Friday, 3 May 2013

Mavin Gaye - What's Going On

Hi guys, I recently picked up Marvin Gaye's 1971 concept album WHAT'S GOING ON on vinyl this week and wanted to do a post about it. I (embarrassingly) only recently listened to this album for the first time but have been playing over and over since. Ranked #6 on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums it is widely known as one of the most soulful and influential albums of all time.

It is a concept album, in that the songs have a common thematic link. The album tells the story a Vietnam verteren returning home from war, only to be saddened by nature of society. It focuses on the selfishness and violence Gaye saw in America in the late 60's early 70's. The album starts in a dramatic fashion (bear in mind this is 1971), by saying:
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on

Gaye makes a passionate and compelling plea for people to come together instead of hurting each other. The thing about this album that really gets me is how well it's aged. I wish from the bottom of my heart it had not aged well and that the themes Gaye sings about back in 1971 have become things of the past. But they haven't. Listening to this album in 2013, I see the same suffering and problems that Gaye did over 40 years ago. Observing this culture we live in today leads me to a similar line of inquiry as Gaye, what in the heck is going on?

Shifting away from the politics of the album, it is a musical triumph in its own right. Gaye began his career in the heart of the Motown scene in Detroit in the 1960's. He had a string of hits in this genre, like "I heard it through the Grapevine".  By 1971, Gaye had began moving away from the niche genre and expanding into more soulful and untested waters. WHAT'S GOING ON is brilliant in its composition, bringing together aspects of Motown, Soul, Jazz, Pop and Rock into a beautiful medley, held together by the wonderfully soulful vocals of Gaye himself. Funky base lines, groovy sax solos and varied percussions make every second of this album a delight.

WHAT'S GOING ON is an album that speaks for those who are witness to the injustices of society yet feel dwarfed by the sheer scale of he problems. Its a common perspective in today's world unfortunately, but this album serves to not only observe these issues but provide hope for resolving them. There is solace in Gaye's words and in knowing that there are others who feel the same way. Music is all about human connection. Sharing ideas and thoughts can change the world, no matter what people say. WHAT'S GOING ON provokes that thought and emphasizes the need for love and cooperation instead of war and violence. This is a message that too many people still need to hear.

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