12 Classic Songs Sounding Surprisingly Similar To Other Hits

12 Classic Songs Sounding Surprisingly Similar To Other Hits

Eddie Vedder Robert Plant
Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam with Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. Photo by Barry Brecheisen/WireImage.

“Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief,” Bono sang on U2’s 1991 number one single "The Fly". He’d certainly know: "The Unforgettable Fire" snaffled lyrics from Ben E King’s "Stand By Me", "Desire" filched Bo Diddley’s classic guitar rhythm and the Irish group’s 1995 hit "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" featured a riff dangerously close to T-Rex’s "Children Of The Revolution". Whether it’s blatant or unconscious, there are plenty of hit songs featuring elements nearly identical to existing tracks. We’re not here to judge, but here are 12 examples of the phenomenon from the commercial rock realm. Draw your own conclusions…

John Cougar Mellencamp – "ROCK In The USA" (1986)

Neil Diamond – "Cherry Cherry" (1966)

Earning a new audience via its inclusion in season three of Netflix’s Stranger Things, John Cougar Mellencamp’s "ROCK In The USA" was a top 20 hit in Australia in 1986. Officially subtitled "A Salute To 60s Rock", Mellencamp’s song shares a healthy amount of DNA with Neil Diamond’s 1966 single "Cherry Cherry", while also referencing The Troggs’ "Wild Thing" during its recorder solo. Despite these throwback elements, only Mellencamp is listed on parent album Scarecrow’s writing credits for the song. 

The Rolling Stones – "Anybody Seen My Baby?" (1997)

k.d. lang – "Constant Craving" (1992)

One of the biggest hits from k.d. lang’s 1992 album Ingenue, her track "Constant Craving" was accidentally used as the basis for the chorus of The Rolling Stones’ 1997 single "Anybody Seen My Baby?". Keith Richards copped the charge during an early playback of the song, when his daughter Angela began singing "Constant Craving" over the top of the new Stones track. Jagger and Richards immediately added lang and her co-writer Ben Mink to the songwriting credits, with lang recalling in 2008 she’d later had a friendly discussion with Jagger about the matter. “We were actually on a flight together from London to LA later on and we talked about it, so it was cool,” lang recalled. “It was a nice chat.”

The Doobie Brothers – "What A Fool Believes" (1979)

Robbie Dupree – "Steal Away" (1980)

The Los Angeles Times didn’t mince words when they called Robbie Dupree’s single "Steal Away" “a blatant, wimpy rip-off of the Michael McDonald/Kenny Loggins composition What A Fool Believes””. Dupree, who made it to #24 in the Australian singles chart with his 1980 track, spoke to the Rock History Music website last year about the accusations of ripping off The Doobie Brothers hit, suggesting both tracks owe a debt to a George Duke song. “Lyrically, topically, melodically, musically, theirs was a very sophisticated presentation of a song and mine was much more simplistic.” I guess that's the sort of backlash you provoke when you call your song "Steal Away", right?

Peter, Paul & Mary – "Stewball" (1963)

John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band - "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (1971)

Featured on Peter, Paul & Mary’s 1963 album In The Wind, the same album which introduced the wider world to Bob Dylan via covers of his songs "Blowin’ In The Wind" and "Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright", sits a traditional song titled "Stewball". Previously covered by Lead Belly, The Weavers and skiffle king Lonnie Donegan, it was the arrangement utilised by Peter, Paul & Mary which was co-opted by John Lennon eight years later. The melody of Lennon’s 1971 single "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" closely resembled Peter, Paul & Mary’s recording, to the point the lyrics for both can be easily transposed.

The Kinks – "All Day And All Of The Night" (1964)

The Doors – "Hello, I Love You" (1968)

While The Doors’ Robby Krieger has suggested the band’s Waiting For The Sun single "Hello, I Love You" was more indebted to Cream’s "Sunshine Of Your Love", it’s The Kinks’ "All Day And All Of The Night" that invariably draws comparison to the hit. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, The Kinks’ songwriter Ray Davies suggested an agreement had been reached between both parties over the similarities.

The Hollies – "The Air That I Breathe" (1972)

Radiohead – "Creep" (1992)

Early pressings of Radiohead’s 1993 debut album Pablo Honey featured the songwriting credit “All songs by Radiohead”. Following the success of Creep, the publishers of The Hollies’ "The Air That I Breathe" brought legal action against the Oxford group due to the similarity between the 1972 hit’s chorus and "Creep"’s soaring finale. Since the settlement, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood have been credited as "Creep"’s co-songwriters and earn royalties on the song. In a coda to the tale, in 2018 American pop noir star Lana Del Rey reported she was being legally pursued by "Creep"’s songwriters due to the similarities between the song and her own Lust For Life album closer "Get Free". Del Rey later confirmed at a Brazilian gig the case had been settled. 

Led Zeppelin – "Going To California" (1971)

Pearl Jam – "Given To Fly" (1997)

It’s common knowledge Led Zeppelin have been the subject of many sound-alike accusations over the years, but in this case it’s another band lifting elements from Led Zep's music rather than vice versa. Pearl Jam have admitted over the years their 1997 single "Given To Fly"’s debt to the Led Zeppelin IV track "Going To California", with Zeppelin’s Robert Plant even cheekily referencing the pilfering in a 2015 Sirius Radio interview with the song’s writer, Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. "Being an entertainer, outside of skill, craft, experience and whatever else it is you grow into, repetition is a hell of an evil bedfellow,” Plant noted. "To repeat yourself as regularly as we do as entertainers … you know this. I mean, how many times have you played "Going To California"? Oh sorry, whatever your song is called…" After McCready admitted frontman Eddie Vedder had sometimes introduced the song live as “Given To California”, Plant teased, “I didn't get a check in the post, nothing like that."

Tom Petty – "Learning To Fly" (1991)

Foo Fighters – "Wheels" (2009)

In another case of a ‘70s rock icon having their work imitated by grunge survivors, Tom Petty must have done a double-take when he heard the single Foo Fighters released to promote their Greatest Hits album in 2009. While "Wheels" is a slightly slower tempo, it sounds suspiciously close to Petty’s ‘90s single. The Foo Fighters song reached #21 in Australia, with frontman Dave Grohl stating during their 2011 Australian tour "Wheels" was Foo Fighters’ “one song that’s only popular in Germany… That’s not a joke”.

David Bowie – "Fame" (1975)

James Brown – "Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved Loved)" (1975) 

As mentioned in an early I Like Your Old Stuff piece on David Bowie here, James Brown reproduced a musical Photostat of Bowie’s John Lennon collaboration "Fame" just months after the original song was released. Shocked at the blatant rip, Bowie said to Carlos Alomar, the funky guitarist who co-wrote "Fame", “If it charts, we’ll sue him”. Brown’s tragic rehash failed to make any impact at all.

Huey Lewis & The News – "I Want A New Drug" (1983)

Ray Parker Jr - "Ghostbusters" (1984)

There’s something strange in the neighbourhood… and it’s a lawsuit! This particular case of doppelganger ditties was settled out of court. Huey Lewis had plenty of ammunition to back his case against Parker Jr: not only had Lewis initially been asked to write Ghostbusters’ theme (he couldn’t, since he was already committed to working on music for Back To The Future), Parker Jr was subsequently asked to submit something “Huey Lewis-esque”. Is it illegal to follow a brief too closely? Well yes, Mr Parker Jr, it seems it is.

Hall & Oates – "Maneater" (1982)

Stevie Wonder - "Part Time Lover" (1985)

Albums such as Talking Book and Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants are all the proof you need of Stevie Wonder’s genius, but despite his commercial success in the ‘80s his music wasn’t quite so distinctive. Case in point: 1985 hit "Part Time Lover", which sounded very familiar to Hall & Oates fans. Here in Australia, Wonder’s single actually charted one spot higher than Hall & Oates’ catchy song "Maneater", making it to #3 just three years after its predecessor’s success. 

The Supremes – "You Can’t Hurry Love" (1966)

Iggy Pop - "Lust For Life" (1977) 

The Jam - "Town Called Malice" (1982)

Jet – "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" (2003)

The bass and drums of the ‘60s Holland-Dozier-Holland composition, "You Can’t Hurry Love" is one of the songs most cited as a template for future tunes. While the beat of Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s collaborative "Lust For Life" was reputedly based on the Armed Forces Network TV station ID in Germany, it’s hard to discount its debt to the bass and tambourine jangle of "You Can’t Hurry Love". From there, multiple artists have stolen from the thieves, with The Jam and Jet being two obvious descendants. It seems, to quote the original, songwriting is also “a game of give and take”.

...And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Have any of your own nagging soundalikes to add to the list? Head to the I Like Your Old Stuff Facebook page to discuss.

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