Now that’s chutzpah! Thicke, Pharrell, T.I. rip off Marvin Gaye’s groove, then sue his babies

As my mom might’ve said, “Wow, that’s some crust!”

Messrs. Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr. (better known to you hippity hoppers as T.I.) are suing Marvin Gaye’s family.

This is ironic, because for weeks, I’ve been wondering, “Why isn’t Marvin Gaye’s family suing these guys?!”

At issue is the threesome’s huge hit “Blurred Lines,” and exactly how blatant a ripoff of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” it is. (Videos for both are embedded below.)

Turns out Gaye’s family has already hit up Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. for some dollahs, threatening to sue if they don’t come across. So they “reluctantly” filed the suit to bring the matter into the light of day so that a court could figure it out.

Or, for the more cynically inclined, they filed the suit so that the threat of a protracted and expensive legal battle forces the Gaye family to take a token payment to settle the matter.

Complicating the issue is the fact that Thicke has made no secret of the fact that Gaye’s tune was, in fact, the direct inspiration for the song.

So what do I think? Well, after comparing both tracks before writing this post, I think it’s pretty clear that Thicke et al. ripped off elements and atmosphere from Gaye’s song.

Like the beat.

And rhythmic elements of the bass line.

So the “groove” is, yes, a ripoff. And as Thicke admits, I think that was intentional.

But is the groove the song? No, not really. Or not always. (If a groove is the same as a song, it puts ZZ Top’s entire catalog at risk for copyright infringement.)

And I have to admit, after listening more carefully than I ever had previously, I find myself an unlikely defender of Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. I think the groove is not the song in this instance. 

“Got to Give It Up” stays in one chord until it goes through the fourth and fifth chords of the scale in a turnaround at the end of the riff. “Blurred Lines” has a two chord riff.

“Got to Give It Up” has an iconic two-note bass “lift” at the end of each measure. “Blurred Lines” has an eight-note bass “walkdown” instead.

“Blurred Lines” producer Pharrell Williams is no dummy. I think the differences I’ve pointed out are there—at least partially—to make the song dissimilar enough from Gaye’s track to forestall claims of copyright infringement. And I think they do. And there’s no denying that the vocal melodies are completely different. 

So, as much as I’m jealous of the three for having such a huge success with little more than a few cagily aped bleeps and yowls, and as cynically sexist as I think the video for “Blurred Lines” is, I can’t side with the Gaye family on this.  

That doesn’t mean I like “Blurred Lines” better than “Got to Give It Up.” I like both, but while the former is a summertime trifle; the latter is a timeless classic.

See what you think.