TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 in the week ending Saturday, June 25, 1977.
SONGWRITER: Marvin Gaye.
PRODUCER: Art Stewart.
BACKSTORY: If “Got To Give It Up” isn’t the most celebrated hit by Marvin Gaye – that honour must surely go to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – then it certainly is the most contentious. This is due to the lawsuit for copyright infringement filed by Marvin’s family against the creators of “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke’s 2013 smash featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I. One listen makes it clear where the inspiration (if not more) for that 21st century recording came from. So, two years later, a federal jury awarded more than $7 million to the late Motown superstar’s children for the infringement, and the case has become a marker and encouragement for others who have, in their view, suffered similar plagiarism.
The irony is that, in 1976, Gaye was not enthusiastic about making such a piece of music in the first place. “Motown was screaming disco at me,” he told his Divided Soul biographer, David Ritz. “Disco disco disco disco! I couldn’t be bothered. But I also had this problem.” That was the result of the record company’s need for new material to fill out the fourth side of a double-album, Live At The London Palladium. Marvin had performed the sellout U.K. show in early October ’76; Motown had recorded it for release, intending a single LP. Gaye insisted that this was to be a double album – but there wasn’t enough live material from the Palladium concert for that.
Consequently, to fill the fourth side of vinyl, the star worked on a new song with Motown engineer/producer Art Stewart, a colleague for several years. “Marvin and his drummer Bugsy Wilcox had been fooling around on this groove at Marvin’s studio – just keyboard and drums,” Stewart told Harry Weinger, who supervised the reissued, upgraded version of the double album in 1999. “The groove was so bad. I knew we had a number one record from jump street. But Marvin kinda forgot about it.” Stewart was determined, however, and even visited Gaye at home on Christmas Day 1976 with a track for what was to become “Got To Give It Up,” to encourage and inspire the artist to finish it.
And so “Got To Give It Up” was finished, complete with Wilcox’s drums, Marvin himself on keyboards as well as vocals, Motown studio veteran Jack Ashford on tambourine, and guitar parts played by Johnny McGee from hit-making R&B band L.T.D. On background vocals were Gaye’s wife Jan and brother Frankie. Playing “milk bottle and spoon” was Frankie Beverly, from another popular, non-Motown band, Maze. “I left the mics open to give it a live flavour,” added Stewart. Among those making merriment and noise, he said, was the host of TV’s Soul Train. “You can hear Marvin greet Don Cornelius.”
The result was a Number One crossover hit – Gaye’s third to top the Billboard Hot 100 – edited down from the album’s 11 minutes-plus version. It was also a Top 10 single in the U.K., while Live At The London Palladium was the second-highest charting album of Marvin’s career in the U.S., a Top 3 entry during 1977. “I stuck my nose in the air,” recalled Gaye, “and said, ‘Fuck it,’ but don’t you know that in the end, I did what [Motown] wanted – my way.”
REMAKES: Whether or not listeners consider “Blurred Lines” to be a remake of “Got To Give It Up,” as the jury decided, the Gaye smash inspired many other pieces of music. Some were straight interpretations, including instrumental versions by saxmen David Sanborn and Pharaoh Sanders, while others were built on samples, especially drawing on the rhythmic components of the original. Among the latter group were Madonna’s “Give It 2 Me” (featuring Pharrell Williams, as it happened) and “Intro” by Notorious B.I.G. on his album Ready To Die, both from 2008. Some years before, Aaliyah had done a straight cover of “Got To Give It Up,” albeit taken at a slightly slower tempo. Motown artist Zhane tackled the song in 1999 on Marvin is 60, a tribute album featuring various performers. More unusual was a version sung in Portuguese (and entitled “Fuzuê”) by Sandra de Sa, part of her Motown tribute album, Pare, Olhe, Escute (Stop, Look, Listen) in 2002.
FOOTNOTE: In Divided Soul, David Ritz recalled a night two years after the release of “Got To Give It Up” when he, Gaye and several friends were at a San Francisco disco. Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall was being played and “as much as Marvin admired the production,” wrote Ritz, “he refused to dance. Instead, he coolly stood at the bar, greeting friends.” Suddenly, “Got To Give It Up” blasted out of the club’s sound system, “and everybody dragged Marvin to the dance floor.” Ritz continued, “Watching Marvin move, I could feel the pain of his self-consciousness. Naturally graceful, he felt awkward as he barely lifted his arms and feet. It was particularly strange watching him mouth the words of the song which is the story – Gaye’s story – of a wallflower.”