There’s an old saying ”fashion always repeats itself.” How many of us live by that saying? We won’t throw away those Cross Colour Jeans, because they’re coming back. The same bell bottoms and turtlenecks from the 1970s are casual wear in 2015. Let’s not forget that navy blue peacoat from the US Navy. Unless you walk around in couture outfits all day, everyday, your swag was rocked back in the day. But just like the art of fashion repeats itself, so does the art of music.
Recently, we’ve heard a lot about music sampling and infringement. The most recent case: The Gaye family vs. Pharrell and Robin Thicke. At some point in the case, the Gaye family’s lawyer asked Pharrell Williams whether “Blurred Lines” captured the feel of the era in which Marvin Gaye recorded it and Pharrell’s response was “the feel, not infringement.”
Music is a living, breathing element that was birthed from someone’s feelings. Although the presentation of a song may be original, the origin is always influenced from an earlier developmental feel. Growing up, we were all exposed to something. For the creator of New Jack Swing, Teddy Riley, it was James Brown’s funk. In Pharrell’s case, it was the Motown sound.
A Tribe Called Quest, a legendary hip-hop group along with Tribe member, rapper, producer Q-Tip and his work The Abstract (arguably the best at his craft in hip-hop history), used his feel of jazz to produce hits that influenced the music of many hip-hop artists today. Jazz influenced, but hip-hop produced. The jazz beat of the ’60s/’70s were made new by the creators of the ’90s.
When Chrisette Michele recorded a “A Couple Of Forevers” in 2013, those are her words, her emotions, but they sample The O’Jays’ music (“Stairway To Heaven” 1975). Did her song capture that era, or even speak of it? Unfortunately, there’s a generation buying music now that isn’t familiar with The O’Jays, yet alone “Stairway to Heaven.”
Joe’s 2015 Quiet Storm anthem “If You Lose Her” has the feel of legendary music group Hall and Oates’ 1976 song “She’s Gone.” Originally she was just gone, now it’s what will happen if she goes. If you walk down the street and ask anyone in the demographic of 18 to 35, “Who is Hall and Oates?,” their guess would probably be an oatmeal museum. The new smash hit by English record producer Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk,” has the essence of 1980s Morris Day and The Time and believe it or not, many don’t know “What Time Is It?”
There are many people who didn’t even know the ’90s hits of Intro (“Ribbon In The Sky”) and Donell Jones (“Knocks Me Off My Feet”) were earlier hits of Stevie Wonder. When Keke Wyatt and Avant recorded the smash hit “My First Love” in 2000, Keke didn’t realize it was a remake of Rene and Angela’s 1983 track.
Phillip Bailey, lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire, sings a line in the 1977 song “I’ll Write A Song For You”: “Sounds never dissipate, they only recreate, in another place.” That means music never dies, its influences are felt and will later be repeated at another time and place. We’ve seen it time and time again.
In the case of Pharrell Williams and “Blurred Lines,” it is the same all over again. However, Pharrell has already lost his first battle in court.
Tell us, do you agree music is cyclical, or can artists borrow too much?