July 23, 2019 Musicology 27 Comments

“Entities should not be multiplied without necessity!!”

That’s Occam’s Razor. Or, as an old friend of mine used to lazily put it, “don’t hurt yourself looking for a more elaborate explanation when a simpler one will do.”

This really will only take three minutes.

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 VERY elaborate explanations for why they sound similar. Before I show you a better and simpler one, here are the two tracks…

Sure, they are similar, but to make the quick leap to “copied!” you’d need to believe all sorts of relatively unlikely things happened. At trial we’ve got the plaintiff’s expert arguing that “5 or 6 points of similarity” is a whole lot when it really isn’t. It’s like saying a fruit loop is a lot of food because it’s got five or six ingredients. And Perry’s expert (an especially formidable fellow btw, as you’d expect) is evidently saying that both songs are more relatable to “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” or something like that. I’m inclined to imagine he has a point, maybe, sorta — he’s fairly brilliant — but honestly I don’t see it, and either way, this argument is neither the simplest nor the best available one.

That was a lot of introduction but I’ve got a couple minutes left. And that’s all I need. I’ve got a simpler line of reasoning. It’s more 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…

It’s just 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, characterized largely by its breathy synthesizer melody sample which has appeared, according to WhoSampled.com, in a quadrillion 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