Sam Smith, Tom Petty, and Should We Care?

Let's just get this out of the way right now: we all love Sam Smith. Sam Smith has the voice of an angel. He sings with emotions previous reserved only for a heartbroken Drake. Sam Smith helped fill the void created by Adele's seemingly endless haitus. (Which reportedly ends this year, so bless.) 

And now it's all gone to shit.

I mean, not really. Sam Smith can still sing, he can still emote, and I will still listen to "Like I Can" on repeat, pretending it's being sung from the perspective of Harry Styles, singing about me and some guy who will never be Harry Styles. (Ultimately, we're all just killing time until Harry Styles wants to date each and every one of us. Anyway.) But as of this week, Tom Petty will now receive all "Stay With Me" royalties since the aforementioned song is basically a melodic knock-off from the tried-and-true, "Won't Back Down."

Not that Sam Smith's camp is on the same page.

"Although the likeness was a complete coincidence, all involved came to an immediate and amicable agreement in which Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are now credited as co-writers of 'Stay With Me' alongside Sam Smith, James Napier, and William Phillips," Smith's rep told Rolling Stone, after saying Smith, Napier, and Phillips weren't familiar with the 1989 Petty track before this whole thing came to pass.

So is Sam Smith a hack? Obviously not. (Calm down.) But here's the thing: Smith is just one in a long line of musicians who've (whether unknowingly or not) piggybacked on the music of a famous predecessor. (I mean, even One Direction's "Girl Almighty" sounds a lot like Paul Simson's "Obvious Child.") But should we really care? Yes. His lyrics are original, his singing is his own, he's not Milli Vanilli, but the melody — that melody — isn't his. And without that melody, "Stay With Me" wouldn't be the song we know and love. The melody carries the lyrics, and despite Tom Petty's song conveying a more laid-back, frat-boy vibe (as if you haven't seen a guy pick up his guitar and rock out to Tom Petty in an attempt to . . . I don't know what ruin a party?), it still provided the foundations for one of the biggest jams of 2014. And if somebody like Petty can get ripped off, that means anybody else can be ripped off too. 

Thus, writing credit and royalties are important.

So how do we avoid this in the future? We credit the original writers. And how do we avoid having to credit those writers? We try, after centuries, to come up with new rhythms and melodies. And that, friends, is not the problem of any of us, reading this. 

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, celebrity, music, Sam Smith, Tom Petty

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