Dan Penn originally recorded and released this song, composed with his songwriting partner Spooner Oldham, as "The Puppet," and it tanked. When Oldham subsequently brought the Purify Brothers (who were actually cousins James Purify and Bobby Dickey) to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to cut some sides, they picked "The Puppet" out of the demo pile but mistakenly sang the refrain as "I'm your puppet." Penn initially dismissed the track as a Sam & Dave rip-off but agreed to release it as a single anyway. "When it came out and became a hit, I loved it," the writer and producer laughingly admitted. "It was easy to get on board later."
This debut track from the then-20-year-old British singer-songwriter has a dark story behind it. Sheeran says he culls songwriting inspiration from "viewing other people's situations," which, for the heroine in "The A Team," involves drug addiction and prostitution that began as a teen. Sheeran paints the woman's trials with haunting imagery such as "But lately her face seems/Slowly sinking, wasting/Crumbling like pastries." "I did a gig at a homeless shelter, [and the song] is about one of the women there. It's her story," he said.