Marvin Gaye

Before “What’s Going On” Marvin Gaye was known as the true jazz singer who was one of the best selling acts by Motown due to his hit love songs and was portrayed as a sex symbol in the 60s and 70s. The death of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, and the increase in violence in the Midwest during the late 70’s caught the attention of the whole nation and Gaye became more aware of the hard times the U.S. was going through. Marvin’s brother Frankie had served three years in the Vietnam War and when he returned he told many stories to Marvin of how much bloodshed and despair he witnessed. Marvin felt that at the time he needed to make music about the difficult times the U.S. was going through for the people. Renaldo Benson and Al Cleveland wrote the song “What’s Going On” and since the Four Tops members were not interested in the song, Benson decided to give it to Gaye to sing.  Marvin Gaye recorded the song and was very adamant about having it be the next song that were to be released by him. Although, the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy had no interest in releasing the song because it was not the standard music that Motown fans would be accustomed to and firmly believed the record would destroy Gaye’s career. After Gaye had told him that he would not record any other record until “What’s Going On” was released, Gordy eventually gave in and decided to release the song. “What’s Going On” was the first record from Motown that was noticeably different from any of their previous releases because Gaye made sure to get a different arranger so that it wouldn’t sound like typical Motown music and also he started to use multi-layered vocals. I think this was a monumental album in jazz history and one of the main things that make the album great was the messages and concepts used in the songs. The intent of every song was real and genuine and I think Gaye did a great job of making new music that still had the same great jazz feel to it.


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