I was a pretty big fan of the British pop group the Hollies early on – Bus Stop, On A Carousel – before Graham Nash left in 1968 to join some trio, and sometimes quartet. I was less interested in the post-Nash hits, such as He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.

Still, The Air that I Breathe, a gold single that went to #6 on the US Billboard charts in 1974, has those trademark lovely harmony vocals. It was so infectious that the the British rock band Radiohead decided to “borrow” a good chunk of it for Creep, their Top 40 single from 1993.

In 2013, TIME magazine pointed out 11 Suspiciously Sound-Alike Songs and this pairing was on the list. Listen to the Creep & The Air That I Breathe Mashup.

As the Wikipedia notes: “Creep shares a chord progression and melody with The Air That I Breathe… The song’s writers Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood sued and received co-writing credits and a percentage of the song’s royalties. According to Hammond, Radiohead agreed that they had actually taken it … Because they were honest they weren’t sued to the point of saying ‘we want the whole thing’. So we ended up just getting a little piece of it.”

Listen to The Air That I Breathe (original) – Albert Hammond (1972).

So I was incredulous when I read that Radiohead is suing American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey for… guess what?… copyright infringement, suggesting that her track Get Free from her most recent album, Lust for Life (2017) was copied from Creep.

This, of course, rekindles that unanswerable question of where to draw the line between homage and theft. I think Get Free sounds less like Creep than Creep sounds like The Air That I Breathe, especially the Hammond version. Presumably, if the Radiohead wins the suit, Hammond and Hazlewood would also profit.

Del Ray tweeted on January 7: “It’s true about the lawsuit. Although I know my song wasn’t inspired by Creep, Radiohead feel it was and want 100% of the publishing – I offered up to 40 over the last few months but they will only accept 100. Their lawyers have been relentless, so we will deal with it in court.”

Seems that Radiohead is being creepy about this.

2 Responses to “Music throwback: The Air That I Breathe”

  • CGHill says:

    “Where to draw the line between homage and theft.” Well put. Rather a lot of songs owe something, if not necessarily cash, to Ray Davies for the Kinks’ “Picture Book,” or at least to Dave Davies for that oft-imitated guitar riff.

    I never cease to be amused by the fact that the estate of George Harrison now owns “He’s So Fine,” the song George lifted, however unconsciously, from the Chiffons.

  • fillyjonk says:

    This reminds me a little of the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matt. 18). Considering that Radiohead didn’t totally get taken to the woodshed….and now they want all of what del Rey is going to earn.

    (I agree with you on the idea that “Creep is more like The Air that I Breathe than Get Free is like either” but I also think Hammond’s is the best of the three songs. And I like his more-acoustic version better than the Hollies’ version)

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