Stolen song structures

I noticed this evening while listening to Jimmy Buffet’s song “Pencil Thin Moustache” that the song’s basic melody and cord structure sounded familar.

Whipped out my guitar and played with it a little, and Eureka! It was “Alice’s Restaurant”, by Arlo Guthrie. I could use each song’s lyrics interchangeably (the chorus of the Buffet song) with the same music.

Anyone else noticed that one?

How about other examples of “interchangeable” songs?

Figure you have three or four different chords in the verse of your average pop song, limit those by applying the concept of chord progression as set down by the tradition of western music, and you find that it’s rather challanging to come of with something that hasn’t already been done. The songs might not be in the same key, but this happens all the time.

One of my favorites is I - vi - IV - V made famous by the one piano song just about everyone can play, Heart and Soul.
You can find it all over the place:
With or Without You - U2
Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
Dey’er Mak’er - Led Zepplin
Damn it Feels Good to be a Ganster - Ghetto Boys

I’m sure there’s more but that’s all floating at the top of my head at the moment…

My bad, before someone needs to correct me the U2 song is I - V - vi - IV, a little variation but not the same.

my favorite example of this is

“more than I can say” by Leo Sayer

which, melody chords and everything is basically
the same song as

“Every Breath You Take” by The Police

Might be in a different key, though.

Check It Out

Jewell-“Who will save your soul?” And Frente!-“Labour of Love” are the same…even the tone is similar. But Jewell is about a kabillion times more annoying. That’s ii-IV-I-V, by the way.

As for Alice’s Restaurant…it’s been years since I’ve heard it, and I haven’t heard the Jimmy Buffet song in question, but since A’s R has a folk-jazzy feel to it, and neither folk in general nor Jimmy Buffet in particular are known for drastic variation as far as chord structure, the similarity doesn’t really surprise me. I’m not suggesting, by the way, that lack of variation equals lack of validity. Just that the genres the two guys were working in don’t offer a lot of opportunity for variation.

Belle and Sebastian use the same progression as “With or without you” for their song “Sleep the clock around,” but they slow it down by half.

And there’s another one that escapes me…a really great one, because one of the songs is really well respected and the other is widely regarded as a throw away, and it’s great when a friend is playing the first one and you say “wait, keep playing, but let me sing,” and then you sing the other one. The guy playing always gets so pissed off and won’t play anymore. I’ll let you know when I remember it…

The chord progression for “Hotel California” by the Eagles is the same (only slowed down) as the chord progression for “We Used to Know” by Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson commented on this in an interview I read, and noted that it was probably a total coincidence that Tull had been opening for the Eagles in the period before “Hotel” came out…

With minor differences:

“Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead = “In My Life” by The Beatles = “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King

All three are in the top 5 of the greatest songs ever written. Coincidence?

These songs are so totally different. What are you talking about? (I ask this in the most polite, neighborly debate kind of way, I promise. I really want to know what you are talking about.)

I could kind of see a case being made for Fake Plastic Trees vs. Stand By Me, but Fake Plastic trees drops to I and then jumps back up to the IV and holds it, while Stand By Me just goes up to V and then back to the same four-chord progression (incidentally the same as “Heart and Soul,” mentioned in a previous post).

But I can’t at all see the connection to In My Life.

Actually…wait…I kind of can. But only about as much as Fake Plastic Trees.

Well, in honour of the recent re-issue of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass there’s the infamous lawsuit over My Sweet Lord being ripped off from (I think) He’s So Fine. They’re practically identical. Still a good album though.


Back in my college bar band days it became obvious that a certain segment of our very drunk audience would dance and try to sing to anything we played. So we developed “Werewolves of Alabama” A sample of the lyrics:

Aaa-ooo…werewolves of London
Lord, I’m coming home to you
Aaa-ooo…werewolves of London
Go on, take the money and run

We also did “Cult Removal Machine”, in which we would combine all of the best-known songs by the Cult (“She Sells Sanctuary”, “Rain”, and “Love Removal Machine”, which are all pretty much identical, anyways)

You don’t want to know what we did with “Melt With You”…

It’s all a question of degree.

Take the 12-bar blues. There’s literally thousands of songs using this same basic song structure. Lots of them have similar sounding melodies and such. Same with the I-IV-V variants.

I’d like to think that very few songs are “interchangable”, but it depends on how loose your standards are, how good your ear is, and how much music you know. Let’s face it, there are a limited number of possibilities to Western pop music, there’s bound to be lots of similarites.

Then there’s all the jazz standards that fall under iv-ii-V-I
(or I-vi-ii-V, depending how you look at it.)
I’ve always played “Heart and Soul” with the ii chord, and not the IV. “Earth Angel,” “Blue Moon” and all sorts of songs especially from the 50s fit this progression. It’s also probably on of the the first three chord progressions any jazz student will learn.

There’s that one Pearl Jam song where the verse sounds like “Going to California”

Oh…wait, here’s a website of sound alike songs. I guess the song I was thinking of is “Given to Fly.”
Check out the others. Hope I didn’t ruin the fun. :slight_smile:



I meant to write “vi-ii-V-I” not “iv-ii-V-I” in my previous post. And one more song occured to me. One of my friends spliced together Chuck Berry’s songs “No Particular Place to Go” and “School Days” together and they were absolutely seamless, down to the key and tempo.

I would also hesitate to call these “Stolen Song Structures.” Composers have been borrowing from one another’s ideas since the beginning of music, and even more blatantly then now. Using the harmonic patterns of another song is perfectly okay. Look at three chord bands, as someone previously mentioned.

And there’s one more song. There’s a current (at least in Europe) Carribean-feel happy pop song whose melodic line sounds exactly like the melodic line of Billy Joel’s “My Life” Does anyone know what the heck I’m talking about?

I’ve always wanted to start out with “R-O-C-K in the USA”, go into the the bridge, and come out of the bridge with “What I Like About You”. Not quite a perfect match but it would be really easy to segue from one to the other and there’s a harmonica part in the bridge for “RitUSA” that always makes me think of “WILAY”.

Actually, I agree. I just inserted the word “stolen” in the thread’s title to get people to notice it. :slight_smile:

Also, I meant to call attention to those songs that are close copies of each other in some respect. Not just having a 12-bar blues or I-IV-V chord progression. By that criteria, almost everything would be “stolen”.

The two songs I mentioned “Pencil Thin Moustache” and “Alice’s Restaurant” are just so close that it was weird.

Thanks to all those who are responding to this thread. I’m going to look up the examples you listed.

Pretender’s Middle of the Road, and Prince’s Willing and Able. Exact same riff.

Remember a band called System of a Down? Everything i ever heard them play sounded ripped off, especially their “hit” song Sugar (same notes as Slayer’s Death’s Head). No kidding, one i heard (of which i forget the name now, sorry) even sounded exactly like a Sheryl Crow song!


Sha Lalala by the Vengaboys?

Several Beach Boys songs were just new lyrics to an old song.