By Dave Douglas
Not everyone agrees with the jury’s verdict in the Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams versus the late Marvin Gaye’s family over copyright infringement of Gaye’s 1977 song Got to Give it Up. But with Thicke and Williams now having to give up US$7.4 million to the Gayes, the questions in most people’s minds are how did this happen and what’s next?
Not even Stevie Wonder saw this coming. In September 2013 during a chance meeting, a TMZ reporter caught the Motown legend outside LAX disembarking from his car. The reporter seized the opportunity to ask what his thoughts were on the case.
Wonder stated the issue of Blurred Lines possibly ripping off Marvin’s hit Got to Give it Up was stupid. However, he did believe the groove is very similar but attributed that to Pharrell being a big fan of Gaye. He concluded that the song was not the same. His advice to the Gaye family was to not let their lawyer get them into a money-losing situation.
With the verdict handed down by the jury, comprised of five women and three men, we now know that Wonder was wrong on this one, along with many others who thought it was impossible for the Gayes to win.
On the other hand, there are those who saw the scenario quite differently. One such person is famed Jazz trumpeter Nicholas Payton who wrote an open letter to Pharrell calling him out for being disingenuous for pre-emptively suing the Gaye family and at the same time, referred to Gaye in an interview with the Associated Press, as a “patriarch” and a “genius”.
Payton accused Pharrell of knowingly stealing the song and found him disrespectful by pre-emptively suing the family of a “Patriarchal Genius of Black Music.”
Payton bases his accusation on the fact that in the interview, Thicke admitted he expressed to Pharrell that he always wanted to do a groove like Gaye’s Got to Give it Up since it was one of his favourite songs. The duo then began working on the song and was finished in half an hour.
It’s unfortunate that Payton has now gone on record for being biased towards hip hop, calling it “wack” and “a parasitic culture” because he does bring musical expertise to the table and presents some good points in his letter. And in this case, according to the jury, he was right!
Another interesting but ironic perspective on this debacle came from Jack Ashford a.k.a The Tambourine’, a legendary Motown Records Funk Brother who recorded and toured with Gaye for several years and performed on Gaye’s Got to Give it Up record.
In an exclusive interview with News Channel 3 at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Ashford said he was in the studio with Gaye when he made Got to Give it Up. Ashford explained that when they did the song, Marvin had no direction to where he was going with it. It was all instrumental and they were the only two musicians on the track.
Marvin played keyboard, keyboard bass and drums and Ashford played tambourine and a Coca-Cola bottle and a fork to create the percussive, unique sounds.
It was just a jam.
Ashford said the real Marvin Gaye sound is hard to duplicate and in his estimation, to copy, you’d have to get similar sounds and similar styles and nobody plays drums like Gaye. So therefore, he didn’t hear that on Blurred Lines. He did not seem to think there was any threat of copyright infringement.