Madonna’s Musical Unoriginality and Rip Offs
Unfortunately, many people are still under the false impression that Madonna has musical talent and that she writes her own songs.
Some people don’t realize that Madonna has stolen other people’s work.
In some cases, people who have written songs that have appeared on Madonna’s albums have not received any (or full) credit for their work.
Madonna’s most well-known songs, the ones that made her famous, were not written by her (such as Borderline, Like a Virgin, Material Girl, Like A Prayer, Papa Don’t Preach, Crazy For You, Open Your Heart, Into the Groove, and Dress You Up), and she is not even listed as being co-author on many of her hit songs (including most of the ones just listed).
In some cases, Madonna has received co-writing credit merely for adding one or two words, or only one or two lines, to lyrics that were written by someone else.
Some want to argue that because Madonna plays musical intstruments this is somehow proof that she has musical ability.
It is known that one of Madonna’s earliest boyfriends tried to teach her how to play the drums, and she dabbled in it before she became famous, but what we don’t know is if she was any good at playing the drums.
If Madonna can play the drums adequately, why haven’t we seen her play the drums on any of her tours or music videos?
Why isn’t she credited for playing drums on any of her own albums (and I wouldn’t count the “cow bells” from the self titled debut album; please, a three year old could play the cow bells.)
If Madonna was in fact talented at playing the guitar, the drums, or any other instrument, I wonder why she has always relied on studio musicians and others for her albums?
Here’s an example:
Source: Madonna Digest; originally appeared in Song Talkmagazine, Summer 1989 issue (Vol. 2 No. 11)
Interviewer: “Act of Contrition,” the closing track of Like a Prayer, has backwards masking and other mysterious elements. Did he [Patrick Leonard] have anything to do with that one as well? The credits only say, “Produced by the powers that be.”
Madonna: Yeah, he did. He played guitar on it. He also played guitar on “Keep it Together.”
Even if Madonna gets credited in the future for playing an instrument on her albums, I will wonder how much she will have actually contributed? If her history of song writing contribution is any indication, I can tell you it won’t be very much.
Here is the documentation backing up the claims I made above, as well as related information:
• Who’s really writing those music hits? – MSNBC.com
• OK, who REALLY wrote that song? – CNN.com
› Taking undeserved credit nothing new in the music business
› Songwriters say pressure to hand out credits especially prevalent when new
….But earlier this month, Kreviazuk rocked the pop music world by suggesting that Lavigne was a collaborator in name only.
Although she quickly retracted her comments and others defended Lavigne, the flap illuminated a long-standing fraud that has become more prevalent than ever: “singer-songwriters” who do much less songwriting than their publicists would have you believe.
….Shropshire says that many artists will only allow songwriters to work on an album in return for song credit, and “if they do write, they ask for more publishing than they honestly contributed … it is the way it is.”
The practice has been prevalent for decades.
Gerson calls the practice unfair but says it’s “pretty prevalent in pop and R&B … I think the way people now divide publishing splits is who was in the room.‘OK … I changed the word “the” to “a,” and I deserve 10 percent of the publishing.’ “
….Shropshire recalls working with an A-list singer, whom he did not want to name, who wrote two words on a song and ended up getting a large piece of the publishing rights.
Madonna Rip Offs / Actual Contributors, Examples
(1.) Source: Madonna’s Musical Inspiration: Gap Ads? – E! Online (emphasis added)
by Daniel Frankel, Mar 12, 1998
Does Madonna get her lyrics at the same place most of us buy clothes?
It seems she does–at least for her new techno-influenced album, Ray of Light.
Those with a keen recollection of television advertising will notice the introductory lyrics to the song “Sky Fits Heaven”– credited on Ray of Light to Madonna and longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard– are gosh-darned similar to what poet Max Blagg recited for a 1993 Gap clothing commercial.
Here, look for yourself:
“Sky fits heaven, so fly it/
That’s what the prophet said to me/
Child fits mother, so hold your baby tight/
That’s what my future could see…
Sky fits heaven, so ride it/
Child fits mother, so hold your baby tight/
Lips fit mouth, so kiss them…
See what everybody’s talking about?
It’s a fairly hot topic in chat rooms. And in its April issue, Rolling Stone paid reference to this similarity in its review of the diva’s new album.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News ran a story about the matter Thursday, reportedly getting Madonna’s record-label publicist at Warner Bros. to admit the singer paid Blagg in lieu of reprinting the album’s liner notes and crediting him.
The critically accepted Ray of Light sold an impressive 371,000 copies in its first week of release alone, which put it just behind the mega-selling Titanic soundtrack in this week’s Billboard music charts.
(2.) Source: Madonna’s Credibility Gap
03/13/1998 3:00 AM, Yahoo! Music
[by] Bruce Haring
(3/13/98) – It wouldn’t be a new Madonna album without some controversy.
Fans of the singer are wondering whether there’s a credibility “Gap” in the lyrics to one track on her newRay Of Light album, which debuted on the charts at No. 2 this week with a solid 371,000 units sold (albeit trailing the perennial No. 1, the Titanic soundtrack).
The opening lyrics from Madonna’s song “Sky Fits Heaven” are:
“Sky fits heaven so fly it
That’s what the prophet said to me
Child fits mother so hold your baby tight
That’s what my future could see”
In a 1993 Gap ad, set in a beatnik coffeehouse atmosphere, poet Max Blagg recited:
“Sky fits heaven so ride it
Child fits mother so hold your baby tight
Lips fit mouth, so kiss them”
The album notes say that “Sky Fits Heaven” was written by Madonna and her long-time collaborator, Patrick Leonard.
Blagg has allegedly been paid, according to New York Daily News columnists Rush & Molloy.
(1.)Source: Why Madonna’s Still A Material Girl, Times Online, by Robert Sandall; April 2009
‘In 1993 Pat Leonard, whose credits include Live to Tell,La Isla Bonita and Like a Prayer, told me how angry he used to get “when Madonna would say in an interview ‘music isn’t a concern of mine’. Because I would think, ‘Well it’s a concern of somebody’s, b***h, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting there.’ Most of the time she’s just playing a game”.’
(2.) Source: Madonna Digest; originally appeared in Song Talk magazine, Summer 1989 issue (Vol. 2 No. 11)
…”Like a Prayer,” [was] written with the enormously gifted Patrick Leonard. (Leonard, along with her old friend from Detroit, Stephen Bray, are her main collaborators.)
As we can see by Madonna’s own admission, she gets a lot of help in writing her songs:
(3.) Source: Madonna Digest; originally appeared in Song Talk magazine, Summer 1989 issue (Vol. 2 No. 11)
Madonna: That’s the great thing about Pat [Leonard]. I mean, Pat puts together these really strange chord progressions and these really great time signatures, and I’ll listen to it and I won’t even think about it.
I’ll just put it on, and I’ll just keep playing it over and over again; it’s like free association. I’ll start singing words to it and making them fit. I don’t think of structure. I don’t think of first chorus, first bridge.
Interviewer: Did you come up with the melody for “Oh Father”?
Madonna: No, no, Pat thought of that melody.
Later, in the same Song Talk interview:
Madonna: … [ Patrick Leonard and I] have a very good working relationship because we both come from the Midwest, and we both worked our butts off to get where we are. But, you know, he’s the one who studied music. He knows how to read music, how to write music. I don’t know any of that. I’m completely instinctual and he’s completely intellectual. So it’s a really good combination.
Madonna may not have meant to, but she has just admitted in that quote that Leonard is the real musical talent. He is the one with the know-how, training, and education. She is the trained monkey.
Elsewhere in the Song Talk interview, though, she laps up praise that the journalist heaps upon her, e.g., ‘but Madonna, yes, you do play instruments when you said you did not! You just said that you played keyboards when writing Lucky Star!’
I took piano lessons for five years when I was a kid. I would love to point out to this journalist that there is a difference between actually being able to ‘play the keyboard’ and pecking out notes, making a simple melody, on a keyboard. Does anyone care to guess which category Madonna falls into?
(1.) Justify My Copyright, ew.com
Feb 01, 1991 | Published in issue #51 Feb 01, 1991
The controversy over Madonna’s ”Justify My Love” video may have cooled, but now there are disputes over the song itself. The credits on the record say the song was cowritten by Madonna and rocker Lenny Kravitz, who also produced the single.
But Ingrid Chavez, an actress-singer who was the female lead in the Prince movie Graffiti Bridge, says she wrote most of the lyrics.
Kravitz now publicly acknowledges Chavez’s contribution, for which she’s receiving one- quarter of the songwriting royalties.
Chavez is satisfied with this arrangement, even though she says the finished Madonna version of the song is practically a heavy-breath-for-heavy-breath copy of Chavez’s original demo tape. ”Lenny told me he was obsessed about getting it the same,” she says.
So why didn’t he use Chavez? ”Because Madonna can make more money,” Chavez says.
The second charge against ”Justify My Love” comes from the rap group Public Enemy, which says the song’s beat was sampled from ”Security of the First World,” a song on their million-selling 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
While Public Enemy’s lawyer, Lisa Davis, concedes that the legal situation concerning sampling is ”absolutely not clear-cut,” she says, ”If you just take someone else’s track, remove their vocals, and add your own rap, that’s copyright infringement.”
Public Enemy and their label, Def Jam Records, are now contemplating legal action against Kravitz and Madonna.
Says Public Enemy coproducer Hank Shocklee, who created the rhythm riff: ”I’m going on a rampage.”
Many in the music industry think Public Enemy’s threats are ludicrous because they believe the group sampled the ”Security” beat from a 1969 James Brown tune called ”Funky Drummer.”
Kravitz’s manager, Stephen Smith, says, ”If there is a lawsuit, it should be by James Brown.”
Hank Shocklee flatly denies this accusation. ”My beat is original, man,” he says. ”There was no sampling. None whatsoever. Yes, it’s a James Brown style, but it’s definitely not a rip- off.”
Shocklee has just recycled the beat in question in a song, ”To My Donna,” by Young Black Teenagers (a group he produces), which sarcastically responds to ”Justify My Love” with sexual teasing.
A Madonna spokeswoman says the singer never heard the Public Enemy song and ”didn’t write the music.”
Kravitz’s manager, Smith, says, ”There hasn’t been any copyright infringement. From my recollection there never has been any copyright enforcement on a drumbeat. Otherwise half the songs of rock & roll would infringe on Chuck Berry.” Smith says the claims by Chavez and Public Enemy are ”publicity stunts.”
And the beat goes on.
Source: Top of the Pops – bbc.co.uk
However, shortly after the pair [Madonna and Steve Bray] worked together on the ‘Like A Prayer’ album, they fell out. Bray later went onto burn his bridges with his former girlfriend by declaring her songwriting contribution as “minimal”. Ouch!
Source: Madonna Tribe
…. Stephen Bray is the talent who signed with Madonna many of her most incredible hit songs, all time classics like Express Yourself, Into The Groove, Angel, Over And Over, Pretender, Stay, Where’s The Party, Keep It Together, True Blue, Jimmy, Jimmy, Spotlight, Can’t Stop, Causing A Commotion, Each Time You Break My Heart, Get Over, Crimes Of Passion, and others.
Source: Madonna Tribe (emphasis added)
Despite the fact this guy wrote several songs for a Madonna album, he received credit for only one of the songs:
It’s time to celebrate Erotica, one of Madonna’s most original and controversial albums, with an exclusive chat with Tony Shimkin, co-producer and co-author of some of the album’s greatest songs.
Tony stops by at MadonnaTribe to take us on a behind the scene journey through tidbits, memories and an unrivaled first-hand report of the creation process of all-time masterpiece tracks such as Erotica, Bye Bye Baby, Deeper And Deeper, Bad Girl and Why’s It So Hard to name just a few, but also Vogue, Rescue Me, This Used To Be My Playground and the much talked about “Rain Tapes”.
Here’s an excerpt from our interview with Tony, that can be read in full by clicking HERE
MadonnaTribe: You are co-author with Shep Pettibone and Madonna of some of the album’s greatest tracks: Erotica, Bye Bye Baby, Deeper and Deeper, Bad Girl, Why’s It So Hard to name just a few. Do you remember the process that gave birth to some of those songs?
Tony Shimkin: Erotica was definitely a long evolution to the final two versions – those being the album and the more middle eastern inspired version entitledErotic which was included in the SEX book.
Bye Bye Baby was a lot of fun as the filtered vocal effect was applied during recording and played with while she was singing, that vocal is also the original first take demo vocal.
On Deeper and Deeper during the mix I was fooling around on an acoustic guitar playing some spanish, flamenco style lead. Madonna heard me and wanted to add that part to the song we then added castanets and voila the latin style bridge to that song was born.
We had just returned from vacations midway through the writing process, Shep had been to Jamaica and I had been scuba diving in the Caymans and we both returned with a heavy reggae inspiration, this is the reason for Why’s It So Hard.
After Madonna had left one day, I played with an idea and added some background vocals. The next day I did not know she had arrived and was playing them back and she yelled from downstairs “What’s that.. I like it!”, embarrassed I told her it was me singing and she had me re-sing the parts in front of her. That was my major label debut as a singer. It was funny hearing my voice during the Girlie Show over the speakers at Madison Square Garden.
Bad Girl was a departure from the rest of the record and a nice break in the writing process because it slowed us down and it was nice to get serious for a moment.
MadonnaTribe: The sound of Erotica seems very raw when you first listen to the songs. Was that a conscious decision?
Tony Shimkin: We used much of the demo vocals which were recorded with an SM-57 microphone, which is used more often for live performance, because it just had a great vibe and we liked the performance.
When we recorded to tape we used a 1/4″ 8 track reel to reel and the 2″ multitrack was recorded at 15 ips non dolby to get a warmer more vintage sound as opposed to digital which is what we usually worked with.
So the “raw sound” was deliberate and a result of wanting to use much of our demo performances.
MadonnaTribe: Which one of the songs on Erotica is your favourite and why?
Tony Shimkin: When the album was originally released I was told by Shep I had to choose only one song to put my name on as a writer, knowing what I know now I would have said no it’s all or start over on your own.
So with that I chose Deeper and Deeper because I knew it would be a hit.
It’s hard to say now but I might choose Rainbecause I love the rise that comes with the portamento synth and how it takes you into the bridge and lifts you up, but then again the Video may have inspired that answer.
MadonnaTribe: Recently online there was talk about the so called Rain Tapes. From those it seems that the songs on Erotica had gone through many different stages. Where are these Rain Tapes coming from?
Tony Shimkin: I don’t know, It certainly wasn’t me, I believe only Shep, myself and Madonna have copies of early stages of the demos. So your guess is as good as mine. I have been tempted by offers to release stuff like that but Madonna always treated me with respect and I would not do that without her consent.
Madonna has used material written by her brother-in-law, Joe Henry, who, in a subtle manner, explained that Madonna does not have musical talent, in that he explains she’s about image, not about music:
(1.) Joe Henry: Madonna’s maverick in-law, Telegraph, by Neil McCormick, Sept. 8, 2007
Joe Henry married into pop royalty, but the relationship is immaterial, he tells Neil McCormick
…. In the mid-1980s, Henry married Melanie Ciccone, sister of Madonna, and the couple have two children. It’s odd to contemplate that this marginal musical maverick has a sister-in-law who is one of the planet’s biggest pop icons.
“I’ve known her since I was 15 and she was 17, longer than I’ve known my wife,” he reports. “We have had a great relationship, and part of that was because I never needed anything from her. I recognised that we were in two different occupations. Not to disparage one ounce of her musicality, I was always of the belief that her persona was her career.
“Whether she was making a movie or writing a song or punching a photographer, it was all pushing a persona forward, and that was the real body of work. I was never tempted to slip a song to her at thanksgiving.”
Then in 2000, Madonna reworked his twisted tangoStop into the hit Don’t Tell Me.
Madonna picked up Jem’s song “Nothing Fails” and recorded it for her own “American Life” album. Madonna shares songwriting credit on “Nothing Fails.” Did Madonna change enough of it to merit that credit?
“You can’t ask questions like that! Somebody should, but there are some things that are best left unsaid,” Jem says — but then she says, yes, Madonna did co-write the song.
Madonna’s Biggest Hits Were Not Written or Co-Written By Her
Some of Madonna’s biggest hits, the ones that propelled her to worldwide fame, the ones most memorable, such as Like a Virgin, Material Girl, and Dress You Up, were not written by her.
Like A Virgin, for example, was written by Billy Steinberg, not Madonna. From an interview with Steinberg on Madonna Tribe:
[Pictured at left: Billy Steinberg]
The idea for the song came to lyricist Billy Steinberg while he was driving around in his pickup truck: “In 1983, when I wrote the lyrics for ‘Like A Virgin’, I was very happy because I had extricated myself from a very difficult relationship and was enjoying a new one. I felt like a virgin”, Billy told us.
“I wrote the first verse lyric first, starting with ‘I made it through the wilderness’. I didn’t start with the title. But after I wrote the line, ‘you made me feel shiny and new’, the title ‘Like A Virgin’ popped into my head. Right away, I knew it could make a startling song and I was excited about working on it with Tom Kelly”.
But perhaps even Mr. Steinberg’s account should be taken with a grain of salt, due to this information (which is hosted on Aisha’s site):
The saddest of all these allegations is by a group named Hide The Babies. They published a web site that contained the allegation that they gave Madonna’s manager their demo (cassette) in the 80’s, she liked it and asked if she could keep it. She returned the tape to them 6 months later.
They alleged that shortly after one of their lyrics appeared in Madonna’s song as the basis for “Like A Virgin,” but not credited to them. A group member stated they felt she did this because she figured if she got her version out first it would render their version useless.
Madonna’s lyric for “Like A Virgin” goes: “Like a virgin. Touched for the very first time.”
Hide The Babies lyric goes: “I’m not a virgin, but you’re the first one…”
That’s the same lyric, just changed up a bit. It’s also the same concept/pun about not being a virgin, but someone seemingly making you feel like that.
It appears to be the same thing Madonna did with my song “Contemporary Girl.” She took lyrics, tried to change it up in the same manner, but just enough to retain the idea and concept of the song and some of the lyrics, hopefully without getting caught.
“Like A Virgin” was Madonna’s first real hit and credited to another writer that her label and management hired. However, this allegation of theft bears a pattern that would later be said of several other songs Madonna allegedly composed. I saw an interview on Bravo recently with producer Nile Rodgers, who said Madonna told him at the time that the concept of the song “Like A Virgin” was such a good idea and kept emphasizing this point to him.
The article from Hide The Babies web site states, “Then when her tune came out we couldn’t do ours anymore because everybody thought we got it from her.”
Wow when you think about that statement it is profoundly sad and terrible considering “Like A Virgin” was such a big hit that allegedly came from this band who are saying they did not get credit for it.
Like A Prayer, released in 1989 on a Madonna album of the same name, was not a wholly original work by Madonna. From Wikipedia:
Over the years it has been speculated that David Bowie’s song “Underground” was the inspiration for “Like a Prayer”.
Many fans claim that Madonna heard “Underground” repeatedly on the radio while in London during 1986, and she became fond of the song’s combination of pop and gospel music.
The 1987 Michael Jackson song ‘Man in the mirror’ also combined pop and gospel music prior to “Like a Prayer”.
Some also cite that Prince’s work on his album “Purple Rain” heavily influenced the sound of “Like a Prayer” as well.
Here are a number of singers or bands who have been ripped off by Madonna, or claim to have been ripped off by her:
Lawsuits and Legal Problems:
Aisha claims that Madonna’s “American Life” song is stolen from a song by her.
Dominic King’s Lawsuit
King’s song = Music Sounds Better With You
Madonna’s song = Get Together
November 25, 2008
Superstar MADONNA has been reportedly accused of using a disco sample without permission on her hit new album CONFESSIONS ON A DANCE FLOOR.
Composer DOMINIC KING tells Britain’s The Sun newspaper the MATERIAL GIRL allegedly used his disco riff on her album track GET TOGETHER.
King claims he originally lifted the riff from CHAKA KHAN’s track FATE – with permission – and used it for the hit dance anthem MUSIC SOUNDS BETTER WITH YOU, performed by STARDUST.
King says, “I know her song uses my riff and I’m surprised myself and co-writer FRANK MUSKER didn’t get a call.
“It would have been nice to have been asked.
“I am almost certain a discussion about money will happen with her people. These things can be settled in retrospect and something will definitely be happening, believe me.”
Madonna In New Sample Stealing Row – Entertainmentwise
Madonna in Song War – The Sun
Salvatore Acquaviva’s Plagiarism Lawsuit Against Madonna
– Acquaviva’s Song = My Life’s Getting Nowhere
– Madonna’s Song = Frozen
Madonna loses plagiarism case in Belgium – Reuters
Songwriter Wins Case Against Madonna – ABC News
Madonna hit ‘copied’ – News24
Songwriter wins case against Madonna – San Jose Mercury News
Madonna guilty of plagiarism – EITB
BELGIAN SONGWRITER WINS MADONNA PLAGIARISM CASE – Contact Music
Songwriter Wins Case Against Madonna – Newsday NY
Madonna’s Frozen frozen for plagiarism! – Hindustan Times
Belgian court orders Madonna CDs off shelves – Globe and Mail
Madonna Ray of Light album loses plagiarism case – Indian Express
Songwriter Ices Madonna in Court – E! Online
Madonna in plagiarism case defeat – BBC News
Madonna loses plagiarism case in Belgium – Ninemsn
Excerpts from the Indian Express story:
Nov 18, 2005
… Salvatore Acquaviva won the case in a court in the Belgian town of Mons, where the judge ordered EMI, Sony, and Warner Music to get radio and television stations to stop playing the song, Victor-Vincent Dehin said.
The judge also ordered the three companies to get music stores across Belgium to stop selling not only the single but also Ray of Light, the album on which it appears, he said.
EMI, Sony, and Warner Music each face a fine of more than 100,000 euros if they fail to obey the order within 15 days, he added.
“We tried to reach a friendly agreement … but they didn’t want to negotiate so I sued for plagiarism,” Dehin said.
He said he would try to negotiate a financial compensation deal with the companies but was ready to go back to court if they refused. He declined to say how much money he was seeking.
“They have stolen a song, so they have to pay the value of the song,” he said.
Dehin said the judge had agreed with his client that Madonna had used four bars of Acquaviva’s song Ma Vie Fout L’camp, loosely translated “My Life’s Getting Nowhere”.
From BBC News article:
…. The companies’ lawyer declined to comment while Madonna’s UK spokeswoman said she was unable to give a reaction. ….
Mr Dehin said he would try to negotiate a compensation deal for an undisclosed sum but was prepared to go back to court if the companies, who have the right to appeal, refused his claim.
Unconfirmed or Suspected Musical Rip Offs
Is it fair that poor Ofra [Israeli singer], who never had massive, Madonna-style worldwide fame, and died tragically from AIDS she got from a blood transfusion, and by all accounts was a totally sweet lady, should get her “Im Nin’alu-to-Dance-Music” idea completely stolen, without credit, by Madonna, who uses it to sell a ton of records and spread her Kaballah shtuyot?If Madonna is really so deeply initiated in the Jewish mystical rites, couldn’t she dig a little deeper into the huge library of piyyutim? [Defined below as piyyutim = devotional poems]
Will Madonna’s next album have as leadoff singles “Dror Yikra” and “Yom Zeh Mekhubad”? ….
By Otto Luck
…. Madonna wraps the tune up by stating, “This is my religion.”
On the title track “Ray of Light,” she gets “herself a little piece of heaven” and on “Swim” she tackles the subject of baptism.
This last number, by the way, borrows so heavily from Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child” that I’m sure Ian would have a field day in court were she to litigate it.
Smatterings of the Beatles and Kula Shaker can also be heard in the CD. It seems all this religion has not deterred Rev. M [Madonna] from ripping off a few of her fellow artists.
When confronted with charges of stealing someone else’s song or music, Madonna stops insisting that she’s the song-writer in question and claims someone else wrote the song in dispute, such as in this example:
Question: In 1991 the rap crew Young Black Teenagers released the single “To My Donna”, which was actually an attack on Madonna. Why?
Answer: She’d sampled their heroes Public Enemy, without acknowledging them. Madonna’s “Justify My Love” single used the Public Enemy track “Security of the First World” as a rhythm track.
Madonna denied any previous knowledge of the PE track and also said that Lenny Kravitz wrote the song, so she didn’t know what had happened.
Kravitz later claimed that he found the track on a cassette in his studio and had presumed it was something he’d knocked up earlier. Public Enemy used a lot of samples themselves, so they decided not to sue.
Source: Funtrivia.com > Bands In Songs
Unfortunately, because Madonna mimics songs that are a bit before my time, I cannot always discern exactly who she is ripping off.
There are a few songs, though, where I do recognize the source material for her thefts.
In her song Like a Prayer, there is a line, “Just like a prayer, I’ll take you there!” that gets repeated many times over.
A band called The Staple Singers released a song called “I’ll Take You There” in 1972, on the album Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, and this is probably the origin for some of the lyrics in Like A Prayer.
Madonna’s 1989 song, Express Yourself not only rips off the “Respect Yourself’ phrase from that 1972 album title and song, but probably also ripped off the 1970s song Express Yourself by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
The Wikipedia page about the 1989 Madonna Express Yourself song states:
The  song’s melody is strongly lifted from the Staple Singers’ hit, “Respect Yourself.”
Even the music video was a rip off; as the same Wiki page also states:
Upon its release, the music video for “Express Yourself”, the premise of which is that of the Fritz Lang classic film Metropolis, generated a great amount of attention in the media.
Lines or sentiments from songs sung by Madonna, such as 1990’s Vogue (“You’re a super star, yes, that’s what you are”), 1984’s Over and Over (read lyrics), and 1983’s Lucky Star (read lyrics), echo these lines from the song Shining Star, released in 1975, by the 1970s band Earth, Wind, and Fire:
When you wish upon a star
Dreams will take you very far, yeah
When you wish upon a dream
Life aint always what it seems, oh yeah
Once you see your light so clear
In the sky so very dear
Youre a shining star, no matter who you are
Shining bright to see what you can truly be
That you can truly be
Shining star come into view
Shine is watchful light on you, yeah
Gives you strength to carry on
Make your body big and strong
Future roads for you to pass
….Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be
Madonna has admitted in interviews that she enjoyed the band Sly and the Family Stone when she was growing up, so it’s not surprising that she ripped off some of their work as well. Sly and the Family Stone was formed in the 1960s, and they had hit songs in the 1970s.
Some of the same Madonna songs mentioned above (Over and Over, Lucky Star, Vogue) also contain traces of Sly and the Family Stone: You Can Make It If You Try (released in 1969), and Everybody is a Star (also released in 1969).
Another example of unoriginality that comes to mind is Madonna’s ‘Cherish‘ song, released on the 1989 album Like A Prayer. Lyrics from this song include:
“Cherish is the word I use to remind me of our love”
A band called The Association had a song in 1966 calledCherish containing the lines
“Cherish is the word I use to describe / All the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside”
I do not think it unreasonable to conclude that Madonna was ripping off that band.
I do not have a problem with musicians borrowing phrases from other famous songs, doing covers of old songs, and what have you.
My problem when Madonna does these sort of things is that either
a.) she tries to pass the lyrics off as her own invention;
b.) fans think it was Madonna’s idea first (and Madonna won’t correct their thinking on this); and then there is the sheer extent of it:
c.) Madonna, as I point out in other articles on the site, has based an entire career of stealing material, fashions, trends, and whatever else from others
Madonna is not ‘paying tribute’ to musicians when she mimics their work — she is blantantly profitting from their work, as she is largely incapable of making decent music herself.
She is a greedy, money- sucking vampire who does not have a shred of true artistic talent in her entire body.
Madonna has gotten especially lazy with her 2003 release, “American Life:”
And in the lyrics, these swipes from popular songs: “This bird has flown,” “Everybody’s looking for something,” “I got you under my skin,” “Love will keep us together.” Perhaps the point is transcendence through detachment, but finally ‘American Life’ comes across as defeatist more than anything else — as if to say, why bother writing new lyrics?
What takes place [on the American Life record] are vocoderized expressions of departure and a lackadaisical desire to dazzle her audience.
No surprise, though, that she often finds herself swiping titles of popular classics in her lyrics (“love will keep us together,” “I’ve got you under my skin,” etc.) that virtually questions the need to write new lyrics.
When Madonna Does Write Anything, It’s Stupid
I am surprised that any Madonna fan would want to willingly admit that Madonna is responsible for writing some of her own songs, or to act as though this is a laudable thing or lends Madonna credibility, since some of Madonna’s lyrics are just laughable and simplistic.
You ‘fans’ should be embarrassed for Madonna, not parading her about as though she has any musical ability, as this only encourages her to keep making horrible albums such as American Life.
Really, what is so brilliant about lyrics such as these:
“My father had to go to work / I used to think he was a jerk” (from Mother and Father)
“In the midnight hour I can feel your power” (from Like a Prayer)
“I’ll give you love, I’ll hit you like a truck” (from Erotica)
“In my heart I know we’ve come apart and I don’t know where to start” (from Bad Girl)
“Stop bitch now sit your ass down!” (from Thief of Hearts)
“Sugarplum fingertips kissing your honey lips / Close your eyes sleepy head, is it time for your bed” (from Dear Jessie)
“Siegmund freud / Analyse this / Analyse this / Analyse this, this, this.” (from Die Another Day)
As reviewer Lehua Chong points out,
Madonna’s strangely nasal voice [on American Life] kind of stings in your ears and that’s before she starts rapping again. “My mother died, when I was five.” The words just fall flatly, and you have to snicker.
If anything, my cat could have written more in- depth, original, and meaningful lyrics.
And what of Madonna’s over- reliance on the same rudimentary rhyming schemes and themes? I do not take it as evidence of Madonna reasserting the same themes for artistic merit but rather as her ‘creative well’ being bone dry.
The Same Rhymes Or Concepts That Madonna Has (or her songwriters have) Used Time And Time again
* The power of good-bye (from the song of the same name)
* In the midnight hour I can feel your power (from ‘Like a Prayer’)
* You got the power to make me feel good (from ‘Cherish’)
* You can’t make me cry, you once had the power (from ‘Oh Father’)
key / me / heart / open
* Open your heart to me, baby / I hold the lock and you hold the key (from ‘Open Your Heart’)
* You’re frozen when your heart’s not open (from ‘Frozen’)
* Your heart is not open so I must go (from ‘The Power of Goodbye’)
learn / burn
* How many suns will they have to burn? / Spanish eyes / When will they ever learn? (from ‘Spanish Eyes’)
* I’ve learned my lesson well / Hope I live to tell / The secret I have learned, ’till then / It will burn inside of me (from ‘Live to Tell’)
* You were my lesson I had to learn / I was your fortress you had to burn (from ‘The Power of Goodbye’)
door / more / before / anymore
They never laugh, not like before / She takes the keys, he breaks the door (from ‘Till Death Do Us Part’)
Even though we never met before / We got to move before the sun is rising / And you’ll be walking slowly out the door (from ‘Physical Attraction’)
If you wanna see me anymore / If you don’t wanna see me walking out the door you better think of me(from ‘Think of Me’)
I gotta get out the door / If I don’t do it now / I won’t get anymore (from ‘Over and Over’)
I can see you’ve been hurt before / But don’t compare them to me / ‘Cause I can give so much more (from ‘Shoo Bee Doo’)
When you walked out my door / I knew you’d be back for more (from ‘Stay’)
But I never knew love before / ‘Til you walked through my door (from ‘True Blue’)
So don’t come hangin’ round my door / If you’re not ready to give / You’re not gonna get much more (from ‘White Heat’)
You’re always closing your door / Well that only makes me want you more (from ‘Burning Up’)
And I feel like I just got home (from ‘Ray of Light’)
I hear you call my name and it feels like home (from ‘Like a Prayer’)
I’m not gonna hurt you, I’m not that kind / We’re not goin’ nowhere ‘til you have a change of mind (from ‘White Heat’)
I’d like to think that I could change your mind / Don’t say that I am blind / I know all about your kind (from ‘Pretender’)
After surveying the above list, you should be asking yourself what I did: what would Madonna ever do without the English word “door?”
Notice, also, how Madonna apparently runs out of ideas later in her career so she has to rip of lyrics or themes she has already used on previous albums. I hope Steve Bray is getting royalties from Ray of Light, Erotica, and all the rest.
I wasn’t the only one to notice that Madonna is rehashing her old themes:
‘Mother And Father’ [from Madonna’s American Life album] pointlessly revisits the same old themes covered in ‘Oh Father’ and ‘Promise To Try’ from ‘Like A Prayer’ 14 years ago.
… 1994’s mediocre “Bedtime Stories” (a musical and thematic rehash of 1992’s far superior “Erotica”)…
And [with the track ‘Mother and Father’ on American Life] we’ve already heard way too much about her troubled relationship with her dad [in ‘Oh Father’ from Like a Prayer] and the loss she felt after the death of her mom.
As for the use of the word and concept of ‘home’ in her songs, I recall Oprah Winfrey, the talk show hostess, asking Madonna what she meant by the phrase “and I feel like I just got home” in her “Ray of Light” song. I don’t remember Madonna’s answer, and besides, it is irrelevant.
Oprah was operating under the assumption that Madonna actually expends deep thought and energy on her lyrics, which she does not.
Not only will a simple listen to any Madonna- penned song reveal this, but Madonna has said in interviews that it usually takes her about ten mintues to write lyrics for a song.
Oprah was under the false impression that Madonna singing about ‘home’ is meaningful to Madonna, when, in reality, it is merely filler.
Incidentally, there are no less than five names accredited to the Ray of Light song: Madonna, William Orbit, Clive Muldoon, Dave Curtis and Christine Leach.
Additional observations about Madonna’s idiotic lyrics:
Nobody Knows Me has embarrassing lyrics such as, “I’m not that kind of guy/ Sometimes I feel shy/ I think I can fly/ Closer to the sky.”
And Mother and Father (which had the potential to be moving, given it’s about growing up without a mother) gives us this bogus rhyme: “There was a time that I prayed to Jesus Christ/There was a time I had a mother/It was nice.”
The following lyrics (from “Candy Perfume Girl”) are stupid, yes, but they also just do not make any sense:
Candy Perfume Girl
Young velvet porcelain boy
Devour me when you’re with me
Blue wish window seas
I’m your candy perfume girl
Your candy perfume girl
Moist warm desire
Fly to me
candy perfume girl
candy perfume girl
candy perfume girl
Rush me ghost you see
Every center my home
Fever steam girl
Throb the oceans
Your candy perfume girl
you’re a candy perfume girl
you’re a candy perfume girl
Candy Perfume girl
Did I lie to you?
candy perfume girl
Did I lie to you?
You’re a candy perfume boy
candy perfume boy
You’re a candy perfume boy
Candy perfume girl
The sacred nerve is
I’m your candy perfume girl
From the 2005 album Confessions on A Dance Floor, lyrics to the song I Love New York:
I don’t like cities but I like New York
Other places make me feel like a dork
When Madonna is not busy writing insipid lyrics, she is busy removing perfectly good ones from cover songs she performs. Read excerpts from a review of the single American Pie:
My other big complaint about the music is the fact that Madonna has massacred the song lyrically as well. She has cut out several verses, shortening the song and thereby making it more “radio friendly.” The song doesn’t carry the same meaning any longer. She rearranged the lyrics a bit as well, changing it so she repeats “I started singing” over and over and over and over.
This cover is just bad and it should never have been made.
I have to disagree, at least a little, with one music critic, in his comments on the 2003 album American Life, who wrote:
Similarly, mocking her for writing about her own life rather than sticking to lyrics about picking up boys in bars and busting poses on the dance floor is fatuous. She isn’t 20 any more; she has two kids and a bloke, and enough life experience to have acquired a few insights.
True, Madonna was age 44 when American Life was released, and it would seem silly to expect her to dance about in music videos in skimpy little outfits as though she were still 25 years old, and it would seem a tad unrealistic to have songs about the nightclub life coming from a middle-aged woman.
What this reviewer is overlooking, though, is that Madonna is being hypocritical on her 2003 album. She is now against the very culture that made her financial success possible.
(As of 2005, however, with the Confessions on a Dance Floor album, Madonna was attempting to dress and behave like a 25 year old in her videos and photoshoots.)
All very well and good if Madonna wants to tackle serious issues on her 2003 American Life album, but why at the expense of Americans and American society? She needs to show some gratitude towards America, not disappointment or condemnation.
Secondly, her more ‘serious’ and ‘introspective’ songs are alienating her fans, or just the general public who otherwise might consider buying her records.
To put this a different way, even though I do not like Madonna, and even though some of the lyrics to her songs are idiotic, I still enjoyed some of the cute and bubbly songs she did in the past.
If I, who strongly dislike Madonna, was willing to fork over some dough to buy Madonna albums but now no longer will buy them because she has changed her musical style from fun and catchy to dreary, depressing, and weird, then who exactly is going to buy them?
No 13 year old kid with extra spending money is going to buy a record with weird techno sounds backing some rich middle-aged woman singing about the emptiness of materialism and fame.
(Keep in mind that this next line was written in 2003): If anything, Madonna needs to get back to singing some of the same material she did in the 1980s.
Just a few years ago, Cher, who is now over age 50, was able to sing a cute and perky dance hit, “Believe,” proving that an older singer can in fact create youthful sounding, fun music but without looking pathetic.
The messages on American Life are dour indeed. Remember the old ecstatic catchphrases about reaching, about bliss? Getting into the groove, getting over the borderline, striking a pose, finding your lucky star, music making the people come together? Now there is only retreat and a halfhearted will to puzzle things out in public with a vocoder.
Madonna’s songs are simply not fun anymore (and unlike the following critic, I’m not a fan of Madonna’s Ray of Light and Music era; I found both, like American Life, to be dull records and the electronic sounds were just weird, not cool):
Ahmadzai is back at the helm on “American Life.” But neither he nor Madonna is having nearly as much fun with the grooves this time out. The 11 tunes are more mid-tempo, less energizing and much less joyful. It’s hard to imagine any of them get the blood pumping on the treadmill or at the aerobics class, much less making a spirited party mix tape.
As one Mr. Prindle remarks:
Now then, about Ray Of Light. It is EXACTLY what the ordinary everyday “critic” is looking for – “sincere, serious” lyrics oversung in a pretentious, emotional manner with “hip” ’90s “electronic” sounds backing it up. But it SUCKS!!!!
I have been a Madonna semi-fan for long enough to vehemently argue that this is one of the biggest pieces of sh*t she has ever come up with.
First of all, did any of you notice that about half of the songs utilize the SAME EXACT ascending vocal melody? That sorrowful “I was in Evita and now I’ve learned the importance of love and selflessness through the experience of motherhood” melody?
…And finally — oh, finally — these “serious, introspective” lyrics are just more teen-level saccharine sh*t. Sample lyric: “I traded fame for love/Without a second thought/It all became a silly game/Some things cannot be bought.”
I wrote better “poetry” when I was 15 and I’m a HIDEOUS poet. But what do you expect from critics? They loved the “mature” lyricism of Like A Prayer too. Me, I prefer a little fun and some actual melodies every once in awhile, rather than just a self-important ambient journey through the dark alleyways of no ideas.
[On Madonna’s Music record] her voice has grown tiresome and annoying, mainly because she treats every song so goddamned seriously and sings them all in the exact same way. The “electronica” beats and noises on here are boring beyond words (the first song revolves around a repeated echoey synth tone – WOW!!!!), and once again there are close to ZERO original or interesting melodies on the entire record.
Before I delve into her poetry [on American Life], let me preface this attack by saying that I certainly understand why an artist might choose not to address depressing social issues in their work. Entertainment is entertainment, after all, and lots of us turn to it for an escape from the disturbing reality we’re experiencing.
But that’s not what American Life is. It is NOT escapist entertainment. It is Madonna presenting a series of dark, minor-key, UNHAPPY songs about how fake and plastic the entertainment business is and how it’s not enough to make her happy. Hopefully I speak for the majority of Americans when I say BOO F*CKING HOO.
Let’s start with track 1, “American Life.” Aside from being almost inarguably the least catchy single Madonna has ever released, this song within the first thirty seconds makes it clear exactly how far out of touch Madonna is with real life.
“Do I have to change my name? Will it get me far? Should I lose some weight? Am I gonna be a star?”
THIS is American life in 2003? Who thinks like this now? Aside from the most narcissistic brain-dead failed actor, I can’t imagine ANYBODY over the age of 13 seriously considering these to be important worries at this particular juncture in history.
How about “Will there be any available jobs for me when I graduate college?” or “Will I ever be able to get out of this ghetto without being murdered by ‘gangstas’?” or “Where is my family supposed to live now that I’ve been laid off and have no retirement money because the executives of my company stole all of it?”
But it gets much, MUCH worse later in the song, during the first of many unbelievably poorly conceived and humiliatingly executed raps performed by Madonna in a quite racist fake negro accent.
“I got a lawyer and a manager, an agent and a chef,” she brags. “Three nannies, an assistant and a driver and a jet, a trainer and a butler and a bodyguard or five, a gardener and a stylist…” before delivering the most horrifically thoughtless conclusion possible — “Do you think I’m satisfied?”
Madonna’s ‘rapping’ on American Life? Terrible! From reviews for “American Life:”
But too often the sounds are let down by Madonna’s melodies (which are dull and predictable) her singing (which sometimes seems too remote given the personal nature of the lyrics) and her occasional rapping (which is stiff and unconvincing, like someone who has read about the craft but never heard it performed).
“I tried to stay on top, but somehow I forgot”, [Madonna]. . . warbles in the opening title track. As if to illustrate what she means, she launches into a rap so weak, my toes curl into ringlets. It’s not just that her flow is appalling, which it is. It’s the risible nursery rhyme lyrics which must leave even little Rocco snorting in derision. I can’t even bring myself to quote them, they’re that bad…
Oh hang on, here comes another abominable rap. “My father had to go to work / I used to think he was a jerk”.
Here’s a test [to see if you think you’ll like American Life]: listen to the title track of Madonna’s new album, American Life, and if you don’t wince when she starts rapping, you’re a true fan. Because as evocative as Madonna is known to be, there’s something inherently lame about a 44-year-old mommy rapping, “I do yoga and pilates and the room is full of hotties.” All you wincers may want to skip this one.
Madonna’s lyrics are so awful that they’ve got a music critic confused:
Madonna sounds spent on this ‘American Life’ by Jim Derogatis
…But the biggest problem is the lyrics.
It has always been a fool’s game to look for undue meaning in Madonna’s words–her music is supposed to be empty-headed dance-pop fun, after all– but “American Life” is mixed in a way that thrusts the singer’s voice front and center, virtually screaming, “Pay attention to what I’m saying!” (especially during the . . . folkie-acoustic passages).
So what does Madonna have to say? Unfortunately, not a damn thing.
The new age navel gazing is far more obtrusive here than on her last two albums, and it’s much more confusing and befuddled. “I’m not religious,” the singer insists on “Nothing Fails.” Yet Jesus Christ and Satan pop up in several songs, and there are more empty feel-good aphorisms dished out over the course of the disc than there are in a month’s worth of “Oprah.”
Maddy’s rap against materialism in the title track is hard to accept, considering she has always celebrated vapid consumerism in the past, while her rant against the film industry in the song “Hollywood” is hypocritical coming from a star with a filmography like hers. . . .
It all adds up to a confused and confusing mess, and Madonna admits as much. “I don’t know who I am. … I don’t know who I’m supposed to be,” she croons in “X-Static Process.”
What the heck is Madonna going on about in the lyrics for “American Life”?
Damned if I know, but maybe you can figure it out. Here is a sampling of some of her more lunkheaded lyrical utterances.
From “American Life”:
“I’m drinking a Soy latte/ I get a double shoté/ It goes right through my body/ And you know I’m satisfied/ I drive my Mini Cooper/ And I’m feeling super-dooper/ Yo, they tell me I’m a trooper/ And you know I’m satisfied/ I do yoga and Pilates/ And the room is full of hotties/ So I’m checking out the bodies/ And you know I’m satisfied.”
From “I’m So Stupid”:
“Please don’t try to tempt me/ It was just greed/ And it won’t protect me/ Don’t want my dreams/ Adding up to nothing/ I was just looking for/ Everybody’s looking for something.”
From “Love Profusion”:
“There are too many questions/ There is not one solution/ There is no resurrection/There is so much confusion.”
From “Mother and Father”:
“There was a time I was happy in my life/ There was time I believed I’d live forever/ There was a time that I prayed to Jesus Christ/ There was a time I had a mother/ It was nice.”
From “Nobody Knows Me”:
“I’ve had so many lives/ Since I was a child/ And I realize/ How many times I’ve died/ I’m not that kind of guy/ Sometimes I feel shy/ I think I can fly/ Closer to the sky.”
How any Madonna fans or journalists who ~(gag)~ admireMadonna can actually write that Madonna has any musical talent what-so-ever and do so while keeping a straight facehave a special talent themselves, wouldn’t you agree?
The next time you find yourself talking to a Madonna fan who thinks she’s a brilliant composer, send him a link to this page.
For additional examples of, or commentary about, Madonna’s musical rip-off’s, please visit the following thread at the Anti-Madonna Discussion Board:
image sources for this page include, but are not limited to, the following:
dhost.info/jem/; images-eu.amazon.com; prince.org; http://www.songwriteruniverse.com