- Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran is fighting a plagiarism lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan.
- The suit alleges he stole the chord progression of Marvin Gaye’s soul classic, ‘Let’s Get It On.’
- Thursday, Sheeran played and sang his disputed hit ‘Thinking Out Loud’ in defense of its uniqueness.
Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran turned his Manhattan plagiarism trial into a concert on Thursday, strumming an acoustic guitar and singing his disputed hit, “Thinking Out Loud,” to show jurors how the song differs from Marvin Gaye’s soul masterpiece, “Let’s Get It On.”
“It’s just ‘D,’ and a ‘D’ with an F-sharp,” Sheeran, 32, explained from the witness stand, as he worked through his song’s opening chords.
“Then ‘G,’ then ‘A,'” he continued, completing the four-chord progression that the heirs to “Let’s Get It On” songwriter Ed Townsend say he stole, along with the progression’s distinctive rhythm.
On the stand for a second day Thursday — he’d also testified Tuesday in the federal, civil trial — Sheeran said he and co-composer Amy Wadge wrote “Thinking Out Loud” without any influence from Gaye or Townsend.
Instead, the two created the song sitting “guitar to guitar” in his home in Suffolk, in the UK, in February, 2014. Friends and collaborators for more than a dozen years, they were each thinking about ailing elder relatives at the time, he told jurors.
“It was evening time, because we paused it to go out to dinner with my parents,” Sheeran said of the day’s songwriting session.
“I remember coming out of the shower and Amy was playing chords and mumbling,” he recalled of “Thinking Out Loud’s” beginnings.
“And I thought, ‘We need to do something with that.'”
Sheeran played the song’s opening chords and sang into the witness stand’s microphone as he described the collaboration.
“Maybe someone sings a melody, and then someone changes the melody,” he explained of the back-and-forth of composition.
Often, as with “Thinking Out Loud,” the lyrics come later.
“You start out singing phonetically,” he said.
“Thinking Out Loud” started out as ‘I’m singing out loud,'” he said, singing the chorus with those original, ultimately rejected lyrics.
“And then words will fall into that melody,” he said, singing the chorus again — “I’m thinking out loud” — using the lyrics that helped catapult the hit to Song of the Year at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
When his lawyer, Ilene Farkas, asked Sheeran how long it took for him and Wadge to finish the song, which they then recorded first as an iPhone voice message, he answered, “Really not that long.”
He added, “It’s one of those songs, you know that it’s good when you finish it.”
An extraordinarily prolific songwriter, Sheeran said he can write as many as eight or nine songs in a day. He wrote “hundreds” of songs while still in his teens, back when he was starting out in London, playing “empty bars, clubs, restaurants,” he said.
“I played bingo halls, I played anywhere that no one was,” he joked.
He doesn’t read music, he told the jury, instead creating a demo by singing and playing into a phone or iPad.
He writes every day, he testified, including this week, as the trial wrapped its first week. “If it was a day of the week, I was writing songs,” he said of his last two decades.
Sheeran has since given up his iPhone, he told jurors, one of several times his remarks prompted laughter in the crowded courtroom.
“I haven’t had a phone since 2015,” a year after writing “Thinking Out Loud,” he said. “It’s more of a distraction thing. I was always on my phone, so I got rid of it,” he said, prompting more laughter.
“Now, I’m — present,” he said, pausing with comic effect.
Laughter and smiles had also filled the courtroom on Wednesday, as the plaintiff’s musicologist, Dr. Alexander Stewart, played a nerdy, computer-generated version of “Let’s Get It On.”
On Thursday, Sheeran accused Stewart — who had also previously performed for jurors, using an in-court keyboard — of misrepresenting “Thinking Out Loud’s” disputed four-chord progression.
To make it sound more like the progression in “Let’s Get It On,” the musicologist made “Thinking Out Loud’s” progression sound more complicated than it actually is, Sheeran testified.
“I’m not the world’s most talented guitar player,” Sheeran said, still holding his guitar after an hour on the witness stand, as Thursday’s courtroom concert wrapped for the week.
“I’m going, “When your legs don’t work like they used to before,” he said, playing and singing to demonstrate.
“It works very well for him,” Sheeran said of the expert’s rendition. “But it’s not the truth.”
With that, US District Court Judge Louis L. Stanton, adjourned court for the week. Sheeran is scheduled to continue his musical self-defense on Monday morning.