We recently wrote about the fact that Michael Jackson copied the bass line for his famous song Billy Jean from Hall & Oates, who then admitted to having copied it themselves. Now, reader gort-o-matic points us to another legendary musician with a similar story. Bruce Springsteen, in his keynote address at SXSW, talked about how he copied riffs from his favorite bands, and encouraged young artists to do the same. (You can hear the relevant highlights at that link, or the entire keynote here)
For me, it was The Animals. … “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” had a great bass riff, you know it had that—[plays riff on guitar]—and that was just a clock, a clock marking time. [sings the first few lines] That’s every song I’ve ever written. “Badlands”, “Prove It All Night”, “Darkness” was filled with Animals. Youngsters, watch this one. I’ll tell you how it’s done right now. I took “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” [hums and strums the Animals riff, then transitions into his song Badlands]—It’s the same fucking riff man. Listen up youngsters: this is how successful theft is accomplished.
Okay, so he calls it “theft” which it really isn’t, but I’m less bothered by that when artists are using it as a playful term for copying than when they use it to try to give false emotional resonance to infringement. The point remains the same: artists (and I don’t think anyone can argue that the The Boss is not a bona fide artist) copy and build upon the work of others. Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen are high-profile examples, but they are just a drop in the bucket. Every artist, big and small, does the same thing. It’s not being unoriginal, it’s just how art works.