Anyone learning an instrument might find themselves noticing musical similarities between widely known songs such as U2′s “With or Without You,” the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” Robin Thicke performed those songs, along with Alphaville’s “Forever Young” and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” on the piano in a Los Angeles federal courtroom on Wednesday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It’s a wonder he didn’t throw in Blink-182′s “Dammit” or Better Than Ezra’s “Good.”
Thicke’s musical demonstration came as part of a legal battle over whether “Blurred Lines,” his massive 2013 hit with Pharrell Williams and T.I., improperly borrows from Marvin Gaye‘s pioneering 1977 single “Got to Give It Up.” The trial began on Tuesday (February 24), and Thicke took the stand as the first witness. Thicke was singing and playing the piano as the result of Judge John Kronstadt’s recent ruling that Gaye’s family could only claim the copyrights to Gaye’s sheet music compositions, rather than the actual sound recordings. Hence the stripped-down concert: Jurors won’t be hearing Gaye’s full track in court.
In the absence of being able to compare the records themselves, the jury is getting quite the music lesson. Thicke reportedly argued “Blurred Lines” uses only two chords, E-major and A-major, while eight chords exist in “Got to Give It Up.” He sang the “I’m gonna take a good girl” hook from “Blurred Lines” and the “I used to go out to parties” bit from Gaye’s song. The piano medley was meant to convince jurors that songs can be similar without rising to the level of legal damages.
Potential damages were, in fact, a subtext of yesterday’s proceedings. A lawyer for the Gaye family questioned Thicke about the fact that T.I.’s rap verse starts at the same point in “Blurred Lines” as the spoken section in “Got to Give It Up,” leading Thicke to respond that this structure is “a standard format” that can be found in “just about every song on the radio.” But the attorney also asked if Thicke could confirm that sales of “Blurred Lines” totaled more than 15 million globally. That matters: If the Gayes win the lawsuit, establishing that Thicke earned vast sums from the song would allow them to ask for commensurately vast damages.
The copyright dispute over “Blurred Lines,” the best-selling song of 2013, has taken perhaps even more turns than the debate over whether Thicke was the “sexist of the year.” He went on to acknowledge that he was estranged from his wife Paula Patton, and to release a notoriously poor-selling album that shares her name, last year’s Paula. Meanwhile, Thicke — with Pharrell and T.I. — preemptively sued the Gaye clan over the song. The Gayes, not surprisingly, sued back. (The family settled a separate disagreement with Sony/ATV, which owns song publisher EMI April.) Then came Thicke’s sworn testimony that he lied in interviews where he cited “Got to Give It Up” as inspiration because he was high on Vicodin and drunk in all of them.
The trial, for its part, is shaping up to be as star-studded as one of those multi-generational Grammys collaborations. Pharrell and T.I. are both expected to testify. So is Thicke’s ex Patton, who co-wrote 2011′s “Love After War,” which is also at issue in the case. Then again, the Gaye family originally accused Thicke of also ripping off their paterfamilias on the 2009 song “Million Dolla Baby” — for which Gaye is openly credited as a songwriter (“Contains interpolations from the composition ‘Trouble Man,’” the title track from Gaye’s 1972 album). So at times it’s as if we’re all taking crazy pills here.
The song remains the same, then, but who cares so long as it’s momentarily diverting? As trials go, Thicke v. Gaye is shaping up to be an unusually entertaining one.
Listen to “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” below, and do what the jurors won’t get to do.