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What Dodesukaden, Michael Jackson and Francis Ford Coppola all have in common (now with extra Dylan and George Harrison)

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    I would like you to do an experiment.

    First, download the following mp3 file and take a listen, paying attention to the string section:

    File 1 (260kb, 16 seconds)

    Does this sound familiar to you? If not, download the mp3 file below and also take a listen, paying attention to the… umm… xylophone? I don’t actually know what the instrument is called, but it’s the one that plays the melody that I’m referring to:

    File 2 (321kb, 20 seconds)

    You may recognize the second sound clip, as it’s from Dodesukaden. The first one is from a song called “If N’ I Was God”, recorded by Michael Jackson in 1973 and first released in 1986.

    So, is it just me, or does the melody in these two clips sound very similar?

    Now, it is not my intention to start pointing any fingers at anyone, but for my untrained ear these two do indeed sound very similar to each other. I actually just noticed this today when playing Motown’s 1986 Michael Jackson anthology (or rather its the 1995 re-release) as background music while working. I must have heard this collection about a billion times (and I really don’t think that I’m exaggerating too much here), but I don’t remember ever having noticed the “Dodesukaden connection” before. I do, however, remember often thinking that the Dodesukaden melody sounds strangely familiar to me (even more so than Kurosawa’s themes usually do).

    If we want to play a game of “who came first”, my understanding is that Toru Takemitsu composed his music for Dodesukaden in 1970. The US version of the film was released in 1971. Michael’s recording of “If N’ I Was God” is from 1973, although for one reason or another it was not released until 1986.

    I don’t actually know if Michael was the first one to record the song. “If N’ I Was God” was written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, who are certainly no unknowns: they are the same Sherman brothers who wrote scores to such films as 1964’s Mary Poppins, 1967’s Jungle Book, 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1970’s The Aristocats, as well as a whole number of others. In fact, as far as I can see the first time that “If N’ I Was God” was heard was in the 1973 film Tom Sawyer, where it was sung by Johnny Whitaker. The Shermans, together with John Williams, received nominations for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for their work.

    Considering Shermans’ place in the film industry, I wouldn’t consider it altogether impossible that the two saw (and heard) Dodesukaden, and a part of it remained with them when they were writing this song. As I said before, I don’t intend to accuse anyone of anything, as I am perfectly aware of how often things like these “just happen”, either completely by chance or by your subconscious remembering more than you do. And it’s not like the song as a whole is much like Dodesukaden. I just find the possible connection interesting, that’s all, and thought that I should share.

    Although, I’m still not sure if anyone else than me thinks that the two sound similar! Do let me know, please.

    By the way, a full(er) version of Michael’s “If N’ I Was God” can be heard over at YouTube. Note, however, that it is not the same mix from which my excerpt comes. The song on the Anthology album is a minute longer than the YouTube song (which is from the 1986 compilation Looking Back to Yesterday), and the part that I included in the clip above comes at around 2:55 – just when the YouTube version starts to fade out. You can, however, also hear the melody part at the very beginning of the song (it repeats a few times during the full song).



    I take it that the silence here means that I am way off with my observations? 🙂



    I didn’t reply to this first time, as I thought someone out there would know much more about music than I do (which is very little).

    But the riffs are very similar, there is no doubt about it – very well spotted!

    Usually its the Japanese composer who can be accused of being excessively ‘influenced’ by someone else, but this certainly looks to be the other way around if your dates are correct.



    I’m becoming obsessed with this tune. It, or something very much like it, pops up also in Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth. A horn plays the melody starting at around 1h 33min, and it is repeated by a brief piano arrangement at around 1h 49min. Also the end titles have something vaguely similar. There may be other instances, but those are the ones that I noticed.

    Unfortunately, my best attempts at capturing the audio from the film failed, so I can’t provide you with sound files.

    As a side-note, I found Youth Without Youth much better than the 30% Tomatometer ranking would suggest. It seems to me that most critics have entirely missed the point. I found it a well crafted, often beautiful meditation on time, reality and consciousness. I’m in fact terribly puzzled by most critics’ insistence that Youth Without Youth is “impenetrable”, “dream-like” or “self-indulging” — I didn’t notice any of that.



    My, what good ears you have, Vili. Nice catch. 😆

    I don’t know if we’ll ever know the answer behind this question. Could be a little swipe, could be a “just happened”. It is interesting, nonetheless.

    I haven’t seen YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH, but it might have been a subtle homage on Coppola’s part. We know he’s a Kurosawa fan.



    Over the last decade, I have kept hearing this melody in many places, over and over again. And as it’s been happening again this summer, I finally did what any responsible adult does when they have a question that needs answering: I asked Reddit.

    Turns out, I’m not entirely mad.

    First, remind yourself of the Dodesukaden theme (1970) with this timestamped link. 20 seconds of listening is enough.

    Then, compare it with the timestamped sections from all of the following:

    If ‘N I Was God by Michael Jackson (1973)
    Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) by George Harrison (1973)
    Malta on Youth Without Youth soundtrack (2007), with the motive also appearing elsewhere in the movie
    Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel (1966)
    I Want You by Bob Dylan (1966)
    MacArthur Park by Richard Harris (1968), later interpreted by Maynard Ferguson and Weird Al Yankovic
    Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head by B.J. Thomas (1969), from the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid soundtrack
    Patches by Clarence Carter

    The Reddit link has many other suggestions as well, although I don’t hear the melody in many of them.

    Why this melody line keeps popping up in so many places, I’m not sure, but like some point out in the Reddit discussion, it’s a pretty simple melody that resolves nicely. So there probably isn’t much more to it than that.

    At least I feel vindicated now. I keep hearing this everywhere.



    P.S. MacArthur Park was performed by Richard Harris, but it was written by prolific songwriter Jimmy Webb.



    Indeed! They are actually all listed as “by” performer.



    I think there are some melody lines that are so obvious that they keep getting repeated. But of course even the greatest composers and songwriters (yes, even Bach and Beethoven) often shamelessly ripped off others.

    For those interested, David Bennett Piano is a great youtube channel that breaks down music (including alleged rip-offs) in ways even unmusical people like me can understand.

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