Last Thursday, Bruce Springsteen made the keynote speech at South By Southwest. He was funny, he was heartfelt, he was informative and -- dang, Boss! -- he was ridiculously honest. So honest in fact, that he picked up a guitar, played the opening riff from The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of this Place," and then followed it immediately with the opening riff of his own "Badlands," before laughing "Listen up youngsters! This is how successful theft is accomplished!"
Ol' Brucey is not the first to steal a riff, of course, and he won't be the last. We love that he had the good grace to admit it, though. So, in his honor, let's take a look at some other relatively recent examples of blatant musical thievery. (FYI: We will not be discussing Lady Gaga pilfering from Madonna's back catalog today because it's too obvious -- apologies for any disappointment caused).
The White Stripes' "I Can't Wait" (Stolen from Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box")
It's a testament to the niceness of Dave Grohl that Meg and Jack White didn't get sued over "I Can't Wait." The former White Stripes are also lucky that Courtney Love is apparently too busy in and out of court with a bunch of other people to have even noticed this. If you have a copy of Nirvana's In Utero and a copy of White Stripes' White Blood Cells on your iPod, you've probably been faked out more than once by this, mid-shuffle -- so incredibly close is this song's opening riff to the one Nirvana invented for "Heart Shaped Box." We're tutting and shaking our heads judgmentally in your direction, Jack White.
Nirvana's "Come as You Are" (Stolen from Killing Joke's "Eighties")
Not that Nirvana was immune to nicking other people's ideas. Killing Joke was in the middle of a lawsuit with Nirvana over the fact that the beginning of "Come as You Are" bares a striking resemblance to the key riff in Killing Joke's "Eighties" when Kurt Cobain died. The case was dropped as a result. Dave Grohl went on to forge a friendship with Killing Joke frontman Jaz Coleman, even recording together in 2003. All's well that ends well, eh?
Green Day's "She's a Rebel" (Stolen from Jawbreaker's "Boxcar")
Now, arguments have been made, both online and off, that Green Day's entire American Idiot album can be linked and closely compared to other artists' work. But nowhere on the record is that more obvious than on "She's a Rebel," which uses in a very direct, blatant manner -- they didn't even change the speed of the thing! -- the key riff from underground classic "Boxcar" by Jawbreaker. These both being Bay Area bands from the exact same scene and era, it's possible that this is some sort of in-joke or approved tribute. Or, it's possible that the members of Green Day are thieving bastards. We may never know.