The Sunday Dozen: Marvin Gaye

There were many fine musicians involved in the Motown/Tamla Records project. The most interesting artist to come out of the Motown/Tamla music factory was Marvin Gaye. FYI, Tamla was the Motown subsidiary label that Marvin recorded for hence the slashes.

Marvin Gaye was one of the best singers to ever roam the earth. Give him a sad song, he could wring every last tear out of it. Give him a happy song and he made it even more joyful. Marvin had chops, y’all.

Marvin was a rebel. He rebelled against the tight artistic control exercised by his then brother-in-law, Berry Gordy. Marvin wanted to do his own music, his own way. When Gordy gave him more freedom the result was Marvin’s finest album, What’s Going On. It was also a monster hit. Marvin was right.

The last decade of Marvin’s life was not always easy both personally and professionally, but he was back on top when his life was tragically cut short. He was murdered by his father, Marvin Sr but the son’s music endured after this terrible tragedy. We’re still listening to Marvin 38 years later.

I was in the cafeteria at the LSU student union when I heard the news. It was April Fool’s day in 1984, so I hoped it was a tasteless, tacky prank. It was not. Poor Marvin.

As always, the list is in chronological order and reflects my own taste such as it is. This was a toughie: I started off with 24 tunes, so some great songs fell by the wayside.

I love his work with Tammi Terrell so three of their joint efforts made the list. Marvin was a gifted songwriter, but he also drew on the talent pool at Motown/Tamla in the pre-What’s Going On era. If I’m silent on the songwriting credit that means Marvin wrote it.

Hitch Hike was one of Marvin’s first hit songs. The album title was definitely descriptive: That Stubborn Kinda Fellow.

Our second song is a real humdinger, doggone it. I’ll Be Doggone was written by Smokey Robinson, Warren Moore, and Marvin Tarplin. The Temptations had the first shot at it, but they passed. Their loss was Marvin’s gain.

Ain’t That Peculiar is another Smokey song co-written by fellow Miracles Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, and Marv Tarplin. It was another million selling single for the Gaye-Robinson team.

It’s Tammi Terrell time. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough was written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. It’s a stone-cold classic. Marvin and Tammi were the first to scale this musical mountain.

Another Ashford-Simpson classic. You’re All I Need To Get By showcased Team Gaye-Terrell with a more gospely sound than your average Motown/Tamla track.

Ain’t Nothin Like The Real Thing is a gorgeous Ashford-Simpson song. It hit number one on the R&B charts and was one of the dynamic duo’s last hit records.

Marvin’s version of Whitfield and Strong’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine was the third Motown/Tamla release of the song but the definitive version. Sorry, Gladys. Sorry, Pips.

Grapevine is a song meant to be played live and loud. Hit it, Marvin.

What’s Going On marked Marvin’s liberation from the Motown-Tamla factory system. The remainder of the songs on the list were written by Marvin Gaye as well as some collaborators. In this case, Al Benson and Renaldo Benson.

The inaugural Earth Day inspired Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology.)  It was on trend as well as a helluva song. It’s all Marvin.

Let’s Get It On was a number one hit single that established Marvin as a worldwide sex symbol. It was co-written by Gaye and Ed Townsend whose family sued Ed Sheeran in 2016 for plagiarism for his song Thinking Out Loud. The case was dismissed.

Funk Me is a track from Marvin’s final Motown/Tamla release, In Our Lifetime. It’s a strangely wonderful album that was featured in Album Cover Art Wednesday in 2017.

Marvin was mounting a serious comeback when his father shot him dead. Sexual Healing was his biggest hit since Let’s Get It On. R.I.P. Marvin Gaye.

It’s lagniappe time. We begin with two sweet rock and roll covers of two Marvin Gaye hits: The Band with Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever followed by James Taylor’s cover of How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You.) The latter was also a sweet hit for JT.

Marvin admired the great Nat King Cole. Hence this 1965 tribute album and recording of Nat’s signature ballad.

Finally, Marvin’s legendary performance of the Star Spangled Banner at the 1983 NBA All-Star game:

2 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: Marvin Gaye

  1. I loved loved loved Marvin Gaye. As a dancer, he was the BEST to dance to … you could just turn on the sensuality & let it all happen. I thought that the news of his death was a April Fool’s prank too. We all sat at the bar, doing shots & crying when we found out it was true.

  2. thanks for the walk down memory lane! Marvin was a force; “What’s Going On” is as relevant today as it was then, a remarkable composition.

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