How Similar Is ‚Blurred Lines‘ To A 1977 Marvin Gaye Hit?

Following testimony from a Robin Thicke during the previous week’s proceedings, Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. will return to Los Angeles federal court on Tuesday to fight claims they copied their multiplatinum song from Gaye’s 1977 hit „Got To Give It Up.“

In 2013, the musicians preemptively sued for a declaration they didn’t steal the late soul legend’s song. The singer’s children Frankie and Nona Gaye responded with counterclaims that the musicians infringed „Got To Give It Up“ — and that Thicke and ex-wife Paula Patton copied a second Gaye song, „After The Dance,“ in co-writing Thicke’s 2011 track „Love After War.“

The trial is expected to run through Friday, with testimony from Williams and T.I. (whose real name is Clifford Harris Jr.) as well as experts on music licensing and revenue, who will speak to the damages the Gayes could claim if they win.

The dispute isn’t as simple as whether the songs sound similar. In recent motions, Thicke and Williams‘ attorneys threw the Gayes a copyright curveball with the argument they don’t own their father’s commercially released recordings — they only own the compositional elements in the sheet music „lead sheets.“ (The recordings belong to Motown Records, which is owned by Universal, which in turn owns Interscope — the record company that released Blurred Lines and a defendant in the Gayes‘ countersuit.)

Judge John Kronstadt agreed in a ruling in January and reaffirmed the ruling following an appeal from the Gayes. His decision enforced that the Marvin Gaye recordings of „Got To Give It Up“ and „After The Dance“ couldn’t be heard in court — the attorneys are only using stripped-down instrumentals.

But more importantly, the decision means that in deciding whether infringement occurred, the jury will only consider whether „Blurred Lines“ and „Love After War“ borrow excessively from what’s in the Gayes‘ lead sheets. The lead sheets leave out some of the most recognizable elements of the recording, like the percussion and production effects. The Gayes‘ attorneys argue that what’s left — the lyrics, the vocal melody, the keyboard line and the bass — still resemble Thicke’s songs enough to say they’re infringement.

On Thursday and Friday, the Gaye family’s attorney Richard Busch called a pair of musicologists to the stand, and the courtroom became a course on music theory with their testimonies on what they hear in common between the compositions. (The musicians‘ lawyers will call their own musicologist, Sandy Wilbur, this week.)

In the coming week, the musicians‘ attorneys Miller and Howard King will bring their own musicologist, likely to refute Finell and Monson’s evaluations as well as present her own. Whatever the jury decides, they’ll need to evaluate both sides‘ music theory in fine detail. 

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Marvin Gaye’s 7 best songs of all time

Marvin Gaye, the legendary R’n’B, soul, funk and folk singer, is celebrated as one of the greatest vocalists of all time and enjoys a legacy of the genre like no other.

The day before Marvin Gaye’s 45th birthday, on April 1st, 1984, he was tragically gunned down and murdered by his father as Marvin Jr. intervened in a fight between his parents. The horrific day, which lives in the memory of those who were alive during that time as a “where were you when” moments, will go down in history as the day the world lost a legend.

It is a hugely sad moment, not just because of the pain caused, but mainly because of the huge potential loss. Much like Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and many others, Gaye represented the leading talent in his genre and become a generation-defining artist as he traversed his musical roots to become the world’s preeminent soul singer.

Gaye did what very few other artists of his time, roll with the punches and move with the times. Gaye saw not only the opportunities in front of him but the handles by which to grab them by.

Marvin Gaye's 7 best songs of all time

‘Let’s Get It On’ – 1973

We couldn’t leave this one out, could we? Originally released on June 15, 1973, through Motown-subsidiary label Tamla Records, saw Gaye collaborate with producer Ed Townsend to write what is arguably the singer’s most iconic song. Not only did it arrive as the title track to Gaye’s album, the sexually explicit lyrics of ‘Let’s Get It On’ propelled him to both legendary music and, ultimately, sex symbol status.

The archetypal track for any date night cliche still must be recognised as ‘Valerie’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ for the aforementioned Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain, as one of Marvin Gaye’s greatest tracks where he not only demonstrated his raw vocal but his powerful style.

‘Let’s Get It On’ – 1973

‘What’s Going On’ – 1971

The title track of his 11th studio album, Marvin Gaye began to open his eyes and talent toward more socially relevant topics. Originally inspired by the increasing police brutality of which Gaye began to witness more and more, the song also marked a change in direction for the Motown singer.

The turn was not only in style or composition but in material as it saw Gaye open his heart and his mind to the world and turn himself not only into a respected vocalist but a truly great artist. “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?’ he famously commented at the time of its release.

‘What’s Going On’ – 1971

‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ – 1968

Given the magnitude of Marvin Gaye’s death and the headlines that soon followed, reverberations around the situation weren’t only felt within the R’n’B and soul singing world. Another such loss came when dear Tammi Terrell lost her life at just 24 years of age in 1970. She was fantastic in her own right, her collaboration on 1968’s ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ shone beyond anything they could’ve imagined.

Creating a sound that was luxurious, opulent but still authentic, they became great friends until Terrell lost her life but until that point the warmth, well wishes and wonder permeated their work⁠—none more so than on this track.

‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ – 1968

‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ – 1968

For the 25-year-old Marvin Gaye, this 1965 track proved to be one of his greatest tracks and a song which later went on to be covered by an incredible array of artists including, quite unexpectedly, The Grateful Dead.

It was the toast of the Motown scene and became a long-standing pinnacle of the genre and beyond. Gaye playfully toys with the song’s sensibilities, both charming and smooth, it typified Gaye’s appeal as the sweet boy who could show you a night to remember.

‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’ – 1971

With lyrics such as “Crime is increasing / Trigger-happy policing” and “Bills pile up sky high / Send that boy off to die,” Gaye and his writing partner James Nyx Jr are painting a bleak and harrowing picture. While some may say describe the work as protest song of sorts, Gaye delivers these stark visions with a simplistic tonal style.

It differs from the smooth and soulful ‘What’s Going On’ in its frank falsetto delivery and a far more honest depiction of a desperate situation which hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years, the inner city blues.

‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ – 1967

Another classic from Gaye and Terrell, an undeniable hit the world over. The song represented a passionate call into the wind, a rallying cry that the world could not defeat their love.

The song became a staple not only of bedroom dancing, nor disco strutting, but almost every person’s life. It is a track now heavily steeped in pop culture history and it smacks of the kind of magnetic charisma both Terrell and Gaye possessed. Showing the flipside to their comfortable nuances with steamy passion.

‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ – 1966

Written by Whitfield and Strong, ‘Grapevine’ was actually recorded twice in 1967. Firstly by Gaye and then later with a funkier version performed by Gladys Knight & The Pips. The latter rendition was more to Motown head Berry Gordy’s taste, releasing it as a single later that year and turning it into chart success. Not keen on Gaye’s version he convinced the artist to keep it for another album. However, when the radio DJs jumped on the grittier, authentic and dark version, Gordy had no choice but to release the song.

It spent seven weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. It became the singer’s iconic moment. Not least because of the song’s brilliant and sparse arrangement, but Gaye’s infinite ability to play with shadows on his interpretation of the lyrics, his light and dark vocal became synonymous with the star.

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”

Honestly, you could pick just about any song from Gaye’s 1971 opus “What’s Going On” — from “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” to “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” — and it would speak to these turbulent times. But you can’t beat the classic title track, which sadly is even more relevant today than it was almost 50 years ago.

AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett

Marvin Gaye could have sung somebody’s Power Point presentation and it would still have sounded like a love song torn from the depths of his soul, so collections like this one, which feature several of his greatest singles, can’t really miss. It’s Marvin Gaye — and there are classics here like “Let’s Get It On,” “You’re a Wonderful One,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and it’s equally impressive sibling “That’s the Way Love Is,” and the magnificent and elegant “What’s Going On.” What makes this two-disc set feel a little more cohesive and complete than most on the market is the presence of not just his early- and middle-career Motown releases, but his later work as well; for instance, Gaye’s brilliant Top Ten swan song, “Sexual Healing” from 1982 and his twilight stay at Columbia Records, is also included here. There are some things one could argue for inclusion — “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “Trouble Man” are just two sides that come immediately to mind — but the miracle that was Marvin Gaye with a love song comes through loud and clear. Hey, it’s Marvin Gaye. This is the way love goes.

AllMusic Review by Rob Theakston

When I’m Alone I Cry, compiles the quieter moments of Marvin GayeGaye always wanted to release an album of vocal standards in the stylings of one of his musical heroes, Nat King ColeGaye at his finest when performing in this vein should check out the recently issued Vulnerable for a better survey of his work from this time.

AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman

Marvin Gaye’s Number 1’s, like the other Number 1’s discs issued by Universal Music Distribution during early 2007, is an attractive package that would nonetheless have trouble surviving a minor spill or even a swift breeze. The disc sits in biodegradable foam, which is protected by a wraparound cardboard sleeve. In fact, the packaging might be lighter than the disc itself. At any rate, there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to the contents of the disc: 13 number one hits, released between 1965 and 1982 (credit Universal for licensing „Sexual Healing“ from Sony BMG), along with three bonus cuts that stalled at number two. Of course, Gaye’s catalog goes fathoms deeper than the chart-toppers, but this makes a fine introduction.

Janis Ian: Married in London, but not in New YorkSong Writing

Can you be married in one country but not another? Only if you’re part of a gay couple. One of the first famous singers to come out as a lesbian, Janis wrote a song about it.