Song of the Day #4,059: ‘The Air That I Breathe’ – Albert Hammond

Here’s a copyright infringement tale that goes a few layers deep, and one I think is a neat illustration of how similar elements can lead to completely different songs.

In 1972, singer-songwriter Albert Hammond released the song ‘The Air That I Breathe’ on his album It Never Rains in Southern California (the title track of which is his best-known hit). He wrote the song, which is embedded below as today’s SOTD, with Mike Hazelwood.

Two years later, The Hollies recorded the track and turned into a solid hit, reaching #2 in the UK and #6 in the United States. You can hear that version here.

Fast-forward 18 years to 1992, when an English alternative band called Radiohead released its debut single, a song called ‘Creep.’ The track became a decent hit, reaching #34 on Billboard, and in fact remains the highest-charting song in Radiohead’s storied career.

The publishing company behind ‘The Air That I Breathe’ noticed similarities between the verses of the two songs (particularly The Hollies’ version) and sued Radiohead. The band acknowledged the resemblance and gave Hammond and Hazelwood co-songwriting credit on the track.

Now jump forward 25 more years, and the release of Lana Del Rey’s fourth studio album, Lust For Life. The record’s final song, ‘Get Free,’ has verses that bear a striking resemblance to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ (and, by extension, The Hollies’ ‘The Air That I Breathe’).

According to Del Rey, Radiohead threatened a lawsuit and demanded 100% of the song’s royalties, even after she offered 40% (the chorus has no similarity to ‘Creep’). Radiohead admits to raising the issue, but denies threatening to sue or demanding all of the proceeds. Amusingly, they stated they wanted proper credit for “all writers of ‘Creep,'” meaning Hammond and Hazelwood as well.

The parties apparently came to an agreement outside of court, because Del Rey resumed performances of the song within a few months, saying the controversy was behind her.

Though ‘Get Free’ does have an undeniable similarity to ‘Creep,’ it seems a bit snotty for Radiohead to go there. For one thing, unlike every other song I’ve written about this week, ‘Get Free’ isn’t a hit. It’s a deep cut, never released as a single, and therefore not a real source of revenue for anybody involved. Then there’s the fact that Radiohead was sued over the very same song they’re claiming was copied!

My takeaway from this case is that I really enjoy all three of these songs, and find them all unique and effective in very different ways. It’s a fascinating look at how you can start with the same chord progression and melody but branch off in whole new directions.

As for Hammond’s 1972 original, the song that started it all, one astute YouTube commenter points out that at the song’s big finish (at 2:30 in the clip below), the drums and music sound a whole lot like The Beatles’ ‘Carry That Weight.’

If I could make a wish
I think I’d pass
Can’t think of anythin I need
No cigarettes, no sleep, no light, no sound
Nothing to eat, no books to read

Making love with you
Has left me peaceful, warm, and tired
What more could I ask
There’s nothing left to be desired
Peace came upon me and it leaves me weak
So sleep, silent angel
Go to sleep

Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe
Yes to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe

Peace came upon me
And it leaves me weak
So sleep, silent angel
Go to sleep

Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe
Yes to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe

Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe
Yes to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you
All I need is the air that I breathe
Yes to love you

One thought on “Song of the Day #4,059: ‘The Air That I Breathe’ – Albert Hammond

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    There really are just so many notes, so many chord progressions. I’m glad to see that, in this case, things were worked out without drawn out court fights.

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