Not too much monkey business

You could point a finger at Justin Timberlake for lack of originality, says Jack Baruth, but in fact you’re missing the point:

The second guy to use a bottleneck on a guitar wasn’t being original but today we recognize it as a style to itself and we can discuss the masters of that style without worrying about originality. Half of the licks on Appetite For Destruction are stolen from Chuck Berry — check out “Think About You” if you doubt that — and nobody doubts Slash’s standing as a guitarist and musician.

I suspect that half of the licks everywhere can be traced back to Chuck Berry: rather a lot of British Invasion stuff, for instance, relied on Chuck’s back catalog. Also about this time, Berry and Brian Wilson (!) “collaborated” on “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” a blatant rewrite of “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Then again, Chuck’s own “No Particular Place to Go,” also about this time, was a blatant rewrite of “School Day.” No lawsuits, though.

For extra credit, hunt down “Licks Off Of Records” from Martin Mull and His Fabulous Furniture in Your Living Room! (Capricorn, 1973), which is best known for the parody “Dueling Tubas”; “Licks” features a session guitarist who prefers not to be lionized, inasmuch as everything he does comes from somewhere else.


  1. McGehee »

    4 September 2014 · 6:57 am

    I gather Mull wasn’t exactly happy that one of the “dueling banjos” in the movie was a guitar?

  2. Roger Green »

    4 September 2014 · 8:28 am

    Everyone steals: Elvis, the Beatles (Berry, Buddy Holly, for two), The question is whether it’s transformative or a ripoff. Or both (see the writing credits of Led Zeppelin II)

  3. Bill Peschel »

    4 September 2014 · 8:58 am

    “Licks Off of Records” can also be found on Mull’s live album “Perfect / Near Perfect.” It’s a great album, featuring a duet with Peter Frampton, fake ads for “Bun ‘n’ Run” and a bit of banter with a drunken audience member.

    (Just listened to “Think About You” but didn’t recognize any Berry licks on it. Not that I know much about his back catalog, but …)

    It seems like there should be some loosening of the rules for what constitutes stealing. Zep certainly did, as Kirby Ferguson showed in his “Everything is a Remix” video series (check it out on YouTube).

    There’s gotta be a difference between using elements to create new works and copying.

  4. Brett »

    4 September 2014 · 11:34 am

    I don’t trust any guitarist who can’t play Chuck Berry music.

  5. McGehee »

    4 September 2014 · 3:06 pm

    What were guitars used for before Chuck Berry?

  6. CGHill »

    4 September 2014 · 3:09 pm

    Feeding men from Mars?

  7. Brett »

    4 September 2014 · 6:42 pm

    Guitarists active before 1926 are exempt. And probably unrecorded ;-)

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