Here’s a disappointing move: Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, who wrote Thicke’s massive hit “Blurred Lines,” have sued members of Marvin Gaye’s family. They’ve sued the Gayes before the Gayes can sue them. The issue? Whether or not “Blurred Lines” resembles in any way Gaye’s classic 1981 hit, “Got to Give it Up.” Evidently the Gayes have sent notice that they will sue if not compensated for the incredible similarities between the two songs. They say Thicke and Williams ‘got to give it up.’
It’s an aggressive turn for Thicke and one that he maybe didn’t think out all that clearly. He and Justin Timberlake have spent their careers emulating 70s R&B soul. In Timberlake’s case, he actually did sample a piece of a 70s dance record to get “Suit and Tie.” With Thicke, I thought he understood that we knew he’d adapted “Got to Give it Up.” He bills himself as white soul singer. What he and Pharrell did was incredibly clever. But there’s no denying the relationship between the two records.
Thicke makes his money emulating black music. I don’t think it looks so good for him to sue the family of a deceased R&B legend. The Thicke-Williams complaint says they didn’t infringe on “Got to Give It Up.” They say you can copyright a “feeling” as opposed to actual notes. Attorney Howard King, who’s usually on the right side of arguments, says a musicologist studied the songs and they’re not the same. But does that matter? Thicke and Williams could have just paid a sampling fee, made the Gayes feel good, and moved on. This way, it just doesn’t feel good.