The Offspring’s latest hit single, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?,” may be
getting its share of radio play these days, but it’s also absorbing its
share of criticism courtesy of Beatles fans, critics and DJs nationwide.
As “Why Don’t You Get a Job?”
(RealAudio excerpt) boosts the multimillion sales figures for the Offspring’s
fifth album, Americana, listeners are suggesting, and even
complaining in some cases, that the sing-along single comes a little too
close to sounding like the Fab Four tune “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
But while some Offspring fans agree such comparisons are warranted, most
say, “Just get over it.”
“The people who say that the Offspring are ripping off the Beatles have
way too much free time on their hands and should lay off,” Sarah Jutras,
16, of Connecticut wrote in an e-mail. “Both the Offspring and the Beatles
are great bands, so people should just shut up.”
Nighttime DJ Sluggo at KROQ-FM in Los Angeles has forced the comparison
by playing a version of “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” with inserted snippets
of the Paul McCartney-penned pop classic “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”
Richard Harrington, pop-music critic of the Washington Post, wrote
in a January review that the song “echoes” the Beatles tune — the same
word chosen by a review printed in the Buffalo News. “It sounds
similar enough that if you’re familiar with ‘Ob-La-Di’, you’re going to
say, ‘Oh, it sounds a little like it,’ ” Harrington said. “It’s the chorus
really, but I’m not implying they ripped it off. This kind of stuff
happens all the time.”
The Offspring’s management offered no comment on the suggestion that the
song steals a melody from the Beatles’ hit. Offspring lawyer Howard E.
King said Friday (May 7) that “Other than speculation, no one’s made or threatened
a claim on this matter.”
According to late biographer Nicholas Schaffner, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” wasn’t a completely original idea even for McCartney. In his 1992 book, “The Beatles Forever,” Schaffner claimed McCartney had borrowed the title from a Jamaican singer he had seen perform in London.
“John [Lennon] made no bones about despising Paul’s popular Jamaican-influenced ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,’ a song that also alienated the West Indian nightclub singer who had dreamed up the title for his own act,” Schaffner wrote.
Whether the Offspring song bears a close enough resemblance to the Beatles
song to warrant a lawsuit would be up to those who own the song’s copyright.
Attorney Greg Victoroff, co-author of 1996′s “The Musician’s Business &
Legal Guide,” said making a case of copyright infringement requires two
things: proving access to the song and substantial similarity.
The attorney added that if the melody of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was taken from a traditional folk song, there wouldn’t likely be a case. “There’s nothing illegal about that if all the band took was the pre-existing public-domain [material],” he said.
Representatives for the Beatles at Apple Corps Ltd. in Britain did not return phone calls for comment.
“Why Don’t You Get a Job?” followed the success of the blow-out hit “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy),” a tune that rocketed the Offspring back into the rock spotlight after their disappointing major-label debut, Ixnay on the Hombre.
Offspring frontman Dexter Holland — who revealed earlier this year that he wanted “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” to have a campfire feel — said the lyrics were, like many on the album, inspired by talk-show culture. “I admit I’ve kind of got a morbid curiosity where I get drawn to those shows,” he said. “It’s like watching a car wreck or something.
” ‘Why Don’t You Get a Job?’ is [one] of those songs where the stripper comes on ‘Jerry Springer’ and her boyfriend doesn’t work, and he just stays at home and smokes pot, and she has to support him, and she’s here to tell him she’s going to kick him to the curb.”
While most Offspring fans seemed to shake off the notion that the tune’s hook is borrowed goods, a young devotee of the Southern California rock band called “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” “an exact replica” of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
“I don’t want to be mean but it exactly mimics the Beatles’ song,” Melissa Giardina wrote in an e-mail. “I believe they bought the rights and if they didn’t then they should be sued. … Besides, no big deal. It is a fun song and you can hum or dance along to it so just listen and have fun. It’s not the type of song to analyze or get all serious about.”
Beatles expert Allen Wiener, who has written three books on the Fab Four, including “The Beatles: The Ultimate Recording Guide,” said echoes of the Beatles can only be expected. “Each of the milestone rock artists, you can hear their influence in the people who have been successful who came after them,” Wiener said.
In 1981 former Beatles guitarist George Harrison lost a legal case alleging that his composition “My Sweet Lord” copied elements of Ronnie Mack’s song “He’s So Fine,” a big hit for the Chiffons in 1963.
Recorded in 1968, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” appeared on the Beatles’ sprawling
two-record The Beatles, better known to the world as The White
Album. While many Offspring fans may know it as the theme song to
the television show “Life Goes On,” others said that the title didn’t
ring a bell.
“I don’t know that Beatles song,” Adam Hunter, 19, a student at
Towson University in Maryland, wrote. “All I can say is Offspring is better
than the Beatles and could kick their asses any day. Leave the old to
the past, bring on the new.”