Queen guitar legend Brian May looked back on the controversial tune “Ice Ice Baby” by rapper Vanilla Ice, released in 1990. Although the rapper claimed that it wasn’t the case, the song was an obvious rip-off of Queen’s “Under Pressure,” a 1981 piece that the band did in collaboration with David Bowie. The songs are, at the very least, extremely similar. So it was only a matter of time until someone in Queen’s camp would start a legal action against Vanilla Ice.
Speaking to Rosie Bennet in a recent interview, Brian May remembered the first moment he heard the song. However, as he added, it wasn’t the band members who went on to wage a legal war against Vanilla Ice. In fact, May even said that the song “makes me smile” whenever he thinks of it.
“I think it was just on the radio when we heard it,” May recalled (transcript by Ultimate Guitar). “And I remember reading an interview with Vanilla Ice himself…”
During this particular interview, Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Robert Matthew Van Winkle, denied plagiarism accusations:
“‘Didn’t you steal this from Queen?’ And he said, ‘No, theirs is completely different; mine is [mimics virtually the same melody twice]’. I mean, we didn’t go to war for it, but the publishers did.”
Fortunately for Queen, the legal action paid off. And they eventually got their songwriting credits and a significant monetary compensation. May continued:
“So, they came to a settlement, which was that he pays us most of the money he’s ever generated with that song. We’re alright with that. [Laughs]. We became a part of the writing team, if you like.”
But this brings up another interesting issue. Although Vanilla Ice did rip them off, this was still a great example of how referencing certain parts, or even direct sampling, can be used. There’s definitely that bass riff in there. But Vanilla Ice did ultimately create a different song out of it.
“That’s an interesting example, though, isn’t it? I mean, he made something new and interesting, and people liked it. So, I guess it’s about acknowledging your influences. That’s the decent thing to do.”
“I hope that I’ve always done it. Sometimes you want to quote someone deliberately — like [Sergey] Rachmaninoff’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.’ He was upfront about what he was doing, so nobody minded it. If he stole that stuff without acknowledging it, it would be different.”
“‘Ice Ice Baby,’ it still makes me smile,” May said in conclusion.
Despite the controversy, the rapper did achieve massive success with the song. After the initial release, it has its remixes in the coming decades. It has achieved platinum status in the US.
This year, Brian May celebrated the 40th anniversary of his “Star Fleet Project” album, featuring an all-star lineup of musicians that included Eddie Van Halen, Alan Gratzer, Phil Chen, and Fred Mandel. In a video that he shared on his YouTube channel, he recalled actually hearing Eddie play for the first time. And it was during Van Halen’s tour with Black Sabbath in the late 1970s. Brian said:
“Eddie Van Halen was a phenomenon, and I guess that hardly needs saying. I met him for the first time through Tony Iommi, my great friend from Black Sabbath when I was watching the two of them, and Van Halen were opening up for Black Sabbath.”
“I mean, that was something to see. It was in a Circus Krone in Munich. And I hadn’t seen Tony for a while and I’d never seen Van Halen. Luckily, I got there in time to see him play. And I was just, ‘Wow, what is this? What is this guy? What is he doing?’ I can’t even begin to figure out how his fingers are moving, what he’s doing.”
“It was a bit like seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, like, ‘How does anyone do that? What has he got that is so magical that we’ve never seen before?’ And Edward was incredible that night.”
“And we all got together, Tony and me and Eddie. And then I guess there was an instant bonding because Ed told us both that he’d been massively influenced by us, which is great. So we had lots to talk about. And then I guess we became friends.”