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Old 01-22-2011, 08:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default How Johnny Cash accidentally ripped off Townes Van Zandt

Of all the covers Johnny Cash performed in his later years, he never took on a Townes Van Zandt song. Or did he? Well, not exactly. But he did cover a song by Tanya Tucker, a song that stole the melody from the Townes Van Zandt song If I Needed You.


The song in question here is Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone) , released as a single by Tucker in 1974. As was and still is common in country music, the song was not written by the performer. The writer, David Allan Coe, whom Rolling Stone magazine once infamously called the "Rhinestone Rip-Off", is observed to have lied about his past in prison - claiming he served on death row, while no such record exists. This and his racist albums Nothing Sacred and Underground Album certainly speak about his character, but the real evidence is in the circumstances behind the song.



In 1972, Van Zandt released The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, which contained the first recorded version of If I Needed You. Townes was not a well known performer at this time, but he had already made a significant impact on the outlaw country movement. This meant that while he wasn't a household name, a person like David Allan Coe, also heavily involved in outlaw country music, would certainly have heard of him. Having the opportunity to write a song for a star like Tanya Tucker meant Coe could lift the melody from If I Needed You, change the bars around, and sell it to a pre-warmed audience. While The Late Great Townes Van Zandt struggled just to stay in print, Would You Lay with me charted number 3 on the country billboard.



Most country fans know If I Needed You by the Emmylou Harris and Don Williams cover, released as a single in 1981. Being years after the original was written and the melody was stolen by Coe, the two songs aren't often compared. Interestingly, that single also reached number 3 on the billboard.



Don't just take my word for it, you be the judge.




Townes Van Zandt - If I Needed You









David Allan Coe - Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)









As you may have heard, the vocal melodies and phrasing are suspiciously similar. Even if you're hesitant to call it a direct "rip off", you have to note the striking similarities between the songs. Throw into the mix Johnny Cash. His stripped down rendition sounds, tragically, like a complete If I Needed You knock off.



Johnny Cash







And that is how, I believe, Johnny Cash accidentally ripped off Townes Van Zandt. It should be noted that neither Cash nor Tucker are to blame, and that David Allan Coe is the real guilty party here. I had some time and I really felt like writing, so... yeah. There you have it. Spelling errors? What spelling errors?
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Old 01-22-2011, 08:11 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I was going to post this in that "rip off artist" thread, but I figure it might be interesting to have a discussion on a write up instead.
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Old 01-23-2011, 11:29 AM   #3 (permalink)
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That bastard.
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Old 01-23-2011, 05:42 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I really don't see much of a point of trying to point out how old country is ripping off other old country. I mean, it's really a lyric based music style.

99% of it uses what is seemingly the same rhythm/bassline. I know there's exceptions but a large portion of Johnny Cash is the same thing. Just as any American-based folk, the emphasis really isn't on the melodies, but rather the ambiance they bring to the words.

With that said, I can't stand Johnny Cash. However, not because he's a song stealer.
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Old 01-23-2011, 07:58 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I don't find that to be the case. With Cash it's certainly a valid viewpoint, but especially with someone like Townes the melody is a very important part of the music.
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Old 01-23-2011, 10:13 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Conan View Post
I don't find that to be the case. With Cash it's certainly a valid viewpoint, but especially with someone like Townes the melody is a very important part of the music.
Fairly enough, I probably shouldn't generalize because the fullest of me vernacular in classical country comes from Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams.
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Old 01-26-2011, 12:04 AM   #7 (permalink)
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This is pretty interesting. I'm not going to say I hate David Allan Coe because I can certainly enjoy some of his music. He's done some things in his career I certainly don't approve of, but hey, I still like some of his stuff. Townes was much more of a musician than a large amount of country musicians are. I mean he had the entire package lyrics and good music to boot.
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