Diana Ross and Kevin Coyne

by Harry on June 27, 2021

Radio 2 has been playing Thank You by Diana Ross all week. I wondered why I’d never heard it before, and discovered it’s because it was just released and, therefore, I presume, written sometime after 1972. I wondered whether someone with more musical knowledge/understanding than I have (which is nearly everyone who reads this) would listen to the first 36 seconds of Kevin Coyne’s “Need Somebody” from his first solo album, Case History, and compare it with the first 29 seconds of Thank You. They sound unnervingly similar to me.(And, the home recorded version sounds even more like Thank You to me).

If I’m right, can you suggest examples of artists ‘borrowing’ from other artists that are more unlikely than the Ross/Coyne pair?

Just to be clear, I don’t actually think this is a case of borrowing: I don’t imagine for a second that anyone of Ms. Ross’s team has ever heard of Kevin Coyne, let alone heard anything he wrote, and if I am wrong about that I will admire her even more than I already do.



Phil 06.27.21 at 6:03 pm

Same descending chord sequence, similar tempo… ? I mean, John Stuart Mill (in his youthful depression) was to some extent correct – mathematically there is a finite number of combinations of pitches and note lengths that sound at all pleasing, and some paths are going to end up being re-trodden. And in fact both Brill Building pop music and garage-band rock and roll are, in their different ways, arts of retrodden paths, with marginal variations. The only reason this one stands out is that Coyne was an original enough writer to come up with something that didn’t sound like it had been done before when he did it.


oldster 06.27.21 at 8:04 pm

Certainly the same changes.
You’ll hear them also in the opening of Marvin and Tammy’s cover of the Ashford & Simpson “You’re All I need to Get By,” and it’s possible that Diana Ross was more familiar with their oeuvre than with Coyne’s.


seth godin 06.27.21 at 8:07 pm

And this is why musicologists testify in court.

The short answers are:

if you think these sound alike, listen to Spirit from Taurus (or Taurus from Spirit, I can never remember). https://youtu.be/gFHLO_2_THg?t=45 while noting that they once opened for Lez Zep before Stairway to Heaven came out.
all music sounds the same if you squint your ears enough.
Kevin’s doesn’t sound that much like Diana’s. It simply doesn’t.


Harry 06.27.21 at 8:24 pm

Yeah, I was thinking about Spirit and Led Zep. I sort of followed the lawsuit for years and to my ears the decision is incomprehensible.
Compared with “He’s so fine” and “My Sweet Lord” which, though very similar, sound, to me, less similar (though similar for much longer!)


Pittsburgh Mike 06.27.21 at 9:15 pm

Actually, those don’t sound very similar to me. They both sound like the type of intros you hear to many pop songs — I don’t know the terminology, but I bet I could find a dozen “like” those.


Slanted Answer 06.27.21 at 10:17 pm

Here’s a list of famous lawsuits related to borrowing/sampling:

Given how landmark a song King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” was I don’t think it’s surprising to see artists sampling it, but I was nonetheless surprised to hear Kanye West doing it (see, e.g., 1:25):


Alan White 06.28.21 at 12:09 am

As a long-time parodist (I used my URL clickable name for this post and I apologize in advance if you click) I agree with Phil @1 above. The use of descending similar chords is probably just a coincidence and a repeated such coincidence for lots of songs if one searches for them. One thing I want to say though is that Harrison was screwed on the My Sweet Lord thing. The resemblances there are soooo superficial as to be what my Mom called “dog-wettin’ kin”. What she meant is “my dog wet on your fencepost and that’s how we are related”. You can’t beat Southerners for creative description of comparable states of affairs.


DavidtheK 06.28.21 at 2:31 am

At DKos Denise Oliver-Velez has a diary today on this very subject.


Also wasn’t their a three cornered suitin the 1980’s between Bob Seger (We’ve Got Tonight) Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters Theme) and Vangelis (Chariots of Fire Theme)?


Fergus 06.28.21 at 3:17 am

The Rolling Stones put out a single in 1997, ‘Anybody Seen My Baby’, which – seemingly accidentally – had a very similar refrain to ‘Constant Craving’ by k.d. lang. They ended up adding writing credits because of the similarity, though Jagger/Richards maintained they’d never heard the song. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anybody_Seen_My_Baby%3F#Background_and_composition

I’ve always thought that and its bass line sound very similar to by Lou Reed from 27 years earlier. Similar subject matter, too, but I can’t see anyone else on the internet who’s made the same connection


Jim Buck 06.28.21 at 6:43 am

Keith Richards claimed that the intro to Sympathy For the Devil emerged after a weekend of agonising creativity. Maybe…


Jim Buck 06.28.21 at 6:48 am

Goiorgio Moroder:

And the Incredible String Band ?


Tom Hurka 06.28.21 at 3:25 pm

Ferry Cross the Mersey (at least the chorus) and Venus in Blue Jeans (1962, by Jimmy Clanton)? I’ve always thought they’re essentially the same. And no way My Sweet Lord isn’t He’s So Fine: totally similar!


oldster 06.28.21 at 7:09 pm

I agree with Mr. Hurka as against Mr. White: the finding that “My Sweet lord” was excessively close to “He’s so fine” was fully justified, and the only thing that Harrison created there was his own karmic reward.

Also agree about “Ferry” and “Venus”, though in general I look for similarities more in chord structures than in particular melodic phrases.
Whether I agree with the principle or not, it seems to be more acceptable to steal bass-lines, less acceptable to steal melodies — possibly because bass-lines tend to be closer to the basic harmonic structure, and there are fewer of those around. When bass-lines get more creative, they also receive more copyright protection — there was no way, for instance, that Sugar Hill Gang could avoid giving Chic the writing credit for Bernard Edwards’ monster hook. (In fact, I just looked it up and was surprised to see that Chic had to take them to court over it.)

But shed a tear for the author of “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” forced to see the proceeds of their intellectual labor go to the publisher of “Twinkle Twinkle.”


Suzanne 06.28.21 at 11:06 pm


A former bandmate of Harrison’s agreed with you and Mr. Hurka. John Lennon was asked about the “My Sweet Lord” lawsuit – George had just lost – and he said Harrison walked right into it and was smart enough to know better, he could have changed a bar or two and evaded any liability. (John also said the whole business was only meaningful in a monetary sense.)


Kiwanda 06.28.21 at 11:44 pm

Lana Del Ray’s “Get Free” probably borrowed Radiohead’s “Creep”, which probably borrowed from the Hollies “The Air That I Breathe”.


jrb 06.29.21 at 4:36 am

Ah, but what about the author of ‘Ah vous dirae-je, Maman’?


Tim Worstall 06.29.21 at 10:48 am

Even the producer of Transvision Vamp’s “Baby I Don’t Care” says the riff is “Wild Thing” by The Troggs.


Noah Edelson 06.29.21 at 3:28 pm

Whoops.. I was trying to comment on your post about Christianity and atheism, but somehow 404’d and arrived here. Maybe you can move my comment over.

I just wanted to remind both you and the readers that the Nazis were in fact 97.5% Christian, according to their 1939 census. Fascist Italy was similarly 97.1% Christian. (I’m lumping Catholics into that category, as most people do around these days.) Wikipedia has longitudinal data on the topic going back about a decade prior, too.

Well I am a Christian, and I don’t believe in the mumbo-jumbo stuff. My version of Christianity is similar to Thomas Jefferson’s- I actually give out free copies of his “Bible”[1] at my online-only “Church”[2]. I created the Church to provide an alternative to the militant Positive Christianity so popular today. Positive Christianity was founded by Adolf Hitler, and I find it repugnant to the extreme. Then again, I have a little Jewish blood- so I’m a bit biased on the topic. You would think anybody who isn’t 100% “Aryan” would also find hyper-militant Christianity repugnant after the Holocaust, but sadly – in the USA at least, we perceived the guys who killed 80% of the Nazis as a greater threat- even changing our national motto to be almost identical with that of Nazi Germany in the 50s. Weird, right?

[1] Its basically a normal bible that Jefferson stripped of most of its supernatural magic / Divinity / miracle mumbo-jumbo.
[2] https://NegativeChristian.CHURCH


Alan White 06.29.21 at 3:41 pm

My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine redux.

A reasonable and the probable legal standard of decision was preponderance–the lowest rational standard of judgment. Are they similar? Of course. Preponderantly so? I must say I can’t agree, though I haven’t taken the trouble to read court accounts to weigh the evidence as presented–this is just my subjective take. But clear and convincingly or beyond reasonable doubt? No way.

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