Think it oh-oh-ver, think it oh-oh-ver

One of the least discussed but (for me) most satisfying moments of the recent Grammy Awards show was the performance by the new “super-duo” calling themselves Silk Sonic. Bruno Mars and rapper/singer/producer Anderson.Paak have pooled their talents to come up with a marvelous ’70s soul sound exemplified by their single “Leave the Door Open.” (I’m including it as a bonus track at the end of the Spotify playlist below.)

It reminded me how much I enjoyed soul music in that sweet decade of 1964-1974. The talented vocal groups of Detroit Motown, Memphis Stax/Atlantic and “Philly Soul” were a crucial part of that musically fertile period. Funny thing, though — the great songs of that era seemed to be far better known for the music than the lyrics, which often focused rather narrowly on the flip sides of romantic relationships (betrayal and devotion).

As a guy who loves quoting memorable rock music lyrics, I thought that for this latest edition of Hack’s Back Pages Lyrics Quiz, it might be a fun challenge for readers to test their ability to recall lyrics of classic hits by soul artists. I’ve come up with 25 lines from some of the better known soul tunes of the ’60s and ’70s for you to identify. Write down your answers on a piece of paper, then scroll down to see how you did, and read a little bit about each of these memorable songs.

Enjoy!

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1. “So take a good look at my face, you’ll see my smile looks out of place…”

2. “There’s no exception to the rule, listen baby, /It may be factual, may be cruel…”

3. “Comin’ to you on a dusty road, /Good lovin’, I got a truckload…”

4. “Folks say papa never was much on thinking, spent most of his time chasing women and drinking, /Mama, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth…”

5. “Ooh, your kisses, sweeter than honey, /And guess what? So is my money…”

6. “Don’t let the handshake and the smile fool ya, /Take my advice, I’m only tryin’ to school ya…”

7. “Like a fool I went and stayed too long, /Now I’m wondering if your love’s still strong, ooh baby, here I am…”

8. “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow, /But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow…”

9. “But all you do is treat me bad, break my heart and leave me sad, /Tell me, what did I do wrong to make you stay away so long…”

10. “Every minute, every hour, I’m gonna shower you with love and affection, /Look out, it’s coming in your direction…”

11. “Who is the man who would risk his neck for his brother man?…”

12. “I can build a castle from a single grain of sand, I can make a ship sail, huh, on dry land…”

13. “Now if you feel that you can’t go on, because all of your hope is gone, /And your life is filled with much confusion, until happiness is just an illusion…”

14. “Father, father, we don’t need to escalate, /You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate…”

15. “When I call your name, girl, it starts to flame, burning in my heart, tearing it all apart, /No matter how I try, my love I cannot hide…”

16. “Today I saw somebody who looked just like you, /She walked like you do, I thought it was you…”

17. “Now if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public, /But when it comes down to fooling you, now honey, that’s quite a different subject…”

18. “Remember the day I set you free, I told you you could always count on me, darling…”

19. “For once I can touch what my heart used to dream of, long before I knew someone warm like you would make my dreams come true…”

20. “I don’t need no money, fortune or fame, /I’ve got all the riches, baby, one man can claim…”

21. “Why don’t you be a man about it and set me free? /Now, you don’t care a thing about me, you’re just using me…”

22. “I know a man ain’t supposed to cry, but these tears I can’t hold inside, /Losin’ you would end my life, you see, ’cause you mean that much to me…”

23. “When my soul was in the lost and found, you came along to claim it…”

24. “You been running all over the town now, /Oh, I guess I’ll have to put your flat feet on the ground…”

25. “Somebody’s out to get your lady, /A few of your buddies, they sure look shady…”

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ANSWERS:

1. “The Tracks of My Tears,” The Miracles, 1965

Robinson has said he was looking in his bathroom mirror one morning and thought, “What if someone cried so much that you could see the tracks left from the tears on their face?” That became the lyrical concept, partnered with Miracles guitarist Marv Tarplin’s melody, for this classic slice of Motown gold, which peaked at #16 for them in 1965. Ten years later, Linda Ronstadt recorded her own take on the iconic tune, reaching #25.

2. “Everybody Plays the Fool,” The Main Ingredient, 1972

This Harlem-based vocal group lost its lead singer to leukemia in 1970 and was replaced by Cuba Gooding, whose son would later become an Oscar-winning actor. The Main Ingredient had their biggest success with this song by seasoned songwriter Rudy Clark (who also wrote The Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” among others), who had written it with Charley Pride in mind. But Pride thought it was more pop than country, so these guys took a stab at it and found themselves with a #3 hit in the autumn of 1972. Aaron Neville’s 1990 rendition was a #8 hit as well.

3. “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave, 1967

Singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes came up with this song after watching a news broadcast about riots in Detroit where buildings owned by Blacks were marked with the spray-painted word “soul” to spare them from vandalism. “The song became kind of like boasting, ‘I’m a soul man,'” said Hayes. “It was a pride thing.” Sam Moore and Dave Prater turned it into a #2 hit on pop charts, and The Blues Brothers revived it as their signature song in 1978 on “Saturday Night Live” and subsequent LP, “A Briefcase Full of Blues.”

4. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” The Temptations, 1972

Many people don’t know that this hugely popular #1 single, which pushed pop radio boundaries at more than seven minutes in length, actually clocked in at 11:44 in the original album version (included in the Spotify playlist below). Producer Norman Whitfield gave it textures and instrumental passages that set a somewhat forbidding atmosphere for the downcast story of a young man’s memories of life in a broken home. Dennis Edwards sang lead but the others took turns singing bass and falsetto to give voice to the narrators’ siblings. A truly remarkable recording top to bottom.

5. “Respect,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

This may be the most famous song on this list, as iconic as they come. After wallowing for years at Columbia Records, she switched to Atlantic and knocked us all off our feet with her fabulous takes on riveting R&B material. Otis Redding had already put this song on the map, but when Franklin sang it, it transformed into an anthem for the burgeoning women’s movement and became her signature song for decades to come.

6. “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” The Undisputed Truth, 1971

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote this one and gave it to The Temptations, who were undergoing a lineup change as Eddie Kendricks was going solo. They dragged their feet on releasing it, so the up-and-coming group The Undisputed Truth made their own recording and stole the spotlight on the charts, reaching #3 in the summer of 1971, but they never reached the pop charts again. You might check out The Tempts’ version, which (again) goes on for 12 minutes.

7. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” Stevie Wonder, 1970

Wonder wrote this one with a little help from his mother Lula Hardaway, who, upon hearing him toying with the melody, exclaimed, “I love that! Ooh, signed, sealed and delivered, I’m yours!” This single marked Stevie’s first time as producer, a role he would retain for the rest of his exemplary career. The song reached #3 in 1970, and since then, many dozens of covers have been recorded, including ones Peter Frampton, Jermaine Jackson, Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald.

8. “Lean On Me,” Bill Withers, 1972

After first hitting the charts with the angst-ridden “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971, Withers could afford to move to Los Angeles to continue his career, but he missed the tight-knit community of his hometown of Slab Fork, West Virginia. “I started thinking about how we all leaned on each other for love and support, and the song came out as I played some basic scales on piano,” Withers recalled. The result was a #1 song for three weeks in July 1972.

9. “Baby Love,” The Supremes, 1964

Unbelievably catchy, this classic by Holland/Dozier/Holland was the one that truly established The Supremes as a singles powerhouse on pop radio, particularly as their songs faced off against The Beatles’ initial run of chart-toppers in 1964. “Where Did Our Love Go” came before it, but “Baby Love” proved they weren’t a flash in the pan, and indeed, they went on to have five consecutive #1s, which had never been achieved before.

10. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” The Supremes & The Temptations, 1969

Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Jerry Ross, this song was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and then by Madeline Bell in 1968, both with only minimal impact. But when The Temptations and The Supremes chose to team up for an album and TV special in late 1968, this was the song from the album that radio stations chose to play, even though it hadn’t been performed on the show and wasn’t the intended single. Once officially released as a single, it vaulted all the way to #2 on pop charts in early 1969, featuring Diana Ross and Eddie Kendricks trading off on lead vocals.

11. “Theme From Shaft,” Isaac Hayes, 1971

Hayes had been a pivotal producer/songwriter/arranger at Stax Records since its inception. In his first attempt at film scoring, he scored a hit with the quasi-funk/soul soundtrack for the Richard Rountree detective flick “Shaft” in 1971. The theme song was more instrumental than vocal, but it was nonetheless a huge hit, reaching #1 and scoring an Oscar for Best Song.

12. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” The Temptations, 1969

Immediately identified by opening applause cut short by Dennis Edwards saying,”Hold it, hold it, listen,” followed by the piano intro and horn section, “I Can’t Get Next to You” was a gigantic hit for The Temptations in the fall of ’69. Another Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong composition, it featured each of the group’s different voices taking turns on lead. I’m also fond of the excellent cover version Annie Lennox recorded in 1995.

13. “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops, 1966

There’s an undeniable feeling of dread to the way this track begins — minor chords, echo and innovative percussion — followed by a shift to major chords to release the tension. The anguished pleading of lead singer Levi Stubbs, achieved by making him sing in a key that was right at the top of his vocal range, really makes the record. For me, this is The Four Tops at their very best.

14. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye, 1971

Widely considered his masterpiece, “What’s Going On” is a sonic breakthrough and a lyrical cry for our future on the planet. “With the world exploding all around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” he said. “I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.” Gaye’s singing and songwriting were at their best for the title track (which ranked #4 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), while “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues” weren’t far behind.

15. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” The Four Tops, 1965

Another marquis song in the Motown canon is this spirited tune by the Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting and producing team. Using a similar chord progression to “Where Did Our Love Go,” which they’d written for The Supremes the previous year, the H/D/H trio struck gold again for The Four Tops, who put this song at #1 on the pop charts for two weeks, and #1 on the R&B charts for nine weeks, in the summer of ’65.

16. “You Are Everything,” The Stylistics, 1971

Thom Bell, co-creator of the Philly sound, came up with this passionate ballad for The Stylistics, one of the bands on his Philly Int’l label. The falsetto voice of Russell Thompkins Jr. was the defining characteristic of the group’s sound on this and other hits they charted in the early ’70s. “You Are Everything” reached #4 on pop charts, and a cover of the song by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross on 1973’s “Diana & Marvin” LP reached #5 in England.

17. “The Tears of a Clown,” Smokey and The Miracles, 1970

Stevie Wonder and producer Henry Cosby had written and recorded the instrumental track for this tune in 1967, but Wonder couldn’t come up with a lyric for it. He asked for help from Smokey Robinson, who heard the calliope-like section and thought of a clown in the circus, hiding his sadness behind a smile. The Miracles recorded it as an album track, and then three years later, after Motown’s British subsidiary released it to great success, it was released as a single in the US, where it became their final #1 hit.

18. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967

This unforgettable song served as the entree into Motown for the songwriting team of Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and was also the initial pairing of Gaye with singer Tammi Terrell. Gaye was a seasoned recording artist by then, which intimidated Terrell so much that her part and Gaye’s were actually recorded separately and grafted together by producer Harvey Fuqua. It peaked at #19 in 1967 but has since reached iconic status, used in film soundtracks like “Remember the Titans” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” A slower, melodramatic, partly spoken version by Diana Ross made it to #1 in 1970.

19. “For Once in My Life,” Stevie Wonder, 1968

Originally written as a slow ballad and recorded that way by the Four Tops and The Temptations, it was recorded in 1967 in an uptempo arrangement by Stevie Wonder, but Motown head Berry Gordy didn’t like it and withheld it from release for more than a year. It reached #2 on the pop and R&B charts in late 1968 and became a standard, covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and other crooners. The record is mentioned by bass players everywhere as the perfect example of James Jamerson’s unparalleled bass-playing style.

20. “My Girl,” The Temptations, 1964

Written by Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracle Ronald White, “My Girl” was written about Robinson’s wife Claudette and was set to be the next Miracles single, but instead, he produced it with The Temptations. Although Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams typically sang lead vocals, Robinson insisted he wanted David Ruffin to sing it, “featuring his gruff voice on a sweet melody.” It became not only the group’s first #1 hit but their signature song ever since.

21. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes, 1966

Lamont Dozier, in collaboration with Brian and Eddie Holland, incorporated a Morse code-like guitar riff into the arrangement for this magnificent R&B #1 hit they wrote for The Supremes. It became one of the most often covered songs in the Motown catalog — Vanilla Fudge did a slow-tempo, hard rock version in 1967 that made the Top Ten; British singer Kim Wilde returned the song to #1 with a supercharged electronic dance music rendition; and country artist Reba McEntire offered up a Supremes replication in 1995.

22. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968

This awesome tune by Motown songwriting duo Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong was recorded first by The Miracles, but only as an album track. Gladys Knight & The Pips had a big #2 hit with their funky arrangement in 1967, but Gaye’s haunting version eclipsed them both, holding down the #1 spot for seven weeks in 1968-69, making it the most successful song in Motown history. It was later turned into a 10-minute rock interpretation by Creedence in 1970.

23. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

Atlantic Records chief Jerry Wexler had been reading about the philosophical concept of “the natural man” when he ran into Carole King in New York one day. On the spot, he asked her to write a song about “the natural woman” for Franklin’s next album, so she and husband/songwriter partner Gerry Goffin went home and wrote this iconic tune that night. It became a #8 pop hit (#2 on R&B charts) for Aretha. King later recorded her own version for her 1971 epic LP “Tapestry.”

24. “Mustang Sally,” Wilson Pickett, 1966

R&B singer-songwriter Mack Rice wrote and recorded this song in 1965 not long after a friend told him he wanted to get a sporty Ford Mustang, which had just been introduced the previous year. Originally titled “Mustang Mama” about a woman who wanted only to ride around in her new car, he chose to change Mama to Sally because of the use of the line “Ride, Sally, ride” in the middle verses. Pickett reached #23 on the pop charts with his version.

25. “Back Stabbers,” The O’Jays, 1972

Inspired by the theme of betrayal used effectively in “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” Leon Huff came up with “Back Stabbers” for The O’Jays’ first single on Huff’s and Kenny Gamble’s new label, Philadelphia International. It was the beginning of a long and successful relationship between the vocal group and the label, followed by “Love Train, “For the Love of Money” and many more.

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Ah, things ain’t what they used to be

Periodically, I use this space to pay homage to artists whom I believe are worthy of focused attention — artists with an extraordinary, influential, consistently excellent body of work and/or a compelling story to tell.  In this essay, I delve into the work of a man with one of the most stunning voices the world has ever known, a man who played a pivotal role in defining the Motown Sound, a man troubled by inner demons and a broken relationship with his father that ultimately killed him:  Marvin Gaye.

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220px-Marvin_Gaye_in_1973The lively world of popular music — rock, rhythm & blues, country, jazz, you name it — has been plagued by intermittent chapters of tragedy.  Abuse of drugs and alcohol have caused the self-destruction of far too many talented musicians; plane crashes have prematurely taken a dozen or more giants from us; cancer and other diseases have claimed the lives of a few major artists as well.

Among the most tragic deaths are those involving violence.  Most prominently, John Lennon’s death was especially shocking for many of us because it was essentially an assassination.  The gruesome end of the great Marvin Gaye came just as suddenly, and just as shockingly:  He was fatally shot by his own father.

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To try to make some kind of sense out of such an unconscionable act, you have to understand the complicated mind of Marvin Gay Sr.  A preacher in the Hebrew Pentacostal Church, Gay was a strict disciplinarian who ruled his household with an iron fist that included regular incidents of physical abuse of his four children.  Gay was also known to be a cross-dresser with repressed homosexual feelings, and his inability to deal with this apparent contradiction was often taken out on his wife and children.

Gay was a heavy drinker and eventually lost his preaching position, ending up chronically unemployed.  He never approved of his son’s decision to become a singer, and when Gaye became successful, he emerged as the de facto breadwinner in the family, making the father-and-son relationship ever more tense and uneasy.

Gaye had his own problems, including depression, paranoia, cocaine abuse and an addiction to various kinky sex activities, all of which exacerbated the lifelong psychological battle between the two men.  Insiders say they felt it was only a matter of time before the father or the son would do irreparable harm to the other.

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In between the stormy childhood and horrendous end, Marvin Gaye achieved dizzying heights that won him international fame as a recording artist and performer.

He first sang publicly in his Washington, D.C. church at age four, where he developed a images-155deep love of singing gospel music.  He was encouraged to think about pursuing a career as a professional singer when, at age 11, he brought the house down at an elementary school play with a exhilarating performance of Mario Lanza’s “Be My Love.”  He was a featured soloist of his junior high glee club and also sang in several doo-wop groups during his high school years.

When life in his parents’ home became unbearable, Gaye left school and enlisted in the Air Force, but his refusal to follow orders made him a poor candidate for military life, resulting in a general discharge.  Upon his return to D.C., he formed The Marquees, a vocal quartet with his friend Reese Palmer, working periodically with rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley.  The Marquees were then hired by Harvey Fuqua to be his backing group in Harvey and the New Moonglows, relocating to Chicago in 1959, where they

marvin-gaye-and-the-moonglows-1522326997-view-0

Gaye (second from left) with The Moonglows

recorded several tracks on Chess Records, including “Mama Loocie,” Gaye’s first lead vocal recording.  He also sang backing vocals on a few Chuck Berry records including “Back in the U.S.A.” and “Almost Grown.”

Gaye had also learned drums and piano, which won him some session work, and he began dabbling in songwriting as well.  In 1960, he moved to Detroit with Fuqua and ended up singing at a party at Motown founder Berry Gordy’s house, which resulted in Gordy offering Gaye a contract.  (It was around this time the singer officially added the “e” to his last name, to silence the rumors of his sexuality and to further distance himself from his father.)

Gaye, blessed with a four-octave vocal range, envisioned himself a singer of jazz and Nat King Cole-type standards, with little interest in the R&B music Gordy wanted him to sing.  They eventually negotiated a compromise, and his 1961 debut album, “The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye,” contained both genres.  Nothing came of his first few singles, and he soon concluded that R&B would in fact prove more lucrative for him.  His first hit was not as a singer but as co-writer of The Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789.”  That same year, he had his own first chart hits with the prescient “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” and “Hitch Hike” (#8 and #12 on the R&B charts) followed by his first Top Ten pop hit, “Pride and Joy,” in 1963.

images-156For the next seven years, Gaye enjoyed a nearly non-stop residence at or near the top of the R&B charts, scoring 25 singles in the Top Ten and earning the moniker “The Prince of Motown.”  He was a major presence on the Motown performing circuit, sharing the stage with Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and others.  He did almost as well on the pop charts during this period, securing 13 Top Ten hits between 1964 and 1969.

Gaye’s voice, which songwriter-producer Eddie Holland called “one of the sweetest, most versatile I’ve ever worked with,” was perhaps the most distinctive of the many soul artists to dominate the pop airwaves, vying for chart success against The Beatles, The Beach Boys and a multitude of imitators.  His biggest single yet, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” was in regular rotation across the country in 1965, as were “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar.”

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Gaye and Terrell

I think my first exposure to Gaye’s music came in 1967 when he began recording duets, first with Kim Weston and then Tammi Terrell.  My older sister bought all these 45s and played them incessantly:  “It Takes Two,” “Your Precious Love,” “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You,” “Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and, most notably, Ashford & Simpson’s brilliant song/arrangement “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”  I was only 12 then, but that marvelous tenor voice, alternately smooth and gospel raspy, grabbed my attention and held it for years to come.

My family always had “The Ed Sullivan Show” tuned in on Sunday nights, and I have a vivid memory of being completely floored as I watched Gaye, in a voice almost desperate with angst, sing a riveting rendition of his 1969 #1 hit “I Heard It Through the Unknown-279Grapevine.”  Holy smokes, what a performance.  The record held a vise grip on the #1 slot for six weeks, and its followup, “Too Busy Thinking ‘Bout My Baby,” proved to be another classic.

This kind of success, curiously, didn’t sit well with Gaye.  He loathed touring but was required to be on the road constantly, which triggered what became a long struggle with cocaine.  He also grew disillusioned with Gordy and the business side.  “He felt like a puppet in the Motown circus, and he wanted more freedom in determining his creative direction,” said his late brother Frankie Gaye in his 1998 memoirs.

Gaye thought the next single, “That’s the Way Love Is,” was way too derivative of “Grapevine,” but he was intrigued when Gordy approved his release of a cover version of Dion’s socially relevant “Abraham, Martin and John.”  When it reached #4, he had something of an epiphany.  The time had come, he determined, to make a major shift in his perspective.

The world was in a period of profound upheaval in 1970 and Gaye wanted to be part of the growing voices of dissent and commentary.  “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” he asked.  Gordy, who had little use for material with a political edge, was angry when Gaye told him he wanted to make a protest record.  “Marvin, don’t be ridiculous.  That’s taking things too far.  Your fans aren’t going to like it.”  Gaye held firm. “I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.  I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.”

Otis Benson of The Four Tops had collaborated with Al Cleveland on a powerful piece called “What’s Going On,” and when the other Four Tops said no thanks, they offered it to Gaye.  He put his own stamp on it, adding a few lyrics, modifying the arrangement, and ended up producing the song himself, with bassist James Jamerson and percussionist Eddie Brown from Motown’s Funk Brothers and recruiting a few others like sax man Eli Fontaine.  Gaye also invited a few friends to the recording sessions, giving the place a chill party vibe that was recorded and used in the background.

Unknown-278Gordy’s reaction to the finished track was blunt:  “It’s the worst thing I ever heard in my life.”  When he declined to release it, Gaye went on strike, refusing to record any other material until Gordy relented.  Gaye enlisted the help of sympathetic sales guys, who forwarded copies of “What’s Going On” to key radio stations and record stores in defiance of Gordy, and the result was almost immediate.  It vaulted to #1 and became Motown’s fastest selling single ever at that time.  Convincingly persuaded, Gordy gave the green light to the album, and Gaye and company assembled eight more tracks written or co-written by Gaye, including the pointedly political hits “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler).”

To say it was well received is a gross understatement.  If you look it up today, you’ll find Gaye’s “What’s Going On” LP is ranked in the Top 100 Albums of All Time in numerous publications and websites.  Some rank it in the Top Five.  Reviewers were and still are rightly ecstatic about it.  Critic David Simon called it “a creative and commercial triumph images-158and one of the greatest albums ever attempted by a popular artist.”

Having won creative control, Gaye grabbed the brass ring again in 1973 with the suggestive “Let’s Get It On,” another #1 smash commercially and critically.  Almost concurrently, he gave in to requests for “Diana & images-159Marvin,” a more conventional collection of Ashford & Simpson songs on a duet LP with Diana Ross.  By 1976, when disco began influencing just about every artist who put out a new record, Gaye countered with “I Want You,” which rivals anything Barry White ever released as a soundtrack for lovemaking.  “Gaye seems determined to take over as soul’s master philosopher in the bedroom,” said Rolling Stone‘s Vince Aletti.  “This is an adult album of private intimacy and sensuality.”  Cliff White of New Musical Express called it “a voyeur’s delight… like peeking through the windows of the Gaye residence in the wee hours.”

His private life, meanwhile, was unraveling.  He endured a messy divorce from his first wife Anna, who happened to be Gordy’s daughter, and dove ever deeper into drug abuse to help him with crippling stage fright and periodic suicidal tendencies.  The stress of a Unknown-280huge tax debt to the IRS also weighed heavily on him, eventually causing him to relocate to Europe for a spell.  Although American listeners started to look elsewhere for new sounds, British audiences still clamored for Gaye, which resulted in a timeless performance and hugely popular concert LP, “Live at the London Palladium,” and yet another #1 hit, the influential “Got to Give It Up.”

During his European stay, and with the help of his mother Alberta, he made significant progress in curbing his addiction issues in 1981 and earned some renewed confidence and self-esteem from the rabid response to a tour of Europe.  He turned in his final album owed to Motown and promptly severed ties with Gordy.  Approached by several labels, Gaye went with CBS Records, who agreed to settle his back debts and heavily promote his next LP, “Midnight Love” (1982).  The platinum, Grammy-winning single, “Sexual Healing,” put him back on the radio in a big way.

images-165Now back in the States, he appeared in high-profile events like the “Motown 25:  Yesterday, Today, Forever” TV special, and sang an iconic rendition of the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star Game in L.A.  After one final U.S. tour, marred by illness and drug-fueled attacks of paranoia, Gaye moved into his parents’ L.A. home to care for his mother, who was recovering from kidney surgery.

Gaye and his father struggled to keep their distance from one another, but the writing was on the wall.  Gay and his wife had been estranged for years, sleeping not only in separate bedrooms but separate houses located a few blocks apart.  He resented the fact that his son was much closer to his mother and had also become their primary source of financial support.

Gaye, meanwhile, had continued to contemplate suicide and, perhaps to that end, he gave his father a .38-calibre pistol as a Christmas gift, ostensibly for his own protection.  To his sister, it appeared more like a way to provoke his father into doing what Gaye couldn’t bring himself to do on his own.

On April 1, 1984, after Gaye shoved his father into a wall to prevent him from approaching Alberta, Gay took out his pistol and shot Gaye twice in the chest at close range.  As he lay dying in his brother Frankie’s arms, Gaye whispered, “It’s good.  I got what I wanted.  I ran my race.  There’s no more left in me.”

He would have turned 45 the next day.

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images-154Despite his inner struggles, despite the hideous way his life ended, Gaye’s musical legacy remains intact.  All those Motown classics, the brilliance of “What’s Going On,” the provocative music that followed and, most of all, That Voice are what we all want to remember about this man.  His reputation as a maker of sensual bedroom songs earned new life when, in 2015, award-winning pop singer-songwriter Charlie Puth made his debut with the single “Marvin Gaye,” with these lyrics:  “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on, you got the healing that I want, just like they say it in the song, until the dawn, let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on…”

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