Ed Sheeran shows Howard Stern how he played his guitar to help win the Let’s Get It On case: “You can’t copyright a chord sequence - you just can’t”

Fresh from his victory in the most recent copyright infringement case to be brought against him - this time by the heirs of the co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On - Ed Sheeran has been demonstrating to Howard Stern how he tried to convince the jury that the chord sequence used in his song Thinking Out Loud should be “unprotectable” by playing his guitar.

In the clip above, Sheeran begins by playing and singing Thinking Out Loud, which uses the  I - iii - IV - V chord progression in the key of D. He then segues directly into other songs - the likes of Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately, The Temptations’ My Girl and Shania Twain’s You’re Still The One - in a bid to make it clear that Let’s Get It On is far from the only other song to use it.

Recalling his performance of the medley in court, Sheeran told Stern on his SiriusXM show: “There were 101 songs, and that was like scratching the surface. Yes, it’s a chord sequence that you hear on successful songs, but if you say that a song in 1973 owns this, then what about all the songs that came before? We found songs from like the 1700s that had similar melodic stuff.

“No one’s saying that songs shouldn’t be copyrighted, but you just can’t copyright a chord sequence - you just can’t,” he added.

Asked whether he really would have followed through with his promise to quit music if the verdict of the case had gone against him, Sheeran said: “I really think I would’ve because it just takes the joy out of it to sit down and say you can’t use a G chord to a C chord because someone did it in the ‘60s.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Sheeran reveals that hearing the Unplugged version of Eric Clapton’s Layla was what inspired him to become a musician, and that this ultimately led to forming a friendship with the legendary guitarist.

“I was like, ‘Whoa, what the hell is that?’” said Sheeran of hearing Layla for the first time, adding that his dad explained what he was listening to. “And then I got the Derek and the Dominos album, I got the Eric Clapton greatest hits, I bought Eric Clapton Unplugged and just learned all these songs,” Sheeran remembers.

Years later, Sheeran bought a replica of the guitar that Clapton used in his Unplugged concert and played it on an episode of British music show Later… with Jools Holland. The day after this went out on TV, Sheeran says that he received a cryptic email.

“The title was just ‘E,’ and it just said, ‘Nice guitar,’ and I was like, ‘I think that’s Eric Clapton?’ And yeah, we just got [to be] friends from there.”

Despite his love of Layla, Sheeran says that he decided many years ago that he’d rather be a songwriter than a guitar god, “I sort of made a choice when I was younger,” he confirms. “I was like, ‘If I want to be Eric Clapton or John Mayer’ I learn all this shit, and if I want to be [singer-songwriter] Damien Rice, I’ll learn four chords.”

For more information, head to the Howard Stern website.

Ed Sheeran Howard Stern

(Image credit: Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.