Tom Petty is not suing the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Can we all turn the page now?
The furor has reached Petty and this is what he told Rolling Stone magazine:
Everyone everywhere is stopping me. The truth is, I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock & roll songs sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry. The Strokes took “American Girl” [for their song “Last Nite”], and I saw an interview with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, “OK, good for you.” It doesn’t bother me … If someone took my song note for note and stole it maliciously, then maybe. But I don’t believe in lawsuits much. I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs.
There has been enormous furor since a Delaware-based DJ, Dan Gaffney, more or less accused the Red Hot Chili Peppers of plagiarizing Petty. Gaffney cites not only what he sees as musical similarities between RHCP's "Dani California" and Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance", but also similar lyrical themes.
The furor has been amusing in a junior high sort of way. The Chili Pepper fans, at least those on this thread, really do not seem to have much of a sense of humor on the subject. The extent to which some of them have gone to in order to deny any shred of similarity is funny.
I have listened to both songs and I certainly hear the similarities – and yes, kids, I like both bands. I am not anti-Petty nor am I anti-RHCP. Believe it or not, that is possible. There are miles of difference between similar and stolen.
Petty is right. He probably would not win and he probably should not. Good for Petty for recognizing that. I am not a big believer in the concept of karma, but it does seem to me good karma to not sue over something like this. One of the main riffs in his new song bears a resemblance to "On the Road Again" and "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing". It is easy to get carried away with that sort of thing.
There is a fine line between being influenced by a song, Noel Gallagher called it being a product of your record collection, and ripping someone off. Led Zeppelin put their own name on a Willie Dixon song. That is a ripoff. Dixon sued and Zeppelin did the right thing, reportedly coming to a generous settlement. Brian Wilson took the riff to Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen" and called it "Surfin' USA." And let us not forget Vanilla Ice. After that, the issue gets murkier.
What is the essence of a song? When has an artist gone too far and taken something they should not? What separates inspiration and thievery? I think Petty has one piece of the answer: intent. It is tough to listen to "Dani California" and not hear similarities to "Mary Jane." It is tougher to listen to it and think RHCP intentionally nicked anything. Whatever the similarities, and there are similarities, "Dani California" and "Mary Jane's Last Dance" are two different songs.
Tom Petty is not suing the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We now have time to ponder the truly important musical questions – like what will the Backstreet Boys do without Kevin (is that the old dude who just walked?) and what do you think of the new Paris Hilton single?