Friday, August 2, 2013

Dylan No Stranger to Plagiarism Charges; They're In the Wind

My first 45 was "All Day and All of the Night" by the Kinks. The song was released the year our family moved from Cleveland to New Jersey, a year of many big events for me including my 12th birthday which included a trip to Manhattan with my dad to buy a reel-to-reel tape two-speed Estey tape recorder. I also got my first record player, and first records.

The Kinks were part of the British Invasion which was hot, in large part due to the Beatles and the Ed Sullivan Show. And disc jockeys like Cousin Brucie, on WABC, introduced us to everything that was climbing and flaming. The Kinks reached a top ten with that song.

By the time The Doors broke through a few years later I had a much nicer Lafayette stereo system and was collecting albums in earnest. Waiting for the Sun came out in the summer of '68 and was immediately added to my collection. I loved the sound. "Hello I Love You (Won't You Tell Me Your Name)" flew to number one. It had a catchy great sound and a catchy riff. It never entered my mind to connect it to my first 45, but Ray Davies who wrote it for the Kinks certainly. He sued in a high profile plagiarism case and won, after which he received all royalties from sales of the Doors' song.

George Harrison similarly stumbled stumbled when he released My Sweet Lord after the breakup of the Beatles. He evidently failed to notice that the tune which emerged in in his head had an earlier origin: "He’s So Fine," the Chiffons' 1963 hit.

In recent years critics have been taking Bob Dylan to the woodshed with charges plagiarism. He’s purportedly stolen tunes, lyrics and arrangements. I've half wondered if the nearly countless strands of sentences and phrases in the songs on Tempest and a deliberate "in your face" response to these critics. That is, "I read the news today, oh boy, and how many other lines can you find here that came from somewhere else?"

Lee Marshall's Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Star defends Dylan's use of other material by explaining how a lifetime of internalizing the history of folk and blues music, it's all inside him and part of him now. Or, to quote Alex Moore, "Bob Dylan is not plagiarizing, he’s just way better read than you are."

While reading Robert Shelton's Dylan bio No Direction Home this week I discovered that even in the beginning Dylan had to deal with charges of pilfering a song, in this case one of his most significant, Blowing in the Wind. After it hit the charts via Peter, Paul & Mary, a rumor began to circulate that Dylan had stolen the song. Shelton, who wrote for the Times, got a call from a Rutgers prof that Dylan bought the song from a kid in Millburn, NJ, named Lorre Wyatt. The prof offered details that when presented to Dylan only made him angry.

In 1963 the young Wyatt wrote a letter to Broadside (a periodical that covered music scene then) that dissed the professor's story, but that he had actually written a song called "Freedom Is Blowing in the Wind." Because the titles were similar, he had friends who felt he'd been ripped off.

Interestingly enough, the story doesn't end here. In 1974, Wyatt wrote a story for the New Times about this whole stolen song incident. In the '74 piece he confessed to having lied with regard to haveing written anything remotely like Blowing in the Wind. He ended by stating, "I'm just sorry it's taken me 11 years to say 'I'm sorry.'"

Thinking of the incredible events that unfolded from 1963 to '74, globally and in Dylan's amazing epoch of song production, it's easy to imagine that this little blip had been long forgotten.

Lesson: don't believe everything you read and hear.  

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

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1 comment:

keeps said...

Too much of nothing -all of it said before elsewhere...