"When Marvin Gaye opened his mouth, the notes that came out... he would put his entire DNA into those notes. There was that much feeling. He was the tone king."
, about Marvin Gaye
Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. (April 2, 1939 - April 1, 1984) was one of the greatest entertainers of his day.
Gaye started out as a member of the doo-wop group the Moonglows, and then embarked on an extremely successful solo career on Motown
Records. His early hits included "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "I'll Be Doggone." During the same period, he was writing hits for other Motown groups, such as the Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street," and was a session drummer. Marvin's works defined the "Motown Sound," which was a blend of R&B and pop music with orchestral strings.
Gaye frequently sang his hits with various female artists, such as Kim Weston and Mary Wells. His most famous duets were with Tammi Terrell, singing the songs of Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, who also produced them with a psychedelic sound. The hits like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" created the illusion that Gaye and Terrell were lovers (which they weren't). These duets continued until Terrell got a malignant brain tumor in 1968 which killed her two years later. This put Gaye in a depression, refusing to acknowledge the success of his singles and desperately wanting creative control.
Gaye's best-regarded album was What's Going On
(1971), a critical and commercial successnote
that spawned hits such as the title track and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)." After the album's release, Gaye renegotiated a contract with Motown that allowed him creative control and made him the highest-earning African-American musician at the time. Gaye moved to Los Angeles
in order to score the blaxploitation film Trouble Man
; the soundtrack was a hit.
After the socially-conscious What's Going On
, Gaye switched to sensual songs for his next album Let's Get It On
(1973). The album cemented Gaye's reputation as a sex symbol and became the biggest-selling album during his lifetime. The title track became his biggest-selling single. Gaye slowly moved towards funk with this album and his next few.
In 1978, Gaye divorced his wife, Anna Gordy (the sister of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown). He wrote an album about it titled Here, My Dear
(1978), which was a flop. The following year, Gaye filed for bankruptcy and moved to Hawaii. His next album, In Our Lifetime
(1981), was edited and remixed by Motown without Gaye's consent; he terminated his contract with Motown shortly afterward and moved to Belgium.
In 1982, Gaye signed with Columbia Records
, which released his comeback album Midnight Love
(1982) and the Grammy-winning single "Sexual Healing," which was a change in style to European-flavored pop and contemporary R&B. After going on a tour of the U.S., he moved into his parents' home.
On April Fools' Day 1984, Marvin Gaye was fatally shot by his own father
after an argument, only a day shy of Marvin's 45th birthday. This ended the life of the man whose works ranged from doo-wop to soul and political to sexual, who influenced others to gain creative control and produce themselves, and who made uniquely autobiographical albums.
Marvin Gaye's work provides examples of:
- Album Filler: He believed that most Tamla Motown albums were basically hit singles surrounded by filler, which prompted the conception and recording of What's Going On.
- Concept Album: What's Going On.
- Epic Rocking: "Got to Give It Up"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "What's Going On?," someone audibly says "fuck" during the sampled chatter.
- Intercourse with You: Many of Marvin's songs, most famously "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing"
- Last Note Nightmare: "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
- Porn Stash: According to those that knew him, Gaye was a serious porn addict. The title of his most famous song came from a friend seeing his porn collection and telling him, "Man, you need some sexual healing!"
- Protest Song: "What's Going On"
- Springtime for Hitler: Zigzagged with Here, My Dear. It was the result of a deal Gaye's lawyer made in Gaye's divorce from Anna Gordy in which Gaye would give her half the royalties from his next album. Gaye, not really wanting to give Gordy any more than he had to, intended to put out a lackluster effort. At the time of its release, the album was indeed neither critically nor commercially successful, but the project had ended up being so emotional for Gaye that he was upset by the poor reception. In the years since his death it has come to be regarded as one of his best.