The Beatles: Extraordinary Plagiarists…

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This is as much a book about regrettable race relations as it is the most revered band in history.  In the end, author Edgar O. Cruz defines the Beatles more as fantastic and brilliant plagiarists of mostly African-American music, not the greatest composers since Beethoven.  Indeed, The Beatles: Extraordinary Plagiarists concludes that the Beatles DNA is more about songwriting wizardry, trend-chasing, and sly borrowing than innate, God-like genius.

And the story really didn’t start in Liverpool, according to Cruz.  Instead, setting the stage for the Beatles was the rough-and-tumble emergence of rock n’ roll in America, one that ultimately produced a friendly face for white audiences: Elvis Presley.

“Rock n’ roll was the race music, one the older generation of Whites disliked because it was initially considered as Black music and had strong associations with sex.  Presley was perceived as a White who sang like a Black — and he would eventually be adulated by the Whites precisely because he moved and sounded like a Black.”

The cross-Atlantic handoff is well-known, and discussed by John Lennon himself.  “It was Elvis that really got me buying records,” Lennon said.  “When I heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ I thought, ‘this is it’.  And I started to grow sideboards and all that gear…’

There were other influences, of course, and the budding Lennon and McCartney benefited enormously from their performances with Little Richard (not to mention the commercial-shaping of George Martin).  Perhaps the argument that ‘whites stole black music’ is far too simplified, especially since music is never created in a vacuum.   Instead, it’s always pulled from the boiling bouillabaisse of various influential styles, trends, and everything that came before.

Cruz is obviously cognizant of the nuances, but still pointed to a cynical and shrewd game played by the Beatles.

“Individually or collaboratively, Lennon and McCartney mostly got away with plagiarism by not exceeding the two bars to constitute plagiarism in its legal sense,” Cruz relayed.

And, this isn’t just a ‘black-and-white’ issue, in the literal sense. “Out of the 213 officially released songs in Great Britain, the Beatles were able to pass their mostly rehashed material as unique and novel during the quartet’s lifespan,” Cruz asserts, while connecting a substantial number of Beatles songs back to other, previously-written songs.

“McCartney converted ‘Good Day Sunshine’ from The Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ feel-good song, ‘Daydream.'”

“The Lovin Spoonful’s leader John Sebastian commented that the wonderful thing about the Beatles was that they could copy ideas without giving a hint in the final product that they did so.”

The Beatles: Extraordinary Plagiarists, available on Amazon.

50 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    “Lennon and McCartney mostly got away with plagiarism by not exceeding the two bars to constitute plagiarism in its legal sense”

    The writer doesn’t know the first thing about copyright law, as I’m sure many of you will point out, since there’s no such thing as a ‘two bar’/’8 note’ rule or law.

    Half a bar can easily be plagiarism.

    However, there’s a reason why people make this mistake: 8 notes often constitute two bars, and two bars often establish a recognizable, independent theme.

    Give it a try: 6 notes are rarely enough as they’re shared with lots of other tunes in most cases (which means they can’t be copyrighted), and 9-10 notes are almost an entire song.

    8 is indeed a magical number in music — but you can get in serious and very expensive trouble with less…

    Reply
  2. superduper

    You know DMN, ENOUGH WITH THE CLICKBAIT! I like your site with the extreme exception for articles like this.

    Reply
    • Dubist

      I agree wholeheartedly. I guess it works cause we’re clicking but sensationalism is still what it is.

      Reply
      • Paul Resnikoff
        Paul Resnikoff

        You know who else has an old book? Shakespeare. So I guess entire literary departments at thousands of colleges and schools, not to mention people putting on plays, are all clickbaiting?

        Reply
  3. david

    Meanwhile Thicke & Pharell get sued for copying ‘feel’ and cowbells!
    Most absurd part that is they actually lose the court case, when Marvin Gaye’s family don’t even own the master recording. Check out this video which clearly illustrates the point:

    Blurred Lines Appeal

    Reply
    • Will

      I agree with you and I watched/listened to the video and you’re right… the song sits on top of the arrangement and the disco pirates remix proves this point by using a totally different bassline (octave down/up pattern) and drum/percussion pattern and demonstrates that the song still works without the 60s funk groove.

      The ruling was spurious and was the wrong judgement.

      Reply
  4. DavidB

    I haven’t read the book, but I don’t think I need to. In publicity for the book Cruz has given what he presumably thinks are the *strongest* examples of his thesis, and if these don’t stand up to examination, it is not worth spending much time on the others. The Loving Spoonful example mentioned in the article above is a case in point. Another is ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’, which Cruz claims is based on Bob Dylan’s ‘Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’. Another is ‘Yesterday’, which Cruz claims is derived unconsciously from ‘Georgia on My Mind’. Now these pairs of songs were familiar to millions of people without anyone noticing any striking similarity before Cruz came along. The reason for this is that there isn’t any. Leaving aside the lyrics, where Cruz doesn’t claim any similarities, the melodies of the Beatles songs are entirely distinct from those of the supposed models. The most that might reasonably be claimed is that the ‘copies’ have a similar underlying structure to the ‘models’, but so what? The structure of a song is usually the least distinctive thing about it. The only case which rises to the level of being worth considering is that of ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Georgia’. Although the melodies are quite different, the underlying structure of the two songs is similar, including an unusual chord change in the first few bars. So I think it is conceivable that Paul McCartney was unconsciously influenced by ‘Georgia’, though the similarity is not close enough to be conclusive in itself. McCartney himself claimed that the melody of ‘Yesterday’ came to him in a dream, and was worried that he might have unconsciously remembered it from somewhere, but no-one involved with the song, including George Martin with his vast knowledge, seems to have said: Hang on, isn’t this a bit like Georgia On My Mind? And even if Georgia was an unconscious inspiration for Yesterday, what McCartney added to it is far more important than what was ‘borrowed’.

    Incidentally, none of these three examples involves ‘African-American’ music. ‘Georgia On My Mind’ is best known from the Ray Charles recording, but was of course written by Hoagy Carmichael.

    Even more incidentally, Cruz’s book is over two years old, so I fail to see how it qualifies as ‘news’.

    Reply
    • Name2

      Even more incidentally, Cruz’s book is over two years old, so I fail to see how it qualifies as ‘news’.

      Having no standards helps. If that sounds like it’s right up your alley, you’ve come to the right place. Don’t even ask about math and charts.

      Reply
  5. This is stupid

    There are so many bands that are more guilty of this than the beatles are.

    This is weak, focus on Zepplin at least. They stole more music from Lead Belly than anyone else has stolen from anyone

    Reply
    • Wake Up

      Typical fanboi response. It’s wrong and “stupid” because it involves a band you worship, not someone else’s. Music does not live in a vacuum.

      Reply
  6. Dale M. Haskell

    This is ancient history. Everything comes from something else. Blues artists ripped each other off as well. Doesn’t make me like The Beatles less. I knew this shit when I was in diapers. Sell many of them books,professor?

    Reply
  7. Harmon Gordon

    This is pure silliness. What the Beatles did was create unique melodies that were not lifted from anyone. Sure they used a lot of the same chord patterns and rhythms as many others, but that doesn’t mean anything. Just about all blues tunes use the same chord progression and nobody is screaming plagiarism about that.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    This book came out in 2012. All of the sudden this clickbait appears? Desperate?

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    It’s open season on the Beatles and on the Beatles era by people who weren’t born during those incredible times, and don’t understand the enormous difference between the creative spirit of that era and the rehashing that’s going on in this current day and age. They’re a popular target now–this is about the third big volley against the Beatles and their impact that has come out this year. Mainly I feel sorry for those who are too young to have lived through the power that swept through the creative arts during the 1960s era. Let a wise grandparent or older mentor sit down and tell you the true story of what really happened in those amazing years..

    Reply
    • Slice

      You are so right, I was there and there has been nothing like it since

      Reply
      • Ed Sullivan

        Totally agree. This author knows nothing about music, and even less about Beatles music.

        Reply
  10. anom

    The author just plagiarize the same kind of sh*t I’ve read before. None have stuck…so throw that sh*t again.

    Reply
  11. clem turner

    ..The good ones borrow, The great ones steal…
    You try writing just one bar of anything they created…

    Reply
  12. Brainless

    This is the stupidest idea ever, period. Gordon Parks wrote in English, Therefor all writers who use the English language after Mr. Parks plagerized him. Okay we got it Mr. Cruz.

    Reply
  13. DannyG

    Why does the author feel the need to play the “race card”. The Beatles created some of the most memorable music ever written. Including Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. They did, as very young men, what no other artist(s) has ever done before, or since (yet). Why can’t we take something GOOD and let it remain GOOD forever. I’m sorry that you feel the need to criticize and label the Beatles as racist. Mr. Cruz, put down your pen and reconnect with the universe. It’ll all work out. If you need an artist to skewer, might I suggest Chris Daughtry. I know for a fact that he’s managed to plagarized the sounds that come out of my butt.

    Reply
  14. stuart

    “Although the melodies are quite different, the underlying structure of the two songs is similar, including an unusual chord change in the first few bars.”

    If the author means the change from F to A7 — I to III7 — that’s a standard change for songs from the swing era. A more famous example is All of Me (the first bar of which is more similar to Yesterday than Georgia!) The tune is a nostalgic one, it is meant to be the kind of tune you feel like your mother should know so it is invoking the period but that’s not the same thing as plagiarism, at worst it is pastiche. Someone should tell this guy that there are only 12 notes and a limited number of chord progressions and that nearly all chord progressions, when you break them down, are basically I-V-I with some minors and dominants thrown in to draw out the tension.

    Reply
  15. Claes Olson

    Yes! Right! It’s just that I can’t remember the Elvis songs that inspired A Day In The Life, Tomorrow Never Knows and Strawberry Fields Forever – or maybe they were copied from Little Richards!?

    Reply
  16. Mike Dolan

    Almost complete nonsense. The Beatles were of course influenced by American R and B and Blues, Paul was influenced by 1940s Pop, George was influenced by Indian classical music. There was only one Beatles song ever that was unwittingly lifted that was My Sweet Lord. The fact that they didn’t alter that one just that little bit more to make it their own just kind off says a lot about the ridiculous argument that Cruz makes.

    Reply
    • Junglehop

      ‘My Sweet Lord’ is NOT a Beatles song dude, it’s a George Harrison song from his solo years post the Beatles demise. The song appears on his album ‘All Things Must Past’… it was never on a Beatles album. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read online people calling ‘Imagine’ “a Beatles song”… er, nope it’s a John Lennon solo song from his ‘Imagine’ album. This kinda stuff really irks me, I can only assume you guys aren’t big Beatles fans.

      Reply
  17. Brian Quinn

    I never really liked the Beatles or their music. So overrated in my opinion. For me The Eagles are far superior.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Eagles ? Also extraordinary plagerists. Every note and tune of this country rock band has been stolen from old country and western songs which were in turn influenced by old blues tune. LoL.

      Reply
    • Junglehop

      The Eagles are so bland and booooring. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles, just like I don’t trust skinny chefs and people who hate dogs! You should listen to The Beatles proper, not just the same 6 or 7 songs that get played on high rotation on oldies stations. The Beatles are fantastic and highly rewarding to anyone who immerses themselves in their entire discography.

      Reply
  18. M Rosin

    So I just saw your clickbait article on that laughably bad book accusing the Beatles of plagiarism and thought I would let you know you have officially lost me as a reader. Not only will I refuse to click on that silly article, but I refuse to click on your site again if this is the level of quality I can expect.

    Seriously? You publish a story about a TWO YEAR OLD book? One that makes the entirely laughable claim that the Beatles were plagiarists when of course any idiot knows the Beatles: (1) always credited their influences, particularly black artists, from the very beginning and (2) the Beatles themselves spoke publicly and specifically about how they used all sorts of music and art and MADE IT THEIR OWN. Just like black artists did. Just like all artists did and do. 

    This really is a dreadful book by a hack looking to seek “controversy.” And you fell for it,  looking for clickbait, which signals to me that your web site is no longer worth reading.

    Bye.

    Reply
  19. Andre

    Wait, so you’re telling me Elvis’ songs were based on music that came from black people??!! No FUCKIN Way!!!

    Reply
    • Werequat

      Elvis didn’t write a lot if his songs, but he did record a few by a man named Otis Blackwell…and other black artists… Google away.

      Reply
  20. Paul Lanning

    This book didn’t deserve to be published. Everything the guy says is Bullshit.

    Reply
  21. Nelson

    The Beatles changed the music, changed the world, they shook the world and brought more joy and excitement
    to the world than anybody else. Today the world needs their messages of love and peace.
    Mr. Cruz ,who the hell are you , your book must be full of shit, flush it. You definately want to make a few dollars,don’t you. Please go back to school and learn about the Beatles, you will then make your contribution to society .

    Reply
  22. Shaniqua

    The Beatles are nothing but thieves. Their fans won’t admit it though, which is why you should never trust fans.

    Reply
    • Ed Sullivan

      You sound hurt and confused. What did they steal from you? Your virginity?

      Reply
  23. Lawrence Mbae M'mbijiwe

    The Beatles stole from African-American culture. They are colonialist thieves. They need to pay reparations to the black musicians whose blood and sweat they trod on.

    Reply

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