Friday Evening Jazz: Marvin Gaye

Marvin_gaye_in_1973 Last week, while randomly channel surfing, I stumbled across a fantastic PBS documentary in the American Masters series, titled Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On.

It was a terrific review of the wonderful music and troubled life of Marvin Gaye.

Those of you who are less familiar with early Soul and R&B owe it to yourself to learn a bit about Gaye, best known as an artist on the Motown record label in the 1960s and 1970s.

Master_19611984Gaye had a classic R&B voice — described as "edged with grit yet tempered with sweetness." But he was much more than that: He was Motown’s renaissance man: A songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer as well.

AllMusic: "Moving from lean,
powerful R&B to stylish, sophisticated soul to finally arrive at an
intensely political and personal form of artistic self-expression, his
work not only redefined soul music as a creative force but also
expanded its impact as an agent for social change."

You can explore Gaye’s work a couple of ways: The one click method is
either a box set or a Best Of. For the big 4 CD box, go with The Master 1961-1984. A less exhaustive approach is Every Great Motown Hit of Marvin Gaye.

Whats_going_on I much prefer the albums over the greatest hits, The self-produced What’s Going On was a landmark effort, described as "a dramatic shift in both content and style that forever altered the face of black music."  A mix of percussion, soul and jazz, it has a remarkably sophisticated and fluid sound. Reviewers have called What’s Going On a conceptual masterpiece.

The long-simmering eroticism implicit in much of Gaye’s work reached its boiling point with 1973’s Let’s Get It On, one of the most sexually charged albums ever recorded; a work of intense lust and longing, it became the most commercially successful effort of his career


Top Ten Albums
Lets_get_it_on1971: What’s Going On (#6 U.S.)
1973: Let’s Get It On (#2 U.S.)
1973: Diana & Marvin (#5 UK)
1974: Marvin Gaye Live! (#8 U.S.)
1976: I Want You (#4 U.S.)
1977: Live at the London Palladium (#3 U.S.)
1982: Midnight Love (#7 U.S.; #10 UK)
1994: The Very Best of Marvin Gaye (#3 UK)
2000: Marvin Gaye Love Songs (#8 UK)


Recommended Albums

What’s Going On
Let’s Get It On
The Master 1961-1984 (Box Set)   

• NPR: A Tribute to Marvin Gaye    


videos after the jump

Let’s Get It On

Marvin Gaye "What’s Going On / What’s Happening Brother   


Sexual Healing   


Marvin Gaye Home Page

Marvin Gaye Wiki entry

All Music Guide page

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

History of Rock page

Rolling Stone page

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Evan M commented on May 16

    Best DVD I’ve seen in a long time, probably already mentioned around here, has been “Walking in the Shadows of Motown” about the session musicians for YEARS of Berry’s Motown prime hits. They backed up Marvin and many many others and got a fine tribute, albeit late, in the DVD. ~m

  2. jw commented on May 16

    And don’t forget his divorce project, “Here My Dear” – wonderful from start to finish!

  3. Rick Schaut commented on May 16

    Gotta Love Marvin. Let’s see if these links will work. One of my favorites is Marvin from the Motown 25 special. For those who will recall, that’s the same show where Michael Jackson unveiled his famous “moonwalk” to “Billie Jean”. Now, more than 20 years later, Marvin Gaye seems much more timeless:

    And, as an indication of influence, not many artists can claim to have been given this kind of tribute:

    The second video was recorded in 1998. Half the people on the stage weren’t even alive when Marvin Gaye recorded “Let’s Get it On,” but they certainly know what’s “Goin’ on”.

  4. blackvegetable commented on May 16

    If you are a true fan locate

    “After the Dance”



    vocal tours de force………..

  5. GretchenAnn commented on May 17

    what a wonderful post, Barry, sparked by the PBS documentary. Accompanied by snappy comments as always. Have you seen the Les Paul – Chasing Sound segment of American Master? Awesome.

  6. Johannes Climacus commented on May 17

    Early in his career Motown legend Marvin Gaye had wanted to be a crooner and his primary idol in this field was Nat King Cole. So it’s only natural that he would pay tribute to him on this covers album midway through his early 60’s success.

    The amazing part of this is he actually pulls it off-offering up beautiful covers of tunes like “Rambling Rose” and “Nature Boy”, right up there with the standards set by Nat himself!Now there will never be another Nat King Cole but Gaye puts his own,more sudtle spin on this classics using very similar backup orchestrations.

    The highlight is the closing “Calypso Woman” in whitch Marvin Gaye delivers a more soulful,animated and pugnacious approch to the vocals then Nat ever did and it ends up sounding like an original

  7. Bob commented on May 17

    I saw the same show. Great program. The most amazing things I learned were: 1) that he was so insecure. A handsome man with all of the talent needed to be the best ever. He scored big as a singer, writer, and performer, but never seemed to really believe it. 2) One Grammy at the end for “Let’s Get It On.” I guess that’s the true imprimatur of Greatness; neglect from the Grammy bozos.

  8. David commented on May 17

    Great musician, both my daughters were conceived to “lets get it on”…damn sexy song.

  9. MitchN commented on May 17

    Hey, XXXXXXX, do us all a favor — crawl back under your rock.

    BR: My ex-girlfriend stalker won’t take a hint.

    Please don’t feed the trolls.

  10. NC Jim commented on May 17

    As a comtemporary (I am 65), it is hard to remember Marvin Gaye without remembering his duets with Tammi Tarrell which (as I recall, it’s been awhile) were as popular as his solo’s with the possible exception of “Sexual Healing”.

    Sad end to a troubled life.


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