LEONARD GREENE: I’m convinced Ed Sheeran was stealing out loud from Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’

·3 min read

My kids like hearing Michael Jackson.

Other than that, there’s not much we agree on in the car when I pick them up from school or take them to their piano lessons.

My music was too old. Their music was too … bad.

“Watermelon Sugar” was almost enough to make me crash my car.

On purpose.

But Ed Sheeran somehow managed to bridge the gap. His “Thinking Out Loud” wasn’t too bubble gum schmaltzy, like some of the songs I’ve had to endure.

It also had a nice soul groove, which was satisfyingly sentimental. I’m singing in the front seat. They’re singing in the back.

“Maybe, we found love right where we are.”

I knew there had to be a catch.

It turns out Sheeran wasn’t just thinking out loud. He may have been stealing out loud, too.

That’s the accusation leveled at Sheeran by heirs of a songwriter behind one of the greatest tunes ever recorded.

There is no better mood music than Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On,” a confident ode to intimacy that Gaye wrote with Ed Townsend, and recorded in 1973.

“It has been called the perfect song for ‘that moment,’” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Townsend’s family. “Some of you may know what I mean by ‘that moment.’”

Townsend’s family claimed that Sheeran blatantly copied the music, the tempo and melody in the ”Thinking Out Loud” track, and has sued Sheehan for copyright infringement in Manhattan Federal Court.

The trial started last week.

I’ve probably heard Marvin Gaye’s classic about 150,000 times, and sang along every time it came out the speakers.

And I never made the connection to Sheeran until the lawsuit dropped.

The clamor over the copyright has me thinking out loud, and you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking he stole it. Every riff. Every note. Every measure.

What’s going on?

“If you remember nothing else about this trial, about this case, simply remember it is about giving credit where credit is due,” Crump said in court.

“The melody never changed, the chord progression never changed, the harmony never changed, and the harmonic compositions never changed.”

The narrative hasn’t changed either. For generations, white performers have been covering hits by Black artists making more money on the pop charts than the Black artists could ever dream of pulling in.

The playlist includes Elvis Presley covering Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog,” Pat Boone’s remake of Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti,” and Eric Clapton’s version of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.”

At least those Black artists got some credit for their work, if not any cash.

But Black artists today can appeal to the same audiences, so the singers who steal from them have to be more creative.

Marvin Gaye seems to be a popular target.

In 2015, a federal judge ruled that the hit single “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke shared enough similarities to Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” that the artists were forced to pay half of the song’s royalties to the Gaye estate.

Thicke’s theft had a twist. He collaborated with two African American artists, Pharrell Williams and rapper T.I.

“Thinking Out Loud” earned Sheeran a Grammy Award in 2016, one of four such prizes he has won since then.

Despite a string of game changing hits — “Inner City Blues,” “Distant Lover,” “I Want You,” “Trouble Man” — Gaye didn’t win his first Grammy until 1983, a year before he died.

Now, that’s an injustice. It makes me wanna holler, throw up my hands.