Music / Marvin Gaye

"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."
Seal, 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 success note  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 from Detroit 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's wife, Anna Gordy (the sister of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown) divorced him, citing irreconcilable differences and seeking money in palimony to support their adopted son. As a result of a deal Gaye's lawyer made, Gaye would give her half the royalties from his next album. He wrote an album in three months, but held onto the album that would become Here, My Dear (1978) for a year. At the time of its release, the album was indeed neither critically nor commercially successful, leading to accusations that Gaye released a lackluster album intentionally to make sure his ex-wife would end up with as little money as possible, despite this being against Gaye's best interest. Regardless, the album has since been Vindicated by History, and today is seen as one of his best albums. 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.

Albums by him with their own page:

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 and Here, My Dear.
  • Epic Rocking: "Got to Give It Up"
    • "Here My Dear" is a double album with 6 of the tracks running six minutes or more. There's also "Right On" from What's Going On, "Ego Tripping Out", and "Come Live with Me Angel".
    • One could make the case that all of What's Going On apart from the title track qualifies as this, as the songs run together and seem to have been consciously crafted as a continuous suite of music. The only gaps in the album are for the break between album sides and after the title track.
  • Fading into the Next Song: As mentioned above, What's Going On is gapless apart from the fadeout at the end of the title track and the break between LP sides. This didn't stop "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" from becoming hit singles, but each of these is at the end of its respective album side.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: In "What's Going On," someone audibly says "fuck" during the sampled chatter.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Starting with the (appropriately titled) "Let's Get It On" and on up.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: No one can say for sure, but it's entirely possible that Marvin Gaye was suicidal, and allowed his father to kill him. According to Marvin's brother, his last words were:
    "I got what I wanted... I couldn't do it myself, so I had him do it... It's good, I ran my race, there's no more left in me."
  • 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" as well as most of the rest of the album to which it lends its name.
  • Springtime for Hitler: One of his biggest hits was by accident. He was coerced into doing a "disco" song, and, not a fan of the genre, set out to do a terrible parody of one (including a falsetto lampooning The Bee Gees), that song was "Got to Give It Up" and it became a smash hit.
  • Unfortunate Names: Yeah, jokes about his last name are pretty much inescapable. Worse still, he was born as Marvin Gay Jr.
  • Your Cheating Heart: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". The song is about a man (the narrator of the song) and his girlfriend / wife when the former finds out that the latter loves someone else through hearing it from other people, and lamenting that she not only didn't bother to tell him that she didn't love him anymore, but that she's very likely to pick the other man and end their relationship. The "cheating" aspect becomes more apparent when the song was performed live, when a member of the band would pretend to call Marvin on the phone to tell him that he saw the woman heading into a motel room with another man.