|Marvin Gaye - What's Going On|
|Release: 1971 / Label: Tamla Motown / Collection: T!P / AMG Rating:|
|1||What's Going On||6||Mercy Mercy Me|
|2||What's Happening Brother||7||Right On|
|3||Flyin' High (In The Friendly Sky)||8||Wholy Holy|
|4||Save The Children||9||Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)|
|5||God Is Love|
John Bush, All Music Guide
What's Going On is not only Marvin
Gaye's masterpiece, it's the most important and passionate record to come
out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices, a man finally
free to speak his mind and so move from R&B sex symbol to true recording
artist. With What's Going On, Gaye meditated on what had happened to the
American dream of the past — as it related to urban decay, environmental
woes, military turbulence, police brutality, unemployment, and poverty.
These feelings had been bubbling up between 1967 and 1970, during which he
felt increasingly caged by Motown's behind-the-times hit machine and
restrained from expressing himself seriously through his music. Finally,
late in 1970, Gaye decided to record a song that the Four Tops' Obie
Benson had brought him, "What's Going On." When Berry Gordy decided not to
issue the single, deeming it uncommercial, Gaye refused to record any more
material until he relented. Confirmed by its tremendous commercial success
in January 1971, he recorded the rest of the album over ten days in March,
and Motown released it in late May. Besides cementing Marvin Gaye as one
of the most important artists in pop music, What's Going On was far and
away the best full-length to issue from the singles-dominated Motown
factory, and arguably the best soul album of all time.
Rob Bowman, All Music Guide
Shortly after Marvin Gaye turned 30, he became the first Motown artist with a measure of creative control. What's Going On was the result, surely Marvin's finest moment and, along with a number of Stevie Wonder's early-'70s releases, one of a handful of great Motown albums. A concept album, What's Going On chronicled a multitude of societal ills. Ironically, Motown owner Berry Gordy did not want to release it. He was convinced it held no commercial potential. Gordy couldn't have been more wrong: What's Going On catapulted Marvin Gaye into superstardom. Three number one singles were pulled from the album: the title song, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)." This was the first album where Marvin overdubbed his voice multiple times, creating a one-man vocal group. The result was a level of timbral integration in the harmonies that became a Gaye trademark.
Don Waller, Amazon.com
Sly & The Family Stone might have psychedelicized soul music, but Marvin Gaye personalized it. Although the powers-that-were Motown didn't even want to release the record, the unexpected success of What's Going On, issued in 1971, inspired Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and just about every other black artist on the planet to take greater responsibility for their music and its meaning. Gaye co-wrote the songs and produced the album, flavoring it with layer upon layer of his own multi-tracked vocals, oceans of hand percussion, strings, flutes, and jazzy horn solos. Spacey and loose as a spliff-fueled Sunday afternoon jam in the park, the nine songs all played like a hit single. The title track--inspired by his brother's return from the Vietnam War--and the obvious social commentary of "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" actually were hit singles. Two other tracks ("Wholly Holy" and "Save the Children") would inspire hit covers by Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, respectively. Nevertheless, What's Going On sounds as fresh today as it did the week that it came out. Recommended reading: Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz (McGraw-Hill, 1985).
Martin Johnson, Barnes & Noble
Arguably, the greatest R&B record ever made, WHAT'S GOING ON was only reluctantly released by the storied Motown label. The recording marked an extreme departure from the label's usual method of tightly controlled collections of singles. Instead, Gaye, inspired by the return of his brother from Vietnam, created a 35 minute suite of lushly detailed pieces that blended social commentary and spirituality. Rather than the slick, driving sound of Motown singles, WHAT'S GOING ON featured subdued basslines and a languorous groove that would later become a staple in jazz-funk. The recording produced three major hits, "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)", the title track, and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"; in addition, Diana Ross covered "Save the Children" and Aretha Franklin did "Wholy Holy." The album inspired other R&B artists to take a similar approach to producing their own work and creating more substantial documents. Gaye went on to create both hit singles and great extended works, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was both a hitmaker and an artist.
Jesse Fahnestock, Ink Blot Magazine
The groove is the message. What's Going On has long been
praised as the first and greatest of the socially aware soul records
(first, no; greatest, probably) but if the message was important, it was
the medium - the oceans-deep groove, the warmest sound ever pressed to
vinyl - that made this Marvin Gaye's most important artistic statement.
Personnel includes: Marvin Gaye (vocals, piano); David
Van Depitte (arranger, conductor); Robert White, Joe Messina (guitar);
Johnny Griffith (celeste, keyboards); Earl Van Dyke (keyboards); Eli
Fountain (alto saxophone); Wild Bill Moore (tenor saxophone); Jack
Brokensha (vibraphone, percussion); Bob Babbit, James Jamerson (bass);
Chet Forest (drums); Eddie Brown, Earl DeRouen (bongos, conga); Jack
Ashford (tambourine, percussion).