Monday, March 3, 2008

Classic Album Revisited

Marvin Gaye's landmark concept album What's Going On was released in 1971. Prior to recording What's Going On, Marvin was deeply depressed. In March of 1970 Tammi Terrell died. Three years prior to her death she collapsed on stage while performing with Marvin, she was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Marvin took a hiatus from recording and performing and went into self isolation. Believe it or not, Marvin even attempted a career in football, he tried out for the Detroit Lions. Al Cleveland and The Four Tops' Renaldo "Obie" Benson reached out to Marvin to help them complete the writing of a politically conscious song, "What's Going On." Cleveland and Benson persuaded Marvin to record the song, and in June 1970 Marvin recorded "What's Going On" and "God Is Love." Berry Gordy refused to release the songs, he thought they were far too political and would fail at commercial success. Marvin eventually convinced Gordy to release the songs. "What's Going On" reached #1 on the R&B charts and #2 on the Pop listings. After the success of "What's Going On" Berry Gordy requested an entire album.
Over a 10 day period, Marvin began recording and producing the tracks that would comprise What's Going On, an album told through the eyes of a Vietnam veteran returning home to a world of drug abuse, poverty, police brutality and unemployment. Simply put, What's Going On is an album that expressed the cries, pain and agony of a black man in the 1970's. It is as sacred as Aretha's Amazing Grace and the musical equivalent of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A 9 track unified album, most songs led into the next, What's Going On was named Album Of The Year by Rolling Stone magazine, Billboard gave it the Trendsetter Award of 1971.It was ranked number six on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. A 1999 critics poll conducted by British newspaper Guardian/Observer named it the "Greatest Album Of the 20th Century."