ALBUM OF THE MONTH
FIVE REASONS TO LISTEN:
- Marvin Gaye’s most profound and timeless work
- Features three Top 10 pop hits: the title track, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”
- The Sgt. Pepper of soul, according to Rolling Stone, which consistently ranks it Top 10 among the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”
- Title song covered by artists Cyndi Lauper, Los Lobos, Michael Bolton, Jesse Colin Young and Quincy Jones, among many others
- New artists and musicians continue to fall under the album’s spell to this day.
FOUR FAST FACTS:
- Original LP release date: May 21, 1971
- Billboard album chart peaks: #1 R&B, #6 Pop
- All three of the album’s singles reached #1 R&B
- The first Motown album to name all the musicians, print all the lyrics
Marvin Gaye performing “What’s Going On” live in Amsterdam in 1976.
FULL TRACK LISTING:
- The basic tracks for “What’s Going On” (the single) were recorded in Detroit in June 1970, with lead and background voices overdubbed in July. Based on Motown’s Quality Control feedback, strings were added in September 1970. Following the single’s release, in January 1971, all the other songs were completed in March 1971, save for some overdubs done in Los Angeles in early May.
- The name of Motown arranger David Van DePitte appeared on the album’s front cover, an unusual credit. “The way the tunes were laying, they were little stories,” he once recalled, “and it just kind of felt that one should flow into the next.” Another Motown stalwart, Eli Fontaine, played the scene-setting alto sax intro on the opening track.
- The cover image, by James Hendin, was the first to portray a bearded Marvin Gaye, and, in another Motown first, was chosen by Gaye and not the art department.
- What’s Going On spent 53 weeks on the Billboard pop best-sellers, an achievement only topped by the 61 chart weeks of Marvin’s Let’s Get It On. The three single releases from What’s Going On ran up a total of 36 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1971. In Britain, the album did not chart at all on first release.
- Marvin performed the entire album live in his hometown of Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1972, which was designated “Marvin Gaye Day.” The venue was the just-opened Kennedy Center, the orchestra was conducted by Maurice King, and the musicians included Motown “Funk Brothers” Robert White (guitar), James Jamerson (bass) and Uriel Jones (drums), plus the Andantes on background vocals. Forty years later, John Legend, backed by the Dap-Kings, performed the entire What’s Going On album in homage to Marvin, also at the Kennedy Center.
- Universal Music are releasing a new limited edition 10” vinyl on June 10 in line with the 45th anniversary of this remarkable album. It features the original 7” single versions of “What’s Going On” and “God Is Love”, as well as a “Motown Re-imagined” duet version featuring BJ The Chicago Kid, plus an unplugged “coffeehouse” mix. Click here to pre-order now.
“The biggest result of What’s Going On…had to do with my own freedom. I’d earned it, and no one could take it away from me. Now I could do whatever I wanted” – Marvin Gaye, quoted in Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz
“Berry Gordy did not want a protest record. To BG, Marvin was the company’s sex symbol, a ladies’ man. But Marvin was steadfast about changing. Thank God” – Smokey Robinson, quoted in liner notes for the 2001 deluxe edition of What’s Going On.
VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE TRACK ON THE ALBUM:
Producer: Marvin Gaye
Songwriters: Renaldo Benson, Al Cleveland, Earl DeRouen, Anna Gordy Gaye, Marvin Gaye, James Nyx, Elgie Stover
Re-makes: “What’s Going On” (Herbie Mann, 1971; Quincy Jones, 1971; Donny Hathaway, 1972; Richie Havens, 1973; Jesse Colin Young, 1976; Cyndi Lauper, 1987; Artists Against AIDS, 2001; Los Lobos, 2005; Human Nature, 2006; Michael Bolton, 2013), “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” (Milira, 1990; Robert Palmer, 1991; Everette Harp, 1997; Boyz II Men, 2007), “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” (Bobby Hutcherson, 1971; Grover Washington, Jr., 1972; Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, 1973; Angela Winbush, 1994; Ideal, 1996); “Wholy Holy” (Aretha Franklin, 1972)