Yusuf a.k.a. Yusuf Islam a.k.a Cat Stevens is reportedly giving serious thought to suing Coldplay over “Viva la Vida,” the title track off its latest album, due to alleged melodic similarities with Stevens’s 1973 song “Foreigner Suite.”
The folk bard-turned-Muslim philanthropist, who has won a series of distinctions in the past decade, including the World Social Award and the Man of Peace Award, now appears to be making a bid for the Most Litigious Ex-Hippie Award. You may recall the episode in 2003 when he harshed the Flaming Lips‘ mellow by suing them over their hit single “Fight Test,” which played a little like a robot-themed reprise of Stevens’s 1970 tune “Father and Son.” Settling out of court, the Lips agreed to pay Yusuf royalties.
The similarities between those songs were undeniable: It wasn’t just a uniform chord progression, it was a nearly identical melody; and neither of these elements change throughout the course of either song, the songs were essentially the same—which is probably why the Flaming Lips, much like the protagonist of their song, capitulated without a fight.
By comparison, this new claim seems a bit thin. There are distinct similarities between the backside melody of “Foreigner Suite” and a portion of the one the cycles consistently through “Viva la Vida.” But unlike “Fight Test” and “Father and Son,” these songs overlap only at specific and proportionally small segments. “Foreigner Suite” is a suite, after all; the majority of the song sounds nothing like “Viva la Vida.” And while Coldplay frontman Chris Martin imitates Stevens’s notes (and to a much lesser extent, his phrasing) at the beginning and end of a crucial hook, he builds a unique arc in the considerable space between.
So what exactly is Yusuf doing? Attempting to bogart musical strains, especially on such flimsy pretenses, seems a decidedly un-groovy tack for a man who has made a living of decrying material preoccupations. But then, the man has a history of litigiousness: He has twice sought legal recourse against newspapers for disputed claims about the nature of his religious zealotry—worthwhile measures, perhaps, but one wonders whether he developed too fond a taste for it.
Similarities notwithstanding, I would hope Yusuf might find peace in in the knowledge that “Foreigner Suite” is a much, much better song than “Viva la Vida.” Anyway, you can judge for yourselves.
Excerpt from “Foreigner Suite”:
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And “Viva la Vida”:
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