Music is a wonderfully diverse medium — there are thousands of well-known and obscure instruments the world over, and there are likely millions of melodies that can be thought of and put to record. Unfortunately, popular music tends to boil musicianship down to a simpler formula, and as a result, listeners might end up hearing several iterations of the same tune, repackaged slightly differently for consumption.
Within the often-narrow template of pop music, it isn’t surprising that the same melody would surface in different songs, but we’ve compiled a list of some of the worst offenders. These are eight hit songs that sound exactly like other songs.
1. “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock
Kid Rock has the rare distinction of penning a hit song that sounds exactly like not one but two other hit songs. The lyrics repeatedly reference Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” so it’s no surprise that the music does the same at various intervals. But the piano riff upon which Kid Rock’s song is built is exactly the same as Warren Zevon’s only classic-rock radio staple, “Werewolves of London.” Officially, the song samples both ’70s hits, but it’s hard to forgive the “samples” when there’s hardly anything original added to the foundational music.
2. “Yellow” by Coldplay
One of the fan favorite songs from ethereal alternative rock band, Coldplay, bears some considerable resemblance to a ballad from “Slanted and Enchanted,” the debut album of influential ’90s indie rock outfit, Pavement. Despite some instrumental differences, the two songs sound almost identical but for the vocal melodies when overlaid on top of each other. Just listen to those mellow yet soaring guitar tones and that deliberate tempo, and tell me you can’t hear it.
3. “Warning” by Green Day
While there’s no evidence Coldplay consciously ripped off Pavement for “Yellow,” you could easily make a case that Green Day ripped off The Kinks, simply based on an iffy history of unoriginal material — “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sounds suspiciously similar to Oasis’s “Wonderwall,” and the main riff of “American Idiot” is nearly identical to the opening one in “DoubleWhiskeyCokeNoice” by Dillinger Four, for starters. But the worst offender to my mind is their hit song “Warning” from the 2000 album of the same name, which rides along on the exact same riff as “Picture Book” by The Kinks.
4. “Karma Police” by Radiohead
Yes, one of the most acclaimed bands of the past two decades stole the riff of one of their most celebrated songs off their most celebrated album, OK Computer. What’s more, they didn’t just steal from some nobodies — the song’s central piano riff is undeniably indebted to “Sexy Sadie” by The Beatles, only slightly sped up to distinguish itself. Nothing has become of the two songs’ similarities — unlike Radiohead’s similarly derivative “Creep,” which bears some similarity to “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies, who sued Radiohead for plagiarism and won.
5. “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” by Jet
Australian rock band Jet seems to have stolen their one and only hit from Iggy Pop, whose song “Lust for Life” features an identical drumbeat and guitar riff. The band disagrees, claiming the song was actually influenced by early doo-wop tunes — drummer Chris Cester even recounting an encounter with Iggy Pop wherein both said their songs were inspired by groups like The Supremes. Whatever they say, it’s impossible not to recognize the two songs’ similarities once you’ve heard about the controversy.
6. “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin essentially built a career as one of rock’s most successful acts by aping blues music and adding their own earth-shattering swagger. That’s not a knock against the band, but simply a fact of their existence. For proof, look no further than “Whole Lotta Love,” one of Zeppelin’s biggest hits, which stole its melody and a large portion of its lyrics from blues-man Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love.” More recent pressings of the album Led Zeppelin II have credited Dixon as a co-writer.
7. “Best Song Ever” by One Direction
The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” often mistakenly called “Teenage Wasteland,” seems to be an obvious inspiration for the single “Best Song Ever,” released with a video in 2013 by UK boy band One Direction. The song’s opening synth progression and riff has been called a blatant ripoff and an intentional homage to the famous track, so it’s just about impossible to deny the similarities. According to some sources, Pete Townshend of The Who has even been credited as a co-writer for the track — deservedly so, I might add.
8. “Dani California” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
Listeners have called on Tom Petty to sue other artists for songs derivative of hits on at least two occasions, though Petty refused each time. The Strokes have openly acknowledged the inspiration they drew from Petty’s hit “American Girl” for their single “Last Nite.” Petty later remarked, “It doesn’t bother me.” A U.S. radio station later called upon Petty to sue the Red Hot Chili Peppers for plagiarism, due to the similarities between their song “Dani California” and his “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Again, Petty graciously refused, saying that a lot of rock songs sound similar. After composing this list, I find it hard to argue with that, Tom.
Follow Jeff Rindskopf on Twitter @jrindskopf