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Music / Marvin Gaye

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"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."

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), released only after a raucous argument over it with Motown head, Berry Gordy, to 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 Motown founder Berry Gordy) 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; other reports state that the deal dictated Gordy would receive a minimum amount of money regardless of the album's sales. 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. This was then followed up in 1983 with a tour of the US, the pressure of which caused Gaye to descend into chronic cocaine use; Gaye became increasingly paranoid that he would be assassinated, frequently wearing a bulletproof vest when not on stage.

Following the tour's conclusion, Gaye moved back in with his parents to look after his mother, who was recovering from kidney surgery. Old childhood tensions between him and his father ended up flaring up again, and the two would frequently quarrel with one another, reaching a point where Gaye would jump in on arguments between his parents and physically assault his father (who himself was becoming increasingly aggressive and confrontational). Gaye also became increasingly suicidal, and attempted to kill himself by jumping in front of a moving vehicle; he was left with only minor bruises.

Both Gaye's tensions with his father and his suicidal tendencies would reach a breaking point on April 1, 1984: following another confrontation with him, Gaye's father entered his bedroom and shot him with a pistol Gaye had previously given to him as a Christmas present. Frankie, Gaye's brother, was alerted to the shooting, found Gaye, and cradled him in his dying moments; according to Frankie, it was at this point that Gaye revealed that he had intentionally coerced their father into murdering him. Gaye's father would later be given a six-year suspended sentence and five years of probation for the killing (he died in 1998). Thus 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.


Studio albums

  • The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye (1961)
  • That Stubborn Kinda Fellow (1963)
  • When I'm Alone I Cry (1964)
  • Hello Broadway (1964)
  • How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You (1965)
  • A Tribute to the Great Nat "King" Cole (1965)
  • Moods of Marvin Gaye (1966)
  • In the Groovenote  (1968)
  • M.P.G. (1969)
  • That's the Way Love Is (1970)
  • What's Going On (1971)
  • Trouble Man (1972)
  • Let's Get It On (1973)
  • I Want You (1976)
  • Here, My Dear (1978)
  • In Our Lifetime (1981)
  • Midnight Love (1982)

Duet albums

  • Together note  (1964)
  • Take Two note  (1966)
  • United note  (1967)
  • You're All I Neednote  (1968)
  • Easy note  (1969)
  • Diana & Marvin note  (1973)

Posthumous albums

  • Dream of a Lifetime (1985)
  • Romantically Yours (1985)
  • Vulnerable (1997)
  • You're the Man (2019)

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.
  • Break-Up Song: An entire breakup album in the form of "Here, My Dear." And you thought Fleetwood Mac made breakup albums...
  • Concept Album: What's Going On and Here, My Dear.
  • Concert Film: He is one of the acts featured in 1964 all-star concert film T.A.M.I. Show.
  • 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.
  • 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 Gaye — who had attempted suicide several times in his lifetime, one of them reportedly days before he died — 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)".
  • Let's Duet: Motown paired him with several female singers, starting with Mary Wells, then Kim Weston (the wife of Motown producer Mickey Stevenson), a pairing that produced the hit "It Takes Two". Then in 1967 Motown signed Tammi Terrell, who'd had a few moderate hits on the R&B chart, specifically as a duet partner for Gaye. They recorded a whole bunch of classic songs, but Terrell was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in 1970.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: "Ain't That Peculiar" declares "that" to be "a peculiar-arity".
  • 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.
  • Seduction Lyric: Definitely one of Gaye’s specialties. Let's Get It On" is hardly a subtle example of the trope in action...
    Let's get it on, ow baby
    Let's get it on, let's love baby
    Let's get it on, sugar
    Let's get it on, woo...
  • Shaped Like Itself: 1964's "Baby Don't You Do It" features the first prominent pop culture use of the line "keep on keepin' on."
  • 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.