Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?
The Black man in America today is the most victimized of everyone today. Because we as a community do not stand up for each other nor pool our resources, we are just lambs fit for slaughter. What does that mean? That means we Black people don’t beat a path to a Black man’s door who opens up a store, and therefore Black owned businesses have a MUCH higher failure rate than all other races. That means we have no political power and the police and government does with Black men as they please. Let’s talk about likelihood – Black men are more likely to be thrown in jail for minor offenses and petty regulations made by a city or state; Black men are more likely to have to drop out of school due to lack of funding for education; Black men are more likely to not be hired for jobs they are qualified for; dark Black men suffer twice as much social injustice at the hands of not only whites, but other Blacks as well. The father of social consciousness, Marvin Gaye, spoke about this 40 years ago. While Martin Luther King preached about civil rights, he never touched on the whole picture. We ascribe to Martin Luther King everything, when the reality is, he was as much of a pawn of the system as Obama is today. Marvin Gaye on the other hand, was able to say exactly what he felt. I present to you his song “What’s Going On” and “What’s Happening Brother”.
|Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”|
What’s Going On is the eleventh studio album by soul musician Marvin Gaye, released May 21, 1971, on the Motown-subsidiary label Tamla Records. Recording sessions for the album took place in June 1970 and March–May 1971 at Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World and United Sound Studios in Detroit, Michigan and at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California.
The first Marvin Gaye album credited as produced solely by the artist himself, What’s Going On is a unified concept album consisting of nine songs, most of which lead into the next. It has also been categorized as a song cycle, since the album ends on a reprise to the album’s opening theme. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing nothing but injustice, suffering and hatred.
What’s Going On was the first album on which Motown Records’ main studio band, the group of session musicians known as the Funk Brothers, received an official credit. Featuring introspective lyrics about drug abuse, poverty and the Vietnam War, the album was also the first to reflect the beginning of a new socially conscious trend in soul music. What’s Going On was both an immediate commercial and critical success and has endured as a classic of early-1970s soul. A deluxe edition set of the album was released on February 27, 2001, and featured a rare live concert shot at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center where the singer was given the key to the city.
In worldwide critics’, artists’ and public surveys, it has been voted one of the landmark recordings in pop music history and is considered to be one of the greatest albums ever made. In 2003, the album was ranked number 6 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
In late March 1970, Marvin Gaye had fallen into a deep depression following the death of his singing partner and fellow Motown artist Tammi Terrell, who had died of a brain tumor earlier that month. Gaye refused to record or perform, going as far as to attempt an athletic career in football with the Detroit Lions of the NFL. After an unsuccessful tryout for the team, Gaye came in contact with musician Al Cleveland and the Four Tops’ Renaldo “Obie” Benson, who were working on a politically conscious song called “What’s Going On”. Gaye assisted Cleveland and Benson in completing the composition, and planned to produce the song as a recording for the Motown act The Originals. However, Cleveland and Benson persuaded Gaye to record the song himself.
In June 1970, Gaye recorded “What’s Going On” and his own composition, “God Is Love”, which further expanded his inclusion of his spirituality in his music. Recording such material was a different direction for Gaye, who had previously performed and recorded radio-formatted and contemporary songs that were more representative of the Gordy-produced Motown Sound rather than politically or socially conscious music. When Gaye delivered the songs as the sides for his next 45-rpm single, his brother-in-law, Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy, Jr., objected to the material and refused to release the recordings. Though he had already permitted other Motown artists to record and release material that hinted at social and political themes – Edwin Starr’s “War”, The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion”, both released earlier in 1970, and Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven Help Us All”, released later in the year – Gordy considered “What’s Going On” far too political to be promoted on radio and too unusual compared with the popular music sound of that time to be commercially successful. Gaye, however, stood his ground and continued to lobby his case to label executives and to Gordy, as he did not want to be bound by Gordy’s or Motown’s version of music.
In an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, Marvin Gaye discussed what had shaped his view on more socially conscious themes in music and the conception of his eleventh full-length, non-duets studio album:
In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say… I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world. — Marvin Gaye
Gordy eventually gave in, certain that the record would flop. Upon its release in January 1971, “What’s Going On” became Motown’s fastest selling single at that point, going to the number-one spot on the R&B charts for five weeks and number-two for three weeks on the Pop listings, with “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night retaining the top spot.
In 1985, writers on British music weekly the NME voted it best album of all time. In 2004, the album’s title track was ranked number 4 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. A 1999 critics poll conducted by British newspaper Guardian/Observer named it the “Greatest Album of the 20th Century“. In 1997, What’s Going On was named the 17th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM. In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 97, while in 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 4. In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. What’s Going On was ranked #6 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, one of three Gaye albums to be included, preceded by 1973’s Let’s Get It On (#165) and 1978’s Here My Dear (#462). The album is Gaye’s highest-ranking entry on the list, as well as several other publications’ lists.