The Shape of a Scrub
Ed Sheeran is a gifted songwriter and performer, but that hasn’t prevented him from getting into hot water around sampling and interpolating other artist’s material. Join Joe and Toby as they explore the similarities between Sheeran’s “The Shape of You” and TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Along the way we’ll take a look at the “Stairway to Heaven” copyright case and see how it impacts Ed Sheeran’s financial future. Don’t worry, he’s going to be ok.
What we geek out over in this episode: Acronyms, Ian Burke, Pepples, Jermaine Jackson (sort of), waterfalls, average ordinary teens, Grime, Ghetts, Wiley, Elton John having your back, touring with T Swift, Lucy Pearl, lawsuits, Spirit, Matt Cardle, Bieber, touring records.
Bonus Material: The proliferation of acronyms in music.
Play The Shape of You
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: We are listening to one if the best-selling artists of our generation. This man has a great voice and definitely has a knack for getting people in the seats at his concerts. We are talking about none other than Ed Sheeran.
Toby: Agreed! Why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
Play NO Scrubs
Joe: Toby my man, please tell the people what we are we listening to?
Toby: This track that we are playing is called No Scrubs by none other than the fantabolous TLC. They broke the mold with this group. It’s gonna be a ton of fun talking about them.
Joe: In the preparation for this episode you mentioned that company that you work for uses a lot of acronyms.
Toby: Do we ever, PGB, AGM, LLR, ASL .. I mean the list goes on and on.
Joe: I feel like we are indudated with SAA all the time.
Toby: With what?
Joe: SAA – Superfluous Acronym Abuse. In fact, with all of the bad band names that we’ve discussed on this show, I’m surprised that more acronyms haven’t been used for music groups and song titles. Maybe we’ll get into that for our bonus material. In the meantime, can you tell us a little history about TLC – a group that has proven to be one of the best selling all female bands of all time?
Toby: Absolutely. TLC is the brainchild of a Georgia record producer named Ian Burke and one of his clients by the name of Crystal Jones. Ian Burke has a certified eye for talent.
Joe: What makes you say that?
Toby: There are many reasons, but I’m going to give you 3. Here’s the first
Joe: Was that the hit song from Tennessee from the Grammy award winning and socially conscious hip hop group Arrested Development back in 1992? Ian Burke also managed the group responsible for this track…
Play: Players Ball
Toby: That was Outkast’s hit single Player’s Ball from the debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzic released in 1994. Ian Burke is far from a one hit wonder maker. He also signed R&B group Xscape and Mista. I didn’t know it before, but I’m a huge fan of this guys taste’s in artists and who he’s signed.
Joe: Mos definitely. Ian came up with the idea of creating an all female, tomboyish group similar to Bell Biv Devoe. I can tell from your facial expression that this is an image that you can get behind.
Toby: You darn straight. If I were running for president… I support this message. Jones searched for more girls to fill out the ranks and came up with Tinonne Watkins and Lisa Lopes. Watkins had moved to Atlanta with her family at a young age while Lisa moved to the area more recently from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.
Joe: Jones, Watkins and Lopes began putting together songs for a demo with producer Jermaine Dupri. At the time the group went by the name 2nd Nature. As fate would have it a connection thru the hair salon that Tionne worked at gave the group an opportunity to audition in front of Pebbles Reid.
Toby: You mean this Pebbles:
Joe: That’s exactly the Pebbles I’m talking about and that was her hit song Girlfriend from her self-titled debut album in 1987.
Toby: That song brings back a lot of memories and that makes perfect sense. It was #1 on the R&B charts. Pebbles was an artist who off the strength of her success created a management company called Pebbitone. Pebbles liked the audition and renamed the group TLC. She then arranged for the group to have another audition with super production group LaFace Records.
Joe: Which just so happened to be run by LA Reid (Pebbles’s husband) and R&B sensation Babyface. The audition went well but Reid thought that Crystal Jones should be replaced. Pebbles found Rozanda Thomas, who was a background dancer for R&B group Damian Dame.
Toby: So Pebbles used the first name of each of the girls with the exception of Thomas to create an acronym. Since Crystal was the original “C” , it appears that they just gave Rozanda the nickname “Chilli” to make sure that the acronym still worked. The female trio started off singing back up on a track called You Said from Jermaine Jackson’s album of the same name.
Joe: So have you heard the song? I don’t see it listed here as one of the tracks that we gave to Eric to play.
Toby: Yeah there’s a reason. Hearing the song You Said- it was very clear to me… by the 2nd chorus … that i didn’t care what he said, she said. This song can burn with Shirley’s she shed.
Joe: Thankfully this wasn’t an indication of the songs to come. TLC’s debut album entitled Oooh on the TLC Tip was released on Feb 25, 1992. Let’s take a listen to their 1st single released on Nov 9th, 1991 entitled Ain’t 2 Proud to Beg
Play Ain’t 2 proud to Beg
Toby: That’s a great song and apparently, I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed it, because it peaked at #6 on the Billboard 100 and #2 on the Hot R&B and Hip Hop singles charts.
Joe: Their 2nd single showed why a lot of critics said they had the makings of the perfect group. Each member contributed in their own style whether it be funk, R&B, or rap. They put all of their styles in a pot and blended it well.
Toby: I totally agree, and their 2nd single illustrates the softer side of the group. This song is called Baby, Baby, Baby.. Let’s take a listen
Play: Baby, Baby, Baby
Toby: The album went quadruple platinum, and their success didn’t stop there. TLC’s second LP was entitled Crazy Sexy Cool. It was released on Nov 15, 1994 and spent 2 years on the charts.
Joe: This album had several singles that blazed the charts, including this:
Joe: That was Waterfalls, the 3rd single from Crazy Sexy Cool. It spent 7 weeks #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. I remember this video and not being able to go anywhere without hearing this song. It definitely was an international hit and was nominated for a couple of Grammy’s, including Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance with vocal.
Toby: The reason I think this song sticks out has to do with the topics that were discussed on the track. It talked about illegal drugs as well as HIV. Topics that were important back than and still prove to be very important topics today.
Joe: True that. The other singles were Creep, Diggin on You, and Red Light Special — a song that’s probably on your Toby’s Quiet Storm Mix Tape.
Toby: Yeah, that video was something else and if that song isn’t on the Quiet Storm Mix tape it’s definitely on the honorable mention list. Things were seemingly going well despite several issues that were happening behind the scenes. Watkins had health issues and Lopes had substance abuse issues that resulted in an incident involving arson.
Joe: That’s all true, but there were some good things that also happened. Both Thomas and Watkins were featured in movies, while Lopes started a production company and hosted an MTV talent series called THE CUT. Let’s move on to TLC’s third album, which contains our first featured track.
Toby: TLC’s third album was entitled Fan Mail and was released on Feb 23, 1999 It went 6x platinum in the US and sold 14 million copies worldwide. The lead single was our featured track, No Scrubs. Let’s listen to that again
Play No Scrubs 2
Joe: And they kept tackling real issues on this album, including with the #1 hit Unpretty. Let’s hear that
Joe: Fanmail was nominated for 8 Grammy awards and won Best R&B album, Best R&B song and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. Unfortunately, TLC experienced tragedy on April 25, 2002 when Lopes was killed in a car crash in Honduras.
Toby: Very sad, but we still celebrate her thru her music. With that being said, I believe it’s time to move on to our 2nd featured track. Joe can you do the honors and tell us a little more about Ed Sheeran?
Joe: Edward Christopher Sheeran was born on February 17, 1991 in Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. He grew up singing in the church choir starting at the age of 4, and began playing guitar in primary school. Not a big surprise, he was voted most like to be famous in high school.
Toby: That might be because he started making records at the ripe age of 13. Here’s a quote from him about that first release:
"In 2004, I made my very first album, Spinning Man, named after a picture that my dad had. I burnt the CDs myself and made the covers. There were 14 songs and they were all songs that rhymed. One lyric went: ‘I’m a typical average teen, if you know what I mean.’ There are probably 20 copies of Spinning Man in existence and I have 19 of them. I don’t want anyone else to get hold of a copy. Most of the songs were about a girl called Claire. She was my first love when I was 13. It was a very innocent love and we only ever held hands, but it lasted a fair amount of time. Then came my first devastating break-up. Looking back, it really wasn’t that bad, but at the time it was soul-shattering. When she left me, I wrote a lot of songs off the back of it – my first love songs."
Joe: I happen to have the one copy that made it out of Ed’s trunk, and we cannot pass up the opportunity to hear the classic track, Average Teen.
Play Average Teen
Toby: He continued to hone his craft and released a series of EPs on YouTube, including “No. 5 Collaborations Project” in January of 2011. It featured a number of Grime artists, which Sheeran has specifically cited as influencing his own music.
Joe: Here’s a quote talking more about that Grime style:
"I'm always being introduced to new people that are really good. Being a songwriter myself, I love the way they put lyrics together. If you listen to Ghetts' flow, it's not necessarily like four-bar, four-bar, four-bar. He'll do a two and a half bar rhyme and then stop, and go into something else. And me as a songwriter, that sort of fascinated me, like how can you get away with that? That really interested me. I've started writing songs a bit more like that, lyrically."
Toby: He specifically mentioned Ghetts, so let’s hear one of his tracks that demonstrates his flow. This is Man Like Me from his 2014 album Rebel with a Cause.
Play Man Like Me
Joe: The No. 5 Collaborations Project also featured a collab with Grime pioneer Wiley. Let’s listen to the track, You.
Toby: No. 5 Collaborations Project sold over 7,000 copies in the first week and charted at #2 on iTunes – all without any label deal or promotion.
Joe: Ed then decided to put on a free show at a bar in London — and over 1,000 fans showed up. So, he did 4 shows, including one outside the bar. Needless to say, labels started paying attention, and he signed with Asylum Records three months later.
Toby: Sheeran’s debut single, The A Team, was released in 2011 and steadily rose up the charts in the US throughout 2012, peaking at #76.
Joe: Thematically, this is a pretty heavy track. It was written after he had visited a homeless shelter, which was an eye-opening experience. The song’s title is a veiled reference to heroin and other “Class A” drugs, and Sheeran intentionally crafted the upbeat music to mask the heavy subject matter of the lyrics. Let’s take a listen.
Play A Team
Toby: It was nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy, and Ed even got to perform the song on the show with Elton John.
Joe: Crazy story about that. Elton had been pushing the show’s producers to have Ed perform on the show, but they pushed back, saying that he wasn’t famous enough. So Elton said, fine, I’ll perform with him then. Nice to have a legend like that in your corner!
Toby: Ed Sheeran’s debut album, Plus, was released in 2011 contains many tracks from his previous EPs. The third single, Lego House, hit multiple charts, including #6 on the US Hot Rock Songs. Let’s hear that.
Play Lego House
Joe: In 2012 another legend contacted him and wanted to collaborate. Taylor Swift was touring Australia and heard his work, then invited him to open for her on The Red Tour.
Toby: Now he’s playing for more than a thousand fans! And that certainly helped the success of his second album, 2014’s Multiply. It reached #1 in 15 countries, and the lead single, Sing, was his first UK #1. Let’s hear that.
Joe: He worked with Pharrell on this track, and you can clearly hear that influence. He was also trying to channel his inner Justin Timberlake, and that’s pretty apparent as well.
Toby: The second single from Multiply is the song Don’t, and it became his first top ten US single. There are rumors about who the subject matter of the song is, with most folks thinking it’s Ellie Goulding. One thing for sure is that it’s not about Taylor Swift — Ed has definitely shot down that rumor. Let’s hear Don’t.
Joe: Don’t interpolates the 2000 track Don’t Mess with My Man by Lucy Pearl. You remember Lucy Pearl?
Toby: Man, you’ve got Raphael Saadiq from Tony Toni Tone, Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest, and I know one of your favorites, Dawn Robinson from En Vogue. Talk about a supergroup.
Joe: Yep, and D’Angelo also backed out of the group due to scheduling conflicts. Let’s hear Don’t Mess with My Man.
Play Don’t Mess
Toby: The third single off of Multiply, Thinking Out Loud, won the Grammy for Song of the Year and another for Best Pop Solo Performance. It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and went diamond. That’s over 10 million copies sold. Let’s listen.
Play Thinking Out
Joe: And this is where we start to get into some legal copyright troubles for Mr. Sheeran. He was sued by the estate of Marvin Gaye for $100 million as they found too many similarities in composition to his 1973 chart topper, Let’s Get it On.
Toby: Ed’s legal team would argue that Thinking Out Loud features “somber, melancholic tones” addressing “long lasting romantic love”, whereas Let’s Get it On is a “sexual anthem.”
Joe: There’s no denying the similarities in song structure, but you can say that about a lot of songs. Let’s hear them both together:
Play Thinking it On
Toby: The lawsuit is still in limbo, as a judge stated they would wait for the retrial of the Stairway to Heaven suit to finish before making a determination. That’s a crazy one that seemed to come out of nowhere. Turns out there’s quite a hubbub about that iconic song.
Joe: Yep. So the band Spirit had song on their debut album called Taurus. Let’s give that a spin.
Toby: Whoah, there are parts there that I don’t think you’d be allowed to play at Guitar Center! There are definitely some similarities to Stairway to Heaven.
Joe: What’s even more interesting is that Led Zepplin’s first American tour in 1968 had dates with Spirit, and they even covered a Spirit song in their set. So Jimmy Page was definitely familiar with the Taurus track.
Toby: Legally, we get into some strange waters. Zeppelin won the first trial as the judge ruled that the jury could only see the deposit copy, or basic sheet music, of the two songs. They didn’t even listen to the tunes.
Joe: That ruling was recently overturned and a new trial was ordered, this time to be heard by a panel of 11 judges who will actually listen to the songs. And to be clear, the band is not looking to cash in on the $550 million that Stairway to Heaven has already generated. They are just looking for a writing credit for guitarist Randy California, who is now deceased, and a chance at future earnings.
Toby: The Thinking Out Loud verdict hinges somewhat on the outcome of the Stairway to Heaven retrial. Joe, what are your thoughts on all of this?
Toby: Well, the last single from Multiply also got Ed in some hot water legally. Let’s listen to Photograph
Now let’s listen to UK X Factor season 7 winner Matt Cardle and his 2011 song Amazing.
Joe: Um, yeah, kinda the same. Which is what the songwriters, Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard, thought as well. So, they sued, which resulted in a private settlement and no admission of guilt on Ed Sheeran’s part.
Toby: Maybe we should take a break from the legal drama. Let’s fast forward to 2015 and listen to the Justin Bieber song co-written by Sheeran and Bieber, Love Yourself.
Play Love Yourself
Joe: No question that Ed Sheeran is a talented songwriter and sought after for collaborations by many artists. Let’s jump to our second featured track, Shape of You, off of his 2017 album, Divide. This was co-written with Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol and producer Steve Mac. Let’s give another listen.
Play Shape of You 2
Toby: Now before everyone gets up in arms about Ed stealing from another artist, in this case TLC, allegedly they were in negotiations for licensing and credit before the song was even released. Though it wasn’t until after release that writing credits were given to Kandi Burress, Tameka Cottle from Xscape, along with Kevin Briggs.
Joe: What we can prove is that this song was a smash hit. It debuted at #1 and won the Grammy for Best Solo Pop Performance.
Toby: 2017 is also when Ed kicked off a 2 ½ year tour that ended in August of 2019. Guess how much money it made.
Joe: You’re asking me the question, so it must be a lot!
Toby: $776 million, making it the highest grossing tour of all time.
Joe: Not who I would have guessed as holding that distinction. And he’s only 26! He continues to make hits though. The release of his latest album, No 6 Collaborations in July of 2019 broke some more records.
Toby: The debut single, I Don’t Care, is a duet with Bieber that broke Spotify’s single day streaming record – it debuted with 10.9 million daily streams.
Joe: No. 6 Collaborations is true to its name, featuring collabs with many artists, including Camila Cabello and Cardi B on the track South of the Border. But I love when an artist gets to work with one if their influences. So let’s hear the song Remember the Name that features Eminem and 50 Cent.
Play Remember the Name
Toby: Ed Sheeran is the second most globally streamed artist on Spotify, behind only Drake, and is the most successful artist of the decade in the UK. It’s pretty clear he’s destined for long term success.
Toby: For our bonus material, I thought t would be fun to look at some famous bands and songs that employ thus use of acronyms.
Joe: This is gonna be fun for sure. But I think we have to start this one out with a banger!
Toby: You mean like this:
Joe: A little AC/DC aka alternative current/ direct current or one of the one of the hardest rocking bands representing Australia’s finest! I’ve got another artist that used an acronym. Here’s a hint, this guy’s never afraid to let the dog out…
Toby: Welp i know it’s not my son, cuz he hates leaving his video games to let the dog out.
Joe: No my friend, I’m talking about DMX which stands for Dark Man X. Let’s listen to one of his hits.
Play Ruff Ryders Anthem
Ok now that we’ve had a couple of bangers, give them something smooth. Give me a song that says I’m a lover not a fighter.
Toby: I think I’m picking up what you’re laying down- How about this:
Joe: Nice! always a good time to play PYT or Pretty Young Thing from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Ok, your turn.
Toby: Let’s go hip hop. Wu Tang came out with a single back in 1994 that illustrated the importance of money. Let’s take a listen to CREAM aka Cash Rules Everything Around Me.
Joe: Alright, one more, this from a band that had a ton of hits back in the day, including this one, which happens to be one of my favorite songs to cover. This is ELO, the Electric Light Orchestra, and their top ten hit Evil Woman
Play Evil Woman
Toby: I think that’s all the time we have today my friend. What all did we cover?
Joe: We connected the dots between the hits Shape of You by Ed Sheeran and No Scrubs by TLC. Our bonus material was fun look at acronyms in music. What do we have lined up for our next episode?
Toby: I think it’s time we open our eyes and spend some time in the light – love is something we all have in Common.
Joe: Agreed my friend, and sounds like a perfect episode heading towards Valentine’s Day. So until then, thanks for listening, and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.