In Court

Blurred Minds: What's Going On?

Authored by SimonA

7 Oct 2017 • 1 Comments (Add Comment)

More global column inches have been given over to the "Blurred Lines case" than to any other plagiarism case, almost unanimously expressing disbelief at the decision of the jury that the track did in fact infringe the copyright of Marvin Gaye, and anxiety over the repercussions of that decision as the ripples of concern spread across the music world.

Now that the appeal is being considered, we re-examine two strong lines of potential defence: "prior art", suggesting that much of the content of Marvin Gaye's 1977 track was drawn from earlier songs in the disco-funk genre, and an illustration of the fact that the actual melodies and lyrics of the two songs are markedly different. First let's listen to and compare extracts from the originals.

Got To Give It Up (Gaye) © EMI Music/Jobete Music. Recording by Marvin Gaye ℗ 1977, Tamla Records. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-mg-original-30-secs.mp3

Blurred Lines (Williams/Thicke/Harris) © EMI Music Publishing Ltd, Universal/MCA Music Ltd, Sony/ATV Music Publishing (UK) Ltd. Recording by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell ℗ 2013, Star Track, Interscope Records. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-blurred-lines-orig.mp3

The much-documented influence for Marvin Gaye's track was Johnnie Taylor's 1976 hit Disco Lady. Though classic disco in style, it has a heavier production than Got To Give It Up, making use of brass stabs, lower baritone vocals and a more sustained bass line. There is altogether less 'space' in Disco Lady.

Disco Lady (Vance/Davis/Scales) © EMI Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Johnnie Taylor ℗ 1976, Columbia Records. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-johnnie-taylor-disco-lady.mp3

Take a listen to other songs which pre-date Got To Give It Up and clearly influence its style and production.

Giblet Gravy (Benson) © Screen Gems/EMI Music Ltd. Recording by George Benson ℗ 1968, Verve Records. Giblet Gravy is a song in the soul/jazz genre. Common elements here are the sparse and repetitive accompaniment (here on lead and rhythm guitars), and the great amount of space in the bass line (duplicated by low horns). https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-giblet-gravy.mp3

Put It Where You Want It (Sample/Gorrie) © Chrysalis Music Ltd. Recording by The Average White Band ℗ 1973, MCA Records. A vocal cover version of a 1972 track by The Crusaders which features Rhodes piano, and a more basic drum pattern with no percussion, but a flavour of things to come. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-put-it-where-you-want-it.mp3

Sexy Ways (Clinton/Hazel) © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Funkadelic ℗ 1974, Westbound Records. There's a real disco-funk groove in this 1974 track from Funkadelic. Listen to the conga-heavy percussion, and a more electric guitar-based accompaniment. Again falsetto vocals are in evidence. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-funkadelic-sexy-ways.mp3

Sing A Song (White/McKay) © EMI Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Earth, Wind & Fire ℗ 1975, Columbia Records. More falsetto vocals here, and a repeated funk guitar riff. Hand claps, a big feature of disco, match the snare hits on the off-beats. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-sing-a-song.mp3

You Should Be Dancing (Gibb/Gibb/Gibb) © Universal Music Publishing MGB Ltd/Warner Chappell Music Ltd. Recording by Bee Gees ℗ 1976, RSO Records. Note here the falsetto vocals and sparse accompaniment in this real classic of the disco era from 1976. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-you-should-be-dancing.mp3

Open Sesame (Smith/Bell/Bell/Thomas/Brown) © EMI Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Kool & The Gang ℗ 1976, De-Lite Records. Prominent percussion (making a particular feature of cowbells) and a funky guitar accompaniment impart the flavour of the genre to this Kool & The Gang track. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-open-sesame.mp3

These extracts illustrate that Marvin Gaye far from invented the disco funk genre, but instead drew on pre-existing elements of the genre to craft his classic song.

And more songs that were either direct contemporaries of Got To Give It Up, or were released within the following year:

Let's Clean Up The Ghetto (Gamble/Huff/Gilbert) © Warner/Chappell North America Ltd. Recording by Philadelphia International All Stars ℗ 1977, Philadelphia International Records. The same key and tempo enable this song to be mixed in and out of Got To Give It Up seamlessly. Rhodes piano again, and conga percussion. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-lets-clean-up-the-ghetto.mp3

Stuff Like That (Ashford/Simpson/Tee/Gadd/Gale/MacDonald/Jones) © EMI Music Publishing Ltd/BMI Rights Management (UK) Ltd. Recording by Quincy Jones featuring Chaka Khan and Ashford & Simpson ℗ 1978, A&M Records. More Rhodes, sparse bass, brass stabs. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-stuff-like-that.mp3

One Nation Under A Groove (Shider/Clinton/Morrison) © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Funkadelic ℗ 1978, Warner Bros. Records. Lots of percussion, more cowbells, hand claps. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-one-nation-under-a-groove.mp3

Why Don't You Believe (Maunick/Williams) © Warner Chappell Music Ltd. Recording by Incognito ℗ 1981, Ensign Records. A later song, from Incognito's 1981 debut album, but retaining much of the disco flavour of Got To Give It Up. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-why-dont-you-believe.mp3

Finally compare this "nod" to Got To Give It Up from The Jacksons' 1979 hit Shake Your Body, where Gaye's chant is modified and repeated.

Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) (Jackson/Jackson) © Sony/ATV Music Publishing (UK) Ltd/Carlin Music Corp. Recording by The Jacksons ℗ 1979, Epic Records. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-shake-your-body.mp3

Got To Give It Up (Gaye).
Illustrating the chant towards the end of part 2 "Let's dance, let's shout, gettin' funky's what it's all about" https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-mg-lets-dance-lets-shout.mp3

The above excerpts illustrate that very similar songs existed after Got To Give It Up, in Marvin Gaye's lifetime, but were accepted as taking influence from both the features of the genre, and in the latter case, directly from Got To Give It Up. No evidence of any legal challenges or settlements exists in respect of these songs.

Having considered 'prior art' as a defence for Blurred Lines, we should now examine the musical similarity between the two. Stripping out the percussion from both tracks, we are left with a vocal and basic Rhodes piano accompaniment.

Got To Give It Up (Gaye), illustrating the effect of removing the drum and percussion tracks, and leaving just the vocals and accompaniment. Please note that this is not the original recording, and has been produced and licensed from Tency Music, France. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-mg-no-drums-in-a.mp3

Blurred Lines (Williams/Thicke/Harris), illustrating the effect of removing the drum and percussion tracks, leaving just vocals and accompaniment, transposed up a semitone to A major, for ease of comparison with Got To Give It Up. Please note that this is not the original recording, and has been produced and licensed from Tency Music, France. https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-no-drums-in-a.mp3

Got To Give It Up (Gaye), here illustrating just the melody in isolation with the drum and percussion accompaniment. Please note that this is not the original recording, and has been produced and licensed from Tency Music, France.
https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bl-mg-perc-and-vox.mp3

The large number of music examples here will hopefully illustrate clearly the point that _Got To Give It Up _was not a uniquely original music composition, and that its melody and lyrics bear little or no resemblance to Blurred Lines.

You can read a full study of the case in our Infringement Cases section here.


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