Book review: ‘Sounds Like Teen Spirit’
Vail CO, Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” It’s no secret that throughout the history of rock ‘n’ roll, artists have borrowed ideas, styles, lyrics and fashion from one and other. How many times have you been listening to one song, say the Door’s “Hello, I Love You” and thought to yourself, gee, that guitar melody sounds an awful lot like The Kinks “All Day And All Of The Night”?
Go ahead, if you don’t believe me, check it out. Both songs are very accessible. If you don’t hear them every day on a classic rock station, you can Google them and compare.
This example, and dozens of other even more bizarre and intriguing ones, fill Timothy English’s book, “Sounds Like Teen Spirit: Stolen Melodies, Ripped-off Riffs, and the Secret History of Rock and Roll.” English writes short, concise histories to some of rocks most comparable songs, going into detail about lawsuits that resulted from such “borrowing” and how legal actions affected the careers of the plaintiffs and defendants.
Some of the stories are highly ironic, like how the opening riff for Nirvana’s anti-establishment anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sounds very similar to a guitar part in “More Than A Feeling” by the very un-hip pop-rock band “Boston.” If it wasn’t for the fact that the two songs are in different keys, those famous guitar parts would be almost indistinguishable from each other. It’s likely a lot of Nirvana fans probably would have been upset about that when the song first came out, but they would probably find it hilarious now.
English breaks the book down into easily-digested sections as well, with chapters dedicated entirely to how certain Beetles songs sound like or were influenced by other artist’s songs like Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and how the Beetles would subconsciously copy each other during their solo careers. There’s similar chapters for Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones as well, and a Musical Family Trees section that traces the roots of certain popular rock songs back through the years.
Music history buffs will enjoy “Sounds Like Teen Spirit” for its quick, punchy delivery but anyone can get into English’s work because he avoids coming off as a pretentious music snob. He only cites cases that involve songs often heard on the radio or can be found by digging through a friend or parent’s record collection. What he reveals to the reader may or may not come as a surprise depending on the readers depth of knowledge, but it’s also funny to see how these icons of rock handle plagiarism and copyright infringement, too. Some are big babies, while others are true gentlemen.
Most importantly, “Sounds Like Teen Spirit” will finally put to rest some of those arguments you’ve been having with yourself about whether or not that favorite song of yours really does sound “just like” someone else’s work.
High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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