When Coldplay released “Viva La Vida,” did they copy Joe Satriani’s Song, “If I Could Fly”? Let’s Do the Music Theory…
On December 4, 2008 there was a huge controversy surrounding a lawsuit that Joe Satriani had filed against the band Coldplay. The buzz it generated across the music and entertainment world was overwhelming…
In case you missed it, back in late 2008… virtuoso guitarist, “Joe Satriani,” sued the band Coldplay for copying, “substantial original portions,” of his his song, “If I Could Fly,” off his 2004 album – Is There Love in Space.
The Satriani lawsuit was seeking considerable damages… amounting to the sum total of; “any and all profits.”
Coldplay’s hit song, “Viva La Vida,” (a No. 1 hit song on Billboards Hot 100, and the UK Top 40 singles charts during the summer of 2008), is credited to the band’s four members – singer: Chris Martin, bass player: Guy Berryman, guitarist: Johnny Buckland and drummer: Will Champion.
Let’s Do the Music Theory
I have transposed these two songs and overlapped them. The resulting keys (as used in both of my breakdown videos on YouTube and here on this web-page), are the end result of a key signature overlap.
The Coldplay Verse & Chorus of “Viva La Vida,” are composed in the key of “A♭ Major” and the Joe Satriani song “If I Could Fly,” shifts keys throughout, however the part in question (with regard to the lawsuit), is in the key of B Minor.
Satriani’s “Chorus” chord progression is:
Section One – Melody Analysis
The shared resemblance (in legal question) of each songs melody occurs between the Verse of the Coldplay song and the Chorus of the Joe Satriani song.
The melodies are most definitely similar when they are transposed. Each piece shares nearly identical phrasing and musical flow. Along with that, the intervals begin and end in the exact same manner.
The pieces also share nearly identical rhythmic phrases which causes them to lack in distinction of separating each piece into its own true musical individuality.
NOTE: Since the Satriani song is in a different key signature, (2 sharps), my analysis of the song has been transposed to match the key of the Coldplay piece, (4 flats).
An eight bar transcription of both song sections (pertaining to the legal dispute) has been provided below:
Section Two – Harmony Analysis
The harmonies of each song are very similar in that they both share almost the exact same harmonic movements when transposed to the same key signature.
The chord changes for each song are given below. They are provided here as major and minor triad (3-note) harmony.
NOTE: In an attempt to make the analysis as simple as possible the use of any extended (or complex) chord types performed in either the Satriani or the Coldplay songs have been omitted. It is important to state that this omission does not alter the outcome of the harmony which provides the foundation of the progressions chord movements.
JOE SATRIANI: If I Could Fly
Transposed below to the same key as the Coldplay song.
The “B♭ Minor” chord (used in the Satriani piece), changes in the Coldplay song to a “D♭ Major” chord. However, this change causes little to effect since it falls under an arranging and composing principle know as; Relative Chords.
The use of Relative chords in music is understood by musicians to create a subtle harmonic change, without affecting the emotional effect of the music. Generally, (to an untrained ear), the use of Relative chords will go unnoticed to listeners who have no formal music education.
COLDPLAY: Viva la Vida
Notated below in the original key of the Coldplay recording.
Harmony Comparison – Conclusion:
In the comparisons above we can clearly tell that once the songs are placed into the same key, both songs overwhelmingly share the same harmony, (aside from the two interchanged chords).
The difference in the specific notes that are shared (between the “D♭ Major,” and “B♭ Minor,” chords), amounts to just two scale tones, (“A♭,” and “B♭”). This difference is essentially insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Section Three – Rhythm Analysis
The Coldplay song shares the primary rhythmic elements of the Joe Satriani song:
1). a very similar rhythmic pulse, (meter)
2). the same tempo, (136-138 b.p.m.)
3). beat structure is a near carbon copy
*The primary “Rhythmic Elements” in music are: METER, BEAT, and TEMPO.
The most important aspect of the shared rhythm elements are the matched pushes taking place on the “and” of the fourth beat of the 1st and 3rd measures. Take particular notice of the position of the, “E♭,” & “Fmi,” chord locations in each piece. They are located at the exact points occurring at the exact same beat in time.
Example #1). The Rhythm from Joe Satriani’s “If I Could Fly”
Example #2). The Rhythm from Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”