Friday, 15 February 2013

Top 102 Albums. No 50. What's Going On.

Top 102 Albums. No 50. 
What's Going On - Marvin Gaye

"Yea, it makes me wanna holler
And throw up both my hands"

This is one of those albums that critics tend to pull from the hat when asked to name 'the greatest album of all time' but don't let that put you off. This one deserves the acclaim.

I suppose the first thing to note about this album is the title. Gaye wants to tell us "what's going on", he's not asking us. There is no question mark. Our world, as he saw it, was going down the crapper. He wasn't half right, was he?
Gaye had been going through a period of immense personal turmoil, marriage breakup segueing with the death of duet partner Tammi Terrell from a brain tumour; the riots of the late sixties and the often brutal police response to them. He also had a very close link to what was happening in Vietnam as his brother was serving over there. All this led to a suicide attempt.

No matter how inspired (I Heard it Through the Grapevine) neat formula love songs were never going to express the feelings that Gaye wanted to put into his music. He felt the need to make a protest record and against the advice and wishes of most of the Motown hierarchy, he did it.

Thank god he did for, despite the dark subject matter this is a gentle, hypnotic album. It's a plea to bring some love into the world, to stop the war, to stop the brutality. But it's not an escapist album. It's as if he manages to mix despair and hope without diluting either. And it exits with one of the greatest recordings in popular music, the extraordinary Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler).

"Panic is spreading
God knows where we're heading"


  1. It's a gentle protest this one. Beautiful, pitiful, merciful. Apparently Motown didn't do 'concept albums' and were reluctant to release it.It is, I believe, their biggest ever selling record.

    1. Yes, Mr Gordy didn't want to release the single but changed his mind after a load were sent to radio stations and got an amazing response. Then, after the single went to No 2, Gordy told Gaye he could do what he wanted.