Friday, August 16, 2013

retro-klepto R&B

Hilarious story in the Hollywood Reporter about Robin Thicke and Pharrell and the other "Blurred Lines" writer suing Marvin Gaye's family in a preemptive measure against threats of potential suits for the song's resemblance to "Got to Give It Up". 

Extract from the suit:  "Plaintiffs, who have the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye... reluctantly file this action in the face of multiple adverse claims from alleged successors in interest.... Defendants continue to insist that plaintiffs' massively successful composition, 'Blurred Lines,' copies 'their' compositions... Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work.... But there are no similarities between plaintiffs' composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements.... Plaintiffs created a hit and did it without copying anyone else's composition.... Being reminiscent of a 'sound' is not copyright infringement. The intent in producing 'Blurred Lines' was to evoke an era."

Raises interesting questions to do with when does a song, or an artist, become a genre  unto itself, and thus up for grabs. 

Perhaps any really distinctive or original performer has the potential to spawn a genre fashioned in his or her image (the Stones, Sabbath Led Zep, Lou Reed, Prince, Kate Bush,  Siouxsie Sioux, too many examples to mention).  Many of these these went through an initial phase of being heavily indebted to a few precusors, perhaps doing mostly cover versions, or writings songs based heavily on other earlier songs or riffs. Then they crossed the threshold, from imitative/indebted to the possessor of a unique style. So it's almost the definition of originality, or rather its confirmation: the trademark infringers, the biters, start to appear.

In the first decades of pop/rock,  biting was overwhelmingly a real-time syndrome: new bands copied their more innovative contemporaries, and at its most intense (Beatles) this created the synchrony of the musical all-change that transformed the sound of the radio. (Timbaland is actually a great latter-day example of this: his template, widely adopted, installs a new BeatGeist).

But as time goes by, as the archive accumulates, there's more and more options for retro-klepto.

Hence the paradox of the freshest song on the radio in 2013 being a "evocation" of the mid-Seventies. 

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