Patterico's Pontifications


“Layla” Outro: Stolen

Filed under: General,Music — Patterico @ 8:29 am

You learn something new every day.

If you’ve not heard this before, it’s likely the most amazing thing you will hear all day:

Ignore the vocal line and focus on the piano part and the harmony. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was stolen for the outro of “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton’s band at the time). It was famously used in “Goodfellas.”

Rita Coolidge has spoken about this.

Coolidge says in her memoir Delta Lady (via the Miami Herald): “We played the song for Eric Clapton in England. I remember sitting at the piano in Olympic Studios while Eric listened to me play it. Jim and I left a cassette of the demo, hoping of course that he might cover it.”

She “largely forgot about it” after that – until she heard Layla after she and [Jim] Gordon had split up. “I was infuriated,” she remembers.

“What they had clearly done was take the song Jim and I had written, jettisoned the lyrics and tacked it to the end of Eric’s song. It was almost the same.”

Coolidge approach Clapton’s manager at the time, Robert Stigwood. But she says she was told: “You’re going to go up against the Robert Stigwood Organisation? Who do you think you are? You’re a girl singer.”

She adds: “There was no way Jim could have forgotten we’d written the song together. And I don’t think Eric could have, either.”

In 2011, Derek And The Dominos keyboardist Bobby Whitlock supported Coolidge’s version of events, saying in an interview: “Jim took the melody from Rita’s song and didn’t give her credit for writing it. Her boyfriend ripped her off. I knew – but nobody would listen to or believe me.”

She could try to sue Gordon, I guess . . . except that he went on to become the police commissioner of Gotham “has been in prison since murdering his mother in a psychotic incident in 1983.” But what if she sued Clapton? Well, if she sued for copyright infringement and it went to trial in L.A., a jury would rule against her as long as Clapton testified and the jury thought he’d throw them a party afterwards as a reward. (Yes, I’m still bitter about the “Stairway to Heaven” verdict.)

Thefts and imitations can be a confounding thing. In the “Stairway to Heaven” case, I have had many people tell me they don’t hear the similarity to “Taurus,” the Spirit song that Led Zeppelin stole. I don’t see how anyone could miss it.

Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit on a 1968 tour — the same year Taurus was released. But Robert Plant testified that he hadn’t heard the song — an obvious lie, in my view — and a star-struck jury bought it. (I never heard whether they got their party. I don’t think they did.)

You can tell I am convinced the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven” was stolen. Yet Rick Beato, who knows his music, has this (in my view totally unconvincing) defense of Led Zeppelin as simply using a common line cliche.

Similarly, I was stunned the day I listened to the end of Dvorak’s “Dumky Trio” and heard the theme to “E.T.”

But when I blogged about that in 2007, I noted that a friend of mine who is a musical expert had advised me to go easy on the criticism of Williams, as borrowing is common in classical music. I am a genuine admirer of John Williams, but I think it’s fair to note that some of his music is clearly derivative of other music (think Darth Vader’s theme and “Mars” from Holst’s “The Planets” (more here) as one of many examples.) But Williams did add a lot of value to the stuff he borrowed from, and is a giant among musicians, in my view.

All that said, Jim Gordon absolutely stole from Rita Coolidge, and she deserves credit.

23 Responses to ““Layla” Outro: Stolen”

  1. It is really really hard not to hear “Stairway to Heaven” in “Taurus.” If you weren’t told, you would misidentify “Taurus” every time.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  2. Yep. I love Zeppelin but they were pretty brazen thieves.

    JRH (52aed3)

  3. I am not particularly a fan of Led Zeppelin, but I would apply the legal defense of accession to Spirit’s claim. For people who don’t click links, it’s why Picasso did not have to share credit for Guernica with his art supplies store. Or Michelangelo with his quarrymen for David.

    To me the Spirit riff sounds like a teenager at Guitar Center trying out Stairway To Heaven on an unplugged Japanese Strat copy he’s looking to buy. (Yeah, it happened, I was there.) Led Zeppelin made it sound good.

    nk (1d9030)

  4. There is absolutely no problem with composers “borrowing” from other, long-dead composers, as long as they don’t actually try to pass off a work as their own. Even explicit portions may be placed in homage to the original or as a fair-use to evoke an evironment or to recall a sentiment.

    But such practices with contemporaries, and in particular, cohorts, border on copying at best, and figurative robbery at worst. Especially where money, recognition, and benefit are concerned.

    felipe (484255)

  5. Musicians are not alone. I had an English professor – who had an obsessive love/hate relationship with Shakespeare – who never ended a class without reminding us that Shakespeare “borrowed” a lot of work from his predecessors and contemporaries. It seemed quite natural to me, but scandalous to her.

    Hoi Polloi (b28058)

  6. felipe @4. Borders on copyright violation, not “borders on copying”

    Sammy Finkelman (6975b4)

  7. Yes, Sammy, that is what I mean.

    felipe (484255)

  8. Although not exactly theft, one of the worst instances I ever heard of an A-list musical act screwing a minor artist was Pink Floyd’s treatment of Clare Torry, the vocalist who improvised the mind-blowing vocals on “The Great Gig in the Sky”, one of the stand-out songs on The Dark Side of the Moon, which still holds the record for most weeks (917!) on the Billboard Top 200 list of albums.

    For her performance, Torry’s entire compensation was the flat-rate session fee for a Sunday: 30 quid.

    She sued in 2004 on the basis that her vocal composition constituted co-authorship with keyboardist Rick Wright, who wrote the instrumentals.

    To Pink Floyd’s (belated) credit, she and the band reached an undisclosed out of court settlement a year later, and she has been listed as co-composer of the song on all versions produced since (and presumably receiving some royalties).

    Torry described the session in a 2005 interview:

    I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really, really do not know what to do. And perhaps it would be better if I said “Thank you very much” and gave up.’ It wasn’t getting anywhere: it was just nothing.

    “That was when I thought, ‘Maybe I should just pretend I’m an instrument.’ So I said, ‘Start the track again.’ One of my most enduring memories is that there was a lovely can [i.e headphone] balance. Alan Parsons got a lovely sound on my voice: echoey, but not too echoey. When I closed my eyes – which I always did – it was just all-enveloping; a lovely vocal sound, which for a singer, is always inspirational.”

    Interviewer: It sounds like you turned a corner when you abandoned the idea of expressing anything specific.

    “Well, they did say, ‘Be more emotional.’ So I started getting this pattern of notes, and they said, ‘Well, that seems the right direction to go.’ And I told them to put the tape on. I knew from past experience… well, I used to be called ‘First-take Torry’ because, very often, the first take I did was the best. And at the end of the first take, Dave Gilmour said, ‘Do another one – but even more emotional.’ So I did another one. And then he said, ‘I think we could do a better one.’ I started, and half way through, I realised that I was beginning to be repetitive; derivative. It didn’t have that off-the-top-of-the-head, instantaneous something. It was beginning to sound contrived. I said, ‘I think you’ve got enough.’ I thought it sounded like caterwauling.

    “I was very surprised that I could sing that high. That came as quite an eye-opener to me. At that time, when I did backing vocals with other girls, I always sang bottom harmony. But I never thought it would see the light of day.

    “I think Rick Wright has subsequently said I was embarrassed. And I was! I thought, ‘Oh dear.’ But I said, ‘Thank you very much, and off I went.’ By ten o’clock, I was having dinner with my boyfriend in the Chelsea Kitchen on the King’s Road.”

    Dave (1bb933)

  9. Hoi Polloi (b28058) — 4/9/2021 @ 10:49 am

    I like Oscar Wild’s take: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

    felipe (484255)

  10. Bah! Wilde not Wild. My mind is going – one letter at a time.

    felipe (484255)

  11. Dave (1bb933) — 4/9/2021 @ 11:36 am

    Great comment, Dave. I didn’t know that.

    felipe (484255)

  12. Led Zepplin and Taurus both stole from the song “My Funny Valentine”.

    Xmas (df540a)

  13. Listening to that Spirit song I actually thought for a while that I was just listening to Stairway to Heaven. Wow.

    nate (1f1d55)

  14. Yeah, it’s far more than an accidental coincidence of notes. It may sound like a “badly played rendition of SWtH” but still.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  15. The curious part is that these musicians are already rich and famous. Why can’t they cut a slice for the people they ripped off? Which is the bigger reason, monetary stinginess, or an unwillingness to acknowledge that they didn’t create the song?

    norcal (01e272)

  16. @norcal

    At the very least, it chips away at meritocracy arguments when the “best” are shown to mainly be good at theft, conning others, or choosing their parents.

    john (cd2753)

  17. john,

    I propose a re-named Grammy Award: Best New (Con) Artist.

    norcal (01e272)

  18. There is a Francis Bacon Society (yes, there is) that, among other things, asserts that Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, to which assertion P. G. Wodehouse replied: “That was jolly decent of him.”

    nk (1d9030)

  19. nk,

    My uncle was a English professor, and a brilliant, self-educated man who grew up in a very poor family. He herded sheep solo for days on end as a boy. He read like crazy. He told the story of returning to the library of his small, rural, Utah town decades later, and finding that he was the last one who had checked out many of the books!

    As a professor, he once took a sabbatical for a year just to study Shakespeare. He took umbrage at any suggestion that Shakespeare’s plays were written by anybody other than Shakespeare. He said it was elitism to imagine that only a member of the nobility could have written so well.

    My most cherished book is a big read tome containing all of Shakespeare’s work, complete with commentary.

    Somebody came up to my uncle at a social function (it may have been a relative) and told him that she got an “A” out of Shakespeare. He said, “That’s good, considering that he’s been dead for 400 years.”

    My uncle died on April 23, 2010. April 23rd was also the day Shakespeare died. What a coincidence, huh?

    norcal (01e272)

  20. I meant to say that my uncle gave me that big red book.

    norcal (01e272)

  21. The curious part is that these musicians are already rich and famous. Why can’t they cut a slice for the people they ripped off?

    Get back
    I’m alright Jack
    Keep your hands off of my stack

    Dave (1bb933)

  22. That was a masterful circle-back, Dave!

    norcal (01e272)

  23. You have a better ear than I do.
    I’m a consumer of music, not a connoisseur.

    steveg (02d731)

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