Marvin Gaye
What's Going On


3.0
good

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
January 16th, 2005 | 95 replies


Release Date: 1971 | Tracklist


Everyone's been in a situation where a friend has recommended an album to you. However, some albums rise to a plataeu where there's almost an unpoken contract amongst music listeners - if you consider yourself a fan of music, you have to hear this album. They can be seen - almost perversely - as a rites of passage. Sgt. Peppers? Check. Pet Sounds? Check. Thriller? Check. What's Going On is on that plataeu.

Contextually, it deserves that status. Motown was a label issuing a constant stream of soul and proto-R&B during the 60s and 70s. It was the biggest label in the world - but it was a self-contained, almost disengaged one. Nobody on the roster was taking notice of the world's ills. Except, that is, Marvin Gaye. He took what he saw around him - war and racial tension, mainly - and turned it into an album. An album that Motown boss Berry Gordy labelled as 'the worst thing I've ever heard'. The public disagreed, and all of a sudden, Motown's audience was woken up to the real world, and the peaceful protestors of the world has a soundtrack. Consequently, we were treated to one of the greatest purple patches in musical history, as Stevie Wonder found a new artistic freedom in Marvin's wake.

Musically, however, it doesn't. Albums of that stature rarely do. It simply hasn't aged very well, for a start. The 'love-conquers-all' message it presents you is, most people would say, an admirable one. But it's a horribly naive one, too. It didn't seem that way in the 70s, but now we look upon that sort of message differently. It also suffers the problem of having singles that tower above the rest of the album. I went into this album blind (having not heard any of it) and I picked out three songs that actually do justify the status this album has. They were the title track, Inner City Blues, and Mercy Mercy Me. All released as singles. Looks like Berry Gordy got something right after all.

To a fan of rock music, the sort of socially conscious, and very peaceful, politics in this album, may well be wrong-footing. The political music we're more used to consists of Rage Against The Machine, early Manic Street Preachers, and The Clash - bands that came storming out of the traps and took no prisoners. Here, the comments on the outside world are wrapped in lush, soulful arrangements, Marvin's equally lush and soulful voice, and a kind of street-level preaching (a scan of the lyrics throws up countless 'oh Lord's and 'brother's). Marvin Gaye wasn't the kind of person to have a video directed by Michael Moore. Consequently, his politics seem very weak. This may well not matter to some listeners, but there's occassions on this album where a tuneful 'Save The World!', or 'Love your brother!' rise to the surface, and you can't help but think how uninspired it is.

The constant religious pestering really annoys me too. You can't move within this record with hearing Lord!, Father!, God!. The liner notes state that Marvin thought of this record as a gift from God. That all well and good - and nobody can doubt Marvin's conviction - but it gets so irritating after a while. If you're of a Judeo-Christian persuasion yourself, it probably won't matter. But after a while, you can't help but feel like you're listening to an especially persistent Jehova's witness. It interferes with the lyrics, too. The 'street-level preaching' mentioned above manifests itself, on most occasions, in freeform snippets of words, rather than fully formed songs. It seems at times that Marvin can't think of anything to say other than the title of the song, or some religious outburst. The overall effect is that a 9-year old could have written these lyrics.

The album also suffers from simply not having a track as good as I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Sad to say, but it does.

The plus points? Well, it runs almost the entire gauntlet of black music (no funk, sadly). This makes it a chilled, relaxed album that isn't bland - a rare commodity. It's a great album to have on as background music - problems only really arise when you try listening to it too hard. Sadly, the reputation it has means that most people will listen to it too hard, trying to find the revelatory politics it supposedly contains.

Overall, I'd give it 3/5. I'd still say it's essential listening, only for contextual awareness. But it's not an essential purchase. Borrow it from a friend, your dad, or Limewire, and save your money.



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user ratings (369)
Chart.
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
ZEROthirtythree
August 3rd 2004


234 Comments


This is one of the most overated albums, I know of. (though I hate saying that)

I love Marvin Gaye, but I prefer "Let's Get it On" or "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"

YDload
August 3rd 2004


1207 Comments


Good review, I'll check it off on the list.

Bartender
Emeritus
August 3rd 2004


826 Comments


I'm with 033 on this one. Soul isn't really my genre anyway, but I'm more of a Let's Get It On person.

Iai
Emeritus
August 3rd 2004


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Glad people aren't slagging me off for giving it less than 5. Haha. I must say, I've never heard Let's Get It On or I Heard It.....in full. Only about 3 tracks off each.

Iai
Emeritus
August 4th 2004


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

[QUOTE=themightyquinn]The title track is just as good as I Heard It Through A Grapevine.[/QUOTE]

For me, I Heard It Through The Grapevine is one of the greatest songs ever written. Best R&B song, certainly. That's why it's quite harsh to say it, but it did affect my enjoyment of the album. The three singles are all good songs, don't get me wrong, but Grapevine set up a standard that's nigh-on-impossible to beat.This Message Edited On 06.23.05

themightyquinn23
October 6th 2004


54 Comments


I have been listening to this a lot lately, and I think in all fairness it deserves a 5/5. Not only is it an essential album, but just look at the fabulous songs on it. What's Going On, Inner City Blues, Mercy Mercy Me, and What's Happening Brother, to name a few. They are all well written, and the album flows very well. The lyrics are deep and send a good message. Not to mention the amazing bass work by James Jamerson and Bob Babbit.

themightyquinn23
October 31st 2004


54 Comments


See above statement

Come on Iai!

Iai
Emeritus
October 31st 2004


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

I still stand by my assessment that this is possibly the most over-rated album ever. Although I had never noticed the bass work. I'll give you that.

themightyquinn23
October 31st 2004


54 Comments


It's just opinion I guess, I think Rumours is the most overrated album but so many people love it. Oh well.

outboyle
November 30th 2004


2 Comments


During the recording session for the song, "Whats Goin On?", Jamerson came into the studio completely ****faced. He was so hammered, he had to lie down on the floor and someone held the chord chart above his head so he could play it.

And bull**** to this album being overrated. Marvin Gaye was a ****ing legend. Same with the Funk Brothers. Anything any of them did was amazing. So **** off if you think it is.

Iai
Emeritus
December 1st 2004


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks for putting your opinion across so intelligently. :rolleyes:

Let's Get It On destroys this.

manuscriptreplica
December 1st 2004


431 Comments


[QUOTE=Iai]6th in Rolling 'Not Worth The Paper It's Printed On' Stone's Top 500 Albums Of All Time.[/QUOTE]


Rep ++ for you

Good review, I'd pump in full marks for this CD

humph42
January 25th 2005


12 Comments


'Heard it through the grapevine' was a Gladys Knight song, and isn't his best work. Maybe in some eyes it doesn't desereve 5/5, but it's a fantastic album worth more than 3.5.

Zesty Mordant
February 2nd 2005


1196 Comments


this album is definately 4 stars at least. this is, after all, an extremely important album in the progression of soul music as it was basically the defining record that undercut Motown's "creative control" policy.

remember that Berry Gordy did not want this album released, he thought it was the worst thing he had ever heard, as the socio-political themes were an element that was completely unacceptable in pop-soul at the time, and therefore completely unprofitable to Motown.

im ranting here i guess, but i just think its a damn fine album

Iai
Emeritus
February 3rd 2005


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

For truly great socio-political music from a Motown artist, look no further than a certain Stevie Wonder.

It's important, definitely. That doesn't necessarily make it good.

And Berry Gordy only thought the title track was the worst thing he'd ever heard, not the whole album.

Illmatic
February 6th 2006


38 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

There's better Marvin stuff and better soul stuff, but I still really like this album.

Zesty Mordant
February 6th 2006


1196 Comments


I still have a soft spot for this album. It's kind of an overblown grandiose effort........ but I just can't say no.

But as my taste in soul has expanded, I don't say it is as good as I did roughly a year ago.

Iai
Emeritus
February 7th 2006


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

To the statement 'Let's Get It On destroys this', add, 'Here, My Dear destroys this'.

I keep giving this album chances, over and over again, and I'm still yet to enjoy it.

Illmatic
February 18th 2006


38 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

[QUOTE=Iai]For truly great socio-political music from a Motown artist, look no further than a certain Stevie Wonder.[/QUOTE]

Curtis Mayfield's first three or so solo albums, too.This Message Edited On 02.18.06

Iai
Emeritus
February 19th 2006


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

There's No Place Like America Today. Now THERE'S an album.



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