1. "Come As You Are" - Nirvana / "Eighties" - Killing Joke
Killing Joke were a British band who had made some waves in their native land in the seventies and eighties. Though they never hit it big in the US some fans of the obscure thought they heard a Killing Joke song on the radio when Nirvana released their second single off the Nevermind album. The opening and main riff of "Come As You Are" bares a striking resemblance to the one of "Eighties" by Killing Joke. Apparently Kurt Cobain was aware of the similarities and was nervous about releasing "Come As You Are" as a single, the record company eventually insisted (in fact they favoured "Come As You Are" over "Teen Spirit" as the lead off single). There was no real litigious situation that developed between the groups, though one could say that The Damned also had a case as their song "Life Goes On" (which predates "Eighties" by 2 years) uses a similar riff as the other 2 songs.
2. "Dani California" - Red Hot Chili Peppers / "Mary Jane's Last Dance" - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
This one was started by a radio station in Delaware that noticed the similarities between RHCP's "Dani California" and Petty's "Mary Jane's Last Dance". While the strumming pattern and chord progressions are similar there's no way anyone could confuse one song with the other. Each song has it's own individuality and this one can be chalked up to coincidence and not plagiarism. Petty himself laughed off the accusations saying that he doubted any negative intent. Just goes to show with the sheer number of songs being produced, a few here and there are going to be similar. Both songs have great videos though.
3. "Caribbean Queen" - Billy Ocean / "Billie Jean" - Michael Jackson
This one is widely known within the inner circles of music fans. "Caribbean Queen" is such an instantly likeable song, perhaps because it's bassline and chorus are near mirror images of Michael Jackson's biggest hit "Billie Jean". Jackson never came out publicly to comment on the similarities, but when Ocean was asked about it he merely replied "Nothing is 100% original"
4. "Old Man Down The Road" - John Fogerty / "Run Through The Jungle" - Creedence Clearwater Revival
Surely one can't be sued for plagiarizing their own songs right? Well that's exactly what happened to John Fogerty. An original member of legendary American band CCR, Fogerty left the group among high tensions between band members and dizzying legal troubles. After releasing his first solo album with a new record label his old label brought him to court claiming the song "The Old Man Down The Road" off his solo album was too similar to "Run Through The Jungle" a CCR song which Fogerty wrote, but his old label owned publishing rights to. What? John eventually won the case after performing both songs in the courtroom and making the claim that people have distinct writing styles. One of the only cases in music history in which an artist was sued for ripping himself off.
5. "Warning" - Green Day / "Picture Book" - The Kinks
I remember a little bit of hubub about this one when Green Day's Warning released in 2000. The title track off the album had a familiar guitar riff for fans of The Kinks. "Picture Book" of The Kinks' sixth studio album The Village Green Preservation Society, while not a single from the album, begins almost the same way as Green Day's song. Not same enough apparently as neither camp really did much in light of the similarity.
6. "Anybody Seen My Baby?" - The Rolling Stones / "Constant Craving" - KD Lang
This is a unique case as one of the artists involved came out and openly admitted plagiarism...well sort of. It was 1997 and The Stones were about to unleash their album Bridges To Babylon and their lead off single "Anybody Seen My Baby" when Keith Richards' daughter Angela played him one of KD Lang's songs "Constant Craving" siting similarities between the two. "Bollocks!" is what I imagine Richards thinking. While the Stones hadn't heard Lang's song, they were hoping to avoid any legal entanglements so they gave Lang and her songwriting partner Ben Mink co-writing credits to the song. Canadian songstress KD Lang said she was "Completely honoured and flattered" by the gesture.
7. "Down Under" - Men At Work / "Kookaburra" - Marion Sinclair
This one stands out as having the most time between songs released that were accused of plagiarism and the most time after the offending song was released before it being brought to light. "Down Under" was released in 1982 by Australian act Men At Work and has been a staple of 80's mixes since then. In 2009 Larrikin Music launched a lawsuit against the band claiming that the signature flute riff in "Down Under" plagiarized the children's song "Kookaburra" which Larrikin Music owned the rights to. The song was originally written by an Australian music teacher Marion Sinclair in 1932 and when she died in 1988 the rights to the song were bought by the Larrikin Group. Unfortunately for Men At Work the justice system felt that their song had infringed upon copyright and ruled in favour of the Larrikin Group. Lead singer and songwriter Colin Hay had vehemently denied any malicious intent and insists that "Down Under" is an original composition and that the flutist Greg Ham improvised the riff during recording sessions. Hay noted that no one had mentioned the similarities in the 28 years since the song was released and even Sinclair herself hadn't raised the issue. Nevertheless, Ham (the flutist) became distraught over the verdict and worried that he'd only be known for the plagiarism. He was found dead in his home in 2012.
8. "The Thorn Within" - Metallica / "Sex Type Thing" - Stone Temple Pilots
This is one that I just threw in here. I noticed the similarity between the riffs in the 2 songs but neither band has ever raised an issue about it. STP's song was released in 1992 while "The Thorn Within" was featured on Metallica's 1996 album Load. Songs for the Load album were being written and worked on since the writing sessions of the Black Album which was released in 1991 so it's difficult to say where the origin of the song lies. Really, I just put this one in to show that many times riffs are similar but the coincidences stop there. On a whole neither song can be confused with one another and they're both great.
9. "My Sweet Lord" - George Harrison / "He's So Fine" - Ronnie Mack
Why hadn't he known? George Harrison admittedly asked himself that question when Bright Tunes the company that owned the rights to the late Ronnie Mack's song, filed a lawsuit based on the glaring similarities in Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" and Mack's "He's So Fine" which he wrote for The Chiffons and has been covered numerous times since. The case gained notoriety unheard of at the time, likely because of Harrison's fame with the Beatles, the song's success and the continuing manipulating of Harrison's former agent Allen Klein. Harrison was found to have "subconsiously copied" "He's So Fine" and owed the majority of the royalties to Bright Tunes. The case has since changed the way such infringement cases play out in the music industry. Instead of a lengthy court case that can be costly and hurt the credibility of the artists involved, many are dealt with quickly (as seen above) and moved on from.
10. "Ghostbusters" - Ray Parker Jr. / "I Want A New Drug" - Huey Lewis & The News
Huey Lewis was quick to sue Ray Parker Jr. when he felt the new theme song to the Ghostbusters movie copied the bass line and guitar riffs of his song "I Want A New Drug" which came out earlier in the year. They settled out of court and had an agreement to never publicly discuss the matter again. Whether it was part of the agreement or not Lewis' song "Power Of Love" was used in the blockbuster movie Back To The Future the next year and had a cameo as well.. Parker Jr got a form of revenge in 2001 when Lewis spoke about the lawsuit to VH1's behind the music. Parker Jr. sued Lewis for breaching a contract.
Thanks again all for reading!