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Is Gary Clark Jr's biggest hit a work of plagiarism?

Jimmy Reed

Bright Lights, Big City

Released: August 4th, 1961

Tracks Jimmy Reed

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Jimmy Reed first recorded this blues classic in August, 1961. It was issued on the album Jimmy Reed At Carnegie Hall, and has since appeared on many Reed compilation albums.

All Music Guide To The Blues has called this song "an integral part of the standard blues repertoire"; and the sheer amount of times "Bright Lights" has been reinterpreted by country, rock and blues musicians alike would attest to such a claim. The most recognisable of these secondary versions came from Sonny James in 1971.

Further affirmation of the "Bright Lights" legacy came when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named it one of the "500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll".

Is Gary Clark Jr's biggest hit a work of plagiarism?
Jimmy Reed released Bright Lights, Big City in 1961

Perhaps, though, the guy who has gained most from this song is contemporary bluesman Gary Clark Jr...

Clark Jr issued a song titled "Bright Lights" in 2012 for which he claimed full writing credit. To be sure, Clark Jr's version is largely removed from Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City" in terms of time signature and melody. But his use of hook-line, "Bright lights, big city running through my head", unquestionably borrows directly from Reed. Rolling Stone Magazine acknowledged this fact in a recent article:

"It's the blues, no doubt: Clark sings, "Ended up with the bottle/Taking shots, waiting on tomorrow/Trying to fill up what's hollow," over a snarling groove, confessing his intoxication with "bright lights, big city" like Jimmy Reed and Mick Jagger did before him."

The fact that Clark Jr recently played a Jimmy Reed tribute show also indicates a level of appreciation for the blues legend. But even still, a strong case could surely made that Jimmy Reed deserves a partial writing credit for Clark Jr's "Bright Lights" -- one of the biggest blues based singles released over the last few years. After all, it's Reed's lyrics (more or less) that constitute the song's major hook.

Listen below to Gary Clark Jr's 2012 single - "Bright Lights".

Other versions of this track

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