FEATURE: You’re the Man: Marvin Gaye at Eighty




You’re the Man


IN THIS PHOTO: Marvin Gaye/PHOTO CREDIT: Gems/Redferns/Getty 

Marvin Gaye at Eighty


ONE would struggle to put down into words...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye/PHOTO CREDIT: Gilles Petard/Redferns

what Marvin Gaye gave to the music industry but, thirty-five years after his death, the man is still inspiring and influencing musicians. We all know huge hits like I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Sexual Healing and What’s Going On – proof there were so many sides to Gaye. Whether he was in political mindset and rallying against injustice or laying down an utterly seductive entice, the sheer power, passion and soul from his voice could buckle the knees! Some see him as The Prince of Soul - others as The Prince of Motown - and that is a pretty fair label. Huge, decade-defining albums like What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On (1970s) are hugely inspiring today and one can hear elements of his legacy in artists today. Gaye was tragically shot by his father on 1st April, 1984 during an argument.

Who knows what the icon could have gone on to create and how far he could have gone. Whether he was singing solo or duetting with artists like Diana Ross – the two released a duet album, Marvin and Diana, in 1973 –, Tammi Terrell (Ain’t No Mountain High Enough) or Kim Weston (It Takes Two) he was an electrifying, versatile and peerless performer. Able to convey such intense emotions whilst retaining a common touch is rare but it is something Marvin Gaye achieved. 1982’s Midnight Love received superb and passionate reviews and was sadly the final studio album he released. There have been posthumous releases and collections and it seems, so long after his death, we cannot get enough of him! There is a lot of treasure still being unearthed and introduced to new generations.

 IMAGE CREDIT: James Hendin

Throughout his career, Gaye transformed music but, perhaps, it is 1971’s What’s Going On that remains his finest moment. In this Mic article, the album is explored: how it inspired artists today and why it was so impactful when it was released. It was clear that, by the late-1960s, Gaye was changing music directions:

In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say," Gaye said, according to Rolling Stone. "I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world".

Not even Gaye himself would have expected the acclaim What’s Going On received and how it was perceived by the press upon its release:

"Gaye has designed his album as one many-faceted statement on conditions in the world today, made nearly seamless by careful transitions between the cuts," Rolling Stone wrote in its original 1971 review. He showed that all these issues are related — they're tied to one another, they're tied to each of us, and they're tied to pop music”.

Many do not realise how important the record is and how many artists are utilising its spirit and messages in today’s music:

This is Gaye's and his album's most important legacy: a template for modern popular protest music. Some of the best protest artists today — D'Angelo, Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Common, Lauryn Hill — owe enormous debt to Gaye. "It was more than just a piece of music," Legend said when he performed the entire What's Going On album at the Hollywood Bowl in 2014. "It was a landmark of social commentary".

As we remember his eightieth birthday tomorrow, make sure you listen back at the incredible breadth and scope of Gaye’s catalogue. From the social campaigner and voice to the rapturous, smooth-as-caramel Soul singer…there was no limit to the man’s talent. It would be good to have him in the world today because he would have a thing or two to say about the world in which we all live. Albums like What’s Going On, in a weird way, hold bigger meaning and are (sadly) as important today as back in the 1970s. The multi award-winning artist was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and it is undeniable how important he was regarding the Soul and Motown scenes. There has been nobody like him since but, as I say, one can hear elements of Gaye in so many artists today. It is that kind of influence that makes you realise what a special force he was and how sad it was his life was cut tragically short. Rather than lament and wonder what could have been, let’s listen to the wonderful music of Marvin Gaye to mark his eightieth birthday. He departed the world in 1984 but, in so many ways, he still walks…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press

AMONG us all.