What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (1971)

What’s Going On is the eleventh studio album by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye. It was released on May 21, 1971, by the Motown Records subsidiary label Tamla. Recorded between 1970 and 1971 in sessions at Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World, and United Sound Studios in Detroit, and at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California, it was Gaye’s first album to credit him as a producer and to credit Motown’s in-house studio band, the session musicians known as the Funk Brothers. What’s Going On is a concept album with most of its songs segueing into the next and has been categorized as a song cycle. The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent. … While traveling on his tour bus with the Four Tops on May 15, 1969, Four Tops member Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson witnessed an act of police brutality and violence committed on anti-war protesters who had been protesting at Berkeley’s People’s Park in what was later termed as ‘Bloody Thursday‘. … Benson offered the song to Marvin Gaye when he participated in a golf game with the singer. Returning to Gaye’s home outside Outer Drive, Benson played the song to Gaye on his guitar. Gaye felt the song’s moody flow would be perfect for The Originals. Benson eventually convinced Gaye that it was his song. The singer responded by asking for partial writing credit, which Benson allowed. … During this time, Gaye had been deeply affected by letters shared between him and his brother after he had returned from service in the Vietnam War over the treatment of Vietnam veterans. … ‘What’s Going On,’ the title track, features soulful, passionate vocals and multi-tracked background singing, both by Gaye. The song had strong jazz, gospel, classical music orchestration, and arrangements. Reviewer Eric Henderson of Slant stated the song had an ‘understandably mournful tone’ in response to the fallout of the late 1960s counterculture movements. Henderson also wrote that ‘Gaye’s choice to emphasize humanity at its most charitable rather than paint bleak pictures of destruction and disillusionment is characteristic of the album that follows.’ … ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)‘ was another emotional plea, this time for the environment. According to Motown legend, musician and Funk Brothers leader Earl Van Dyke once mentioned that Berry Gordy didn’t know of the word ‘ecology’ and had to be told what it was though Gordy himself claimed otherwise. The song featured a memorable tenor saxophone riff from Detroit music legend Wild Bill Moore. …”
NPR – ‘We Can Rock The World’s Foundation’: 1971 And Black Music In Revolt (Video)
Smithsonian: Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ Is as Relevant Today as It Was in 1971 (Video)
Discogs (Video)
YouTube: “What’s Going On” – Full Album (2002), What’s going on Full Album, vimeo: What’s Going On – Full Album

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Counterculture, Environmental, Music, Poverty, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s