“Making (I Think) a Strong Case for Canned Heat’s ‘Going up the Country’ as the Most Plagiarized Song of All Time”

I know what you’re thinking: who in the rat’s toenails is Canned Heat? To Woodstock’s credit, that festival in its original ’69 permutation probably deserves a lot of credit for spreading the gospel on this band, who in my opinion came with a little more substantial, original material than, say, Joe Cocker or Joan Baez, or arguably even Jimi Hendrix [1]. According to woodstock.fandom.com, such was the festive vibe during Canned Heat’s 7:30/Saturday slot that “a man from the audience (came) climbing on stage but instead of kicking him off, singer Bob Hite shares a cigarette with him.” Their 1967 self-titled debut album, also, on Liberty Records, came out just a short time after their appearance at the famous Monterey Pop Festival, according to Wikipedia.

And it’s not that you NEVER hear them on the radio but I’m here to argue that they’re really underrated, that their valor and artistic substantiality have gotten wrongfully brushed under the carpet in favor of other acts which might be trendier and easier to aesthetically market.

My first example is basically Mungo Jerry, a complete British one-hit-wonder whose meal ticket “In the Summertime” has the exact same phrasing as and a very similar melody to Canned Heat’s “Going up the Country,” probably the latter’s biggest hit. Both songs feature 12-bar phrasings, which means that the respective verses each contain 12 “bars,” or measures, to use the official term. This phraseology is typically reserved for blues, which would then dictate use of the “blues scale,” whereas both of these songs utilize the major scale, accompanying major chords, hence earmarking another significant similarity between them. Finally, both have the exact same penchant for unfolding a melodic riff in a bridge following a chorus, said riff what’s more hitting the dominant note (a major fifth up from the tonic, or the first note on the scale) on the first note of the ninth bar, or of the third of the three blues trimesters, if I may take some liberty with terminology here, then to return to the tonic, in emphatic form, on the first note of the 11th bar, or halfway through the third trimester (shoutout to all the pregnant mothers out there).

Exhibit B in this post is John Prine’s “Bear Creek Blues,” of which I just today realized the plagiaristic components, ironically, since I’ve long been an ardent fan of his 2005 album Fair & Square. Prine literally sings that “The water on Bear Creek / Tastes like cherry wine / One drink of that water / You stay drunk all the time”. This, of course, is basically an exact mimicry of Canned Heat’s “We’re going where the water tastes like wine / We can jump in the water / Stay drunk all the time”. Also, like “Going up the Country” and “In the Summertime,” Prine’s tune utilizes 12-bar phrasings constituent with a major scale chordal format.

So the common threads are uncanny and unmistakable. I don’t think there’s any doubting that at this point, unless you just have no idea what I’m talking about, which probably wouldn’t be entirely your fault. But barely anybody’s heard of Canned Heat. Grounded in Britain, they likely become as big a band as Cream, which of course might be a problem seeing as Cream broke up in ’68 and Jack Bruce called Ginger Baker from his death bed for the sole purpose of cursing him. Whoops, did he say that out loud?


[1] Before you spit beer in my face with the force of a Mount Vesuvius eruption, let me kindly remind you that Hendrix’ most important studio single, “Hey Joe,” and his most important live number with the Experience, “Killing Floor,” are both old blues standards, not written originally by him.


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