Satriani vs Coldplay: MusicRadar's opinion

As a trusted and ultra-professional news-source, MusicRadar has tried its very best to stay completely neutral whilst reporting the ongoing lawsuit between Joe Satriani and Coldplay.

But of course, being music-lovers, each MusicRadar staff member has their own opinion on the case, making for much debate in the office.

As with any court case, there are numerous issues to consider. In this one, there's the issue of whether Coldplay's Viva La Vida contains "substantial original portions" of Satriani's 2004 instrumental If I Could Fly.

Then, if there are portions that are the same, there's the issue of whether Coldplay intentionally lifted from Satriani. Or as the guitarist puts it, whether it's "a real rip-off".

Here, then, are the individual opinions of the team, aired in public for the first time.

Michael Leonard reckons…

I have read/studied musicologists' analyses of both songs and listened to both more than I'd usually choose – you too can watch a generic chord progression being analysed to death – and I'm still unconvinced of the songs' degree of similarity.

What I do believe is any similarity is probably coincidence. When Coldplay used a riff from Kraftwerk's Computer Love on Talk (2005), they made sure they contacted the reclusive synth pioneers and cleared its use. I think if they'd knowingly lifted from If I Could Fly, they would have done the same with Satriani. Making trade fair, and all that.

I also don't believe Chris Martin likely listens to Satriani for inspiration. The entire works of U2 and field songs by Ethiopian coffee farmers, maybe, but not instrumental shred albums. So when Martin claims the melody came to him one night, I actually believe him.

Even so, the law is currently on Satriani's side. Coldplay's main mistake was ignoring his claim for so long, because they thought it was "ridiculous".

The outcome? Coldplay will want to avoid a courtcase. Proving 'coincidence' in a court is tough – and any copying is plausible, as Satriani is a major artist on a major label – so I expect that this will now be settled out of court. Satriani will get some money, a lot of money, and may be begrudgingly offered a co-write credit.

And 25 years from now, the name of the song that will likely end up credited to Berryman/Buckland/Champion/Martin/Satriani will just be a staple of music pub quizzes.

One thing is for sure. The originality of tunes on Satriani's next album may be pored over in more detail than he's used to… ML

Chris Wickett reckons…

Fair play to Joe Satriani – he's got every right to defend his IP if he thinks someone is taking the piss. But, equally, fair play to Coldplay – if they feel they wrote a cracking tune and someone's inexplicably suing them for it, they've got every right to tell that person to go do one, frankly.

But I'm still not convinced the two songs are even that alike. The square-pegs-into-circular-holes YouTube hash-up might highlight similar melodies, but hear each section in context and they've a completely different feel.

Speaking from my own experience, I own both albums and had been familiar with If I Could Fly for years before my first listen to Coldplay's Viva La Vida – and on that listen, I didn't recall the Satch track at any point.

I just find it damn near impossible to believe that Coldplay would have even heard the track in question, and even harder to believe that they actively decided to crib from it. Any similarity is a coincidence. CW


Joe Bosso reckons…

I was never a big Coldplay fan, but when Viva La Vida came out, I started to let them in. In particular, the title track appealed to me. It sounded familiar yet somehow sparkling and new - new for them, at least.

The second I heard the famous mash-up comparing Viva La Vida and If I Could Fly, it became apparent why I liked the Coldplay song so much - because it was a Satch song I knew and liked. This was a case of 'where have I heard this before?', and the answer was stunningly obvious.

The part of me that would normally give an artist reasonable doubt went out the window when I read Chris Martin's comments from a 2002 VH1.com interview during which he mentioned Joe Satriani. Of all the guitar players in the world, he trots out Satriani's name – proving he knew of his existence, and possibly his work. That If I Could Fly came out two years later sealed the deal for me.

In my opinion, Chris Martin had Joe Satriani's song in his head when he wrote Viva La Vida. He probably didn't sit down and say, "Let me rip off Satch," but he should've figured out the influence afterwards. And if he did, he should've done the right thing and listed Satriani as a co-writer. JB

Chris Vinnicombe reckons…

To a degree, I'm with Wickett on this. The chances of Chris Martin and co having actually listened to the Joe Satriani track in question before penning Viva La Vida are more remote than Satriani's of being named Mr Hair America 2009.

Any accusations of premeditated, cynical plagiarism seem unlikely to hold water given the vastly different spheres that Coldplay and Satriani inhabit. The real losers in the whole sorry debacle are any musicologists or lawyers who have to sit through repeat listens of both compositions ad nauseum. CV

So, that's sort of 3 to 1 in favour of 'pure coincidence'. Do you agree? And will that even matter in a court?

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