Six Worst Musical Thefts by White People

Categories: Nitpick Six

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Keith Richards early in his career.
February is Black History Month, the mere existence of which is a reminder that white people have spent a majority of America's existence being total dicks. When it comes to popular music, Caucasians are like a race comprising Winona Ryders who have no problems blatantly stealing. Here are the six worst musical thefts by white people.

6. Funk

Conceptually, there's nothing wrong with white people playing funk. There's something cross-culturally admirable about white kids showing reverence for James Brown, Sly Stone, George Clinton and the like. The issue is in execution. "White funk" has become an oxymoronic insult that defines the lameness that occurs when slap bass or scratchy guitar chords are abused. This is a slow epidemic, worsened in the early 1990s with the rise of jam bands and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Naturally, there are exceptions; the bookish Talking Heads made genuinely funky records (even before hiring half of Funkadelic as a back-up band), and black people are totally capable of playing white funk. But every time a suburban high schooler in a Pink Floyd shirt steps on a wah pedal and imitates the opening theme to Shaft, Bootsy Collins' platform shoes drop down an inch.

5. Graceland

Paul Simon's Graceland is considered a landmark album because it introduced a strand of African pop to the Western world. One could argue that his motivations were noble, that he used his status to bring certain musicians into a limelight that was previously unavailable. At the same time, you could accuse Simon of trotting the globe with a manifest destiny approach to songcraft, pillaging cultures of their music to brand as his own; after Graceland, he scoured Brazil for Rhythm Of The Saints, and there's probably some Indonesian Gamelan Paul Simon record called Java For The Soul that Warner Brothers shelved in the early '90s. The truth is probably somewhere between these extremes, an off-putting album with good intentions. The racial dissonance of Graceland was resurrected a few years back by Vampire Weekend. Ironically, the precedent that justified the Ivy League misfits' bleached Afro-pop was a Paul Simon album named after the estate of one of the worst offenders of cultural thievery.

4. British Blues

Cream, Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Bluesbreakers and tons of other British white guys made big bucks in the 1960s by cranking up their amps and playing music written thirty to forty years earlier by African Americans. Their only contribution to the style was using electric guitars and, frankly, not playing as well as the original artists. This is not to dog on these bands or doubt their legitimacy, but their best works were made when they found their own voice rather than amplifying Robert Johnson's.


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8 comments
brad.mock
brad.mock

Why the Planet Rock link? Is it because they stole Trans Europe Express from Kraftwerk?

Honky
Honky

This article is everything wrong with Saint Louis = racist.

Boston Bill
Boston Bill

I could never understand the Red Hot Chili Peppers being described as a funk band.  On the other hand, The Average White Band could play funk.  Much of Chuck Berry's early Rock & Roll was straight out of country music.  All music came from "somewhere else".  Listen to real (non pop) country music.  The guitars, fiddles and mandolins come from Irish and Scottish folk music.  Listem to Zydeco, those accordians are from French folk music.

Leahkschulte
Leahkschulte

Lagen Neubacher is an AMAZING song writer, her music makes me want to dance and Super Happy :)

Mike Appelstein
Mike Appelstein

Re Elvis: you could argue that he wasn't so much ripping off black music as reflecting what he knew around him, from gospel to R&B to country & western.   True, he wasn't the originator any more than Bill Haley was, but he paved the way for others.  Same with Pat Boone - as much as I never want to hear him sing Fats Domino and Little Richard, I'm guessing his cleaned-up versions led to some nice royalty checks for them both.

Rock and roll was the collision of poor white hillbilly culture and poor black R&B and "race music" culture.  It's nice that we live in an age where that's acknowledged.

Music lover
Music lover

What about the toe-tapping melodies and harmonies blacks picked up from Scotts and Irish immigrants of the 19th century?  Or the choral hymns and psalms of the gospel music that defined sung black music for more than 3 centuries before the 1900s?  All of these aspects blacks added and adapted to the rythmic foundations of music that travelled with them from Africa.

Come on Ryan.  With the exception of a very very few musicians no one stands alone and everyone borrows substantially from others.  Moreover you've got huge numbers of black artists and entertainers that were wildly successful and receive substantial credit for their contributions to music within their own lifetimes no less (Chuck Berry, etc.).  Theft is a harsh word.  I prefer to think that emulation is a compliment and a form of flattery.

Joeboy
Joeboy

At first this comment seemed out of place, but then I realized that she had one of her songs "stolen" recently.

Erirfeiuer
Erirfeiuer

i wouldn't really call it flattery when the innovative black artists are left out in the cold while the derivative white artists make bank selling supbar imitations in a biased market.  it's still the same shit today - mac miller, anyone?

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