By Marvin Gaye
As one of the most iconic albums ever made, it's no surprise that Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" has been given a revamp to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of its original release. It was not only the album that kick-started Marvin Gaye's career, but it turned Motown's 'sex symbol' into a true superstar in his own right.
In 1970, Marvin Gaye's marriage was failing, he was constantly fighting with Motown over which songs to record, but most devastating was the death of singing partner Tammi Terrell. Marvin Gaye sank into a deep depression and refused to record or perform.
When Roland 'Obie' Benson, of the Four Tops, first came up with the idea for the title track it was with the intention that it would be recorded by The Originals. Gaye, along with Al Cleveland, assisted with the composition. Eventually, Benson and Cleveland thought Gaye ought to record the song and persuaded him to do it.
When the title track was originally recorded, Motown's founder Berry Gordy was appalled and reportedly called it the worst record he'd ever heard. It was only after an ultimatum by Gaye that it was finally released as a single. On the first day of release the single sold 100,000 and Gordy was now after an accompanying album. Marvin was granted full control of the recording process and brought in the Funk Brothers to help him escape the Motown sound.
The main theme that runs through the album is based on his brother Frankie's experiences in Vietnam and social injustices as well as issues around drugs and spirituality. The political themes didn't sit well with Motown who prided themselves on radio friendly hits.
The title track opens the album with a gorgeous sax melody before Marvin's effortless vocals melt onto the track. After this you get hard hitting messages with "Save The Children" and the poetic "Mercy, Mercy Me" which are mixed with the same sweet melodies and seemingly effortless vocal workout.
The album touches on a number of genres like funk and jazz where tougher tracks like "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "Right On" have an excellent groove that allow the Funk Brothers to improvise with flourishes and solos.
The production and arrangement of each track is excellent. The tracks have been crafted so they blend into one another to create a song cycle that only enhances the message of the album.
The additional tracks that make up the deluxe edition are all welcome. The various out-takes of "What's Going On" are interesting as you hear it being built up into the fabulous piece we all know. The mono versions of most of the album tracks are good to hear, as are the fine jams with the David Joseph Van De Pitte, David Van De Pitte, Marvin Gaye Orchestra. But really, the original nine tracks are all you need to hear.
The album is a collection of songs recorded by one of the world's finest voices in an environment where there was complete freedom. As a result, Marvin Gaye executes every song to perfection and we are left with a twenty-four carat classic.