tak ’ in Raanjhanaa , nobody noticed. Very few realised both songs had portions similar to R.D. Burman’s Padosan hit ‘ Main Chali ’.

Examples abound. Clearly, deliberate plagiarism should be condemned. Smart adaptations may be pardoned, but only if credit is given. Regarding sub-conscious inspiration, it’s natural.

Many musicians write basic compositions on piano, guitar, harmonium or keyboard, often in the middle register. They are exposed to various forms of older music. Some tunes stick in their head, disappear and return while creating a song. They may use the same chord sequences, time signatures or classical ragas.

Here’s a classic example: the story goes that S.D. Burman created ‘ Thandi Hawayein ’ in 1951 after hearing a Juhu hotel piano player.

Now, listen to Madan Mohan’s ‘ Yehi Hai Tamanna ’, Roshan’s ‘ Rahein Na Rahein Hum ’ and R.D. Burman’s ‘ Saagar Kinare ’. They all have the same opening tune. But they’re all great songs. So, even the most talented get influenced. It also happens in cinema, literature, art…

Narendra Kusnur is a freelance music writer

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 7, 2021 8:58:09 PM |

Next Story