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Music Plagiarism and Appropriation


This page is mainly concerned with melodic phrases: intros, choruses, codas, solos, riffs or bass lines – any rhythmical sequence of pitches that intrigues me. Chord progressions might sometimes get my attention. Style, sound, vibe, or lyrics won't.

I give priority to songs I like and plagiarism that is less well-known and not already subject to Wikipedia elaborations.


Beatles – Lady Madonna

Lady Madonna (1968)
Steve Miller Band
Space Cowboy (1969)

This Paul McCartney penned A-side has a memorable piano part and an infectious bass line that has turned up in several groove-based hits. It is a derivative of classic bass riffs found in songs like Lucille (1957), Brand New Cadillac (1959) and Oh, Pretty Woman (1964)

Lady Madonna has also been used in two very popular Japanese 8-bit games.

First (without permission) in Tehkan's 1984 arcade classic Bomb Jack.

And in 1990 Nintendo ripped off both the piano part and the bass line for the theme song of Dr. Mario.

A blatant lift, but the boring vocal melody ruins the song for me. I definitely prefer The Joker (which also has "space cowboy" and "gangster of love" in the lyrics).

Without McCartney's grace notes, this version of the riff sounds even more similar to early rock 'n roll riffs like Lucille and Brand New Cadillac.

Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale:
Range: 12 semitones (Octave)

Billy Bragg & Wilco
Hoodoo Voodoo (1998)

The first four notes are the same as the Oh, Pretty Woman riff, the last four notes are the same as the Lady Madonna riff. But the overall feel is more Beatles than Roy Orbinson.

Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale:
1,1,5,8,6,6,10,13 (grace notes excepted)
Range: 12 semitones (Octave)

Mr. E's Beautiful Blues (2000)

Though the groove is far from identical, the entire song feels very similar to Hoodoo Voodoo. Pitch shift this a few steps up and the voices (and the tempo) also becomes strikingly alike.

But we have deviated pretty far from Lady Madonna here. The combined groove of the bass and the guitar might even sound closer to Louie Louie (1957), depending on what your ears focus on.

Barry Blue – Dancing on a Saturday Night

Barry Blue
Dancing on a Saturday Night (1972)
T. Rex
Truck On (Tyke) (1973)
The verse melody can be found in four UK single A-sides. It bears a slight resemblance to Living Doll (1959)

A bewildering choice for a single that marked the end of Bolan's reign over the UK chart. The song has strong phrases but the 2-beat chorus hook is very weak, yet repeated 63 times during 3 minutes and 9 seconds.

Bolan recorded an acoustic demo in October 1971, suggesting that the melody has earlier roots than Barry Blue's song.

Truck On (Tyke) demo (1971)

  Suzi Quatro
The Wild One (1974)
  Written by Chinn and Chapman, of course.
  Babylon Zoo
All the Money's Gone (1999)
  Hearing the lyrics, it was obviously Bolan, not Barry Blue, who inspired Jas Mann of Babylon Zoo to write this. Furthermore, Mann had already used Truck On (Tyke) three years before when he borrowed the descending guitar riff from its chorus for the Animal Army single.

Johannes Brahms – Academic Festival Overture Op 80

Johannes Brahms
Academic Festival Overture Op 80 (1880)
Perry Como
Catch a Falling Star (1957)
This short melody appears in the third section: animato (G major). It's not much of a melody, really. To me it sounds more like an extended motif. Now, this I would call a proper melody, though rather stiff and dry. It was written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and became Como's last big hit.
  Cockney Rebel
Judy Teen (1974)
  Much more melodic and memorable. Not to mention a superior chorus and a fantastic Roxy Music-like sound and performance.
Till You've Been Kissed (1977)
  This mawkish song appeared on the album Shine On Silver Light, which was only released in Japan and Germany. It was written by drummer Jeff Allen.


Eddie Cochran – C'mon Everybody

Eddie Cochran
C'mon Everybody (1958)
Suzy Is a Headbanger (1977)
Like Summertime Blues and Somethin' Else a raw, bass-driven song that was very influential on 70s glam rock and punk. Pretty much a straight off lift, though the guitar is less rhythmically distinctive.

Eddie Cochran – Somethin' Else

Eddie Cochran
Somethin' Else (1959)
Rebel Rouser (1974)

A brash rockabilly stomper with an unusual sound for its time. The riff is rhythmically similar too the drums on Little Richard's Keep a Knockin (1957) and Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll (1970).

Just like Cochran's Summertime Blues, the bass plays a semitone riff with 8th notes.

From the Sweet Fanny Adams album. Written by the band rather than by Chinn & Chapman.
43792 (I'm Bustin' You) (1975)
  A goofy but rousing 50s pastiche from the Use Your Imagination album.
  Cheap Trick
She's Tight (1982)
  A single, but also on the One On One album.
Talk Dirty to Me (1987)
  An awful single which is also on the Look What the Cat Dragged In album.
Datanörd (199?)
  Gets off too a promising start, but the cheesy lyrics and ill-matched chorus let it down. Not a patch on songs like Ve & Fasa and Jag Fick Se (Hur du verkligen e') from the excellent 1981 album Rätt Stuk written by Åke Eriksson (Wasa Express) and Björn Uhr.

Eddie Cochran – Three Steps to Heaven

Eddie Cochran
Three Steps to Heaven (1960)
David Bowie
Queen Bitch (1971)

One of many simple but effective riffs by Cochran who had an especially large impact on Marc Bolan and his songwriting.

It's a chord-based V-IV-I-riff, similar to Van Morrison's riff for Gloria (1964)

A completely transparent copy by Bowie in this homage to Velvet Underground who, by the way, had used a closely related riff on Sweet Jane the year before. (Reed's Vicious and Bowie's Running Gun Blues are also related V-IV-I-riffs)


Ella Fitzgerald –
'Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That You Do It

Ella Fitzgerald
'Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That You Do It) (1939)
T. Rex
I'm a Voodoo Man (1998)
Written by Trummy Young and Sy Oliver and recorded by many artists.

Recorded in 1976 but not released during Bolan's life time.

In the liner notes of T. Rex Unchained: Unreleased Recordings Volume 7, Martin Barden calls this an "upbeat rockabilly-like 'Jeepster' derivative". I really can't hear it and, in any case, it is a clearly a derivative of something much older.


Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky

Norman Greenbaum
Spirit in the Sky (1970)
Alvin Stardust
My Coo Ca Choo (1970)
A variation on the Boogie Chillun riff.

Written by Peter Shelley (not to be confused with Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks). There is another guitar riff on top, but the background groove is borrowed from Spirit in the Sky.

Alvin Stardust (real name Bernard William Jewry) didn't actually sing on the recording. Pete Shelley himself did before Jewry was hired as the public face of the Alvin Stardust persona that Shelley had created. Weirdly enough, Jewry later seems to have claimed that he even was involved with the writing of the song when Marc Bolan visited the studio.

Gudibrallan – Sosse

Sosse (1971)
Det Spelades Bättre Boll (1980)
A compelling melody, so simple and forthright that it just has to have been used before.

Sure, just like with Sosse, the lyrics are more carefully crafted than the melody. Nevertheless, nobody would care about the lyrics without the melody. It seems wrong that Torsson gets all the songwriting credit for this one.


Hawkwind – Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun (1971)
T. Rex
Children of the Revolution (1972)

Lyrically, this would sit perfectly along songs like Children of Rarn on the eponymous T. Rex album from the year before. Musically too, the acoustic part reminds me of songs like Sun Eye and The Visit on the same album.

T. Rex
Buick Mackane (1972)

Not that similar to Children of the Sun, but extremely similar (five beats are identical) to Children of the Revolution, which was released as a single a few months afterwards. It is not clear which song was written first.

The crude riffs of both All Day and All of the Night (1964) and You Really Got Me (1964) are obvious points of comparison. But more than anything else, Bolan must have listened to the friends of his old partner Steve Took before writing this riff-based anthem of nonsense statements.

The riff extends the first E–D–E part of the Hawkwind riff substantially with parts from Buick Mackane. From the G in the final part, it then goes back to E instead of up to A like in the Hawkwind riff. (Bolan waits for the chorus – not heard in the clip above – to use the A chord.)


Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (1995)

I'm not madly keen on U2 but this marvelous Bolan pastiche is second only to Cornershop's Lessons Learned from Rocky I to Rocky III. It has creative variations of the COTR-riff, Bolan's trademark three descending notes, weird and alluring vocals, and just tons of neat little touches everywhere.

  Heavy Stereo
Chinese Burn (1996)

A quite passable glam pastiche which serves up a riff of equal parts You Really Got Me and Children of the Revolution.

Take Control (2002)

The kind of rip-off I dislike the most: contrived mutilation of Bolan's riff just to make sure it isn't exactly the same.

Toni Holgersson – Driven av en vind

Toni Holgersson
Driven av en vind (1991)
Nisse Hellberg
Tufft Jobb (2006)

A lovely verse melody that makes me think of the songs like Lawdy Miss Clawdy, Bonnie Bee, and Hot Love. But the more immediate inspiration surely came from Toni Holgersson's song.

The 2 x 2-bar bridge to the chorus recalls the bridge in Gyllene Tider's Flickan i en Cole Porter-sång.

John Lee Hooker – Boogie Chillun

John Lee Hooker
Boogie Chillun (1948)
Norman Greenbaum
Spirit in the Sky (1970)
An extremely influential riff/guitar figure, that no doubt has been used on many more songs than my examples on the right.  
  Rolling Stones
Shake Your Hips (1972)
  A cover of a 1965 song by Slim Harpo. The Boogie Chillun influence is stronger on this version from the Exile on Main St. album.
  ZZ Top
La Grange (1973)
  T. Rex
Funky London Childhood (1976)

  Bolan had already used the riff on early versions of The Street and Babe Shadow (1973) but decided for a less guitar-centric sound and buried it deep in the mix in the final version.
  T. Rex
Visions of Domino (1977)

  A reworked version of Funky London Childhood where strings make for an unusually ominous-sounding John Lee Hooker riff.

John Lee Hooker – Dimples

John Lee Hooker
Dimples (1956)
Spinal Tap
Gimme Some Money (1984)
Five years later, Hooker recycled the riff for Boom Boom, perhaps even more renowned today. Lyrically upfront and also musically so! This is a barefaced copy of Dimples from their early Thamesmen days.


The Jayhawks – Stranded In The Jungle

The Jayhawks
Stranded In The Jungle (1956)
Elvis Presley
Don't Be Cruel (1956)

Most people know this riff from Don't Be Cruel, but Stranded In The Jungle actually charted two weeks earlier, so I assume that it also was released earlier. Nevertheless, there must be prior songs using the same riff. I'll add them when I find them.

Just like Lucille, the riff is just one bar of ascending through a Major Sixth chord and then back to the Fifth. But the rhythm is very different – bouncy! – and there are no repeating notes:

(Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale)
1,1,5,5,8,8,10,8 – Lucille
1,5,8,10,8 – Stranded In The Jungle

Identical and also very similar to the riff in King Creole (1958), which uses the same rhythm but replaces the Major Third with a repeat of the first note:

1,1,8,10,8 – King Creole

  T. Rex
Baby Boomerang (1972)


A plain copy though the slower tempo and different sound make for a less bouncy feel. The worst song on The Slider in my opinion.

Bolan used another “1,5,8,10,8 riff” twice in One Inch Rock and New York City (also the bass riff in Elvis's Big Hunk O' Love). But that one has the same straight rhythm as Lucille, just without the repeating notes. So the feel is quite different from Don't Be Cruel.

Bolan riffs that really do feel similar are Beltane Walk (1970) and, particularly, Thunderwing (1972), which starts off like Stranded In The Jungle but adds a second bar which makes it more lively and less trance-like.

Donkey Kong (1981)
  Pretty typical of Nintendo's arcade games at the time. Popeye (Peggy March's I Will Follow Him) and Donkey Kong Jr. also borrows simple monophonic phrases from popular songs for their background music.


Kiss – Cold Gin

Cold Gin (1974)
Spinal Tap
Big Bottom (1984)
Written by Ace Frehley who also plays the great riff on display here. You can hear the influence of Fire and Water (1970) by Free, but Frehley chiseled it into something much more direct and punchy. A jokey song, of course, but still enjoyable on a purely musical level. Some middle and treble would definitely improve it though...

Kiss – Shock Me

Shock Me (1977)
Lit Up (1999)
A memorable Ace Frehley four-bar riff. A blatant rip-off with small changes that make it more anonymous and stingless. Also, the chorus is very similar to the coda riff in Kiss's Only You.

Kiss – Only You

Only You (1981)
Lit Up (1999)
A powerful riff suddenly enters in the coda. The likeness is worth mentioning as Buckcherry stole the riff for Lit Up from another Kiss song.


Franz Lehár – Vilja Lied

Franz Lehár
Vilja Lied (1905)
Tyrannosaurus Rex
She Was Born to Be My Unicorn (1969)
A famous aria from the German operetta Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow). The clip here is sung by Ingeborg Hallstein. The first four bars of this haunting song from the Unicorn album are very similar though the he rhythm is different and the opening perfect fourth is missing. Perhaps because it involves the lowest melody note and Bolan didn't have the greatest vocal range.

Little Richard – Lucille

Little Richard
Lucille (1957)
Vince Taylor
Brand New Cadillac (1959)

A very influential bass riff of eight ascending 8th notes. None of the riffs to the right are identical copies, but they are all comprised of eight ascending 8th notes. This in contrast to other famous "eight 8th notes"-riffs like the Peter Gunn Theme (back and forth) and the Batman Theme (mainly descending).

There are probably many earlier examples of this kind of riff in boogie-woogie piano pieces.

Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale:
Range: 9 semitones (Major Sixth)

A fast, menacing riff where the eight ascending notes span just half an octave. More conjunct and less joyous than the other riffs here

This song was made very popular in Nordic countries by Swedish, Danish and Finnish bands in the 60s. Interestingly enough, most replaced the riff with the riff from the theme song of American TV-show Peter Gunn (1958).

Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale:
Range: 6 semitones (Diminished Fifth)

  Roy Orbinson
Oh, Pretty Woman (1964)

The most disjunct of the riffs here but, to my ears, still softer and less lively than the Lady Madonna riff.

Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale:
Range: 14 semitones (Major Ninth)

Lady Madonna (1968)


Grace note excepted, the same rhythm of eight ascending notes. The first six notes are almost identical to Brand New Cadillac, but the two final leaps upwards make the riff sound bouncy and invigorating rather than menacing. It has been plagiarized several times.

Notes as numbers in a chromatic scale:
1,1,4,5,6,6, (grace note), 10,13
Range: 12 semitones (Octave)

Love – You set the scene

You set the scene (1967)
T. Rex
Liquid Gang (1974)
The final and most ambitious track on Forever Changes. What we hear here is the orchestrally arranged coda. The horns in particular seem to have influenced Tony Visconti's arrangements on Liquid Gang. The end of the (too) long coda of a typically overblown song on the Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow album. By no means identical with the coda of You set the scene, but remarkably similar.


Henry Mancini – Peter Gunn Theme

Henry Mancini
Peter Gunn Theme (1959)
Hep Stars
Cadillac (1965)

Much more well known today than the TV-show from which it originates. An entire generation of video gamers also know the tune from Spy Hunter (1983), a coin-op that was ported to most 8-bit computers and consoles in the 80s.

The riff was also used as the basis for a new tune in another 1983 game – the C64 version of Sierra Online´s Crossfire.

A cover of Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac (1959). But, surprisingly, the Swedish band replaced the original eight-note riff with an eight-note riff from another song. Less menace, more swagger, perhaps...

As a matter of fact, all the other Nordic bands that covered Cadillac during the 60s also changed the riff into variations of the Peter Gunn riff.

Martha and the Vandellas – Dancing in the Street

Martha and the Vandellas
Dancing in the Street (1964)
John's Children
Desdemona (1967)
A Motown classic. The Mamas & the Papas also had success with a cover in 1966. Marc Bolan was almost certainly very familiar with both versions when he wrote Desdemona. The two first bars of the repeating 4-bar phrase in this Bolan-penned song are similar to the two first bars of the repeating 4-bar phrase in Dancing in the Street.

Jimmy McCracklin – The Walk

Jimmy McCracklin
The Walk (1957)
T. Rex
Beltane Walk (1970)

Though bouncy, the Minor Seventh note makes for a more world-weary walk than the boyish joy of Bolan's run-up to Ride a White Swan.

A much more melodic song – almost bubblegum – whose riff is an obvious nod to McCracklin.

Yet it feels pretty different. Bolan goes one whole step higher and keeps it strictly in major. This puts a youngish spring in the step – it's the walk of a boy, skipping across a dewy meadow in the morning sun.

Like Lucille, Don't Be Cruel and many other 50s riffs, the riff begins with a climb up the notes of a Major Sixth chord.


Ramones – Go Mental

Go Mental (1978)
Wilmer X
Tänk Om Vänd Om (2000)
A very catchy tune from the Road To Ruin album. Musically similar to 1983's Psycho Therapy (the lyrics are pretty similar too, of course). From the 70s influenced album Silver. Some modifications, but the fundamental elements of these four bars are the same as in the Ramones song.

Ramones – Highest Trails Above

Highest Trails Above (1983)
Wilmer X
Nere på knä igen (1985)

The descending riff in bars 5-8 is perhaps the most characteristic part of the song and begins with a melody/rhythm reminiscent of the guitar breaks in the middle 8 of Hot Love and Heartbreak Hotel.

The verse starts off very similar to their own Commando (1977).

The 4-bar descending Ramones riff is repeated twice before the verse begins.

And then, the verse, the chorus – the structure of the entire tune – continues to echo Dee Dee's song quite conspicuously.

Lou Reed – Vicious

Lou Reed
Vicious (1973)
Bruce Springsteen
Jungleland (1975)

Produced by David Bowie and similar to other chord-based V-IV-I-riffs by Reed and Bowie, such as those in Sweet Jane, Running Gun Blues and Queen Bitch. Also closely related to the riff in Wild Thing (1966) by the Troggs.

The same riff in a very different song.
  Magnus Uggla
Jag Skiter (1977)

Same rhythm, but V-II-I instead of V-IV-I.

One of the most well-known early Uggla tracks. It was a single but also on the album Va ska man ta livet av sig för när man ändå inte får höra snacket efteråt.

Just like Varning på stan on the same album, it also borrows the descending chromatic piano riff from Mott The Hoople's All the Way from Memphis. (There is also a song about Mott The Hoople on the album.)

  Judas Priest
Living After Midnight (1980)
  A blatant copy and one the Priest's most popular songs.
  Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction
Prime Mover (1987)
  Their only hit single. It reached No. 18 on the UK chart
  Transvision Vamp
Baby I Don't Care (1989)

Same rhythm as Vicious but reversed order of the chords (I-IV-V) makes this even closer to the riff of Wild Thing and almost identical to the bass riff in Roxette's Dressed for Success.

The verse of the song owes much to Manic Monday or rather to the eaven earlier My Girl Sloopy & Hang On Sloopy, which not only share the same melody but also sport a I-IV-V-riff.

  Ugly Kid Joe
Everything About You (1991)
  Clearly different, but just about similar enough to make me take note.

Daniel Alomía Robles – El Cóndor Pasa

Daniel Alomía Robles
El Cóndor Pasa (1913)
T. Rex
Change (1974)
This Peruvian song became very famous by Simon & Garfunkel in 1970. The version here, however, is by British classical guitarist John Williams.

This riff is repeated throughout this song from the Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow album. It is faster but very similar to the first three bars of the verse melody of El Cóndor Pasa. But, just like in She Was Born to Be My Unicorn, Bolan skips the opening perfect fourth.

The riff is not on early demos of the song, but on the final version it is central and also sung by Bolan and Gloria Jones in the end section.

Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes of the Brokenhearted

Jimmy Ruffin
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted (1966)
T. Rex
Love Drunk (1982)
A classic Motown ballad, which leaves me pretty cold although I love Bolan's imitation. Recorded in 1977 but not released during Bolan's life time.


Skeptics – Turn It On

Turn It On (1968)
T. Rex
Get It On (1971)

An obscure B-side from an Oklahoma garage band. And by the way, the A-side is called She's a Gas ... Chances are no more than nine people bought this single back in the 60s, but Bolan surely was one of them!

It is not just the simplistic 3 x 3-note melody which is similar to Get It On. The chords vary while the 3-note melody stays the same, and this progression of 3 chords is identical to the chord progresion in Get It On (even the minor chord that really shouldn't be minor?).

I always thought the chorus was the weakest part of Bolan's sole U.S. hit. "It lacks something of the T. Rex I know and love" to quote John Peel's fateful review. Now I know why!

Still, the raised notes of the third bar is an improvement. Not sure about rushing it one beat though. I prefer when he doesn't rush it, like on the oft-derided version on the Marc show ... or like Turn It On.


Vince Taylor – I'll Be Your Hero

Vince Taylor
I'll Be Your Hero (1960)
Beach Boys
California Girls (1965)

This is just a two-beat lilt – a four-note motif that barely even qualifies as a riff. I'm sure it has been used in more songs than the ones I have listed here. But these three very different songs certainly all use it to good effect!

Note the frantic piano hammering part in the end of the clip. Maybe a clue that this was Bolan's source for the bass line of Hot Love?

Then again, Bolan was a huge Beach Boys fan.
  T. Rex
Hot Love (1970)


Besides the bass line, please also note the guitar break from the middle 8 which I have appended in the end. It is generally assumed to be a nod to the middle 8 of Heartbreak Hotel, but there is a similar triplet figure in I'll Be Your Hero.

Ten Years After – Baby Won't You Let Me Rock 'n' Roll You

Ten Years After
Baby Won't You Let Me Rock 'n' Roll You (1971)
Led Zeppelin
Misty Mountain Hop (1971)

Released a few months before Misty Mountain Hop. It is a very simple riff, at heart just three descending notes (first 1 whole step down, then 3 half steps down), so the similarity might be a coincidence. Slower and less staccato. The riff is also much more integral to the song than the riff in Baby Won't You Let Me Rock 'n' Roll You.
Uh! All Night (1985)

Even slower and even less staccato. Kiss also goes further than Led Zeppelin in milking the riff for all its worth, using it also for the vocal chorus melody.

The year before, Kiss used the same three notes for the Heaven's On Fire chorus. First in reverse, ascending, "takin' you higher"; then descending, "heaven's on fire", just like Misty Mountain Hop and Uh! All Night.

T. Rex – Ride a White Swan

T. Rex
Ride a White Swan (1970)
Certain People I Know (1992)
Bolan made the riff his own but had surely heard Prodigal Son before he wrote Ride a White Swan, the song that heralded a new direction for T. Rex. A pleasant homage to Bolan from Morrissey on his rockabilly glam album Your Arsenal.
  Stars On Mars
Shooting Star (1993)
  One of many well-crafted nods to Bolan from the Swedish group on their debut album Poster.

T. Rex – Telegram Sam

T. Rex
Telegram Sam (1972)
Shanghai'd in Shanghai (1974)

This riff is clearly a derivative of the riff in Get It On (1971). In fact, the entire song is an obvious derivative of Get It On.

The spirit of Chuck Berry is present but the (two) guitars are raunchier and the groove is more danceable, thanks to Steve Currie's funky descending bass line that complements Bolan's off-beat guitar very nicely.

The intro riff is just broadly related, but when it returns later it has become a close kin to the Telegram Sam riff. The song also quotes Johnny B. Goode and Satisfaction.

Nazareth later straight out stole Bolan's very similar Get It On riff for their 1980 single Holiday.

Howie Casey's sax adds extra bite but is not essential for the melodic contour of the riff. This in contrast to the sax in Get It On which adds three crucial notes when the riff is introduced.

Nils Lofgren
Incidentally It's Over (1976)

Note that Currie's bass line bears a strong resemblance to the simple piano piece Der Flohwalzer (The Flea Waltz), which is known all over the world by different names. In 1962, when Currie was 15, Russ Conway had a UK hit with a showy version called Lesson One. And in Sweden, the same year, Thore Skogman had a hit with the slightly less sophisticated Kalle Johansson.

Not being a Springsteen fan, I can't recall what enticed me to buy Lofgren's Cry Tough album on vinyl a long time ago. It made no impression whatsoever except that I was surprised to hear my all-time favorite riff being liberally sprinkled all over one of the nondescript songs.

Telegram Sam bass riff

Note the similarities to another extremely addictive riff. Yes, Psy's mega hit is a kin of Thore Skogmans Kalle Johansson!

Gangnam Style riff

Jerry Williams
Rock On (1977)

This browser does not support our audio format.

Not even the Telegram Sam riff can make me enjoy a song this boring. Great sound on the riff though.

  Ulf Dageby
Heroinet är du min älskling (1979)

A short and rousing rocker from Stefan Jarl's documentary film Ett anständigt liv.

Note that the steady and decidedly unfunky bass line makes the riff feel very different from Bolan's riff. You could argue, that it is not really the same riff anymore as Currie's bass is an integral part of the Telegram Sam riff.

T. Rex – Telegram Sam (Live)

T. Rex
Telegram Sam (Live 1973)
It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll) (1975)

Even more raunchy (and much cruder) than the studio version. The two versions here are from concerts in Japan and France.

One of the reasons that the riff sounds cruder is that there are two distinct guitar parts on the studio version. Here, Bolan has to approximate both with just one guitar.

Unlike the riffs above, this riff from the T.N.T. album is not a clear-cut copy. Nevertheless, the similarities between AC/DC and T. Rex are interesting and highlighted by the raw live sound of 1972–1973 T. Rex.

T. Rex – Solid Gold Easy Action

T. Rex
Solid Gold Easy Action (1972)
Joan Jett
Bad Reputation (1980)
This fast shuffle was the follow-up to the slow and dramatic Children of the Revolution. Neither single received album releases.

Far from plagiarism but I don't think it's a stretch to say that the structure of the song and the melody of the verse owes to Bolan's composition.

The sound of it owes more to the Ramones though.

T. Rex
Solid Gold Easy Action (1972)
Twist of the Knife(1983)
Hey! Hey! Hey! NWOBHM + Glam, I guess...
Endless Vacation (1984)


Two series of "heys" of a single unvaried pitch, evenly spaced on the beats, and interspersed with one or two bars of just the rhythm section – a clear violation of copyright law ;)

To cement the case, I also provide you with Marc Bolan's plan to reissue Solid Gold Easy Action on a limited edition 12" of Celebrate Summer “at the request of Joey Ramone”.

T. Rex – Change

T. Rex
Change (1974)
Erase/Rewind (1998)
The cadence riff concludes verse phrase #1 three times on this song from Bolan's Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow.
Also of interest: The main riff is similar to first three bars of El Cóndor Pasa.
A very similar cadence riff concludes both the verse and chorus repeatedly throughout this song from the Gran Turismo album.

T. Rex – Zip Gun Boogie

T. Rex
Zip Gun Boogie (1974)
Be Here Now (1997)
Much-maligned by critics and Bolan fans alike, but in my humble opinion a superb song let down by weak production. The riff is probably its strongest part but we're concerned with the chorus here. You can certainly hear more than shades of Zip Gun Boogie here. Much less blatant than their borrowing from Get It On in Cigarettes & Alcohol though.

T. Rex – Lock Into Your Love

T. Rex
Lock Into Your Love (1996)
America (1982)

Recorded in 1974 during Bolan's last US tour but not released during his life time.

An emphasis on drums, bass and clavinet as typical of T. Rex during the Zip Gun period.

Bolan's former partner, Steve Took, was a friend of Lemmy, but I doubt either had heard this track. The similarity is likely a coincidence or the result of another, earlier song using a similar riff.


Unknown composer – In paradisum

Unknown composer
In Paradisum (old)
The Paramount Jubilee Singers
When the Saints Go Marching In (1923)

A Gregorian chant sung at a Catholic requiem mass (mass for the dead) when the body is being taken out of the church.

The first four notes of the chant are identical to the ones repeated during the beginning of each verse of When the Saints Go Marching In, where these notes are by far the most memorable ones.

This version by the Paramount Jubilee Singers is the first recorded version, but the author is unknown and the melody probably evolved in the late 1800s from funeral brass bands listening to In Paradisum at New Orleans churches.

The lyrics have many images that refer to the prophecy in the Book of Revelation.

  Iron Maiden
The Number of the Beast (1982)


The same four notes, again and again in this Steve Harris-penned song. And just like When the Saints Go Marching, the lyrics (especially the spoken intro) refer to the Book of Revelation.


The Velvet Underground – Sister Ray

The Velvet Underground
Sister Ray (1968)
The Modern Lovers
Roadrunner (1976)

One of my least favorite Velvet Underground songs. Mildly hypnotic but also mildly boring.

It is said to have been the model for Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner, but Sister Ray surely has a smoother, less annoying, groove.

Having (partly) read Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century, I was expecting something extraordinary when I brought home my first Modern Lovers CD in the early 90s. I was certainly not expecting this :/

I seem to recall another (slightly less) pretentious critic, Charles Shaar Murray, hyping it on the Dancing in the Street documentary too.

The Vibrations – My Girl Sloopy

The Vibrations
My Girl Sloopy (1964)
1999 (1982)

The 3-bar vocal phrases of bars 1-4 and 9-12 are very similar to the repeating 3-bar vocal phrases in 1999, Manic Monday and Baby I Don't Care.

All the songs have the same 2-bar I-IV-V-IV chord progression on repeat.

The bass riff here is similar to those in many other 60s songs with the same progression, e.g. Wild Thing and Louie Louie.

Less similar than his later effort.
The McCoys
Hang On Sloopy (1965)
Manic Monday (1986)
This version from the year after is more well-known, and I include it as the different vocal style might make the similarities to Bangles and Transvision Vamp even more obvious. Prince also wrote this and thus provided Bangles with their first hit single.
  Transvision Vamp
Baby I Don't Care (1989)


Pretty obvious melodic similarities in this song, penned by the band's founder Nick Christian Sayer. It was their biggest hit but perhaps felt a little forced compared to I Want Your Love, their first hit from the year before. I still prefer it to Manic Monday.

Sayer also adopted the riff from Wild Thing and clothed it in the rhythm of Lou Reed's Vicious riff. And, as already mentioned, My Girl Sloopy also has a I-IV-V-IV bass riff.


Robert Wilkins – Prodigal Son

Robert Wilkins
Prodigal Son (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel
Baby Driver (1970)
The song is actually much older as this is just a remake of Wilkins' That's No Way To Get Along from 1929. But the riff is a little more distinct in the new version. It is even more distinct in Rolling Stones' 1968 version, so their take on the riff plays after the original in the clip above.

From the Bridge Over Troubled Water album, released in January 1970, ten months prior to the release of Ride a White Swan.

But the way the riff is played here, it sounds closer to Morrissey's pastiche than to Bolan's hit single, which doesn't use full chords, just octaves and single notes.

  T. Rex
Ride a White Swan (1970)


Slower, spikier, more self-sufficient and more memorable. A great appropriation which itself has been copied a few times in Bolan pastiches.