“With or Without The City of Angels” – similarities in pop music

Screen shot 2014-01-11 at 14.10.53I was listening to Radio 1 last week and heard ‘City of Angels’ by Thirty Seconds to Mars. I thought it sounded familiar, but couldn’t put my finger on why. After some noodling on the piano on my desk (MIR job perks!) I realised it’s almost identical to ‘With or Without You’ by U2. Here are the videos side-by-side, in the awesome Turntubelist:


Click each track’s ‘play’ icon to load, then the large play button underneath each video to play. Mixing is controlled by the slider. These songs share the same key (D major) the same chord sequence throughout (D, A, Bm, G) have almost identical tempi (105 vs 110 bpm), and the refrains even share the same melodies! (compare the sections starting 3:24 in ‘City of Angels’ vs 3:04 in ‘With or without you’).

This got me thinking that it would be cool to run through my buddy and former colleague at AIST Matthew Davies‘ (and collaborators) AutoMashUpper algorithm, which you can read about in his ISMIR paper from 2013.


The gist of the algorithm is that for a given input song, it searches for sections of similar pitch profiles throughout a target song (‘pitch-shifting’ to account for different keys, although this isn’t needed here), and then speeds them up/slows them down (again, not needed much in this instance) and layers them onto the original song, accounting for structure and changes in loudness etc. You can listen to the output of this mashup here:



It fits remarkably well! The algorithm lines up the coda sections so well (3:30 in the mix above) that it’s hard to make out Bono at all.

This got me thinking about There have been various instances of artists being accused of ‘copying’ other songs, from Led Zeppelin and Spirit┬áto Coldplay and Joe Satriani. I was never clean what the grounds for suing on these cases was, since finding one song similar to another doesn’t detract from my aural pleasure; it only enhances it. Can’t we (as music consumers) enjoy both equally, if not more, because of this relationship? Doesn’t it actually provide users an enriched listening experience?



2 thoughts on ““With or Without The City of Angels” – similarities in pop music

  1. Matt, This is soo uncanny. I heard the Thirty seconds to Mars song and immediately said to my wife, this sounds so familiar. A few minutes later of humming the tune, I figured out it was “with or without you” by U2.

    Just glad someone else heard what I heard :)

  2. You’re right. I realized the same. I always sing “with or without you” when I listen to “city of angel”. Fits perfect. And I finally googled to find something about it and found your site.

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