1/27/11

Cat Stevens vs. The Flaming Lips

While reading this great 2003 interview with Wayne Coyne, singer of awesome Oklahoma rock band The Flaming Lips, a particular excerpt stood out:

When the band recorded their new single, 'Fight Test', they were aware that part of it sounded like the Cat Stevens song 'Father And Son' but didn't think to get clearance from his record company. As soon as the subject is raised, Coyne politely interrupts: 'I want to go on record for the first time and say that I really apologise for the whole thing. I really love Cat Stevens. I truly respect him as a great singer-songwriter. And now he wants his money.' 

For the first time he is perplexed. 'There was a time during the recording when we said, this has a similarity to "Father And Son". Then we purposefully changed those bits. But I do regret not contacting his record company and asking their opinion. Maybe we could have gone 50-50. As it is, Cat Stevens is now getting 75 per cent of royalties from "Fight Test".' 

He looks a little glum but then perks up - and immediately contradicts himself on whether or not the tune was changed: 'We could easily have changed the melody but we didn't. I am really sorry that Cat Stevens thinks I'm purposefully plagiarising his work. I am ashamed. There is obviously a fine line between being inspired and stealing. But if anyone wanted to borrow part of a Flaming Lips song, I don't think I'd bother pursuing it. I've got better things to do. Anyway, Cat Stevens is never going to make much money out of us.'



Not that I wasn't aware of the similarity between the two songs. The melody obviously has some identical phrases and the chord progression in the verse is also similar. No doubt about it.

But isn't "Fight Test" a much better song? I definitely prefer it. I've always hated "Father and son". Not necessarily because of Stevens' original but because of the dreadfully saccharine and sentimental version by that horrible singer Ronan Keating. When I worked in fish factories in the Faroes and the radio was on that song was played over and over and over again. Still is, probably. I just got a strong dislike to it. It's so incredibly boring and "pseudo wise", if you know what I mean.

Stevens' original is better; he pulls it off better, his interpretation and feel for the lyrics is more convincing and the rustic and vintage sound is preferable, but still; it's not that great a song. It's a bit too forward and sentimental. Or maybe it's because I'm not a father yet. Maybe if I have kids I'll understand it or hear it differently. Right now, it's just a bit plain...

The Flaming Lips on the other hand get a much better song out of the melodic material and the chords. The arrangement and choice of instruments is cooler, Wayne Coyne is a more interesting singer and the lyrics are more open/ambiguous (which makes them better in my book). It's just a more interesting song...is it really a negative that parts of it are stolen?