Today marks the 40th Anniversary of an album that expanded the scope of Soul, R&B, Pop and even Gospel to a huge degree. It started as a concept that was based largely around Marvin’s brother Frankie who came back from the Vietnam War and shared various stories about his time there in addition to a very turbulent 1970’s while still dealing with the ripple effect of the 60’s and the loss of his musical better half Tammi Terrell (as a man who has been in love..I personally believe he was in love with Tammi and never got over her passing).
This very release echoed the strong social current shocks that Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan, Norman Whitfield and The Temptations (post Ruffin) , Nina Simone, etc were infusing in the higher stream of consciousness. What’s Going On was met with strong resistance at Motown yet somehow served as a saving grace in not only redefining Marvin Gaye’s career but it elevated the playing field for Motown in which this very release eventually would add fuel to the fire for artists such as Stevie Wonder who would later go on to write about “Living For The City” after dealing in those “Inner City Blues”. This release represented a turning point for Motown, the fact it would be Marvin’s very last album with the entire Funk Brothers unit and was one of the last crucial releases that were recorded in Detroit before Motown moved to Los Angeles were beyond symbolic. Eventually, the mood of Marvin’s albums became more subdued and sleeker due to the effects of LA living and post Detroit state of mind.
Hence, the musicians after “What’s Going On” became Marvin’s core players (Ray Parker Jr, Wah Wah Watson, David T Walker, Ed Green, Gene Page,etc) while recording the iconic Barry White’s sessions in which the Detroit-LA sound was officially born. (It is no secret as to why Marvin before his untimely passing personally requested Barry White to produce his follow album after “Sexual Healing”..we were cheated in that one..).
Reflecting back as child, I was always intrigued by the photography, artwork and detailed liner notes. What captivated me the most was reading the lyrics and being moved by the sentiment yet being too young in not having the grasp, while holding on to every word as if it were speaking to me. Many may disagree and some may strongly agree that Marvin was giving pure ministry throughout the entire album that still rings today. As a seeker and a soldier in his own respect, Marvin navigated through the spiritual realm while purposely avoiding any contact with the mundane physical “Love Box” that Motown confined him to (if aint broke dont fix it, right?).
“What’s Happening Brother”
The Adantes execute beautifully as vocal strings while The Funk Bros lay down a melodic street groove. As Marvin pleads the case of his brother Frankie and many others after “coming home”.. it is also a cry asking what’s really happening in the land of plenty that I cannot provide for my family and loved ones yet my blood has shed in its defense. What’s happening?
“Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)”
Dark, menacing, embracing the danger, fears of the unknown and whats to come. Chasing nirvana in a living hell while playing the balancing act of survival.
“Save The Children”
In playing games of conquer and power, who is looking out for the better interests of the future? Where is the responsibility that they too not play the foolish games of elders. Who really cares?
“God Is Love”
With balance comes reverence in which it is due in maintaining the “checks and balances” of the world. Mainly, reinforcing that a higher power is the ruler of all for without it..mankind will fall.
“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”
Lamenting over the destruction and carelessness.. games of the world are costing the world its intricate beauty.
Heavy talk with a very slick walk while embracing the differences of whats considered right or wrong in a glass that is half empty and half full, largely depending what light you put it under while dancing with its complicated simplicities.
Using the same persuasive vice in pleading for the young lady’s hand..he embraces his strong doo wop roots to bring you to a higher source while driving the message he stated in “God Is Love”. Except he is promising a higher plateau, a cleansed state of being while the muck and mire is forever gone.
“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”
Frustration of conditions with life on the other side of the tracks is taking its toll while being backed into a corner. Where do you run, how do you cope?