Music has been made, in some form or another since mankind first beat the drum and hummed the first tune or made the first sound. Let me say that it is a fact, and I will say for the record, it was done first by black people. Of course, we know that music has been sung and written for every genre. But, I will tell you that nobody did it better than the stable of artists assembled by Mr. Barry Gordy founder of Motown Records.
I don’t have enough paper to name all of the stars who made all that great music or list the catalog of hits produced. To give you an idea, I’ll just mention a few: Michael Jackson, Dianna Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Supremes, Lionel Richie, and I could go on and on! But I want to pay homage to the most profound of all of the Motown artists, and maybe the most troubled, of them all – Marvin Gaye.
Through this writing, I won’t get into the life problems of the man because most of us know the story. What I want to do is speak to the genius of the man and of course as we know there is a thin line between genius and insanity. It is not that I’m saying that Marvin was insane, rather as he said himself – troubled! Marvin made wonderful music with groups, solo, and with great female artists such as Tammi Terrell, Kim Weston, Diana Ross, and Mary Wells.
What I want to do is to remind you of the timeless impact Marvin had on all of us. It was on June 10, 1970, when Marvin returned to the Hitsville U.S.A. studios to record a new composition, “What’s Going On”, inspired by an idea from Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops after he witnessed an act of Police Brutality at an anti-war rally in San Francisco. Marvin later played the song to Berry Gordy, who refused to release it due mainly to its jazz-oriented sound, which Gordy labeled “outdated”. As a result, Marvin refused to record unless Motown released the song.
The song was released on January 17, 1971, and quickly shot to number one on the R&B charts within a month staying there for five weeks, also reaching number-two on the Billboard pop chart and number one on Cashbox’s pop chart for a week, selling over a million copies. Emboldened by its success, Motown then allowed Marvin to record a full album. The album became Gaye’s first million-selling album and featured two more top-ten hits “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blue”.
The album made history as it became one of Motown’s first autonomous works, without the help of Motown’s staff producers. Its themes and segue flow brought the concept album format to rhythm and blues music. The album was later hailed as “the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices”.
What makes the “What’s Going On” album significant; it is the most socially conscience and profound recording of all times and it stands the test of time. Meaning, you can play it today and see that we face the same issues as we did in 1971. “What’s Going On” is as relevant today as it was over forty years ago. With that said, shouldn’t we listen to the tune again and make an effort to change the world from what it used to be. Happy Birthday, Marvin Gaye!!! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…