Written by Chrissie Hynde in collaboration with the songwriting team of Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg (who used the melody from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Minuet for Lovers), it was the Pretenders’ most recent significant hit single, and their last successful single in North America.
What is “Minuet for Lovers”?
Attempt to google it brings mostly copies of the wikipedia article. I don’t know what Bach’s “Minuet for Lovers” is for sure, but I think it meant to be BWV Ahn. 114 (listen on YT), i.e. Minuet in G Major (which isn’t really done by Bach, the world’s cruelty…). So how “for Lovers” part was coined? I suspect it to be after The Toys - “Lover’s concerto” (listen on YT), which based on the same piece, but much more faithfully. It doesn’t look like a well-known nick title, so it may be simply a wikipedian’s “contribution”, net effect of someone’s creativity excess.
While there are similarities between mentioned Minuet’s melody and the song, you can find them much more apparent when comparing the song to some other track, i.e. “Dance Away” (listen on YT). This track, sung by Annie Livingston and composed by Joey Carbone and Richie Zito, was written for Project A-ko anime movie. In 1986, 8 years before The [nomen omen] Pretenders.
Sure, BWV Ahn. 114, which is attributed to Christian Petzold, is in public domain, but “Dance Away” is not. And to me it’s rather clear that the latter was a direct inspiration for The Pretenders. Yet IANAL, so I don’t know whether it could be proved in the court. Reference seen in Wikipedia about using Minuet in G major’s melody lacks citation, so it can be there thanks only to a good ear of some wikipedian. I don’t know whether Billy Steinberg stated that he used Petzold’s composition as a basis or not either. But I think that using a motif from anime song was quite likely considered safe, because who the heck would notice reusing melody from some Japanese animated flick?
Was he aware of “Dance Away” similarity to the minuet? If yes, then when his awareness showed up? These are interesting question, but most likely they’ll be left unanswered.
Of course, I can be wrong. He could just intuitively rework the minuet in a similar fashion as can be heard in “Dance Away”, without listening to Carbone & Rito’s piece in the first place. Who knows? But if you want to hear the resemblance even more, then listen to “Morning Light Type C” (e.g. on Grooveshark), i.e. the track from Project A-ko OST (almost whole OST is available on Grooveshark) where the motif in a slowed down version is present.
If you’d like to find more strangely similar songs visit Sounds Just Like site. I also recommend watching nice Everything Is a Remix series done by Kirby Ferguson, especially part 1 (watch on vimeo), as it’s dedicated to the music.
Lastly it’s worth to add that Project A-ko anime being a parody is actually a strong remix itself. Such movie couldn’t be created nowadays in Japan, I guess, but it’s a topic for another post, maybe here in English, or maybe at anime.com.pl in Polish.
EDIT 2012-12-02 (to expand the view):
In most countries it’s 70 years after author’s death when the work passes into public domain. There is a list of countries’ copyright length on Wikipedia. Christian Petzold died in 1733, so it’s much more than enough by now.
What’s most likely wrong in the case of The Pretenders and what my gut feeling is telling me, is that Steinberg used Carbone & Rito’s motif directly in his work. This Minuet in G major is well-known, yet most people wouldn’t notice the similarity to it in “Dance Away” or “Morning Light Type C” for instance, because it wasn’t used as-is. Actually I’m not even certain that their motif is similar to Minuet’s one on purpose, because it maybe only came out as such, maybe they subconsciously used same sound progression. But even if they based it on Minuet mindfully, it was used partially, changed and rearranged. Depending on how much of basis work can be found in yours, it can be called derivative work if it is substantial quantity, but it also has to be substantially changed to be copyrightable (according to US Copyright Office Circular 14: Derivative Works, it varies between countries). I’m not sure whether Carbone & Rito “put” enough of Minuet in their composition to call it derivative work (I guess not, but I’m not an expert in this matter and IANAL), but I’m pretty sure their work is copyrightable.
After listening to “Morning Light Type C” play now “I’ll Stand By You”. Most people notice similarity, because the motif in the latter sounds like copied directly from the first. Well, it’s not like the whole track is copied, I never said that and it’s definitely not. But unless Pretenders stated explicitly that it was at least a partial tribute to Project A-ko or Carbone & Rito’s work (I am not aware of such thing), then I find the act of reusing the motif barely changed at all inappropriate and morally wrong, irregardless of the fact whether the amount of reuse warrants filing copyright abuse or not.
As I said before, there is a slight chance that Steinberg just “reinvented” Carbone & Rito’s changes and rearranges himself, i.e. without hearing their works, but I find it quite unlikely. So what do you think?