April 1, 1984 had to be a joke… There is no way such a beautiful soul would be gunned down by his own father. Sadly, it wasn’t. And so a day before his 45th birthday, the world, at least for a little while, would be silent. The “Prince of Soul” was gone… The “Prince of Motown” was no more… and I don’t know if anyone has ever quite assumed the mantle… I don’t think they have. Not quite.
This album reminds me of Picasso’s Guernica. It’s power is instantly available and accessible, and its importance hits you right off the bat… but as you grow older and become more learned; and understand the origins and influences, the depth is astounding… What Marvin has put down in music… the emotional wrestling and that of a nation is… remarkable.
From Rolling Stone: “In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say,” Gaye once said about the creation of What’s Going On. “I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.” So with Gaye determined to shatter the label’s hugely successful pop formula and address issues such as the Vietnam War, civil rights and the environment, Motown founder Berry Gordy was not pleased, to say the least. He claimed that “What’s Going On” was the worst song he had ever heard.
As for “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” Gordy asserted that he didn’t even know what the word ecology meant.
Of course these are my favorite two songs from the record, and some of the best Gaye has ever put out. For those of you who have enjoyed my Music To Make Love To playlists, you know Gaye is featured prominently… especially on the Soul Sex list, where he has six songs. Obviously this is not the album to get busy to… Well, actually it is if busy means getting off your ass and calling attention to what is going on in the world and going about trying to change those things that need to be changed, then let’s all get busy!
I love his soul music… I love his message… I love this record… and there is a reason Rolling Stone has it as #6 on the Greatest Albums of All Time!!!
More from RS: “Producing the album amid a haze of marijuana smoke, Gaye made one intuitively brilliant decision after another — from letting the tapes roll as his friends mingled and chatted to recording the rehearsal exercises of saxophonist Eli Fountain. When Fountain complained that he had just been goofing around, Gaye replied, “Well, you goof exquisitely. Thank you.” And that’s how the plaintive saxophone line that announces What’s Going On came to be.”