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Ed Sheeran strums suite of acoustic Van Morrison ballads for New York jurors

Accused of ripping off Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On", the singer played jurors a mix of his own songs and the musical precedents of his major influence, "Van the Man."

MANHATTAN (CN) — Ed Sheeran, the English pop hitmaker accused of copying Marvin Gaye’s iconic “Let’s Get It On,” demonstrated his love for Northern Irish singer Van Morrison on the witness stand Monday with short acoustic guitar performances of several songs.

The family of “Let’s Get It On” co-writer Ed Townsend sued Sheeran in Manhattan federal court for allegedly stealing musical elements from the sheet music for Gaye’s romantic hit song, but the Grammy Award-winning crooner testified that Van Morrison’s influence carried far more weight on his songwriting than the famed Motown soul singer.

Sheeran fans will know Morrison as from his massive hit “Shape of You,” where he references "Van the Man on the jukebox," but on Monday, Sheeran spent a chunk of his defense direct testimony describing his love for the legendary Belfast singer/songwriter.

“I would say he’s one of the greatest artists of all times,” Sheeran testified, memorializing for the court’s record that his favorite Van Morrison song is “Into the Mystic,” off the 1970 album “Moondance.”

Sheeran testified that the four-chord progression — “D, D with an F sharp, G, A.” — in “Thinking Out Loud” is a “very common chord progression” and can very easily be used with Van Morrison’s type of music.

“I wrote it and I play it every week,” the redhead Brit said of his credentials to discuss the musical elements of “Thinking Out Loud.”

On the topic of influences, Sheeran testified on cross-examination on Monday afternoon he wouldn’t consider Gaye to have been an influence and said he hadn’t copied Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” while writing “Thinking Out Loud," though he conceded that Gaye’s Motown contemporary Stevie Wonder is.

Sheeran insisted "Thinking Out Loud" is different than “Let’s Get It On," but testified Monday that it does bares strong similarities to a host of Morrison’s songs, including “Tupelo Honey,” “Crazy Love,” “Have I Told You Lately,” and "Why Must I Always Explain?"

Demonstrating the likenesses between his song and those of his musical idol, Sheeran picked up an acoustic guitar several times on the stand to play the chord progress, and sang a brief snippet that mashed up the melody of “Thinking Out Out” with “Tupelo Honey” and then returned to former’s opening lyrics: “When your legs don't work like they used to before.”

Earlier in the trial, Sheeran testified that Morrison had indeed heard “Thinking Out Loud,” and the elder singer summoned Sheeran for a hotel breakfast where Morrison gave his blessing and approval.

Sheeran testified that his “Thinking Out Loud” bore such similarities to Van Morrison’s music, that Sheeran’s record label referred to it as “the Van Morrison song” as a working title.

On cross-examination, a clearly agitated Sheeran sharply explained that he didn’t refer to the song that way. “Usually refer to the songs I’ve written by their title because I’ve written them,” he told attorney Patrick Frank.

Sheeran also treated jurors to a brief performance of his song “I See Fire,” which was commissioned for the soundtrack of the 2013 film "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."

His attorneys played jurors a video of Sheeran mixing “I See Fire” live with Nina Simone's "Feeling Good” her 1965 album “I Put a Spell on You.”

Further demonstrating such shared musical building blocks, Sheeran’s defense showed jurors a performance video of him mashing up his song “Take It Back” with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Another live performance video entered as evidence Monday showed Sheeran playing a mashup of the chords from his song "Don't" with both Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" and Blackstreet's "No Diggity."

Sheeran’s testimony got heated on cross-examination, the singer did not hide his disgust with a musicologist witnesses’ rendering of the melody of “Thinking Out Loud.”

“If I can be honest, I think what’s he doing here is criminal,” the clearly agitated Sheeran said. “I don’t know why he’s allowed to be an expert. Obviously, just my opinion, but.”

Sheeran said he’s “really insulted” by the allegations of copyright infringement and said if he’s “done” if he’s found liable for infringing on “Let’s Get It On.”

Sheeran headlined the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans on Saturday in between witness testimony that started Thursday evening and resumed Monday morning.

Shortly before the Townsend estate sued Sheeran in 2016, a federal jury in California awarded Gaye’s children a landmark multimillion judgment against “Blurred Lines” creators Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.

The Ninth Circuit upheld that judgment early last year, finding that Thicke and Williams infringed the copyright to Gaye’s extended disco groove “Got to Give It Up.”  

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Categories / Entertainment, Trials

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