BHM Album Highlight – Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

This addition of Black History Month Album Highlight is spotlighting the magnificent singer and musician, Marvin Gaye and his brilliant piece, “What’s Going On.”

Marvin has one of the all time best voices and this album is just full of powerful lyrics wrapped in beautiful arrangements.  The album starts off with the title track which is one of the most important songs ever written.  Gaye is said to have written it in response to Renaldo Benson’s (Four Tops) accounts of witnessing police brutality in Berkeley California on Bloody Thursday.

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Although written almost 50 years ago, the lyrics still apply today.

The album continues into more socially inspired songs touching on the theme, “What’s Going On,” by asking the question in Save The Children:

I just want to ask a question
Who really cares?
To save a world in despair
There'll come a time, when the world won't be singin'
Flowers won't grow, bells won't be ringin'
Who really cares?
Who's willing to try to save a world
That's destined to die

The other really huge hit on the album finishing out side A is, “Mercy Mercy Me(The Ecology),” probably one of the first environmentally focused songs to come out of the R&B/Motown genre.  Gaye writes more questions:

Oh mercy, mercy me
Oh things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Side B of the album is only three songs including the seven and a half minute “Right On,” an almost summary of some of the highlights from side A.  The tempo changes a bit in this one in the middle and then picks up the pace with some wispy clarinet that brings hope.  “Wholy Holy” follows, a song begging folks to come together and love one another.

Side B ends with the introspective song called, “Inner City Blues.”

Natural fact is
I can't pay my taxes
Oh, make me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands

Marvin couldn’t in fact pay his taxes and had to go into some what of an exile for a while.  The album ends with more call backs to earlier and themes and a last cry for “Mother, Mother.”

Marvin was born and raised in Washington DC.  He was shot and killed by his own father in 1984 after an altercation.  This is one of the best and most important albums of all times.  Please give it a listen from front to back and let the lyrics of the pain, the questions, the hope, the love and the despair sink in. Then I ask you to compare where he was in 1970 to where are today.  I find myself wondering why we are still asking the same questions some 50 years later.

Thanks for listening, I hope you enjoyed this and if you have any comments please post them on my blog here, or on Facebook or Twitter.  Keep listening and supporting art!

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