What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye

Released May 21, 1971 this concept album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam Vet returning home after witnessing the atrocities of war. It was his second album to reach #1 on the Billboard R&B Charts (he would have 3 more #1s) as did the three singles from it. He has been credited as bringing main-stream awareness to Climate Change in the song “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology.)” Rolling Stone ranked it sixth on their list of “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.

Jason: Hey, what’s going on?

Brad: Marvin Gaye is what’s going on.

Jason: Yeah he is. This album is so good and it has two of the most classic, and most covered, R&B songs on it. 

Brad: It is pretty great. Such an iconic sound. Plus it is incredible how much the lyrics still apply today.

Jason: Oh yes. Between the title track and “Mercy Mercy Me” this album really has a point of view that was as relevant today as it was almost 50 years ago. Fifty Years!

Brad: “Inner City Blues” is still incredible too. In fact, just about every song is still relevant 

Jason: My least favorite, and with a caveat that it is still a good song, is the call-and-response part of “Save The Children”.

Brad: Ha! When I was listening to that song yesterday, I was thinking “Jason is not going to like this song”

Jason: You know me so well. I like that this is a concept album and that a lot of the songs flow together. It’s very well thought out. 

Brad: I agree. Love the flow of the album. I was reading more about how this got made and it is fascinating. 

Jason: Oh yeah? Like what?

Brad: Marvin’s duet partner in the ’60s was Tammi Terrell. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died at the age of 25. This sent Marvin into a deep depression where he was contemplating suicide. He wanted to do an album like this one tackling social issues of the time but Berry Gordy (Motown boss) thought Marvin was just being crazy. Basically, Marvin recorded the song “What’s Going On?” on the sly and rushed its release as a single. It was an instant hit. So Berry Gordy agreed to let him record the entire album.  That is my “Drunk History” retelling of what I read 

Jason: Ha! Well good thing he believed in his art.

Brad: Marvin also produced this album and brought in some new musicians which was not how it was usually done at Motown

Jason: So this was notable for several reasons which is probably why it is still one of most people’s favorites albums.

Brad: Yeah, it seems like it tapped into something at the exact right time and really resonated with so many people.

Jason: I also like the Robert Palmer medley cover of “Mercy Mercy Me/I Want You”. Which was probably my first intro to Marvin Gaye.

Brad: Interesting. I love Madonna and Massive Attack’s version of “I Want You” as well.

Jason: He was murdered by his father which might have also lent to his lasting legacy. We were robbed of his talent at the top of his game in such a tragic way.

Brad: I will never forget when that happened. It just felt so awful that his own father murdered him

Jason: April 1, 1984. You were 10 and you remember that? By the way, he was younger than we are now when he died and he had already accomplished so much #feelinginadequate

Brad: 10 is not that young to remember it. I was much younger when John Lennon and Elvis died and I remember those too.

Jason: You always had your finger on the pulse of the music scene though. I don’t remember any musician deaths but I remember when Mork & Mindy was cancelled (1982)

Brad: I was surprised to learn that about his age too, so young.

Jason: He also sang “Let’s Get It On” which is not on this album but considered one the sexiest songs ever.

Brad: It totally is! I love that song. I remember putting that on several mixtapes back when mixtapes were a thing.

Jason: You were a horny adolescent.

Brad: Possibly true.

Jason: Definitely true if you were putting “Let’s Get It On” on high school mixtapes. Listening to this album has piqued my interest in listening to more of his music. 

Brad: Me too. I think I’ve mostly listened to his 70s stuff but I want to go back and listen to it all. Plus he has some live albums I want to check out. Did you hear that he is being put on a postage stamp this spring in honor of his 80th birthday.

Jason: Well deserved. I’d lick that.

Brad: Ha…me too. It would be great if when you licked the stamp it plays the opening notes of Let’s Get It On 

Jason: Oh wow, okay. Or just the chorus from “Let’s Get It On”. 

Brad: Hey…if Hallmark can do it with greeting cards…why not do it with postage stamps?

Jason: Exactly! The USPS could use all the money they can get. In doing this 100 Albums list I listen to the albums about 5 times. This one I listened to a dozen. I give “What’s Going On” an A.

Brad: That’s great. I give it an A too. I really hope Hollywood makes a great biopic of Marvin’s life so that his legacy continues. I hear Dr. Dre is working on one. Fingers crossed it turns out well and honors him properly.

Jason: Right on!

Click here for the complete 100 list.

Below is the scratch-off artwork from the 100 Bucket List poster.

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