The case Steely Dan's song "robbery" -- and the jazz ethos

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    The case Steely Dan's song "robbery" -- and the jazz ethos

    I'm about to create a thread on an artist that dovetails with an issue of a song-writing credit, in this case, Steely Dan.  Since I'd like the other thread to maintain focus on music rather than lawsuits, I'll briefly outline what happened, although many of you are probably familiar with the case, if you're a Steely Dan fan.

    The other aspect of this issue that's exceedingly interesting, is to note how the "jazz ethos" may differ from that of other music genres, such as rock.  Here's a passage that cuts to the chase:

     

    "In a 1980 Musician magazine interview, Steely Dan co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker got themselves into a bit of hot water with a sarcastic answer to a question about the title track to their new LP, Gaucho.

    Confronted with the overwhelming musical similarities between their song and a half-decade old tune called "Long As You Know You're Living Yours" by jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, the ironic songwriters quipped, dismissively: "We're the robber-barons of rock and roll." Fans of Steely Dan might have been charmed by Fagen and Becker's usual flair for the wisecrack, but Jarrett wasn't amused. He sued the songwriters for creative theft, and successfully earned himself a writing credit for "Gaucho."

    NOTE: Jarrett was also awarded a cool million.  

    Interestingly, this wasn't even the first time Steely Dan had self-consciously alluded to a jazz recording on one of their tracks. Listen to the opening riff of their 1974 hit, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" back-to-back with the intro to Horace Silver's 1965 number, "Song for My Father," and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two.

    But Silver didn't sue the Dan — perhaps recognizing the jazz ethos to which they claim in interview after interview. While a borrowing in rock and roll may be cause for litigation, jazz musicians frequently reference other works of music in moments of improvisation.

    Quoting is all part of the jazz musician's bag, and if, say, the estate of Jerome Kern sued every time a saxophone player snuck in a melodic snippet from "All the Things You Are," there'd be an endless series of copyright infringement suits showing up on dockets."

    So there you go.   Jazz musicians see things differently, even if Keith Jarrett didn't at the time "Gaucho" was released ...

     
  2. You have chosen to ignore posts from MattyScornD. Show MattyScornD's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    Thanks, yoga.  

    As a DanFan, I knew about both of these cases, the whole of which speak to the maxim of "depends on whom you ask".  I do believe jazz foments a friendlier notion of "borrowing" as well as inside jokes.

    I once read about the birth of reggae and its musical origins, mainly in ska and rocksteady.  The differences are more about style than a distinction from one movement to the other.  The point was that untrained ears couldn't really tell the difference, and the idea of any one artist laying sole claim to a particular phrasing or beat was absurd.

     

     
  3. You have chosen to ignore posts from ZILLAGOD. Show ZILLAGOD's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    What came first The Flinstones or The Honeymooners?

    Did anybody sue?

    Fred Flinstone is the cartoon version of Jackie Gleason, blue collar worker , lodge brother, and he has a neighbor Barney Rubble , who is a shorter cartoon version of Art Carney. A few variations , but essentially the same.

    I hear songs all the time that sound similar to another song. Or a portoin of a song. Is it intentional? Or is it that the artist drew so much influence from another artist that they can't help from "stealing."

    'No New Tale To Tell' by Love and Rockets has a passage that is so Jethro Tull sounding that it is scary....is it a tribute ?...I always thought so. Did they "steal" from Tull to enhance their song?....I don't think this is the case.

    Is sampling stealing?

     
  4. You have chosen to ignore posts from devildavid. Show devildavid's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    To me, it somewhat depends on the extent of the borrowing. Songs that lift lyrics from another song with only a few changes is plagiarsim, just as is it would be for a writer of essays who lifts another's work with slight wording changes. Taking musical snippets is not as bad, but also depends on the extent of it. Giving credit to another will cost the artist, so maybe they do worry about loss of income on a song. We can't read into their motives for using another's work. One man's homage is another man's theft. It doesn't really matter to me if certain types of musicians have a different view. It is up to the borrower to be aware that the original artist may take legal action.

    As far as I know, ABBA and David Bowie have not sued Elvis Costello for nicking their riffs on "Oliver's Army" and "Two Little Hitlers". I have no knowledge of copyright law when it comes to music, so I don't know if they would have a legal case.

    When it comes to any group's ethos, it may not always be in sync with legal issues.

     
  5. You have chosen to ignore posts from MattyScornD. Show MattyScornD's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to devildavid's comment:

    As far as I know, ABBA and David Bowie have not sued Elvis Costello for nicking their riffs on "Oliver's Army" and "Two Little Hitlers". I have no knowledge of copyright law when it comes to music, so I don't know if they would have a legal case.

    I'm not astute a musician enough to know...

    ...but are those note-for-note copies?  Similar, yes.  Copies, though...I'm not sure.

     

     

     
  6. You have chosen to ignore posts from devildavid. Show devildavid's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

    In response to devildavid's comment:

     

    As far as I know, ABBA and David Bowie have not sued Elvis Costello for nicking their riffs on "Oliver's Army" and "Two Little Hitlers". I have no knowledge of copyright law when it comes to music, so I don't know if they would have a legal case.

     

     

    I'm not astute a musician enough to know...

    ...but are those note-for-note copies?  Similar, yes.  Copies, though...I'm not sure.

     

     



    That would be for a court to decide. I'm not sure how it is done. I'm just saying it is obvious where the general riff came from. Don't know what the criteria are for copyright infringement.

     
  7. You have chosen to ignore posts from yogafriend. Show yogafriend's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

    Thanks, yoga.  

    As a DanFan, I knew about both of these cases, the whole of which speak to the maxim of "depends on whom you ask".  I do believe jazz foments a friendlier notion of "borrowing" as well as inside jokes.

    I once read about the birth of reggae and its musical origins, mainly in ska and rocksteady.  The differences are more about style than a distinction from one movement to the other.  The point was that untrained ears couldn't really tell the difference, and the idea of any one artist laying sole claim to a particular phrasing or beat was absurd.

     



    No problem.  I know!  It's so interesting how this all evolves.  Print publishing and literature are so different, and that's where I have more experience; actually we all have experience, insofar as bibliographies and footnotes are concerned.   

    I can truly respect the protective spirit of a musical artist, but it's so fuzzy.

    BTW, when I got into this, I was reading about the making of the entire "Gaucho" album, and it's a miracle it was ever made; the entire time they worked on it, they were fraught with one horrible incident after another (hit by a car for Becker; Becker's GF OD'd on drugs; he was then hit with a wrongful death lawsuit ...) etc., just awful.     Then, Keith Jarrett went after them.  "The Making of Gaucho" would make a great book.    

     
  8. You have chosen to ignore posts from yogafriend. Show yogafriend's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to devildavid's comment:

    To me, it somewhat depends on the extent of the borrowing. Songs that lift lyrics from another song with only a few changes is plagiarsim, just as is it would be for a writer of essays who lifts another's work with slight wording changes. Taking musical snippets is not as bad, but also depends on the extent of it. Giving credit to another will cost the artist, so maybe they do worry about loss of income on a song. We can't read into their motives for using another's work. One man's homage is another man's theft. It doesn't really matter to me if certain types of musicians have a different view. It is up to the borrower to be aware that the original artist may take legal action.

    As far as I know, ABBA and David Bowie have not sued Elvis Costello for nicking their riffs on "Oliver's Army" and "Two Little Hitlers". I have no knowledge of copyright law when it comes to music, so I don't know if they would have a legal case.

    When it comes to any group's ethos, it may not always be in sync with legal issues.



    Agreed ... there are many fine lines.   I was going to write about Keith Jarrett when I saw the Steely Dan case ... and since it was in sync with recent discussions, I decided to make this thread.     

    I don't know ... but I thought there was something very interesting re: the prospect that different genres of music treat this issue differently, especially in jazz where there is so much improv.

    Anyhow, I'm glad you shined a light on it in another thread recently.   

    Gosh, this reminds me of when one of my former managers asked me where I got my hair cut ... and I didn't want to tell her, because I didn't want her to have the same haircut that I had -- it was so humiliating to think she'd come to work with the same haircut as mine, sort of like ripping off my haircut.  :)   (NOTE: I grew out my hair. )

     
  9. You have chosen to ignore posts from yogafriend. Show yogafriend's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to ZILLAGOD's comment:

    I hear songs all the time that sound similar to another song. Or a portoin of a song. Is it intentional? Or is it that the artist drew so much influence from another artist that they can't help from "stealing."

    'No New Tale To Tell' by Love and Rockets has a passage that is so Jethro Tull sounding that it is scary....is it a tribute ?...I always thought so. Did they "steal" from Tull to enhance their song?....I don't think this is the case.

    Is sampling stealing?



    Your guess is as good as mine.   There's no end to this sort of thing.

    RE: sampling.  I absolutely love sampling.  Not sure about the legal implications, but since sampling has been in vogue for a long time, the legal issues must be ironed out at this point -- at least, I'd hope so.  

     
  10. You have chosen to ignore posts from devildavid. Show devildavid's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to yogafriend's comment:

    In response to devildavid's comment:

     

    To me, it somewhat depends on the extent of the borrowing. Songs that lift lyrics from another song with only a few changes is plagiarsim, just as is it would be for a writer of essays who lifts another's work with slight wording changes. Taking musical snippets is not as bad, but also depends on the extent of it. Giving credit to another will cost the artist, so maybe they do worry about loss of income on a song. We can't read into their motives for using another's work. One man's homage is another man's theft. It doesn't really matter to me if certain types of musicians have a different view. It is up to the borrower to be aware that the original artist may take legal action.

    As far as I know, ABBA and David Bowie have not sued Elvis Costello for nicking their riffs on "Oliver's Army" and "Two Little Hitlers". I have no knowledge of copyright law when it comes to music, so I don't know if they would have a legal case.

    When it comes to any group's ethos, it may not always be in sync with legal issues.

     



    Agreed ... there are many fine lines.   I was going to write about Keith Jarrett when I saw the Steely Dan case ... and since it was in sync with recent discussions, I decided to make this thread.     

     

    I don't know ... but I thought there was something very interesting re: the prospect that different genres of music treat this issue differently, especially in jazz where there is so much improv.

    Anyhow, I'm glad you shined a light on it in another thread recently.   

    Gosh, this reminds me of when one of my former managers asked me where I got my hair cut ... and I didn't want to tell her, because I didn't want her to have the same haircut that I had -- it was so humiliating to think she'd come to work with the same haircut as mine, sort of like ripping off my haircut.  :)   (NOTE: I grew out my hair. )



    An ethos only really works if it remains within a specifically defined and limited group. Maybe Steely Dan didn't qualify in Jarrett's mind.

     
  11. You have chosen to ignore posts from yogafriend. Show yogafriend's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to devildavid's comment:

    An ethos only really works if it remains within a specifically defined and limited group. Maybe Steely Dan didn't qualify in Jarrett's mind.

     



    Good point.  If SD had their bona fides in jazz,  the lawsuit may never have happened -- but they were outsiders, based on the ethos.    You're right, they must not have "qualified."  

     
  12. You have chosen to ignore posts from RogerTaylor. Show RogerTaylor's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    Wasn't it John Fogarty who got sued for stealing from.........John Fogerty???

    "With the Centerfield album, Fogerty also found himself entangled in new, tit-for-tat lawsuits with Zaentz over the song "The Old Man Down the Road" which was, according to Zaentz, a blatant re-write of Fogerty's own 1970 Creedence hit "Run Through the Jungle." Since Fogerty had traded his rights to Creedence's songs in 1980 to cancel his remaining contractual obligations, Fantasy now owned the rights to "Run Through the Jungle" and sued Fogerty essentially for plagiarizing himself. While a jury ruled in Fogerty's favor, he did settle a defamation suit filed by Zaentz over the songs "Mr. Greed" and "Zanz Kant Danz." Fogerty was forced to edit the recording, changing the "Zanz" reference to "Vanz."

    Lawyers.......gotta love 'em!

     
  13. You have chosen to ignore posts from MattyScornD. Show MattyScornD's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    In response to yogafriend's comment:

    In response to MattyScornD's comment:

     

    Thanks, yoga.  

    As a DanFan, I knew about both of these cases, the whole of which speak to the maxim of "depends on whom you ask".  I do believe jazz foments a friendlier notion of "borrowing" as well as inside jokes.

    I once read about the birth of reggae and its musical origins, mainly in ska and rocksteady.  The differences are more about style than a distinction from one movement to the other.  The point was that untrained ears couldn't really tell the difference, and the idea of any one artist laying sole claim to a particular phrasing or beat was absurd.

     

     



    No problem.  I know!  It's so interesting how this all evolves.  Print publishing and literature are so different, and that's where I have more experience; actually we all have experience, insofar as bibliographies and footnotes are concerned.   

     

    I can truly respect the protective spirit of a musical artist, but it's so fuzzy.

    BTW, when I got into this, I was reading about the making of the entire "Gaucho" album, and it's a miracle it was ever made; the entire time they worked on it, they were fraught with one horrible incident after another (hit by a car for Becker; Becker's GF OD'd on drugs; he was then hit with a wrongful death lawsuit ...) etc., just awful.     Then, Keith Jarrett went after them.  "The Making of Gaucho" would make a great book.    



    Again, speaking just as a DanFan:

    "Gaucho" may be my least favorite Dan LP for a few reasons.  There are still some great songs, but the album overall feels a little tired and lacking some of the wit and flair of previous releases.  (Even 'Babylon Sisters', one of the standout tracks, speaks to a weariness...like the aftermath of a long, wild party.) I don't think it's so much running out of ideas as running out of breath.  I read that over 40 different musicians played on the 7 tracks.  No surprise perhaps that the Dan took a break afterward.

    That said, all of their LPs have some interesting tales behind them, comprised as they are of shifting personnel and various studio and label melodramas.  

     

     
  14. You have chosen to ignore posts from bombah. Show bombah's posts

    Re: The case Steely Dan's song

    I always thought "Wild West" by 80's one hit wonders Escape Club sounded a lot like "Pump it Up" by Elvis Costello.Had to search for the band name.

     

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