Friday, November 7, 2014

"What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye (May, 1971)

Brad's Take:

We all know the name Marvin Gaye. If you're like me, you probably know him best for his bedroom classics like "Let's Get It On." This album is a political-based one though. It's a concept album told from the point of a view of a Vietnam War soldier who just returns home to see that nothing has changed and that the country is still full of hatred and injustice.

Marvin Gaye's lyrics are inspired. You can hear it in his voice how much this meant to him. Although he made it into a story, you can tell that it's a passionate topic for the soul singer. 

Underneath the solid storyline is gorgeous soulful music that plays through each song. Each song flows into the next one swimmingly, like the album is supposed to just be one single track with different movements throughout it.

It's hard to pick what songs are better than others because they all flow so well into each other. If anything, it gets sort of repetitive since all the songs are more or less about the same things, and they're all the same tempo. But it works! The title track "What's Going On" is one of his most well-known songs so that one obviously stuck out the most to me, but everything else blends together, but in a good way. And the album is just over 30 minutes long so it doesn't feel too long at all.

For what it is, I can see why this would be a classic album, especially for its time. It's a great representation of the era and the political crap our country was going through.

Dad's Take:

This is probably my favorite soul album. I love the combination of Gaye's smooth voice, the beautiful music, the creative production, and the social commentary.

The message of this album was important at the time, and much of it is still relevant. However, I often find myself forgetting to listen to the lyrics and I just listen to Marvin's voice. A good example of this is the last section of "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)."

I do agree with Brad's comment about the whole album being pretty much one tempo. But there's enough going on (see what I did there?) to keep me interested. Like the spoken/sung call and response of "Save the Children." But then there's "Right On," a jazzy funky tune with internal tempo changes that blend with the slowed down beginning of "Wholy Holy." Plus, Gaye's terrific voice and that music pulls me in, keeps me interested, and prevents boredom. Maybe the tempo doesn't change much, but the songs are different enough, and yet they all slide together perfectly.

The best-known tracks are "What's Going On," "Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler')" but singling out songs on a record that is obviously meant to be heard as a whole almost seems like a violation of the album.

When taken as a whole, this album is both dark and light, and beautiful. Truly a masterpiece.