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Dokken, Motley Crue and Ratt. More examples of the Progress Is Derivative Model

This isn’t a story about who ripped off who. To me those arguments are irrelevant as I am a great believer in the “progress is derivative” principle which is that all artists take a little bit of what came before and create something that to them is original.

It’s funny how you can have three songs that have pretty similar main riffs however each song has a totally different reach and impact with the audience.

Listen to “Young Girls” from Dokken’s first album “Breaking The Chains” and then listen to “Looks That Kill” from Motley Crue.

Now ask yourself the following question;

Do the opening riffs sound very similar?

If you answered YES then read the below, however if you answered NO then go back and repeat the above exercise until you hear that they do sound very similar.

Now listen to “Tell The World” from RATT.

Does the opening riff also sound similar albeit with a few small variations?

If you answered YES then read the below, however if you answered NO then go back and repeat the above exercise.

Musically, the three songs have a definitive riff that is very similar. However, one song is clearly forgotten, one song is considered a classic and the other one is a fan favourite.

The Dokken song was destined for the scrap heap just by the song title alone. Add to that some really crap lyrics, plus a really lazy uninspired vocal melody from Don Dokken and you have a disaster of mass distortion regardless of how good the bed of music is from Lynch. This is a perfect example of how good musicianship doesn’t shine due to bad lyrics.

In sports you are as strong as your weakest link and in this case the weakest link was the song title and the lyrics/vocal melodies.

Then you have the Motley Crue version that has lyrics drenched in sleaze, attitude and danger. The vocal melodies are simple with three or four syllable phrases, clustered together and barked out with venom. Add to that a song title that screams attention. Without even taking into account the video clip images and what not, “Looks That Kill” is far superior because of the way Nikki Sixx phrases his vocal melodies.

Then you have the Ratt’s “Tell The World”. Stephen Pearcy lived the L.A lifestyle. He immersed himself in the scene, along with his San Diego cohort Robin Crosby.

The main drivers behind all three songs are George Lynch, Don Dokken, Nikki Sixx, Robin Crosby and Stephen Pearcy. George Lynch was a constant L.A performer towards the late seventies and early eighties. Nikki Sixx and Robin Crosby would go on to be best friends. Both were consistent performers on the L.A scene. Stephen Pearcy was also a constant on that scene.

The music in these songs is not about who ripped off who. It is about how the sound of the L.A scene influenced all of the musicians involved.

In a nutshell playing two open string pedal points and then a power chord straight after was pretty basic Hard Rock/Metal 101.

This type of playing was very synonymous with bands like Judas Priest, UFO (Michael Schenker) and Scorpions.

In the U.S, you had the mighty Ted Nugent pushing out songs with definitive riffs based around open pedal points and power chords. Check out “Stranglehold”.

If you want to see that type of figure on steroids and totally original, check out the Randy Rhoads opening riff in “Steal Away The Night” . Rhoads starts it off with two open notes and then an inversion of a power chord. Then instead of doing two more open E’s he plays the B and A notes in lieu of the two open E’s.

In the end, as humans we are a sum of our influences and our cultures. The L.A scene was a culture based around a decadent lifestyle. In between all of that, the bands involved ended up crafting some great tunes along the way.


6 thoughts on “Dokken, Motley Crue and Ratt. More examples of the Progress Is Derivative Model

  1. Gary says:

    I noticed this in the 80’s so had to chuckle when I read this (I haven’t thought about it in so long). Check out Journey’s “Where Were You”- opens with much the same riff.

  2. Neal says:

    Well, you didn’t do your research. Actually, Dokken’s Young Girls was actually written by Bobby Blotzer, forget about what the album says, read the book. Bobby Blotzer was for the most part, in Ratt.

    And, although Dokken is essentially an LA band, Dokken went off to Europe because bands like Devo, the Knack… were dominating the LA area. Breaking the Chains, the whole first verse is about Don leaving for Europe “A one way ticket…”. It was only after Don came back to LA after touring the Breaking the Chains album that the hard rock scene had already picked up a lot of momentum in LA.

    So as far as influencing each other, you’re forgetting that Don and the boys were in Europe when bands like Motley Crue, Y&T (Yesterday and Today), Ratt, Wasp… started to burn up the strip in LA.

    I know you have your opinion, Young Girls is actually a good song, the production and mixing of Breaking the Chains could have been a lot better, especially the first version recorded for Carrere.. If you listen to From Inception Live 1981, it sounds a lot better, and that’s how the album should have sounded, and they would have had more success with the first album. It’s not uncommon for the studio album to sound worse than the live album.

    Pedal Points? What are you talking about? 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and filling in some blanks.

      And if your after my definition for Pedal point, in guitar playing it’s a sustained tone, so for example the Open string A note acts like a pedal point.

  3. Jim says:

    Also compare “Nightrider” (from the same album) to Ratt’s Lay it Down, which seems to borrow a few parts, like the verse and also much of the solo (the backing chords/key changes and solo notes and phrasing too).

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