There are a lot of music—what? Not purists, exactly. And not scholars. I guess music…grouches—out there crowing about the recent ruling against Robin Thicke and Pharrell re: “Blurred Lines.” I love Marvin Gaye as much as the next guy and also believe artists should be compensated for their work, but this verdict is nonsense. And the scale of it borders on dangerous.
The core of the case seems to be centered on whether Thicke and Pharrell “stole” Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give it Up” as the foundation for the massively popular “Blurred Lines.” A jury sided with the Gaye estate and awarded them a $7.3 million settlement. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the music industry the last decade-plus but I can tell you making $7 million on any one song is quite a feat. The award basically negates any original contribution Thicke and Pharrell brought to “Blurred Lines.” You can find lots of debate about song structure, melody and scales elsewhere. The important thing to consider is that songwriters now need to document and compensate any and all sources of inspiration or face legal jeopardy.
Now back to those gloating about another upstart “entertainer” (vs. artist) getting what’s coming to him. Consider the number of songs from your favorite (read: legitimate) artists that might not be here if held to the same standard applied to “Blurred Lines.” You can Google how many times Keith Richards has acknowledged nicking riffs from Chuck Berry, and I won’t even get into Led Zeppelin’s long history of “borrowing” from their idols. Just consider two songs from our most beloved band, The Beatles.
If that riff doesn’t sound familiar then you need to go back and listen to “I Feel Fine” again.
Bo Diddley’s lick in “Road Runner” not only provides the backbone of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car,” it also provides the “beep beep” with the notable addition of “yeah” from Lennon-McCartney. Art!
I couldn’t care less whether you like Robin Thicke or find his music derivative, but if we’re going to debate the artistic merits of music within the context of real financial liability, we should think about what that can mean to creative expression…and good jams!
For extra fun, listen to this video playing elements side-by-side. One is clearly influenced by the other but there are also clear musical differences between them. But I guess it’s more fun to laugh at that lout Robin Thicke…