The Impact of a good tune: Forensic Musicology as research

This article originally appeared on the Million+ blog website. Words: Joe Bennett.

Harrison

George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord was an early casualty of songwriter’s cryptomnesia.

The legendary conductor (and acerbic musical quote-mine) Sir Thomas Beecham once said: “a musicologist is someone who can read music but can’t hear it”. And it’s fair to say that, in terms of profile, musicology is not one of the highest peaks in the UK research landscape. Qualitative research in the arts generally can have a difficult time justifying its existence in an increasingly corporeal and impact-centred (some might say philistine) political agenda, and music has particular difficulties in this regard, being perhaps the most abstract art form of all. Sir Thomas’s view shows clearly and painfully how easy it is to accuse musicology of continually Dancing About Architecture. So it may surprise some readers to learn that my own field of research – creative processes and forensic musicology in popular songwriting – was part of an impact case study for my institution in REF 2014. [Read more…]

Copyright and plagiarism in songwriting – some case studies

Riff

The Bitter Sweet Symphony riff. How much of ‘The Last Time’ do you recognise?

Below are the slides (with playable YouTube examples) from a recent lecture I gave to BA Commercial Music at Bath Spa.

The songs we discussed in the session are;

  • My Sweet Lord (George Harrison)/He’s So Fine (Ronnie Mack)  – copyright case, 1971 and 1976
  • Live While We’re Young (One Direction, 2013)  and Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash, 1982) – subjective similarity
  • History of the Black Night riff – a ‘copyright orphan’ excerpt, following its history from George Gershwin in 1935 to Deep Purple in 1970 (and, some argue, to P!nk’s So What many years later)
  • Bitter Sweet Symphony (The Verve, 1997) and The Last Time (The Rolling Stones, 1965) AND The Last Time (the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra, 1966).

We also talked about other famous examples, including the Puff Daddy Every Breath You Take sample, after which the students asked lots of questions relating to their own creative practice (mainly, “but why can’t I sample other songs?!” and “but really, why?”).

I’m in the process of writing up these examples into a formal research paper, which will discuss the issues relating to the privileging of melody in copyright disputes, and will be presenting a conference paper about melodic similarity at the PopMAC conference 2013 in Liverpool. Abstract here.

If the embed below doesn’t work for you, here’s a link to the Google presentation.