For me, my Mount Rushmore in music consists of four artists: Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Marvin Gaye. While I don't have them in order, I must admit that Marvin is honestly the artist I relate to the most. From his silky smooth vocals to the pain behind them as he sang the lyrics to every song, there was a true vulnerability within Marvin's music that spoke to me from the first moment I heard it. I thought to myself, when I first heard "I'll Be Doggone" (which was my introduction to him), that this man was extremely talented. I was really young, and the only artists I had heard before were Michael Jackson (the Bad album), and about three Prince songs (all from Purple Rain). My mother had all of the classic Marvin albums when I was little, and she had no issue introducing me to his music.
As a kid, I'd ride in the car with my mom, and hear more of Marvin's music. My fondest memory was listening to "Mercy Mercy Me" while we cruised down the road to go to visit my grandmother. Now, I understand for most of you reading this, my personal experience might not mean much to you, and that's fine. For me, my love for Marvin's music started at a young age and there's nothing but personal moments attached to them in every way. From singing "What's Going On" with my grandmother in her kitchen to even now, harmonizing some of the songs from his classic albums when I visit my mother in recent times, Marvin's music has a special place for me. To me, he wasn't just an artist, he was a revolutionary in his own right. As far as artistry goes and honesty, he is my biggest influence. My musical journey starts and ends with Marvin in more ways than one. As a hip hop artist, I drew inspiration from Marvin and his albums during the making of my own. For Soul Revival 1, I turned to What's Going On and Let's Get It On for the awareness, the activism, the honesty, and the beautiful messages behind every song on each to help me finish my debut album (we utilized a great Marvin sample for "Destined", an almost unrecognizable Marvin sample on "God, Religion, and Women", and an easily identifiable sample for "If I Die", the album's outro). For Soul Revival 2, I turned to his divorce album, Here My Dear, as the inspiration for my own project that was much so for a similar purpose (Speed and I also sampled three separate Marvin songs for an epic breakup song "Lost Love" from SR2). For Root For The Villain, I chose to look back at Marvin's MPG album, which features some slightly darker yet great songs. For Soul Revival 3, I drew inspiration from his Trouble Man soundtrack and his classic I Want You album (I even wrote a song dedicated to him, Michael, and Prince on "Searching For Inspiration"). Even now, as I prepare my next release titled Solitary, I find solace in listening to his final two albums, In Our Lifetime and Midnight Love, searching to find the same resolve he had in the later and last years of his career.
See, when I speak of Marvin Gaye, it's personal for me in a way. I never met the man and of course, I know very little of him besides what the music showed. The thing about that is, the music showed nearly everything. From his flaws to his demons to his vices to his love to his family and everything in between, the Marvin Gaye story was told through his lyrics and his songs. Where he was in life, you could pretty much see that in his music. To me, it's such a rarity to find that in an artist and that made him one of a kind. He wasn't as musically gifted and instrumentally inclined like Stevie or Prince, and I dare say he wasn't the performer and entertainer that Michael was, but what makes Marvin Gaye my personal favorite artist and legend of all time is that despite not being those things, he was still the most authentic of them all. His talent spoke for itself and while he could produce, entertain, work and arrange with instruments, his biggest instruments were his life and his voice. He had his song, he had his experience. From the early Motown days where he didn't let his creative freedom flow to the days when he became the megastar and landmark artist he was destined to be, the journey of Marvin Gaye to becoming a legend is one of the greatest stories in culture and music. Today, I wanted to take a look at the legacy and the life of Marvin Gaye in a personally important edition of DAR Legends.
*Early Motown Days And Duets
-When Marvin first came on the musical scene, I think we all saw something, but not what he would become. After a stint with The Marquees, Marvin would end up working as a solo artist on Tamla, a subsidiary of Motown. His initial work at Motown would not be successful, and he would in turn spend most of his time in 1960-1961 learning and watching, while continuing to write songs. It would be 1962 that he would finally get through, by way of the hit single "Stubborn Kind of Fellow". It was in 1962 when Marvin finally began getting more attention and his albums reflected that. When he released "That Stubborn Kind of Fellow", he was primed to be a star, and after preforming with the Motortown Revue, he would move on to do a duet album with Mary Wells.
The duet album "Together" was a moderate success in 1964 and prepared Marvin for his future duets with Tammi Terrell that would be major. Still, Marvin was shining as a solo artist, with hits like "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", "I'll Be Doggone", and "Ain't That Peculiar", before embarking on his legendary journey with Tammi Terrell. With huge duets (mostly written by the iconic Ashford and Simpson) like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", "You're All I Need To Get By", "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing", and "Your Precious Love", Marvin and Tammi became one of the most infamous duos in soul music history in a short time. They were made for each other musically and their duets are among some of the greatest.
However, Marvin still wasn't living up to his full potential. Even after the success of his 1968 hit "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", he seemed poised for even more of a breakout period. It was as if Marvin was too talented to be contained in the Motown system and he needed to be treated and seen as such. It would be the unfortunate even of Tammi passing away and his subsequent depression that "helped" to wake something up within Marvin. After an unsuccessful attempt to play for the Detroit Lions, Marvin would embark on a journey that changed his life and career forever. He had reached success with his 1969 and 1970 releases, M.P.G. and That's The Way Love Is, but nothing would compare to the next chapter of his career.
*What's Going On
-After a long career of singing duets, some solid originals (usually written by others), and some classic cover songs, there's nothing that could have prepared us for the career renaissance and journey that Marvin was about to embark on. For most legendary artists, there's always that one period of their career where everything is hitting on all cylinders for a big. For Stevie, or was during the 70's leading into his Hotter Than July album. For Prince, that period between 1999 and Sign O' The Times is probably his apex as an artist. For Michael, the holy trinity of Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad come to mind (and you can throw in Dangerous for good measure). However, for Marvin, after his 1969 M.P.G. album and the slept on That's The Way It Is, it seemed he took a different direction. Becoming more aware and more conscious within his music, he set out to create a timeless piece of work and with that, What's Going On was born. Producing the album essentially by himself, What's Going On is the result of creative freedom and artistic vision coming to fruition. To me, it might be the greatest album ever, as it is a unified conceptual album that flows from one song to the next. It plays out like a movie in many ways, as the cinematic elements found in the project continue throughout, especially when the album's opening theme comes into play again at the conclusion of every song.
On the surface, What's Going On is an album that speaks to the problems we face in the world: war, pain, suffering, injustice. Beneath the surface, the concept was based around the life of a Vietnam veteran who went to war and fought for his country, only to find out things are still the same when he gets back. The racism is still there. The injustice and prejudice is still there. What did he even fight for? Inspired by his brother, Frankie, Marvin, the album has personal significance for Marvin as well. It meant a lot to him to create an album that spoke to issues of the world, and from songs like the title track, "Mercy Mercy Me" (a song that addressed global warming way before it was as prevalent), "Flyin High", the ridiculously soulful "What's Happening Brother", and the impassioned "Save The Children", Marvin did not disappoint musically.
In a lot of ways, I consider this to be the soul searching album for Marvin. After a long bout with depression, the death of Tammi Terrell, his first marriage crumbling, and struggles with finding success, Marvin would put his heart and soul into this album and it shows. In a funny yet sad truth, Berry Gordy hated the idea of Marvin making music like this. Gordy felt Marvin was too smooth to be rugged and the beautiful sound of the title track was a song he initially brushed off as "the worst thing he had ever heard", which says more about Gordy than it ever could about Marvin. After the title track hit the airwaves and took off, the full album would then become a reality. The beauty of this? It only took 10 days to record, write and finish. This was a testament to his legend, his ability, and in 10 days, Marvin Gaye created what many believe is one of the greatest albums ever. That's what legends do.
-After signing a huge 1 million dollar deal with Motown, Marvin would work on the soundtrack to a blaxiploitation film titled Trouble Man. This was seen as a more contemporary move for Marvin after his success with What's Going On, but it's also one of his most interesting works. While crafting the film's score, he would craft a soundtrack that was seen to be like Shaft and Superfly, and their legendary sound that impacted the genre. However, the biggest difference with Trouble Man was that Marvin opted to not put vocals on every single track. Instead, he decided to focus more on the production side and go more cinematic with his approach. Still, Trouble Man has some amazing music like "Poor Abbey Walsh", the title track, and one of the more infamous songs from the album "Life Is A Gamble". Trouble Man is one of his most infamous works and a true classic soundtrack.
*Let's Get It On
-For many, this album is known for the superb title track. For me, this album is special for everything else about it besides the title track. Yes, the title track is a classic and one of the biggest Marvin songs ever, but this album itself is the epitome of classic soul music. Marvin would provide us with his most commercially successful album, and give us hit after hit, and classic after classic. My favorite songs on this one remain "Distant Lover", "Just To Keep You Satisfied", and "If I Should Die Tonight", but the entire album is essentially flawless. Every song is a classic in its own right, and there is a reason why Marvin experienced his most success with it. It's an album that I believed helped mold the soul sound of the late 70's and beyond. Marvin was in his prime during his period and it shows on this album without question.
*I Want You
-Another Marvin album that doesn't get enough credit, I Want You is a classic. The cover of the album is extremely iconic, but the music is what makes the album such an amazing project is that the soulful vibe and cohesion in the sequencing, along with the smooth production. The title track stands as the biggest song on the album and one of his most iconic tracks in his career. From "Come Live With Me Angel" to "Since I Had You" to "Feel All My Love Inside" to "After The Dance", not only is I Want You a classic album, it's also one of the top 5 albums in Marvin's catalog without question. Another success in his legacy.
*Here, My Dear
-When you go through a tough time in life, sometimes music is your only friend. Marvin was the epitome of this. Dedicated to the divorce that rocked his foundation, Marvin went inside the studio to create one of his best works. His court battle with the divorce eventually led to a majority of the earnings from his next album to go to his wife. With this in mind, Marvin decided to make a quick record that required little effort just as a bit of payback to his ex-wife. However, as the album process began, something changed. Marvin became fascinated with the idea of creating his best work under this type of stress and he thrived off creating music during strife. Combining midtempo funk, soul, gospel, and syrupy disco, Marvin would go to great lengths to make an album that would be remembered by all as classic. However, the critics didn't feel it early on. It was panned as an album that lacked the hits his previous projects did, and even dubbed "un-commercial", which is a weird statement for critics to make.
Still, when those who actually appreciate the music got a hold of the album, we loved it. It was raw. It was real. It was honest. From "I Met A Little Girl" to "Time To Get It Together" to my favorite "Falling In Love Again", all the way down to the chilling "Anna's Song", Marvin would put his heart and soul into an album that officially closed a chapter of his life. If I had to rank this album, I'd put Here, My Dear in the top 3, and it could very well compete for the no. 1 spot. It's really an amazing listen and a huge testament to Marvin and his talent.
*In Our Lifetime
-In what would be his final album on Motown, Marvin delivered his most underrated project. With the sound changing over in the eras, Marvin managed to create something special here. It's not regarded as one of his greatest works, but it's definitely in the running. With some of my favorite Marvin songs on this album like "Ego Tripping Out" and "Heavy Love Affair", "Funk Me", and "Life Is For Learning", In Our Lifetime is a short but sweet listen that manages to test the sounds of the current era and go a bit beyond the norm. The content from Marvin was very interesting from song to song, and if you've never listened to this one all the way through, please do so now. You won't regret it.
-After leaving Motown Records, Marvin ended up at CBS Records for his final album. His last official album is one of the projects that didn't register with me as much initially, but it was revered by the critics (the same critics who hated "Here, My Dear") and featured his last big hit in "Sexual Healing". While I wasn't extremely fond of this album as much as his previous 5, I think Marvin was able to deliver on a number of the tracks. He had seen peaks and valleys and with that being said, Midnight Love suffered from trying to completely fit in with where the genre was going. Is it a bad album? Not at all, it's actually solid, but it just doesn't compare to his previous releases. Regardless, with songs like "Sexual Healing", "Joy", and "My Love Is Waiting", Marvin still delivers on the final official album, but of course, the labels opened up the vaults and there were more posthumous projects from Marvin, none of which need to be discussed.
Marvin is my favorite artist and my choice for the greatest of them all. The reason why has already been explained a number of times in this article, but make no mistake about it, Marvin managed to bring the soul like no one else. His influence was felt in a number of artists in today's music, as any artist that extends themselves via music to speak of their personal strife took a piece of what made Marvin so great. His impact will always be felt, his songs will always be iconic, and simply put, Marvin Gaye will always be a legend.