Kiss the Culprit

Did Kiss rip off an old Alice Cooper anthem, or is this just a case of sincere homage?

Key Differences: The signature riff in "I'm Eighteen" is played over an E minor/C/D progression, the same progression used in "Dreamin'" albeit dropped down a half-step with two groaning passing notes in F and E flat trying their darnedest to disguise it.

While "Eighteen" remains grounded in E minor throughout, "Dreamin'" jumps to F sharp minor on the verses. But save for one chord, it's the near identical passage, now transposed up three frets. The experiment to see how many keys Kiss can play this famous riff in before someone noticed it has been stolen renders this second attempt at thievery redundant.

Similar Song Content: Like "I'm Eighteen," "Dreamin'" deals with internal-clock confusion ("can't tell the daylight from the night"), but whether it's about a boy's impending manhood or Paul Stanley's oncoming senility is never clear.

Subconscious Plagiarism: During the infamous My Sweet Lawsuit more than two decades ago, the judge found George Harrison guilty of subconsciously plagiarizing the melody of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine." Harrison admitted he thought he was consciously plagiarizing "Oh Happy Day" by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, although thankfully no other parties pursued the matter further.

Subconscious plagiarizing could never apply in this case. Even someone in a coma couldn't mistake the riff. "We loved those early Alice Cooper albums," Stanley told Goldmine while explaining Kiss' habit of tapping Alice's producer Bob Ezrin at every critical juncture of its career. Ezrin was also involved in the early stages of Psycho-Circus. So it's a safe bet you could disturb either Stanley or Kulick in the middle of dreamin' and shove a guitar in their hands, and their respective left hands would find that riff, no problem.

You-Can't-Copyright-a-Riff Defense (and the Tip-of-the-Hat Defense): Both are compelling arguments. Most cases are about lifted melodies and words, so this dispute could set a legal precedent. Why didn't the Stones sue the Kinks for lifting the "Jumpin' Jack Flash" riff for "Catch Me Now I'm Falling"? How come Prince never sue-sue-sued Phil Collins for carbon-copying "1999" for his suck-suck-sucky "Sussudio"? How come the Jam never felt the hot breath of Beatles lawyers down their necks for giving the world a "Start" that appropriates the "Taxman" bass line? How come Noel Gallagher is still allowed to walk free after ripping off everything from "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" to "This Guy's in Love With You"?

The reason is that these are all acknowledged tips of the hat from one big act to another. Also, who wants to engender such bad will in the utopian rock world? Why would the Stones risk alienating a segment of their audience that liked the Kinks too? Besides, it would be bad form to sue someone who's paying homage to you. The guys in Kiss most likely figured Cooper would be cool about a tip of the hat, not anticipating that people who own the controlling percentages want some do-re-mi thrown into their waiting tipped hats.

Projected Outcome: Kiss will probably settle out of court. In some landmark litigations, like the John Fogerty vs. Fantasy Records case (in which Fogerty was actually accused of stealing from himself), the artist is actually called to the stand with an acoustic guitar to demonstrate the minute differences of the songs in question.

Having already heard how wimpy Kiss sounds unplugged, the jury could turn ugly. And given Kiss' reluctance to do any freebie shows, they'll pay up.

Projected Winner: The Alice Cooper Band
Since "Eighteen" was credited to all five members of the original group, the four surviving members--Cooper, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, and Neal Smith--as well as the Glen Buxton estate, will see some compensation in a settlement. This, combined with the planned release next spring of Alice's long-awaited four-CD boxed set The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper, should both call attention to the band's contributions to those classic albums.

Projected Loser: Bruce Kulick
Giving Kulick a token co-writing credit on the new album, which will certainly sell more than any Kiss album since Dynasty, could've made a nice nest egg for the exiled guitarist. But now he's got nest egg all over his face. It's a hotly contested rumor that Kulick actually plays more than Frehley on the new album, but the facts are shrouded in more secrecy than Kiss' pink faces used to be.

Projected Future Kiss Lawsuits: 1999 could finally be the year those battered Nazi stormtroopers get up the pluck to sue Kiss for appropriating their SS lettering. And Labelle can finally throw the style book at Frehley for ripping off all its space-age costume ideas. Mocha choke-a-latta da da! Or as Ace might say, "Ack Ack.

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