Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Ed Sheeran vs. Marvin Gaye: Why Everyone Is Wrong.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Ed Sheeran vs. Marvin Gaye: Why Everyone Is Wrong.

 Personally, the thing that bugs me about the Sheeran song is that in my head the chorus turns into "I Want it That Way" by the Back Street Boys - uhg.  But here's is one thing that everyone is getting wrong about the Marvin Gaye / Ed Sheeran controversy, with an addendum about chords:

 When Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" was written, nobody in the room could be blamed for it possibly sounding like an Ed Sheeran song.

 A fundamental difference in my opinion.  Nobody from Ed Sheeran to his producer, his engineer, or anybody in his management or at his record label didn't know it sounded like the Gaye song.  They also certainly can't claim to have never heard it or be familiar with it.  If the song was a demo, something he just knocked out that would be one thing.  I fear that greatly to the extent it's stifling, "is this something else?".  But for Sheeran, that song had to be vetted by a lot of people that absolutely, positively know better.  "Oh gee guys, wait.. did you notice it sounded like "Let's Get it On"?  Bob?  No? Fred?  Oopsie!".  

 No. I'd even go as far as to speculate that maybe, possibly, it was a deliberate thing.  I don't know, maybe not.  But the reader should know that if he/she thinks songs are written to deliberately remind you of other hit songs - in many cases, very cleverly these days multiple hit songs - you're naive.  If your business is to sell music, that is an obvious and easy strategy.  Pop music has always relied heavily on past influences, whether it was made in the 90s, 80s, or even 1780s.  One can make arguments that Bach lifted things from Vivaldi, and in many cases classical composers have merely said "..on a Them By (Composer)".  That's fine - because in reality, humans have to do that at some level.

 So I find it a bit disingenuous, or at least a bit off putting, when someone wants to throw away what is obviously a likeness as if it doesn't matter or count.  Yes it does - what makes it have a likeness to the original song is part of the reason why the original song was a hit!

 But let me address another aspect.  A lot of people are now citing the "chord progressions can't be copyrighted" angle. The problem with is the progression itself isn't the song.  It's how the progression is played.

 3 chords can't belong to anybody.  Songwriting is the art of arranging musical components into a recognizable form.  In that respect I think it's a bit simplistic to fall back on this idea that anything you do that is harmonic somehow doesn't matter, that it's only melody.

 That's wrong.  Because.... A static chord is not the same as a progression.  A progression is harmonized melody.  Furthermore, if you arpeggiate a chord - you have a melody.

 Am G is just two chords.  Can't be copyrighted, right?

 What if you arpeggiate the Am with 1/8th notes and change to the G on beat 4?  

 I think you decided to make this the basis of "your" song - since it's just chords, can't be copyrighted - you'd still find Eddie Van Halen's lawyers at your door step.

 To the non-musically trained lay person, if you take just the bass notes from "Let's Get It On" and ask some random people "what song is this?" you would get the right answer.

 An assortment of chords alone is not a "song".  The way you arrange them definitely is!

 I claim that the rudimentary essence of "Let's Get It On" are the bass notes combined with the rhythm.  It is a MELODY ITSELF.  

 The notes to them are harmonies.  It doesn't matter that Gaye or Sheeran is singing the notes, or that they're decoupled from the rhythmic figure of the bass line: everything is harmony unless it's monophonic!



What Sheeran sings is a melody, what Gaye sings is a melody.  That doesn't mean that what the bass player plays isn't a melody.  The rote prescription that "chords can't be copyrighted" is effectively a useless statement, because chords are never unadorned, un-arranged or embelished.  

 1) what a "musical scholar" at Berklee thinks is immaterial.  Music is not written for him; it's written for people that are presumed to be uneducated in music. 

2) being able to define elements out of context, like in most things, logically should not be used as evidence of anything.  

3) Unless the music in question is MONOPHONIC, everything has to be taken into CONTEXT.

4) the chronology matters.  

 As far as I'm concerned, a single chord - if played with a certain rhythm - should be able to be copyrighted. My next blog post will explain my reasoning on that.




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