3D Great Rock Bible
Marvin Gaye iTunes Tracks Marvin Gaye Official Website

Marvin Gaye

Taking inspiration from sophisti-soul legends NAT KING COLE and SAM COOKE, gifted groove merchant MARVIN GAYE found a spiritual niche among his cathartic congregation, a congregation that, through time, swapped sentimental values for Marv’s seductive “sexual healing” – musical policies, that consequently, cost him his life by the hands of his own father. Case in point was 1973’s sexually charged LPs, “Let’s Get It On” and 1982’s “Midnight Love” (the latter stimulated by the startling monster hit, `Sexual Healing’); records that could even make fans of BARRY WHITE blush. Better still, was GAYE’s intimate statement of the times: “What’s Going On”, a 1971 album dealing with poor people living the American dream at a time when political corruption, police brutality and military madness kept bubbling to the surface.
Born Marvin Pentz Gay Jnr., April 2, 1939 in Washington, D.C., he was a middle child and son of an ordained minister of Judaism and Pentecostalism. Basically a Christian, strict in his ways, and ways that saw young Marvin (a keen gospel singer and multi-instrumentalist prodigy) come under daily beatings, high school graduation led to time in the US Air Force.
After being discharged in ‘57, second tenor/baritone Marvin joined doo wop outfit The Rainbows, who, in turn, became The Marquees: alongside Chester Simmons, Reese Palmer and James Nolan. The vocal group released two “Okeh”-endorsed platters, `Baby, You’re My Only One’ (as backing for BILLY STEWART) and `Hey Little School Girl’ (produced by BO DIDDLEY). The following year, seasoned campaigner Harvey Fuqua invited the group to become his new MOONGLOWS and, after moving to Chess, in Chicago, they delivered 45s as backing for CHUCK BERRY and a couple of group-billed singles: `Twelve Months Of The Year’ and `Mama Loochie’ (Marvin on lead).
At the turn of the 60s, Fuqua, who’d accompanied Marvin to motor city Detroit with the intention of becoming a solo artist, helped arrange for him to play session drums on platters by The MIRACLES. After further session work for Motown artists such as The MARVELETTES (a three-octave and tenor his speciality), Marvin signed as a solo artist to the aforesaid Tamla Motown company, as well as marrying boss Berry Gordy, Jr.’s younger sister, Anna.
Suffixing his surname with the letter “e”, in similar respect to idol Sam Cook(e), GAYE initially had his heart set on becoming a saloon-singing balladeer, although a standards album, THE SOULFUL MOODS OF… (1961) {*4} unceremoniously flopped; the exceptions were double-A debut, `Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide’ and `Never Let You Go’ (scribed by Berry and Harvey, respectively). He was duly cajoled into recording R&B/soul.
The result was the rawer, `Stubborn Kind Of Fellow’ fourth single (both `Sandman’ and `Soldier’s Plea’ had bombed), an almost immediate Top 50 crossover success, which also provided young Marv with his first R&B Top 10 hit. A parent LP, THAT STUBBORN KINDA FELLOW (1963) {*6}, never quite got off the mark, although it did boast two further Top 30 hits (featuring MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS): `Hitch Hike’ and `Pride And Joy’, plus the introductory version of `Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’.
While the release of concert piece, RECORDED LIVE ON STAGE (1963) {*5} was hardly inspiring and necessary, it stifled not, his surge toward superstardom, as yet another hit single, `Can I Get A Witness’ (showcasing backers, The SUPREMES) established GAYE as one of Motown’s foremost talents. Still, depicting an attitude relevant to his inaugural hit, the man insisted on showcasing his NAT KING COLE fireside slippers for jazz crooner set, WHEN I’M ALONE I CRY (1964) {*4}; but thankfully not on non-LP Top 20 single, `You’re A Wonderful One’.
Like most artists on the label, Marvin was assigned material by various in-house writers (long before the Holland-Dozier-Holland connection), and the odd battle-of-the-sexes pop duels. Proof in the pudding and arriving only a matter of weeks after his previous solo croon, boss Berry paired him up with “My Guy” hit-maker, MARY WELLS. A Top 20 double-header `Once Upon A Time’ and `What’s The Matter With You Baby’ (lifted from hit album, TOGETHER {*5}) was a popular start for the tried-and-tested concept.
On the solo front, despite having success on a relatively large scale with `Try It Baby’, `Baby Don’t You Do It’ and `How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ (all three hits in ’64 lifted from HOW SWEET IT IS TO BE LOVED BY YOU (1965) {*6}), GAYE persevered with his sentimental “stars in yer eyes” nostalgic homage timepieces, HELLO BROADWAY (1964) {*4} and A TRIBUTE TO THE GREAT NAT KING COLE (1965) {*5}. The mid-60s also saw him developing the super smooth vocal prowess that would become his trademark on such classy hits as `I’ll Be Doggone’, `Pretty Little Baby’, `Ain’t That Peculiar’, `One More Heartache’, `Take This Heart Of Mine’ and `Little Darling, I Need You’, most of which were produced by SMOKEY ROBINSON and spawned from MOODS OF MARVIN GAYE (1966) {*7}.
Marvin’s second lady-in-waiting, Kim Weston, was then pitched for some further conveyor-belt duets. However, the Top 20 R&B alliance of `It Takes Two’ from TAKE TWO (1966) {*6} was dissolved in mid-‘67 when GAYE found Philadelphia-born Sherrys singer, TAMMI TERRELL. Their charmed partnership yielding a three-year run of hits on both sides of the Atlantic, producing some of the most sublime duets in the history of soul, namely `Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, `Your Precious Love’ (both penned by ASHFORD & SIMPSON), JOHNNY BRISTOL and Fuqua’s `If I Could Build My Whole World Around You’; the best from the highly-revered UNITED (1967) {*7} set.
1968’s equally embracing YOU’RE ALL I NEED {*7} – featuring future R&B staples `You’re All I Need To Get By’, `Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’ and `Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey’ – gave further writing credits to the usual suspects, plus Vernon Bullock, among others. Although not as effective as its predecessors, EASY (1969) {*5} – spawning hits, `Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy To Come By’, `What You Gave Me’ and `The Onion Song’ – closed a chapter in the GAYE/TERRELL book of song of dance. Tragically, to the obvious dismay of Marvin (who’d known of her illness since her collapse on stage in ’67), TAMMI TERRELL died of a brain tumour on March 16, 1970, aged only 24.
For the previous few years, a solo GAYE had assumed a position of R&B royalty when, in November ’68, he scored his biggest, US/UK chart-topping hit to date with `I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, a brooding, experimental epic penned by Barrett Strong & Norman Whitfield. Taken from the slightly disappointing (sales-wise), IN THE GROOVE (1969) {*5}, M.P.G. (1969) {*7} – starring the similarly-sourced Top 10 smashes, `Too Busy Thinking About My Baby’ and `That’s The Way Love Is’ – at least restored some faith among his followers; also containing the latter hit and an ill-timed reading of The BEATLES’ `Yesterday’, THAT’S THE WAY LOVE IS (1970) {*6}, relied a tad heavily on Messrs Strong & Whitfield, resulting in his poorest sales for yonks. Although Marvin didn’t write the song (that was down to Dick Holler), the melancholy UK-only attendant hit, `Abraham, Martin And John’, just might’ve been an indicator to the direction in which GAYE was heading.
Taking his cue from STEVIE WONDER, Marvin decided to take complete control of his career, from the writing to the recording, making his first major artistic statement with WHAT’S GOING ON (1971) {*10}. A radical departure, the album (along with Stevie’s early 70s material) changed the way soul music was made and challenged people’s perceptions of the genre. Like a black “Astral Weeks” (in feeling if not lyrically), the album was a lush, orchestral stream of consciousness collage, GAYE gazing into the ether and pleading for some kind of redemption for mankind. Addressing such pertinent issues as war, environmental disaster and God, Tamla Motown were extremely reluctant to release the album, only relenting when GAYE threatened to leave the label. The singer was vindicated when the record became his biggest seller to date, as well as being recognised as one of the greatest albums in recording history. Who could argue that the message of Top 10 singles, `What’s Going On’, `Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’ and `Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’ (plus `What’s Happening Brother’ and `Save The Children’), didn’t unite an already divided nation – and indeed, globe!
GAYE solved the problem of following up such a milestone by recording the soundtrack to TROUBLE MAN (1972) {*8}. Not the most famous Blaxploitation score but definitely the coolest, the most cohesive, and possibly the most enduring of them all. The concept and composition was MARVIN GAYE’s alone, but it helped that in JJ Johnson and Gene Page, he had two of the biggest “Blaxploit…” arrangers on board for the ride. And what a ride; a queasy small-hours kerb crawl through the man’s endlessly tormented soul.
The deceptively laid-back, shag-pile seduction of the arrangements croon in lieu of GAYE; his pained falsetto moans served largely as instrumental texture, and when he does sing – on the title song itself – the effect is like being spiked with the finest cognac. Junkie paranoia, twisted sensuality, moral degradation; he conjures it all in glorious, jazz-inflected monochrome. The finger-snapping squelch of `“T” Plays It Cool’ was as funky as it got, but so liquid was the music’s flow that, unusually for a Blax soundtrack, singling out one piece over another was pointless. That this was also the only Blaxploitation soundtrack to include a thank you to Jesus (as in Christ) probably says more about GAYE – and his troubled art – than any amount of critical evaluation.
A bona fide successor came with 1973’s steamy LET’S GET IT ON {*9}, the title track providing GAYE with the second chart-topper of his career. The album itself nearly reached the top spot, becoming the most commercially successful release of his career. There’s no doubting his carnal passion and seductive prowess in run-on hits such as `Come Get To This’ and `You Sure Love To Ball’, and his use of a T.S. Eliot quote on the sleeve certainly tipped his hat to the other half.
Enticed or slightly curious to the man’s deep soul excavations, dainty diva DIANA ROSS moved in for a piece of the action on the collaborative “Diana & Marvin” (1973). Having just missed out on an Oscar for her portrayal of BILLIE HOLIDAY in the bio-pic flick, “The Lady Sings The Blues”, she was no stranger to Motown’s delve into the movies. A triumvirate of hit singles (including `You’re A Special Part Of Me’) spawned from a provocative Top 30 set, gave lovers of the MOR soul something to play on nights in by a roaring fire.
Like all truly transcendental artists, he embraced both the profane and the sacred, his best work both overtly sexual and deeply spiritual; for GAYE, spiritual healing was sexual healing. LIVE! (1974) {*6} probably filled time while the man worked on the demon of his soul – cocaine. Yet, ironically, Marvin’s marriage to Anna Gordy foundered in 1975, Marvin detailing the break-up in his underrated double album, HERE, MY DEAR (1978) {*7}, its title a sarcastic reference to the fact that his former wife was to receive all royalties from the disc as part of the divorce settlement. Yes, definitely unsettling and nervy, as it detailed aspects of why their relationship died. It was no surprise that there was no single hits, only a two-part version of `A Funky Space Reincarnation’ was thought worthy of release.
Despite having scored a third No.1 single two years previously with the disco epic, `Got To Give It Up’ (a lengthy closing piece from the career-spanning LIVE AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM (1977) {*7} double-set), and pushing out umpteenth studio LP, the disco-fied I WANT YOU (1976) {*7} – dedicated to his new love, Jan – Marv’s personal life was a mess. As well as his second failed marriage, GAYE was constantly hounded by the taxman and fell into heavy cocaine use.
Escaping to Europe, GAYE worked on another concept album, IN OUR LIFETIME (1981) {*6}; re-scheduled from his shelved “Love Man” project. Tracks such as `Ego Tripping Out’, `Heavy Love Affair’ and `Praise’, carrying him through a time probably best forgotten, in terms of hits, at least. Following its release, GAYE accused Motown of tampering with both the sound of the album and the artwork prior to release. This marked the bitter end to his long-standing relationship with the label, and he subsequently signed with Columbia Records.
MIDNIGHT LOVE (1982) {*8} was a resounding return to form, the seminal `Sexual Healing’ going Top 5 in America and Britain. Lyrically, the album explored familiar GAYE themes on the nature of God and love, but while the sensual singer was still actively following some kind of spiritual path, he was also sinking deeper into drug dependence and depression. Retreating to his parents’ home in L.A., Marvin’s depression and mood swings brought him into continual conflict with his father and, after one particularly violent argument on April 1, 1984 (a day before his 45th birthday), Marvin Gay, Snr. shot his son dead. It was a tragic end to the life of one of the most pivotal figures soul music has produced. Of his father (who was suffering from a brain tumour), he was given a six-year suspended sentence and five years probation.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/BG-LCS / rev-up MCS May2013

Share this Project

Leave a Comment