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Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Beam Me Up Scotty’s Series: Part 3/25 (CD)

I own an original of this on LP, but now I can have it on my iPod…

What can I say that you don’t already know about this concept album? Marvin Gaye was The Man, true story. Told from a returning Vietnam war veteran’s perspective, this album discusses everything wrong with America then (and now).

To say it’s essential listening is probably redundant. You know this. For sheer beauty, power, and hope amidst despair, you need this. Pure classic record.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

[Motown Records – TS 310, 1971]

Another Must Buy on vinyl, for all the right reasons.


The party intro to What’s Going On, at first, doesn’t fit the song. That is, until you see how quickly he starts to move away from that gathering’s devil-may-care nothingness, to show us how fake it all is. Through his totally sweet soul vocals, and with perfect accompaniment, Gaye sets the scene and lets us know that it’s time to wake up, time to engage our brains and look at the world around us. Brilliant.

What’s Happening Brother laments war as a solution for anything, and the faulty wiring in society that allows it as a viable option. Set over a smooth groove and bongo drums. So great.

Dissolve into the aching, gorgeous Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky). By now Marvin’s not making poetry out of his outrage anymore. He’s in your face, calling it all “so stupid.” His vocals are totally gripping, here.

The talking break says it all in Save The Children. With no breaks between tracks, the rants, the sadness and the honest pleas meld together into one larger, genuine sentiment.

Through the similar lines of God Is Love and…

straight into the classic Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song). Over a slick soul groove, Gaye also makes an impassioned plea on behalf of our very planet.

This first side, alone, is a tour de force. Enough to sustain you for weeks. But you’re only halfway there. Brace yourself.


What a great track of music starts this side, and what a solo! Right On is just a perfect song, and punctuated by flute! Stilll, I might do without the distracting, repetitive scratchy/rubbing sound on every other beat. Another call for peace, its seven minutes slide past smoothly.

Wholy Holy eases things back, equally a call to believe in religion, our fellow man, and in ourselves. A brief, deep breath and then unrelentingly we follow right into another classic track…

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), where Gaye laments the eternal battle between the haves and the have-nots, the struggle of the average Joe with just how low that average is… it’s a big picture cry for help and hope in the face of overwhelming odds and circumstances. In other words, it’s the perfect ending to, frankly, a perfect record.

The ultimate protest record? Probably. What we need to hear, in every generation (until we get it)? Oh yes. Done so beautifully that it might be easy to forget the messages within and just go with the music? Oh hells yes. But stay aware and on your toes, kids. You need to hear this.


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