Inquiring minds have been inquiring and the answer is yes. Meredith Brooks and I received co-writing credit on Bebe Rexha’s “I’m a Mess.” The writers, Justin Tranter, Jussifer and Bebe felt the hook on Mess had enough of a likeness to “Bitch,” to offer up a piece. (That’s a whole lotta hyperlinking in one paragraph.) Most writers would have gone into denial and skipped merrily along onto their next co-write.
I’m sure half of you will feel the shared cred is crazy while others will think it’s a no-brainer. This is how it was with the “Blurred Lines” case, The Ed Sheeran case(s), and the Tom Petty/Sam Smith very friendly-sorting-out-of-their-dispute case. In the songwriting community infringement-or-not opinions are as split as the views of trump voters vs. never trumpers. In other words, passions run high.
Many years ago I boarded a plane, and the Muzak version of the first song I ever had commercially released, Taylor Dayne's “Carry Your Heart,” was coming through the overhead speakers. At first I thought it was a sure sign it would be a single on terrestrial radio. Then I realized it wasn’t “Carry Your Heart,” but rather Stephen Bishop’s “It Might Be You,” the theme from from Tootsie. I had always loved that song from Tootsie. So much so that apparently I wrote it again. Part of it, anyway. I cried all the way to my destination.
I’ve experienced other brushes with borrowing—all pretty innocent. But I’ve never sat down to write a song and said…hey let’s rip off Marvin Gaye. That said, in a creative culture where sampling, mashing-up and interpolating have become a titillating trend and a respectable (imo) art form, it’s all good as long as you cop to it and take care of business before business takes care of you. It’s an occupational hazard—a blessing or a curse depending on which song you wrote.
And, by the way, if it was your intention to borrow and you deny it, the Universe is likely to bite you in the ass double hard.
Negotiating an agreement is not as arbitrary or complicated a process as it used to be. In fact now, because of the prevalence, there are unbiased music services that measure and compare the algorithms of two compositions and recommend an equitable split. Easy peasy.
As far as Bebe, I’m excited to be on the charts, though let me just say it’s not the same kind of pride I feel as when I’m in the room when a song is conceived. On Christina’s “Come On Over Baby” I re-wrote the lyric to the verses for the radio version. I’m grateful to be listed as a writer, but I wasn’t a birth parent and I’d never claim to be.
I listened to Bebe’s entire album, Expectations the day it dropped. I dig it. It’s trippy, sonically and lyrically imaginative and fresh. Not your typical four or five cord segueing into every hook. Sure, I felt like I was listening to Rihanna for a minute during the the track with all the “na-na-nas” but who else has more of a right to go there than the girl who penned “Monster”? Like Julia Michaels, Bebe was a songwriter before she was a recording artist and maybe that’s why her work is a cut above. She already had chops.
Scroll down to “I’m A Mess” and “Bitch.” Top of the hooks. Lemme know what you think.
Thank you Bebe, Justin Tranter, and Jussifer. #ClassActs all the way.
PS “Carry Your Heart” was never released as a single so there was no substantial royalty worth suing for. I met Stephen Bishop recently and decided it was best not to say, “Hey, I’m Shelly Peiken. So nice to meet you. I ripped off one of your biggest hits.”
PPS Actually, it was Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin who penned “It Might Be You.” But I still give Stephen B. a lot of credit for it’s success.
PPPS Here’s a home-made mash-up I did of Hall and Oates' “Sara Smile,” and a ditty I wrote with Greg Wells about the song "Sara Smile," called “Thinka You.” Daryl’s peeps said they wanted 90% of the royalties of the UNMASHED version if the song were released. We put it on the back burner. :( But I did this just for fun.