The beef between The Eagles frontman Don Henley and Frank Ocean continues, with the veteran rocker taking another swipe at what he calls the “illegal” sampling of his band’s 1977 classic Hotel California, on Ocean’s track American Wedding.
Henley shares writing credits for the legendary song, which Frank Ocean sampled, laying brand new lyrics over it for a track on his 2011 album Nostalgia, Ultra. In the past, Ocean has been known to play it on a plastic Guitar Hero guitar during his live shows.
But Henley has refused to allow Ocean to release the track, which has of course surfaced online, and according to reports from Ocean has threatened legal action if he were to perform it again. In an interview with News Corp, the Eagles singer has admitted his lawyers were involved in the dispute.
“(Mr Ocean) was quite arrogant about it,” Henley said. “We tried to approach him calmly to talk reason to him via his managers and his attorneys and he wouldn’t listen. So finally we threatened to bring legal action against him. He was clearly in the wrong. I wouldn’t dream of doing something like that. What kind of ego is that? I don’t understand it.”
“Mr Ocean doesn’t seem to understand US copyright law,” he continued. “Anyone who knows anything should know you cannot take a master track of a recording and write another song over the top of it. You just can’t do that. You can call it a tribute or whatever you want to call it, but it’s against the law. That’s a problem with some of the younger generation, they don’t understand the concept of intellectual property and copyright.”
News Corp also reports that Ocean isn’t the only artist whose tributes have invited ire from the veteran rock star, with US band Okkervil River also having been forced to take down their remake of Henley’s solo hit The End of the Innocence, a tribute they had planned to release online for free.
“They don’t understand the law either,” Henley said. “You can’t re-write the lyrics to somebody else’s songs and record it and put it on the internet. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t an improvement. We were not impressed. So we simply had our legal team tell them to take it down and they got all huffy about it.”
“We work really really hard on our material,” he added. “We spend months writing it and years recording it. You don’t go into a museum and paint a moustache on somebody else’s painting. Nobody would think of doing that.”
Curiously, it’s just the remixes or “tributes” that Henley takes issue with and he has no problem with Eagles songs being covered by other artists. “You can record anyone’s song you like,” Henley said, referring to Michael Bublé’s recent remake of Heartache Tonight. “That’s not what Mr Ocean nor Okkervil River did.”
“They took the song and they changed it. They put their own stuff on it. Michael Bublé did a totally legal cover, that’s standard procedure,” he continued. “If you respect somebody you ask their permission to diddle around with their work. You don’t just go and do it.”
In a recent Ted Talk famed producer and DJ Mark Ronson defended the art of sampling, saying that it had changed the music industry. In the talk he criticised the Grammy committee for excluding songs that contain “pre-written or pre-existing music”.
“Rockists, who are racist but only about rock music, constantly use the argument to devalue rap and modern pop,” said Ronson. “These arguments completely miss the point, because the dam has burst. We live in the post-sampling era. We take the things that we love and we build on them. That’s just how it goes.”
Frank Ocean has yet to respond to Henley’s comments. The Eagles are set to tour Australia in February/March next year. Earlier this month Henley spoke to News.com ahead of the tour and rallied against fans who use their phones during concerts, reserving particular distain for those who upload footage to YouTube.
“People feel so entitled to being able to use their gadgets and post things on the web,” said Henley. “I’m from a different generation, I don’t understand it, it’s not a very pure experience. It takes away from the immediacy of the live performance. If we’re just going to watch TV we can stay home and do that.”
Listen: Frank Ocean – American Wedding
Watch: Mark Ronson: How sampling transformed music