I had never heard the Yoko Ono song, “Mrs. Lennon,” before. But Alex Chilton certainly has. In a 1987 interview with Dawn Eden, he admitted that “it’s just like [Big Star’s] ‘Holocaust.’ Exactly.”
The Bob: Did you have that song in mind when you wrote “Holocaust”?
CHILTON: I don’t know. I think that it was one of those instances of plagiarism that you sort of are aware of somewhere in your mind, but not…I think that, at the time I was doing the tune, I didn’t realize that I was copying it.
Decide for yourself: Yoko Ono – “Mrs. Lennon”
Stream: Big Star – “Holocaust” from Third/Sister Lovers.
“Mrs. Lennon” was originally released as the first single from Yoko’s 1971 album, Fly.
Via a fascinating thread on the Velvet Rope that includes scandalous stories from producer Jon Tiven and a heated argument with Howlin’ Wolf‘s guitarist’s manager!
4 thoughts on “Yoko Ono vs. Alex Chilton”
“Holocaust” is one of my favorite Big Star tunes. It sounds just like this and I’m totally putting these two songs next together on a future mix tape.
Wow! Dick Cavett, complete with guests smoking on camera. Gotta love the 70s, man.
Makes me think, “why the fuck did John hook-up with that ho?”
The two songs are definitely peas in a pod. I think “Holocaust” has more depth to it, but I’m a shameless Chiltonian. And yes, at one point, Yoko was an attractive lady. But imagine it; one of the moptops falling madly in love with an avant-garde artist. That would be like Justin Timberlake falling for Lene Lovich. And then JT releasing a tribute album to Anne Frank.
No doubt that Alex swiped the chords and tempo of the “A” section of ‘Mrs. Lennon’. He obviously rewrote the words, and he also rewrote the melody and added a short “B” section that features chords and a melody not found in “Mrs. Lennon”. It would be interesting to see how a court of law would interpret his adaptation (meaning, did he cross the line and violate Ono’s copyright?).
In the old days, neither a chord progression nor a rhythmic arrangement could be copyrighted (hence the million jazz compositions using the chords to “I Got Rhythm”); only a melody could be copyrighted. In recent years, juries have sided with plaintiffs who claim that copyright was violated because a given track simply sounded too much like an earlier track. Though I’m not sure if it ever went to trial, the “Blurred Lines” case is an example of this…Robyn Thicke swiped a groove, but not a melody, from Marvin Gaye, and I believe he ended up paying something (royalties or a lump sum) to the Gaye estate. The law seems to be in transition (and often, financial / legal might makes right)
It seems unlikely that Ono would sue after all these years, for such a small amount of money, but then again, once she passes away, her heirs or her executors could file a suit against Chilton’s small estate, and it would probably be very expensive to fight such a suit given the legal talent Ono’s estate could fund.