Thursday, January 30, 2014

Borrowed Grooves: Electric Guest, the Clash, Katrina & the Waves all did what Robin Thicke over-did (Video)

I don't know how, but it seems I've landed in the middle of Throwback Thursday without intending to.

Have you seen the commercial for the Expedia mobile app that uses "Waves" by Electric Guest as its soundtrack? Until I checked, I couldn't remember what the commercial advertised, so I looked up the only thing I remembered, this lyric: "They say that love is easy, but they must have forgot you." That's what stuck in my head. I won't bother with the app, but I've bought that crazy song.

"Waves" felt familiar like an old-school song, a Motown song, and then it hit me: Diana Ross and the Supremes! "You Can't Hurry Love." I've added that classic at the end of this post for anyone who's too young to know it or who may want to compare "Waves" to the song. No, "Waves" is not a rip-off of "You Can't Hurry Love." What I'm picking up is the bass line similarity. "Waves" is faster in tempo, but its bass line is pretty much the same notes and transitions as the Motown hit.

What Electric Guest has done is borrow one element of a style of music produced by a specific recording company. In a way, the bass line and beat of  "You Can't Hurry Love," which was another fresh sound from Motown when it came out, has become similar to a form. It's sort of reliable backbone that can be used for a certain type of popular song . Generally, it works for upbeat, happy songs. A musicologist out there may disagree with me, but that's okay. I don't profess to be a music expert but a music lover.

The group Katrina & the Waves borrowed that same bass line for "I'm Walking On Sunshine" (The video's at the end of the post as well.) Also, as this article at points out, "Hitsville, UK" by the Clash also borrowed the same bass line. The band even named the song "Hitsville, UK" as a nod to Motown, says Wikipedia. But you don't need them to tell you that Hitsville is the alternate name for Motown Records, right?

Now that my mind's on "borrowing" pieces of music, I can't help but think of the "Blurred Lines" copyright infringement case. The kind of borrowing observed in Electric Guest's "Waves" is not the same as the borrowing in Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." Thicke's hit is too close to Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up." He echoed Marvin's falsetto in parts, the song's rhythms, bass, and percussion with minor variation. Yes, it has some things in it that are quite different, the lyrics and use of some other instruments, but too many of its elements are too close to "Got to Give It Up." Jim Beviglia explains the problem well at American Songwriter.

Thicke has been claiming that all he did was use "a style," but he's wrong and he may even know that he's wrong. When he talked to GQ magazine, he nearly admitted that he over-borrowed.
GQ: What's the origin story behind your new single "Blurred Lines"?
Robin Thicke: Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." I was like, "Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove." Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it. (GQ)
Thicke admitted that he wanted "that [specific] groove" from that specific song. Anyone who's old enough to remember Marvin Gaye's musical evolution knows that the Motown singer later veered away from the standard Motown beat to do his own thing. As one of his later releases, "Got to Give It Up" was very different from other songs we listened to on the radio in the late 1970s, and even though it was the disco era, "Got to Give It Up" didn't feel like common disco.

All Thicke had to do was pay the copyright holders of "Got to Give It Up" for sampling Marvin's "groove" before he released the song, and he would have been legally covered, but he didn't. Can you tell that I'm not sympathetic to him? Perhaps he can use the Age of the Simulacra defense. [While his role's often glossed over in news stories, Pharrell Williams is also named in the lawsuit Marvin Gaye's family filed over "Blurred Lines."]

I didn't mean to go off on a Thicke tangent. But I get tired of the Thicke protectors saying that "Blurred Lines" and "Got to Give It Up" sound nothing alike.

So, here's the video for "Waves" and the lyrics follow.

Lyrics to Waves by Electric Guest

I know I, I won't make it don't know what to do
They say that love is easy but they must have forgot you
Oh she's a talking thing so full of glee
But twenty-one months will not agree
A second hand girl, I guarantee
Will make a life hard for you and me
Oh I, love to hate you cause you know that I don't
But treat me like you do I think it's time for you to go
And always such a pretty thing,
Depending on what the day's will bring
I can't escape love
Dah do dah do
A la la la lo yeah

Oh, my mind, is all
Washed away, all away
We keep holding on
To the everlasting waves

They say it's never easy when you're 23
And maybe that's a lie and it's just hard as fuck for me
Oh and I know someone to ripples day
I couldn't explain why I loved that way
I waited round all day duh dah dee
Waiting on you to make me free, and the
And the smile it just, floats away
As is the world is satisfied when night turns into day.
Oh it's a never ending up and down.
Another hot shot when you're around.
I'm sick of the thing that took her down.
I paint a new face with just a frown.

Oh, my mind, is all
Washed away, all away
We keep holding on
To the everlasting waves
Oh lovely, with you
No, I can't keep from falling in love
I can't keep from falling in love
Oh lovely

"You Can't Hurry Love" by Diana Ross and the Supremes

Katrina & the Waves, "Walking on Sunshine."


Unknown said...

Uh, look up Voxtrot and that's who they legit ripped off.

Vérité Parlant said...

If you mean this one by Voxtrot, then I think you're right:

Too similar in a lot of areas.

However, your comment is the first time I ever heard of Voxtrot and the song "The Start of Something," so for me "Waves" and "The Start of Something" are both borrowing that old school beat/groove. BUT Waves may be out-and-out ripping off Voxtrot.
Electric Guest and Voxtrot are both indie, so do they know each other or have any overlap of members, songwriters?