Sunday, 2 June 2019

Marvin Gaye

"If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else" - Marvin Gaye 

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You (1965)

It is a popularly held view that sixties Motown albums were not up to much, being largely populated with a couple of hit singles, some sub-standard filler and Beatles covers or ‘supper club’ standards. Well, there is none of that to be found here - it is definitely one of Motown’s finest sixties albums, delivered by a seriously talented singer, backed by the usual top-notch musicians.

You’re A Wonderful One is poppy, typical Motown thumping fare. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) is simply a great tune also covered by Jr. Walker & The All-Stars. It doesn’t really need too much of an introduction from me here, though, other than to remind you to check out that sumptuous piano and tambourine backing and - of course - Marvin’s peerless vocal. Try It Baby is in the same piano-backed vein while Baby Don’t You Do It just rocks and grooves from the first note - it is sixties Gaye at his best, featuring a great vocal and drum break. Need Your Lovin’ (Want You Back) is also a copper-bottomed corker. There is a wonderful, swinging feel to One Of These Days too. This is a seriously impressive first half of the album, and the sound quality (in excellent stereo) is awesome.  

Can the quality continue? You betcha - No Good Without You is a punchy, soulful slowie as is the lovely strains of The Four Tops-ish Stepping Closer To Your Heart. The tempo ups on the jaunty soul of Need Somebody, which is enhanced by some fine saxophone and a cute-sounding string instrument. 
Me And My Lonely Room has an irresistible slow rhythm and carries with it proof of Gaye’s ability as a truly soulful vocalist. You can say the same about Now That You’ve Won Me and the Sam Cooke-esque smoocher, Forever, that ends proceedings. 

Make no mistake, this deserves as much credibility as any early Beatles album, for example. It is a preconception-buster.

United (1967) (with Tammi Terrell)

Worth mentioning briefly is this Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol-produced album that yielded four hits for Marvin and his duet partner, Tammi Terrell, with whom he enjoyed the most success. In contrast with the previous review, it is the usual sixties Motown mixture of killer hits and slightly cheesy covers. Despite that, it is highly enjoyable in its innocent way.

What's Going On (1971)

This review is for the "Deluxe Edition" release that contains the "live from Kennedy Centre" material. Released in 1971, it is impossible to overstate the seismic effect this album had socially, culturally and musically. Marvin Gaye told Motown he wanted to do a Stevie Wonder and go his own way and release proper "albums" of his own material. This is what he came up. Now, the hundreds of Motown three minutes and less singles of the 1960s were indeed ground-breaking pop music heaven. 
However, this is a different beast altogether.

Building on the social conscience songs that The Temptations had begin to record in the late 60s, Gaye tapped in to both the urban, dispossessed African-American experience and also the pointless horrors of the Vietnam War with this piece of work. It was both a diatribe against contemporary social and political conditions but also an extolling of God's love. At times, in the middle run of songs it can get maybe a little too "preachy" for some tastes, but killer tracks like Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)What's Going On (composed by songwriter Al Cleveland) and the wonderful Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) override that.

A lot of credit must go to the musicians on this too. I have read somewhere that while Marvin had the ideas and the concept a lot of work in the album's creation was the result of the musicians involved taking over. The Funk Brothers were there and some of Gaye's own personal choices. Under a cloud of marijuana they created a masterpiece of laid back protest. That's the thing with this album. It protests in the strongest possible terms without thumping a single tub.

The remastered sound on this release is warm and bassy, as it should be. For me, one of the main benefits of the Deluxe Edition is the live cuts. The sound is not 100% but it is certainly very listenable, you feel you are there as Marvin extends many of the tacks and there is a lot of ad-lib which brings new life to the songs. There are not too many Marvin Gaye 70s live albums around (a couple from 1974 and 1977) so this fills the gap from this notable era in his career. He doesn't perform Mercy Mercy Me which is a shame though. Interesting how he plays the Sixties Medley intro to the live show in a laid-back What's Going On groove. Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing is lovely. Some impressive piano on this medley too. There are other interesting rarities in various mixes of the songs which are always worth a listen, although not essential. Right on, brother.

You're The Man (1972)
Originally intended for 1972 release, this was Marvin Gaye's intended follow-up to the seismic, influential What's Going On, and was intended to be another socially-conscious "message" offering. It was never released and soon became a great "lost album", only surfacing in recent years. Berry Gordy was not happy with Gaye's increasing political militancy and Gaye cancelled the album, no doubt under heavy influence from Gordy, and returned a year later with the late night loverman smoochy fare of Let's Get It On. To be fair, it is only really the first three or four songs that really convey issues, as the album progresses, the dim the lights love of the subsequent album are the dominating style.

Personally, I really like it and, dare I say it, prefer it to its illustrious predecessor. It does not use the string backing in the same perhaps over-syrupy way and is funkier, bassier and more soulful. The themes are largely the same although they are more graphically hard-hitting in a way and maybe a little less pious too. It is a more varied album, musically, as well. It functions as an album of different songs, as opposed to What's Going On, which followed  a "one complete, connected suite" path. Had it been released it would be in many lists of classic albums by now. Incidentally, several of the tracks have also turned up over the years on compilations like The Master and Gold. 
You're The Man (Parts 1 & 2) is a funky rant against political corruption, financial disparity and a lot of the issues that had been dealt with on What's Going On. The backing is similar, although here it is bassier and deeper and less orchestrated. "Politics and hypocrites is turning us all into lunatics..." sings Gaye, leaving us in no doubt that he is brassed off. Religion is the answer, he says, the "man" of the song's title being God. Gaye and Curtis Mayfield were certainly telling it as it was in 1972. A smouldering funky backing is to be found on the deliciously slow burning The World Is Rated X. Listen to that great wah-wah guitar on You're The Man.

Piece Of Clay is a fine piece of piano-driven gospelly soul that features a great vocal while Where Are We Going? is a great bit of funky soul. Gaye's voice soars on all of this material and, once again, there is a deeper, more "street" soul-funk sound to this track in particular. Lovely brass bits on it too. 
I'm Gonna Give You Respect is a catchy, shuffling bit of funky, brassy soul. The sound on this is fantastic, again. Some more great funk can be found on the cookin' Try It, You'll Like It. It was such a shame that quality material like this remained hidden away for so long. It is the different nature of these songs that make it the better album to its predecessor, for me. It is superior to Let's Get It On too, for that matter. I know I will be in a minority of one with that opinion! You Are That Special One is classic, upbeat and infectious Marvin Gaye soul. I love it. Check out that great bass line. Marvin whoops it up near the end, so it's not all doom and gloom. A loose, loving feel is heard on We Can Make It Baby, as Marvin provides a bridge between this period and the full-on luuurve of the next album. Absolutely top class soul. You just can't beat it.

What's Going On-style lush backing is found on the sweet, late-night soul of My Last Chance. It is all saxophones and smooch, very much paving the way once more to the next album. A similar vibe continues on the polished, shuffling soul of Symphony. The chilled-out late night vibe is continued on the sumptuous I'd Give My Life For You
Woman Of The World is a bongo-driven addictive bossa nova-style number with some killer jazzy cymbal work. The actual intended album may well have finished here, as the next few tracks contain an alternative version and two Christmas songs. Christmas In The City, however, is a laid-back piece of electric funk instrumental and containing not one sleigh bell. I Want To Come Home For Christmas is actually a soulful, anti-war song. I'm Going Home is an excellent funky groove with a bit of a Temptations early seventies feel about it. The semi-instrumental Checking Out (Double Clutch) is another good bit of funk too. For me, those first twelve tracks make up Marvin Gaye's best ever collection of songs. Look, I know that sounds bizarre when put up against the huge influence and cultural value of What's Going On, but I just feel it would have been one hell of an album from him, a great mix of message and smooch. Furthermore, despite some criticisms of the sound I have read, I found the sound to be absolutely perfect - warm, well-defined and bassy. Great stuff.

Let's Get It On (1973)

Released in 1973, Marvin Gaye didn't attempt to repeat the social/religious comment of the titanic achievement that was What's Going On. Instead he went all "Lover Man" style and let his lady be in no doubt that she sure loved to ball and they should get it on as soon as possible.
Forget the somewhat macho posturing of the lyrics, this is an exercise in soulful seductive perfection. Immaculately remastered, the sound is warm, full and lush, as it should be. The bookends of the old "side one" - Let's Get It On and Keep Gettin' It On are wonderful, all funky guitar, percussion and saxophone and, of course, Gaye's intuitive vocal. You Sure Love To Ball and If I Should Die Tonight are other highlights. The whole album just washes over you, very pleasantly. Gaye's "sexy" stuff did not get much better than this (although) I Want You came close and Sexual Healing was a last great hurrah, much later, in 1982.

** The extra material contains another version of Let's Get It On which is equally stunning and the two parts of You're The Man - a funk masterpiece. The instrumentals and "alternative" versions are all worthy of one's time. C'mon Baby - you know what I'm talkin' about…

Diana & Marvin (1973) (with Diana Ross)
It would seem that this apparently harmonious collaboration between two of Motown's biggest stars in the early seventies was beset with problems. The album of duets between Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross had been mooted once 1970 but Gaye was having problems getting over the death of a previous singing partner in Tammi Terrell. He also felt that singing duets was not a good thing, as both Mary Wells and Kim Weston suffered career contract breakdowns after recording with him. So, he was loth to join up with Ross. He also blotted his copybook by smoking marijuana in the studio (as was his wont) as the then pregnant Ross showed up. Arguments and tension ensued. Then there was the problem of the billing - whose name would be mentioned first. Ross got the nod.

It was surprising, therefore, that the album turned out to be a very successful and polished sounding affair. Some of the material was recorded with the artists in separate studios but you would never have known. The album has a high quality sound throughout - nice and warm with a fine seventies stereo separation and a deep bass sound.

The big hit You Are Everything is very well-known and the two singers combine superbly, as they also do on the lively, semi-funky Love Twins, declaring their love for each other (they weren't a couple). Don't Knock My Love has the pair going funky, impressively. Apparently Ross hated the song and didn't want to record it. It is one of the best cuts on the album for me and she would be singing many tracks like this in three years time and beyond. She no doubt was happier, though, in 1973, with You're A Special Part Of Me, which is a typical Ross big ballad, with Gaye's vocals sounding a bit superficial. He takes the lead, however, on the syrupy ballad Pledging My Love.

Just Say, Just Say is a nice, uplifting, soulful Ashford & Simpson song and Thom Bell and Linda Creed's Stop, Look, Listen To Your Heart was an appealing big hit. 
I'm Falling In Love With You is pretty unremarkable, but My Mistake (Was To Love You) was a fine, Gaye-led very Motown, upbeat and soulful number. It is another of the best songs on the album. Include Me In Your Life is another slow-paced, gentle ballad typical of the album. It was certainly an album with none of the social comment that Gaye was heavily involved in on his material at the time (even Ross got in on the act with Brown Baby). This was full-on, unthreatening romance all the way. The last word maybe should go to Gaye, who said "it's hard for me to deal with prima donnas..".

I Want You (1976)

After his lush, sweet soul recordings earlier in the seventies, Marvin Gaye allowed the rhythm of disco to enter his sphere a little on this classic album of intuitive seduction. The old sensuality and lovemaking themes were still clearly there, but there was a bit more of a syncopated rhythm to the melodies, though, It was a late-night, laid-back groove, however, this was certainly not a dance album. The socially-aware messages of the early seventies were long gone now. Love was the order of the day (and night) here.

The cover gives an impression that this is a no-holds barred, down 'n' dirty party album but that could not be further from the truth, really. It is a late-night, tender album. Let's Get It On is often considered to be Gaye's "bedroom" album. This is a more obvious contender. Whereas the former album is one of suggestion, this is one of getting down to brass tacks.

I Want You is a sublime, slow, gently rhythmic groover with a sensual vocal from Marvin, letting his lady know exactly the depth of his desires. The sound quality on this, as indeed it is on the whole album, is outstanding. Come Live With Me Angel is a subtly captivating, percussive number. Once more, the vocals are effortlessly good. The laid-back instrumental After The Dance also features infectious sounds, excellent percussion and electronic keyboard sounds all combining to provide a heady mixture. Feel All My Love Inside has Marvin in no doubt about matters and harks back to his Let's Get It On material. This was quite explicit stuff for 1976, complete with accompanying sounds of pleasure.

I Wanna Be Where You Are is short instrumental and I Want You is a brief saxophone interlude before it eases into the samba-ish All The Way Around. It is another track with some addictive backing drums and percussion. It has a great saxophone solo in it too. 
Since I Had You opens with a delicious bass line. Unfortunately, Marvin's spoken vocal is drowned out by the backing vocals for a while. Eventually it settles down and we get some more sounds of passion too. Soon I'll Be Loving You Again is almost like a "next morning" song of rejoicing for the previous night's loving. The title track is briefly reprised to end what was a very sexy album and highly recommended for those certain moments. Enough of that, I might put my back out.

Midnight Love (1982)

After several years living a slightly reclusive life in, oddly, Ostend, BelgiumMarvin Gaye was persuaded out of retirement for what would prove to be his last album before his tragic passing in 1984. It was a really good album too, merging contemporary dance sounds with Gaye's instinctively sensual vocals  and an infectious percussion-keyboard-guitar sound. 

There were influences from the current dance grooves of Rick James on the captivating Midnight Lady and echoes of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall float around the album in occasional places too, particularly on Rockin' After Midnight, but it is largely Gaye's own unique creation. He wrote all the songs too. The album suited the early eighties in its mix between classy disco grooves and bedroom sensuality. That, and the smooth, mellifluous warm sound made it ideal wine bar background music.

Sexual Healing (ludicrously banned on BBC Radio) and announced on the charts as "Healing", was the big hit from the album, and deservedly so, it is a masterpiece of late-night seduction in the Let's Get It On and I Want You mould, with the sound lifted by an intricate, but incredibly catchy high-pitched guitar sound. The rhythm is as seductive as the song's intentions. 
'Til Tomorrow ploughs the same furrow but much slower, with Marvin even giving us a little French. The mid part of the album envelops you warmly in its comforting sound, sometimes sultry, sometimes funky, before the final strains of My Love Is Waiting re-enact Sexual Healing a bit. This was an impressive return for Gaye. Such a shame it all ended for him in the terrible way it did.

Related posts :-
Curtis Mayfield
The Temptations
Undisputed Truth

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