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"This isn’t a case like George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and the Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine,’ but if you listen to the two songs, you can hear the similarities."
——Sigman spokesperson on McCartney's "Yesterday"
COPY CATS? DYLAN, MACCA FALL UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Rock Songwriters Face Plagiarism Charges, but No One’s Suing…Yet
Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, like all artists, are influenced by what they see, hear and read.

But at what point do those initial inspirations turn into plagiarism?

Both superstars are under the gun this week, fending off accusations their work has been not only inspired, but virtually copies, someone else's original creation.

In Dylan’s case, the lyrics from several songs on his 2001 album, Love and Theft, bear an uncanny resemblance to the translation of a Japanese non-fiction book, Confessions of a Yakuza, written by Dr. Junicihi Saga and published in 1989, with an English version in 1991. A front-page Wall Street Journal story that appeared yesterday has sparked a spirited controversy.

The novel is about a former gangster’s life of crime, gambling and prostitution in pre-World War II Japan; the yakuza shared his memories with the author before dying of cancer. Dr. Saga, a 62-year-old practitioner of Chinese medicine, has written 15 books in all. 

"I've heard his name before, but I wasn't familiar with his music," said Saga of Dylan.

As first reported last May on www.dylanchords.com, by Chris Johnson, an American teaching in Japan, there are 12 separate instances of Dylan’s songs using variations on passages from the book.

*In the song, "Floater," Dylan writes: "My old man, he’s like some feudal lord, got more lives than a cat." On page six of Saga’s book, the protagonist notes, "My old man would sit there like a feudal lord."

*Dylan sings, "I’m not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound," while Saga writes, "I’m not as cool or forgiving as I might have sounded."

*Dylan croons: "Sometimes somebody wants you to give something up, and tears or not, it’s too much to ask." Saga writes, "Tears or not, though, that was too much to ask."

*Saga writes: "My mother...was the daughter of a wealthy farmer...(she) died when I was eleven...my father was a traveling salesman...I never met him. (My uncle) was a nice man, I won't forget him...After my mother died, I decided it'd be best to go and try my luck there."

*Lyrics from Dylan’s "Po' Boy": "My mother was a daughter of a wealthy farmer/My father was a travelin' salesman, I never met him/When my mother died, my uncle took me and he ran a funeral parlor/He did a lot of nice things for me and I won't forget him."

So far, Dylan has not responded to the charges, which have sent sales of the book skyrocketing on Amazon.com. Up until now, Saga has only expressed flattery, telling his Tokyo-based publisher Kodansha International he has "absolutely no plans to sue," though he would like to be credited as a source for the songs. Saga was paid about 1 million yen, or $8,475 for the book, which was also translated into German, French and Portuguese. There’s no word whether the English translator will take action against Dylan.

Meanwhile, arguably Macca’s most well-known song, "Yesterday," has come under some scrutiny after two separate authors of Beatles books say the song resembles a '50s ballad, "Answer Me My Love," penned by the late Carl Sigman. Sigman was the father of former L.A. Weekly publisher and Record World editor Mike Sigman, who now handles his dad’s publishing catalog, which includes such standards as "Ebb Tide," "Love Story" and "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)."

Ironically, McCartney's company publishes a number of Sigman compositions, though not "Answer Me My Love."

The song was a U.K. hit for Frankie Laine as "Answer Me My Lord" in 1953, during McCartney’s formative years, when he may well have heard it on the BBC. Nat King Cole had a hit with it in 1954, while the song was also covered by Johnny Rivers and Joni Mitchell. Dylan himself was known to perform the song in concert, but never recorded it. A number of artists has covered both songs, including The Impressions, Marty Robbins, Matt Munro, George Shearing and Don Shirley.

A spokesman for Sigman insisted there was no legal action planned. "This isn’t a case like George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and the Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine,’ but if you listen to the two songs, you can hear the similarities."

The claim is made in Spencer Leigh’s upcoming book The Walrus Was Ringo and repeated in Dominic Pedler’s The Songwriting Secrets of the Beatles.

McCartney spokesman Geoff Baker told the Times of London: "The two songs are about as similar as ‘Get Back’ and ‘God Save the Queen.’"

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