THE INCOMPARABLE MARVIN GAYE | THE TROUBLE MAN PREACHES

From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marvin Gaye recently.  He is, for me a least, the yardstick that all R&B singers (hell, all singers) are measured by.   His life was also something of a contradiction.  He could be religious, profane, introspective, romantic, highly political, debauched and raunchy in his music– and his personal life.  Like all of us, Marvin Gaye had a lot of layers.  His battles with his personal demons and his tragic murder at the hand of his own father are something out of a Greek tragedy.  He’s been gone for some time now, yet his music (like all great music) sounds like it could have been made today.

By the end of the ’60s Marvin was tired of the music he was making– and fed up with the state of the world.  Having built his career on the highly produced, highly stylized singles produced out of Berry Gordy’s Motown, he fought for the artistic right to do an about face and write, produce, and record “What’s Going On” in 1971.  It is without question one of the finest albums of that decade, and perhaps in all of popular music.

“What’s Going On” changed everything for Marvin– he was now perceived as a serious and complex artist.  It also veered R&B off into completely new territory.  Heavily influenced by the politics of the day, the hippie culture, and the Black Power movement– the record is a high water mark for records of that time.  It’s equal parts concept album, political album, and religious preaching.  It’s also the only album I have ever listened to that combines all these elements and puts you squarely into the black, urban neighborhoods of the early 1970s.  The joy, pain, longing, uncertainly, and ultimately wanting to escape that experience are powerful themes explored over the course of the nine songs.

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“If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else”

Marvin Gaye (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

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