This had to happen one way or the other.
As many of you know by now, Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. filed a preemptive suit against the estate of Marvin Gaye after hearing rumblings that Gaye’s children were going to sue. This followed claims that Thicke’s #1 hit “Blurred Lines” borrowed heavily from Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” which was a #1 pop and soul hit back in 1977. Of course, no one will deny that the two songs sound similar. Thicke and Pharrell have both stated in interviews that they were looking for a similar feel to “Give It Up.” However, do the songs so strongly resemble one another that money should be changing hands? I don’t think so.
Marvin Gaye’s son has stated that he has thought of suing the “Blurred Lines” trio, and if he follows through and wins, that sets a dangerous precedent for musicians all over the world. Not to say it hasn’t been done before (anyone remember the judgment against George Harrison for “unconsciously” plagiarizing The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,”) but still-where does the line get drawn?
-Will the estate of James Brown sue Alicia Keys for ripping off the piano riff of “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” for “Fallin'”?
-How about Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis suing Miss Keys for the similarities between her “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and The Force M.D.’s “Tender Love”?
-Anyone ever heard Teddy Pendergrass’s “Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose”? If so, follow it up by listening to The Jacksons’ “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” and let me know if Gamble & Huff have a case against the Jackson estate.
-Same for “Billie Jean” and Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”
-Or “Thriller” and Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby” (both songs have absolutely identical basslines.)
-John Mayer? Get ready to get sued by The Impressions for ripping off “People Get Ready” TWICE! (“Waiting On The World To Change” and “Love Is A Verb.”)
-What about White America’s beloved Bruce Springsteen and the similarities between his “Radio Nowhere” and, of all songs, Tommy Tutone’s power-pop smash “867-5309/Jenny”?
I think I’ve made my point. The lines between homage and ripoff are-wait for it-blurred, but seeing as “Blurred Lines” directly borrows neither music nor lyric from Gaye’s song, I’d say there’s no case. I’m not a lawyer, though, and attorneys have managed to pull off some strange shit over the years. And the Court of Blerd is much different from a court of (presumably) Thicke, Pharrell and T.I.’s peers.
Even as a “member of the media,” I am disturbed/disgusted by most of the actions of mainstream media. Drama sells newspapers and magazines, and increases the hit count on websites, so it’s no surprise that many outlets are trying to skew this story along racial lines. Largely, it’s being reported as Thicke (white musician) vs. Gaye (dead black musician)-a line of thinking that’s sure to ruffle feathers and brings up a fairly ugly history of white artists doing better with black music than black artists (a point that actually has renewed validity today.) However, most stories also leave out the fact that the music for “Blurred Lines” (which bears much more similarity to “Give It Up” than the lyrics do) was written by the very black Pharrell Williams, who seems to be barely mentioned in any press coverage. And let’s not get into Pharrell’s habit of “borrowing” sounds from popular songs. I’m still stunned the incredibly litigious Prince hasn’t brought forth action against Skateboard P for the similarities between Britney’s “I’m A Slave 4 U” and Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” Then again, Prince has probably disowned the latter song. But I’m pretty sure Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (who never met a judgment they didn’t like) must’ve requested song royalties on Mayer Hawthorne’s “Reach Out Richard.”
What say you, ladies and gentlemen of Blerd Nation. Does the Gaye Family have a case? Even if the Gaye family does have a case, should they get a penny considering that Marvin’s been dead for thirty years? (How about you get a job?) Or is this all much ado about nothing, and would this volley of legal action not even have taken place if not for “Blurred Lines'” current ubiquity? Is Robin Thicke a victim of his own success?
Fire away in the comment section.
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