Friday, 1 April 2011

Remembering Marvin Gaye

April 1st 1984 played the worst kind of joke on me; I'd heard on the radio news that Marvin Gaye had been shot and killed by his Father and I honestly thought it was some kind of spoof (I was a kid at the time), it didn't sink in until the next day when I read the newspaper and realised it was real. We were robbed of one of the great musical talents of our time.
The Music of Marvin Gaye as well as being something to remember and be collected, with a career spanning over nearly twenty years, it's no wonder that many of today's artists continue to honour and try to emulate Gaye. Although no longer a physical presence, his existence as an artist is one that is sure to be a vital part of the millennium and beyond.
The tracks below are the obvious tracks you'd think of when people think of Marvin, although it really is just the tip of the iceberg. Theres a lot of gems in his back catalogue that would take too much space here.

Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through The Grapevine

The Live version from Montreux 1980: love the little scene at the start!

A landmark song in the history of Motown Records. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966, the single was first recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. Released in 1967 by Gladys Knight & the Pips who recorded the third version of the song, it then of course become a signature song for Marvin, who recorded his version of the song prior to the Pips' but released it after theirs in 1968. It's fair to say that Marvin's version is considered by many as the de facto version of the song, myself included; although I love Smokey's and The Pips's versions, Marvin's take on the song has a brooding quality about it that changes the whole mood of the song and it's lyrics
It took Marvin Gaye two months to complete his recording of the song, which he worked on during April and May of 1967. Whitfield had Gaye's lead vocal arranged just above his actual register, a trick he had used with David Ruffin on Temptations songs such as Ain't Too Proud to Beg in order to elicit a rawer vocal from the singer as he strained to hit the high notes. The trick worked, and Gaye's pained lead on Grapevine, contrasted with the softer vocals of the Andantes, made Whitfield sure he had finally recorded a hit. Berry Gordy was not impressed, however, and vetoed Grapevine at a Friday morning Quality Control Meeting. In its stead, the label issued another Gaye recording, Your Unchanging Love, as a single; Marvin's Grapevine was finally released in October 1968 and became the most successful version of the song.
Even 'Mr Gordy' didn't get it right first time, every time... 

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - Ain't No Mountain High Enough

You can't have a Marvin retrospective without mentioning Tammi Terrell. Sure, he duetted with Kim Weston before and Diana Ross after (ironically he and Ross did not get on at all in their recording sessions), but the Marvin-Tammi sessions just sizzle off the vinyl; rumour has it they were more than just friends and the fact is that the chemistry between the two is there for all to see. Whatever the truth, it made for some fantastic music.
Written by Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson (as in Solid & California SoulMountain is possibly the most perfect pop song ever made.

Marvin Gaye - What's Going On

One of the greatest songs of all time and one of the most powerful messages ever delivered by any musician. A lot has been said about this song (and the accompanying album) and it has influenced countless artists since.
I'm not about to reinvent the wheel as better people than I have dissected this song. Let's just sit back and marvel in it's beauty and remember that it's message is still sadly all too relevant...

Marvin Gaye Let's Get It On

Co-written with doo-wop pioneer Ed Townsend, Let's Get It On was Gaye's plea for sexual liberation. When originally conceived by Townsend, who was released from a rehab facility for alcoholism, it was written with a religious theme. Gaye confidante Kenneth Stover changed some of the words around as a political song and Gaye recorded the version as it was written, but Townsend protested that the song wasn't a politically-conscious song but a song dedicated to love and sex. Gaye and Townsend then collaborated on new lyrics and using the original backing tracks as recorded, Gaye transformed the song into an emotional centrepiece. The album version of Let's Get It On features soulful and emotional singing by Gaye that is backed by multi-tracked background vocals, also provided by Gaye, along with the song's signature; THAT wah-wah guitar riff.
This is the live version from his Live In Montreux 1980 album; Marvin at his best.

Incidentally, just how many people do you reckon are walking around in this world having been conceived to this song?
The mind boggles...

Marvin Gaye - I Want You

I Want You was released in 1976 and was his first recorded studio material released in three years and marked a change in direction for Gaye, leaving his trademark Motown soul for funky, light-disco soul. Much of Gaye's music encompassed spirituality, sexuality, and vulnerability.
Originally conceived by Motown songwriter Leon Ware and his songwriting partner "T-Boy" Ross, it was originally intended to be included in Ware's Musical Massage album. When Ware, who was also signed to the label as a solo artist, presented the rough draft of his album to Berry Gordy, he was appreciative of the songs, including a rough version of  I Want You. But after hearing it, he convinced Ware to give some of the songs to Marvin, who was coming off the release of his acclaimed 1973 record, Let's Get It On, his final duet recording with Diana Ross, a commercially successful live album and was finishing a US tour at the time. Marvin, who called himself a perfectionist, had struggled with creating a follow-up album to Let's Get It On, so when Ware played Gaye the rough draft of I Want You, Marvin, then inspired by his relationship with his 19 year old girlfriend Janis Hunter, was motivated to record a convincing performance of the song, which was about a man trying to convince a wayward lover that he wanted the woman to love him as deeply as he loved her.
Purportedly recorded at Marvin's Room, the singer's new recording studio in Los Angeles, Marvin also reportedly recorded the song while lying on his back of his sofa according to Ware, who said that he couldn't see Gaye at first, but then discovered a laid-back Marvin delivering the song in his trademark tenor vocals.

Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing

Recorded in 1982, it was his first single since his exit from Motown earlier in the year, following the release of the In Our Lifetime album in that time, Marvin had moved from Los Angeles to Honolulu and London. Gaye left due to fear of imprisonment from failure to pay taxes to the IRS and also because, according to several memoirs, he had felt unloved and not respected in his home country. Gaye also struggled with the separation with his second wife, Janis, and the separation between him and his children Marvin III, Nona and Frankie. After meeting Freddy Couseart, Gaye moved to Couseart's Belgium residence in Ostend and began to live comfortably among the beaches of the coastal Belgium city. Gaye, who struggled with drug addiction and depression, then began fighting to regain his professional career, which had stifled after the release of two ambitious concept albums, Here, My Dear (1978) and In Our Lifetime, the latter album being the last album released with Motown, and a record Gaye angrily assumed was released without his consent by the label. Gaye had negotiated for seven months to release himself from Motown and in March 1982 had finally settled for a deal with CBS records. Gaye began working on his first post-Motown album in April in Europe ans Sexual Heling was the result.
Upon its release, the song immediately made an impression, as the song moved to No.1 in America by October 1982, making it the fastest-rising single on the American R&B singles chart in five years. It was also Gaye's first hit in five years, which he had scored with Got to Give It Up. By December, it had also became an international hit eventually reaching the top ten in the UK and the Netherlands. By early 1983, it also hit No.1 in Canada and New Zealand, where it stayed atop the charts for six weeks, and also hit the top 40 in Sweden, Italy, Switzerland and Germany. Eventually selling more than a million copies, it would become Gaye's biggest-selling hit, helping to make Midnight Love a platinum-selling success.
Due to its success, Gaye was up for three Grammy Awards for the song, winning two including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental. Gaye performed the song at the Grammy Awards and later billed his last tour as the Sexual Healing Tour, which started in April  1983. Gaye also won an American Music Award for the single. The song was later ranked number 231 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.