Mistress of the Mix: If It Quacks Like Marvin Gaye

I’m a little disappointed in myself right now. About two months ago I heard a song for the first time at a friend’s party that gave me a great idea for a column. It required a little research, which I conquered brilliantly, if I do say so myself. It also required a carefully constructed playlist, which I meticulously put together. And then, I totally forgot about it. Now I look like I’m just jumping onto the bandwagon along with everyone else, because the exact thought that went through my head that gave me the idea for the playlist in the first place, and the song behind it, has become the center of controversy. The subject of a lawsuit. Two lawsuits, in fact. It’s also the subject of a heckuva lot of other music columns around the world. Columnists who beat me to the punch, dammit. But just so you know, just so it’s clear, I’m no Johnny Come Lately.  What was that thought, you ask? Well the second thought that went through my head when I heard “Blurred Lines” when my friend Destiny busted it out at Tim & Monica’s anniversary party was “Oh, Marvin Gaye is rolling over in his grave right now!” The first thought, of course, was, “I think I’ve just been introduced to my new favorite song!”

So I’m not the only person that thought Marvin Gaye would be rolling over in his grave when they heard “Blurred Lines” for the first time. Marvin Gaye’s family thought the same thing, and they’ve been making headlines for the last month, accusing Robin Thicke for borrowing a little too heavily from the soul master’s popular anthem, “Got To Give It Up.” This is news that’s been as widely spread as Miley Cyrus’ … oh, never mind.  But did you know that Marvin Gaye’s family isn’t the only group that’s thinking perhaps they deserve a piece of the action from the hit of the summer ?

Here’s the thing. Robin Thicke (and co-songwriters Pharrell Williams & Clifford Harris, Jr, better known as T.I.) freely admit that Marvin Gaye’s hit song from 1971 was a huge inspiration for “Blurred Lines.” But they didn’t actually sample the song, just so you know. I actually imported both songs into my high tech radio goddess audio editing software and listened to them together in the most scientific of environments and am pretty sure that no sampling was actually done. It’s the same vibe, for sure, which is exactly what Thicke was going for. And while you might think it was the family of Gaye, who died in 1984, that would’ve been first in line to hire a lawyer, it was actually Thicke and Co. They pretty much figured that they’d get sued for copyright infringement after Gaye’s family started saying that Thicke had plagiarized, and filed a suit to protect the genesis of the song.

I know what you’re thinking. “Blurred Lines” sounds so much like “Got To Give It Up” that, while they aren’t identical twins, maybe not even fraternal twins, they are most definitely siblings, or kissing cousins at the least, right? Thicke doesn’t deny it. He comes right and pays a huge homage to Marvin Gaye for helping him come up with the idea of writing a song that would, as he says, ‘invoke an era.’ But he says the intent was never to blatantly steal from Gaye. After the family began accusing Thicke & his co-writers of doing exactly that, they acted first and filed a lawsuit to protect the integrity of the song and even offered Gaye’s family a six-figure settlement to settle the potential issue. The family, by the way, turned it down. They don’t care if Robin Thicke was just trying to get something “with that same groove,” as he claimed a few months ago in a GQ interview. They’re saying if it looks like Marvin Gaye and quacks like Marvin Gaye, it is Marvin Gaye, so hand over the bucks.

But guess who else is claiming that Thicke and his buddies are copyducks? Hard to believe (well, I find it hard to believe), but the folks who own the rights to some of Funkadelic’s tunes have jumped on the bandwagon and are claiming that “Blurred Lines” is so much like Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways” that they’d like to get in on the royalties too. If they really feel that way, maybe Funkadelic should be suing Marvin Gaye’s estate as well, since their song came out in 1974, and “Got To Give It Up” didn’t come out until several years later. I don’t hear it, myself. But hey, you’re gonna get a chance to judge for yourself in a moment.

Anyway, all this got me to thinking about all the other songs that sound just a little too close for comfort like other songs. And voila, you’ve got today’s playlist. Some of these songs have resulted in lawsuits. Some, shockingly, haven’t. Others have resulted in a tipping of the hat from the original artist, which I think is an amazingly gracious way to handle the sincerest form of flattery. Especially since I’m betting that the millions of people who have downloaded “Blurred Lines” have now also downloaded “Got To Give It Up” (and perhaps to a much much lesser extent “Sexy Ways”) to see how similar these tunes really are. I think you’ll be surprised at how un-original some of the well known songs on today’s playlist really are, and where the inspiration came from. If you’ve got any additions to the playlist, please, list them in the comments below!

You can check out the Grooveshark playlist here, or click on the arrow below and stream it.

  1. Marvin Gaye – Got To Give It Up
  2. Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines
  3. Funkadelic – Sexy Ways
  4. Coldplay – Viva La Vida
  5. Joe Satriani – If I Could Fly We’ll never know how much money Joe Satriani got when the plagiarism lawsuit he filed against Coldplay was settled out of court.  But his song came out 4 years before Coldplay came out with Viva La Vida.
  6. The Hollies – The Air That I Breathe
  7. Radiohead – Creep Radiohead got sued for plagiarism as well, and as a result, Albert Hammond & Mike Hazelwood of The Hollies are listed as co-songwriters of this anthem. Here’s the proof.
  8. Andrew Oldham Orchestra – The Last Time
  9. The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony Every time you hear this song, the Rolling Stones get a little bit richer. Mick & Keith wrote it. Andrew Oldham covered it. The Verve asked for permission to use part of it in Bittersweet Symphony, but they used a little too much, apparently. Because they got sued. And they lost.  Jagger & Richards are now listed as co-writers, but the Rolling Stones receive 100% of any royalties. Yeah. Someone had a great lawyer.
  10. Killing Joke – Eighties
  11. Nirvana – Come As You Are The similarity is obvious. Killing Joke was understandably pissed when Nirvana denied that “Eighties” was the inspiration for the #1 grunge riff of all time.  They did file a lawsuit, but it was dropped. There’s a few different versions of the story, but the one I’d like to believe is the one where Killing Joke decided to forget the whole thing when Kurt Cobain committed suicide. 
  12. ABBA – Waterloo
  13. The Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup As far as I know, nobody ever sued ABBA for borrowing this amazing groove from The Foundations. 
  14. David Guetta ft. Kelly Rowland – When Love Takes Over    After what they did to Satriani, Coldplay really doesn’t have any room to critize Guetta for doing (even less of) the same thing. Well played, Guetta. Well played.
  15. Coldplay – Clocks
  16. Rhianna – SOS (Rescue Me)
  17. Soft Cell – Tainted Love Rhianna straight out sampled Tainted Love. And probably paid for the opportunity. But did you know that she probably ended up paying Ed Cobb, who originally wrote the song in 1964? He certainly received a songwriting credit. I wonder if Soft Cell paid Diana Ross & The Supremes for straight out borrowing “Where Did Our Love Go?”
  18. Oasis – Cigarettes & Alcohol
  19. T. Rex – Bang A Gong Oasis was accused of stealing the riff from “Bang A Gong,” but I don’t think it ever went to court.  
  20. Goldfrapp – Ooh La La
  21. Norman Greenbaum – Spirit In The Sky Goldfrapp samples this riff, they admit it, prolly paid for it. It’s pretty awesome, although to be honest, it’s so much more subdued than many of the other bands that went to court over this kind of thing. 
  22. Wire – 3 Girl Rhumba
  23. Elastica – Connection I remember hearing this song for the first time and being bugged for weeks because I knew it sounded just like another song from my past, but I couldn’t figure it out for the longest time. It was weeks before it dawned upon me, and I could finally sleep at night.  Turns out Elastica borrowed from 2 of my favorite post-punk groups for Connection:  Wire and The Stranglers. Not just the riff. Even the lyrics! From what I understand, all the royalties go to The Stranglers.
  24. The Stranglers – No More Heroes
  25. Luiz Bonfa – Seville This song was obscure enough that most people (in the U.S. at least) had no idea Gotye had borrowed the music from Brazilian guitarist & composer Luiz Bonfa, who died at the age of 78, 10 years before Gotye sampled his tune.
  26. Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know

Valerie Ing-Miller has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for nine years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She’s the mother of a teenage daughter and a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier, and can’t imagine life without them or music. Valerie wakes up with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.

Valerie Ing
Valerie Ing has been the Northern California Program Coordinator for Jefferson Public Radio in Redding for 14 years and can often be found serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre. For her, ultimate satisfaction comes from a perfect segue. She and her husband are parents to a couple of college students and a pair of West Highland Terriers, and Valerie can’t imagine life without them or music. The Mistress of the Mix wakes up every day with a song in her head, she sings in the shower and at the top of her lungs in the car.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Barbara Lorentz says:

    Love your posts. Thanks!

  2. Avatar Dana says:

    Thanks for the musacademic lesson, and the great playlist. In the design world there's a saying that "all the good ideas are taken", not to say that you can't create new and excellent design, but to recognize that someone in history has thought of something similar. So in a way, almost all design – be it cooking, architecture, or music – is an homage to something that's come before whether you know it or not.

  3. Avatar Scott says:

    This is a neat one. Thanks, Valerie! But wait, no "My Sweet Lord"/"He's So Fine?" That's the first such case that comes to my mind…

  4. Avatar `AJacoby says:

    Then from way back in youth there was the whole big lawsuit against Mory Amsterdam for the plagerism of Drinkin Rum and Coca Cola., A big hit for the Andrews Sisters.