Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

16 songs that sound as much (or more) alike than Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” (Part 1 of 2)

The Kinks

There’s no doubt that Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” bears some resemblance to Tom Petty’s hit “I Won’t Back Down.” But the history of pop music is full of such similarities, and only some of those end up with songwriting settlements. This list—part one of two, with the other half publishing tomorrow—explores some songs that sound just as similar as “I Won’t Back Down” and “Stay With Me.” Some of them led to judgments, others were simply acknowledged or ignored.

1. Chuck Berry, “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958) and The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ U.S.A.” (1963)

The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” isn’t so much an homage to Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” as it is a rewrite, with essentially the same music and some new lyrics. Sure, the Boys’ hook is much bigger (“Everybody’s gone surfin’ / Surfin U.S.A.”), but it’s Berry’s song—his publishing company was given the entire monetary, though various “Surfin’ U.S.A.” releases have credited Brian Wilson, Berry, and both. [Josh Modell]


2. The Chiffons, “He’s So Fine” (1962) and George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord” (1970)

“My Sweet Lord” is one of copyright law’s greatest hits, having sparked one of music history’s most infamous court battles over its similarities to “He’s So Fine.” Both songs are built on the same pair of musical phrases, which are sequenced in such a unique way even Harrison’s expert witness admitted how uncommon it was. Harrison later attributed his transgression to “subconscious plagiarism,” and a judge awarded Bright Tunes Music over $1.5 million, though that was cut by two-thirds in subsequent appeals. In addition to the legal win, The Chiffons also made the better song, thanks to the “doo-lang” refrain. [Joshua Alston]

3. Beyoncé, “Halo” (2008) and Kelly Clarkson, “Already Gone” (2009)

“Halo” and “Already Gone” have such similar arrangements, seven years could have separated them and people would have still noticed how alike they sound. Unfortunately for Kelly Clarkson, her single was released a mere seven months after “Halo,” making the similarity that much more glaring. “Already Gone” sparked a public feud between Clarkson and Ryan Tedder, who co-wrote both songs, and she was equally furious with her label for releasing the song after she discovered the resemblance. Tedder dismissed the complaints, saying the songs were totally different and that he would never be so stupid as to pen twin tunes for two huge pop stars. If you say so, Tedder. [Joshua Alston]


4. Wire, “Three Girl Rhumba” (1977) and Elastica, “Connection” (1994)

Rock radio in the grunge era opened up to previously unwelcome genres like punk and post-punk, which meant that a lot of what sounded fresh and new in the early 1990s was actually a more polished version of music from 10 or 15 years earlier. But as cool as it was to hear the riff from a Wire song blasting from car stereos and sports arenas circa 1995, Elastica’s unconscious (?) homage to “Three Girl Rhumba” in its international hit single “Connection” crossed the line from throwback to ripoff. Elastica eventually agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Wire for “Connection,” then gave the band another pile of money to legally sample the song “Lowdown” for a track on the 2000 LP The Menace. [Noel Murray]


5. Bon Jovi, “Livin’ On A Prayer” (1986) and Belinda Carlisle, “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”

To be fair to Belinda Carlisle—and to “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” co-writers Rick Nowels and Ellen Shipley—the major-label hit factory is incestuous and trend-driven, which could very well explain how a song with a near-identical structure and melody to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” could hit No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts nine months after the Jon Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora/Desmond Child composition did the same. (“Professional courtesy” may also explain why no lawsuits were filed.) Still, for Top 40 radio-listeners in the late 1980s, the similarities between the two songs led to more than a little confusion, as rocker dudes everywhere would pump their fists excitedly for a few seconds before realizing they were listening to an ex-Go-Go. [Noel Murray]


6. Bauhaus, “Dark Entries” (1980) and Hole, “Mrs. Jones” (1991)

Courtney Love has long been accused of taking all her good ideas from ostensibly more talented men, including Kurt Cobain and Billy Corgan. It’s an inherently sexist argument, but one Love reinforced with “Mrs. Jones,” from Hole’s debut album, which borrows the descending guitar riff from Bauhaus’ “Dark Entries.” The Hole song is technically built on a Bauhaus “sample,” though the writing credits don’t reflect that, and Love has been transparent about her love of Bauhaus. But even the most generous punk-rock interpretation does little to repair Love’s reputation for plagiarism. [Joshua Alston]


7. T. Rex, “Ride A White Swan” (1970) and Morrissey, “Certain People I Know” (1992)

Morrissey is a well documented T. Rex fan; not only is The Smiths’ “Panic” something of an homage to “Metal Guru,” but Morrissey has also hinted that the star he was pining for in “Paint A Vulgar Picture” was Marc Bolan. His love has never been more overt than on “Certain People I Know,” which glides along the same little rockabilly-inspired lick as T. Rex’s 1970 hit “Ride A White Swan.” You can also hear Morrissey honking a little bit at the end, as if to acknowledge the bird. [Josh Modell]


8. Suicidal Tendencies, “I Saw Your Mommy” (1983) and Puddle Of Mudd, “She Hates Me” (2001)

As a forerunner in the ’80s crossover thrash scene, Suicidal Tendencies’ legacy is tied to its breakout hit, “Institutionalized.” While it’s remained an influence in the metal world, that crossover status was truly achieved when in 2001 the chord progression from “I Saw Your Mommy” turned up in Puddle Of Mudd’s “She Hates Me.” There are differences between the tracks—the self-proclaimed “cycos” in Suicidal go into warp speed midway through—but “She Hates Me” rides the same tempo and progression throughout, driving home the similarities at every turn. [David Anthony]


9. Rae Sremmurd, “Safe Sex Pay Checks,” (2013) and Alley Boy (Featuring Ty$), “RNGM” (2015)

Despite having a golden chorus from hook man Ty$, rapper Alley Boy wasn’t able to score a hit with his 2013 contender “RNGM,” but considerable elements from that track were lifted for a song that still has a chance of becoming one. The youthful rap duo Rae Sremmurd closes its debut album SremmLife with “Safe Sex Pay Checks,” a likely single that glides on a similarly stuttery electronic beat and borrows the same unmistakable melody; even the rhythmic pauses land at the same time. The most substantial difference between the two is the energy level. Where Ty$ mutters his chorus with cool indifference, Rae Sremmurd dials up its chorus into a rowdy party chant. [Evan Rytlewski]


10. Spoon, “I Turn My Camera On,” (2005) and Aranda, “All I Ever Wanted” (2008) and Kelly Clarkson, “All I Ever Wanted” (2010)

When Kelly Clarkson’s All I Ever Wanted was released in 2009, it had been a few years since Spoon’s Gimme Fiction, and that album’s “I Turn My Camera On.” Clarkson has always incorporated rock into her pop, more so than many similar artists, though in this case, it sounds less incorporated than baldly appropriated. But while the logical assumption would be that some enterprising young producer didn’t do as good a job as they should have reworking Spoon’s verses into something new, it turns out that it was actually a cover—the song was written by Oklahoma rock group Aranda, who released it the year before Clarkson’s title track. So if anyone may be biting Spoon’s style, it’s not Kelly—at least not directly. However, both versions deviate significantly during the choruses, which probably explains why Spoon didn’t feel the need to make a big thing of it. [Alex McCown]


11. Huey Lewis And The News, “I Want A New Drug” (1983) and Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters” (1984)

Ray Parker Jr. claims he was only given a few days in which to write the irresistible theme song for Ghostbusters, a song that was nominated for an Oscar and knocked “When Doves Cry” from the top spot on the Billboard chart. The rush job may have been necessary because the film’s producers had already been turned down by Huey Lewis and Lindsey Buckingham, who both claim they were approached before Parker. They got the next best thing to Lewis, however, as Parker’s tune shares a bass line and a fair amount of melody with “I Want A New Drug,” the News’ hit from the previous year. Lewis sued over the similarity and won, although Parker later sued Lewis for discussing the terms of the confidential settlement. [Mike Vago]


12. Tom Petty, “Last Dance With Mary Jane” (1993) and Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dani California” (2006)

Tom Petty is consistently wrapped up in sound-alike comparisons; you might start to think he’s the originator of most rock and pop melodies. After all, he’s apparently influenced everyone from Sam Smith to The Strokes, who admitted to ripping off the riff from “American Girl” for “Last Nite.” When the Red Hot Chili Peppers released “Dani California” in 2006, it didn’t take long for many listeners to notice a similarity between that song’s melody and the one Petty used on “Last Dance With Mary Jane.” The minor chord progressions are very similar (thought not exactly the same), and the staccato delivery of the vocals by Anthony Kiedis even seems to mimic Petty’s. While news of a lawsuit floated around for some time, Petty ultimately played the situation like the cool rock dad he is, telling Rolling Stone that “there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs.” [Kyle Fowle]


13. Madonna, “Express Yourself” (1989) and Lady Gaga, “Born This Way” (2011)

If Lady Gaga was going to intentionally rip off anyone for her LGBT anthem “Born This Way,” you’d think she would know better than to rip off Madonna. (It’s Madonna. Folks are going to notice.) Gaga has acknowledged Madonna’s influence on her music, and on the public image that is half of a pop singer’s allure. But the line between homage and ripoff can be a fine one, especially here—Gaga’s beat is a glitchier, sped-up version of Madonna’s, and the melody, while not exactly the same, is suspiciously Madonna-esque. (There’s some “Vogue” in there, too.) The influence is especially obvious in the chorus and in the spoken-word segments of the song, which recall Madonna’s “Come on girls! Do you believe in love?” exhortation at the beginning of “Express Yourself.” Rather than address the similarities in court, Gaga and Madonna let their feud play out onstage in the form of passive-aggressive mashups and catty asides about things being “really different now than they were 25 years ago,” proving that these divas have more in common than just melodies. [Katie Rife]


14. The Kinks, “All Day And All Of The Night” (1964) and The Doors, “Hello, I Love You” (1968)

Ray Davies may be the most affable victim of riff theft on this list, having long laughed off the fact that The Doors’ “Hello I Love You” borrows heavily from The Kinks’ “All Day And All Of The Night”—even sometimes cheekily inserting Jim Morrison’s lyrics into live performances of the song. Of course, it’s easy to laugh when you’re getting paid: Despite guitarist Robby Krieger’s insistence that he was actually inspired by Cream, U.K. courts determined the two songs to be so similar that The Doors had to pay all of its “Hello, I Love You” royalties to Davies. [Sean O’Neal]


15. The Kinks, “Picture Book” (1968) and Green Day, “Warning” (2000)

What’s perhaps most interesting about the similarity between The Kinks’ “Picture Book” and Green Day’s “Warning”—they essentially share the same bass-led melody—is that nobody with The Kinks ever got involved with a lawsuit. In fact, an unsigned, obscure English rock band by the name of The Other Garden decided that it was way more likely that Green Day had ripped them off, rather than stealing from one of the most popular, influential rock bands of all time. For a brief time, The Other Garden threatened a lawsuit and pushed to have the royalties on “Warning” frozen. That lawsuit was swiftly dropped though, and The Other Garden went back to being a band nobody has ever heard of. [Kyle Fowle]


16. Oasis, “Wonderwall” (1995) and Green Day, “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” (2004)

“They should have the decency to wait until I’m dead,” Noel Gallagher told Stuff magazine when asked about the suspicious similarities between his own 1995 hit “Wonderwall” and Green Day’s melancholic, decade-later smash “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.” The Oasis frontman wasn’t the only one to pick up on the nearly identical chord progression: San Francisco DJ Party Ben scored a minor radio hit with his mash-up “Boulevard Of Broken Songs,” which laid Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals over the acoustic strum of Gallagher’s guitar and Gallagher’s vocals over the crunch of Armstrong’s electric. (The song also shrewdly worked in samples from Travis’ “Wonderwall”-quoting “Writing To Reach You” and Eminem’s “Dream On”-sampling “Sing For The Moment.”) The irony of the accusation—however founded it may be—is that Gallagher has spent much of his career dodging copycat charges of his own, with many still insisting that his former arena-rock outfit is just a bad Beatles clone. [A.A. Dowd]


Share This Story