A “Million” Chinks in the Adele Armor?

Is it possible?

I’ve had the opportunity to listen to Adele’s new album several times now, and for the most part it’s pretty good (as long as you’re not on the verge of suicide or otherwise severely depressed while listening to it).  When she’s not lamenting over lost love, love about to be lost, or love she’s predicting will be lost given time, she’s reminiscing about that long ago time when she was young, you know…like just last week (she’s still 27 last time I checked).  If you liked the sorrowful “Hello,” there are at least ten other variations of it on 25.  Ok, maybe that’s not as flattering a review as my lead-in suggested.  But her fans – and there are plenty of those out there – love it and they are snapping up the album in droves, which is the thing that matters most to artists…well, that and the integrity of their art.

Adele's album, 25, has now sold more in the past month (approaching 6 million units) than any album has sold in a single year during this decade.
Adele’s album, 25, has now sold more in the past month (approaching 6 million units) than any album has sold in a single year during this decade.

But the juggernaut that is 25 – despite its critical acclaim (from many others) and astronomical sales (nearing six million U.S. copies in just five weeks and selling more than any other album since her last one) – may have a chink in its artistic armor: that musical Achilles heel known as plagiarism.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking that either I’m an Adele hater (I’m definitely not) or that high-profile artists are unfairly accused of the p-word all the time and that now is the opportunity for some ill-advised loser to take his shot at the biggest star on the planet at the moment.

However, I know I’m not the only one for whom another song immediately came to mind when I heard Adele’s “Million Years Ago” for the first time last week. That wistful ballad (again, one of at least 10 such songs on the album) had already been cited as having copied the melody of a Turkish song from 1985 (the song “Acilara Tutunmak” by the late Turkish singer Ahmet Kaya).

Adele's vocal melody in parts of "Million Years Ago" sound very much like the verses to Train's "50 Ways to Say Goodbye" as sung by lead singer Pat Monahan.
Adele’s vocal melody in parts of “Million Years Ago” sound very much like the verses to Train’s “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” as sung by lead singer Pat Monahan.

But that’s not even the situation I’m writing about.  My case is much more recent than that one and involves a song that charted only three years ago by the group Train.  Remember their top twenty hit “50 Ways to Say Goodbye”?  Remember lead singer Patrick Monahan’s vocal melody in the song’s verses?  If not, watch the video below (skip the first 37 seconds if you can’t tolerate the acting or the mariachi-influenced brass-section/acoustic guitar intro). Also, focus on the verses and not the chorus…

Now keep Monahan’s vocals in mind when you play the below video of Adele singing her new tune, which she cowrote with Greg Kurstin.  I acknowledge there’s a bit of a tempo change – the Train tune clocks at 140 beats per minute, while Adele’s songs couldn’t attain that speed if you had them on 12-inch vinyl and played them at 78 rpm.  Okay, I know that’s a reference that anyone under 40 won’t get, but please watch the video below anyway (and focus on her opening lines)…

So what do you think?  Did Adele copy Train’s melody for her own song?  In full disclosure, Monahan and company are not above reproach here as their song was loosely based on the “Phantom of the Opera” theme by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Given that notion, one could argue that nothing is really new under the sun when it comes to popular music and that similar melodies are bound to pop up from time to time as there are only so many notes and chord progressions that one has to work with.  And as far as I know, a lawsuit was never filed in the “Phantom” vs. Train case.

The sheet music for both Train's "50 Ways" and Adele's "Million Years Ago"
The sheet music for both Train’s “50 Ways” and Adele’s “Million Years Ago”

So far, no lawsuit has been filed in this one either.  I’m not even sure there’s a legal case to be made given all the science involved in having to prove whether someone copied – either intentionally or not – the work of some other artist without proper credit or compensation.  But given the gazillions Adele is likely to continue making off the 25 album, a future one wouldn’t seem totally out of the question.

At least Monahan and company might have as strong a case as the family of that late Turkish singer.

You be the judge.

Oh, and check out the below YouTube clip of a comparison between Adele’s “Million” and that Turkish song.

As always, thanks for all the love and support of djrobblog.


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