If you’re going to rip off a song, it helps to have a sense of humour about it. That’s the lesson that Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante learned as he was trying to figure out the proper arrangement for the band’s 1991 alt-rock hit ‘Under the Bridge’.
You see, John Frusciante admitted during a solo live performance of the song in 2001 that ‘Under the Bridge’ rips off not one, but two different songs from classic artists. One of those songs is actually about rip-offs, adding an entire layer of irony onto Frusciante’s lifting.
The first track he admits to culling from is ‘Andy Warhol’ by David Bowie. Frusciante shows that the descending lines from the intro of ‘Under the Bridge’ replicate the ascending lines that Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson plays at the start of the Hunky Dory track. Frusciante even breaks into the first verse of ‘Andy Warhol’ just to prove his point. The songs are distinct enough for Frusciante to have some plausible deniability, but he doesn’t seem worried about Bowie’s lawyers coming after him.
The second admission that Frusciante revealed is his swiping of a classic T. Rex song. In this case, Frusciante rips off a song literally called ‘Rip Off’, from T. Rex’s iconic 1971 album Electric Warrior. Frusciante explains that he heard the major seventh chord in ‘Rip Off’ and fit it into the bridge between the verses and choruses of ‘Under the Bridge’. The guitarist once again lets loose with a brief cover to explain the connection.
Really, to any casual listener, linking all three songs together would seem like a tenuous endeavour at best. ‘Andy Warhol’ doesn’t sound like ‘Under the Bridge’ any more than ‘Rip Off’ sounds like ‘Andy Warhol’. But Frusciante’s well of references is so deeply ingrained in his head that he can’t help but admit to where he got some of his ideas from. Calling these references “rip-offs” seems like a disservice to Frusciante, who reinterprets his influences into something new and distinct. It all ends up sounding like Frusciante, so he should give himself a little more credit.
Check out all three songs, plus Frusciante’s explanation of their connection, down below and decide for yourself whether it’s a rip-off or not.