Cover to Cover

By Varzi, Achille C. | Current Musicology, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Cover to Cover


Varzi, Achille C., Current Musicology


Ali. Wait, can you please turn up the volume?... I know this tune!

Baba. I should hope so. It's Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, the famous Adagio Sostenuto.

Ali. No, what I meant is that it reminds me of a song. Give me a second ... Yes, of course, it's "All by Myself," Celine Dion's hit. The melody is exactly the same.

Baba. You didn't know that?

Ali. I guess I didn't. Did she really plagiarize the song?

Baba. Not exactly. The CD booklet does acknowledge Rachmaninov in the credits. (1) But it wasn't her song; it's a cover. The original is by Eric Carmen.

Ali. I didn't know that, either. So Carmen adapted the music and just added the lyrics?

Baba. In a way, though he didn't credit the music to Rachmaninov, at least not initially. The original album jacket says "Words and Music by Eric Carmen." (2)

Ali. So he committed plagiarism. I suppose that came out later, which is why Celine Dion was more careful? That's bad. I mean, it's bad that people steal music from the classics. Just because they're dead? I am sure Eric Carmen would have been very upset if Celine Dion had not acknowledged her credit to him.

Baba. Well, "plagiarism" is a big word. Carmen admitted he was "inspired" by Rachmaninov's Adagio and must have thought it was in the public domain. (3) (Another song in the same album, "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," borrows from the Adagio of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.) Dion could not have said the same, mutatis mutandis. She really covered his song, though she obviously thought it appropriate to mention the source of Carmen's own inspiration. In any case, I suppose you know that borrowing (if not outright stealing) from the classics is common practice in popular music. Already Adorno said so in his essay on the topic: the variety lies in the details, but the framework is rarely the result of an original idea. (4)

Ali. It may be common practice, but I still think it's bad. Is it really so widespread?

Baba. Very. Take "A Groovy Kind of Love"...

Ali. Phil Collins's hit?

Baba. Yes--though, again, that was a cover. The original was written by Toni Wine and Carole Bayer and recorded by Diane & Annita in the Sixties. It's been covered many times, before and after Phil Collins: The Mindbenders, Petula Clark, Sonny & Cher, Gene Pitney, Neil Diamond, Richard Clayderman...

Ali. Okay, okay.

Baba. There are also covers in other languages. For example, it's been recorded twice in Italian, once as "Non ce piu nessuno" (a smash by the pop band I Camaleonti) and then again as "Ora che sei qui" (Remo Germani)...

Ali. Fine, I got it. I'm sorry I said it was Phil Collins's. But what's the connection with what we were saying?

Baba. The melody is exactly the Rondo from Clementi's Sonatina in G Major. Just a bit slower. (5)

Ali. Really? And no one ever mentioned that?

Baba. Not those who turned the melody into cash, at least not for a while. Even recently, I remember reading an interview in which Wine said they wrote the song in twenty minutes. It "just flew out" of their mouths and at the piano, she said. (6)

Ali. Amazing.

Baba. Even more amazing is the fact that others did the same. Sarina Paris's "Look at Us" is heavily based on the very same tune.

Ali. Another cover?

Baba. No, no. That's not a cover of "A Groovy Kind of Love." It was written by Charlie Marchino. It's dance-pop, you know. But the source is the same--Clementi's Rondo.

Ali. But if the source is the same, then... Wine and Bayer could have sued Marchino for plagiarism!

Baba. Maybe they did.

Ali. This is crazy. A plagiarist suing someone for having plagiarized the same tune? No wonder the attorneys in the music industry are always so busy.

Baba. Art is either plagiarism or revolution--Paul Gauguin. …

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