July 23, 2019 Musicology 23 Comments

As an old friend of mine used to put it, “don’t hurt yourself looking for a more elaborate explanation for something when a simpler explanationone will do.”

Katy Perry is in court as I’m typing this, defending her hit Dark Horse against an infringement claim by the creators of Joyful Noise, and against what I consider elaborate explanations for why they sound similar. Before I show you a simpler one, here are the two tracks in question.

Sure, they are similar, but that doesn’t imply one was taken from the other. That’s the overly elaborate explanation and to accept it, you’d need to believe all sorts of relatively unlikely things occurred. At trial we’ve got the plaintiff’s expert arguing that “5 or 6 points of similarity” is a lot when it really isn’t. And Perry’s expert (an especially formidable fellow btw, as you’d expect) is evidently saying that both songs are “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” or something like that. I imagine he has a point; he’s fairly brilliant. But his argument is neither the simplest nor best available one.

That was a lot of introduction but I’ve got a couple minutes left. Two more minutes. That’s all I need. There’s a simpler line of reasoning. It’s likely the truth of the matter, and here it is. Start the clock.

First, Dark Horse’s chorus includes this melody.

Which is followed by creepy vocoder voice “There’s no turning back… tonk tonk tonk tonk.”

And when they went into production on Dark Horse, that melody was probably the basis for this next figure which appears at the very beginning of the song as its intro, and also throughout the piece as an accompaniment. (It’s the accompaniment to the chorus, for example.) Goes like…

And it looks like this, the same four notes over and over. Those four notes are Db, C, Bb, and F.

Then, perhaps inspired by a way more famous tune, “Moments In Love” by Art of Noise, the breathy synthesizer melody sample of which has appeared, according to WhoSampled.com, in a quadrillion zillion other songs! and is therefore WAY more plausibly their inspiration, they took the four notes from their own chorus and accompaniment and introduction — Db, C, Bb and F — and used them as “Moments In Love” style pulsing quarter-notes. This is the figure Perry’s getting sued over and it sounds like this…

And it looks like this…

It’s the same four pitches — Db, C, Bb, and F; can you see it? It’s these same four notes in that order from the chorus, from the intro, and from the accompaniment that occurs through out the piece.

And in case you’ve no idea what “Moments In Love” is, here’s that…

The synth sound itself in Dark Horse (as well as the musical device of repeating strident quarter notes) is clearly reminiscent not of Joyous Noise, but of this super famous track and its synthesizer sound that is so historically significant that it took me only 30 seconds to find it in my studio so I could make those audio examples for you.

And not for nothing, but the pitches used in Joyful Noise’s own ostinato are a different four pitches than Dark Horse and are, wait for it, TAKEN FROM ITS OWN CHORUS and probably came about in exactly the same fashion.

That’s it. That’s what the synth part from Dark Horse is. It’s the song’s chorus, turned into an accompaniment, turned into a pop drop.

The 5 or 6 points of similarity don’t matter, and neither does Mary Had A Little Lamb.

There’s no way a jury doesn’t absorb that in the same two or three minutes it took you. Tell me I’m wrong.

Written by Brian McBrearty