Two tracks, one riff

Is it any wonder I reject you first?
Fame, fame, fame, fame
Is it any wonder you are too cool to fool? (fame)
Fame, bully for you, chilly for me
Got to get a rain check on pain (fame)

It seems that one thing the true greats of music have in common is a willingness to steal from each other and they don’t come much greater than James Brown and David Bowie. Both were innovators and both shameless ‘borrowers’ of ideas.

But if I were to ask you which of these two legendary musicians was the most likely to borrow from the other, what would you say?

I suspect you would nominate the magpie Bowie as the likely thief rather than the revered James Brown.

Take a listen to these two tracks.



In 1975 Bowie got together with John Lennon for an impromptu jam session in a New York recording studio. The result was the now classic track Fame. Its guitar riff is as funky a groove as anything James Brown ever conceived so did it originate with him?

Hot (I Need To Be Loved)


There is no mistaking the riff behind this funked up Brown cut.  It is – note for note – the same as Bowie’s Fame. However, this was recorded in ’76. That’s a year after Bowie recorded his version.

Therefore, though Bowie ‘borrowed’ from a good many artists over the years, in this case, the riff was lifted by Brown.

That said, both tracks are good and the riff serves both very well. Bowie (but not his guitarist Carlos Alomar who actually created the riff) was flattered by the Godfather’s homage.

Alomar was upset that Brown’s band – all of whom he knew personally – had stolen his riff and wanted to sue but Bowie insisted that they not, unless Brown’s version became a big hit – which did not happen.



6 thoughts on “Two tracks, one riff

  1. Wow, could that be any more blatant a ripoff? Fame was a pretty big hit and that riff is instantly recognizable. I wonder if Bowie was being generous or maybe was secretly worried that any lifting he might have done from JB would give him much less of a strong case. BTW, never heard that song.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t really know enough about them to have an opinion one way or the other. The music scene has changed so much and is so much more corporate than it once was. I’m more interested in the cases where an artist tries to sue their label than another artist.

      Liked by 1 person

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