Ed Sheeran is his own worst enemy.
Proficient at playing the guitar, he also has a good ear. He can hear a catchy hook easily and stores it in his head.
He’s on trial in New York right now for lifting his “Thinking Out Loud” from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.” The heirs of Ed Townsend, writer of that song, are not amused. But I’m not surprised. Every time I heard that song on the radio, I thought: this is “Let’s Get it On.” Will the Townsends win? If they do, this will cause upheaval in the music business.
This isn’t Sheeran’s first time at the rodeo. He had to admit in 2017 that his hit. “Shape of You,” came from TLC’s “No Scrubs.” The writers of the latter song got credit on the former, and paid handsomely.
Sheeran settled another case in 2014, over his song “Photograph.” There have been other complaints and maybe settlements we don’t know about it. His mega hit, “Perfect,” sounds a lot like “Unchained Melody.”
Indeed, Sheeran’s issue is that in his generation, sampling is common place. Alicia Keys has done it many times. I broke a story when her “Girl on Fire” came out. She lifted the chorus of “Hey There Lonely Girl” without permission. Why not? It sounded good. Her “New York” song is built on “Love on a Two Way Street.” Even John Legend reworked “Stormy,” the Classics IV hit, for his “Save Room.”
Some songs are just soundalikes, and not actual plagiarism. Bruno Mars’ “Locked out of Heaven” sounds like it’s a Sting song from the Police. But Mars is careful not to pick one particular song, just Sting’s sound. Sting and Marvin Gaye are often “copied.” Robin Thicke didn’t get away with it on “Blurred Lines.” He also has other pseudo-Gaye songs in his catalog. With Sting, Puff Daddy tried to snatch “Every Breath You Take” for “I’ll Be Missing You.” He wound up turning over all the royalties.
Will the Townsends win? I hope, but you never know. Sheeran has taken the stand, which could sway the jurors in his favor. But isn’t it time he stops making music that sounds like someone else’s? He can do better.