Marvin Gaye – “What Going On”

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On


When I hear the name “Marvin Gaye,” I definitely think of an artist that helped with the success of Motown Records. Not only was Marvin Gaye an awesome singer, but also he was a phenomenal songwriter and musician. After being discharged from the United States Air Force, he signed with Tamla, which allowed him to pursue a career of jazz music.  To my surprise, Marvin Gaye had no desire to become an R&B performer, which he later became.   Over the years, Gaye’s musical image definitely went through changes.  Before he recorded the album “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye musical image was the clean-cut do-wop singer with a soulful touch.  He also gained success by singing duet with such artist as Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell.  During Gaye’s duets years, created song legends such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, which was with Mary Wells, and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, which was with Tammi Terrell.

After gaining such a success with his music, Marvin Gaye returned to Hitsville U.S.A. to record what would become the number one song on the R & B charts within a month, “What’s Going On.”  Gaye’s inspiration for this song came from Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a singer with Four Tops, after Benson witness a police brutality at an anti-war rally in Berkeley.  Renaldo Benson presented the idea of composing this idea for a song to a songwriter by the name of Al Cleveland.  Cleveland wrote the song, gave it to Benson to present to his group Four Tops, but they turned down the song.  Benson then presented the not titled song to Gaye, and he accepted it the song and added his feel to it.  Marvin Gaye was also affected through emotional conversations that he had with his brother Frankie, who returned from the Vietnam War after three years of service. 

Marvin Gaye went through a lot to record “What’s Going On.”  He presented the song to producer Berry Gordy and he stated, “Marvin, don’t be ridiculous. That’s taking things too far.” So he turned down the request to release it and Marvin Gaye went on a “strike” by refusing to record any new material until the song would be released.  Of course, I could see why Barry Gordy was skeptical of releasing this song because this was definitely not a typical Motown song, which was basically a soul feeling type of pop music. Also, the lyrical content of the song was certainly a change of feel for this era in music. This song is referred to as being a song based on the issue of the world and not another “love song.”

The impression that is left on me as I listened and studied this song is just remarkable. It amazed me that Marvin Gaye actually had to go through so much to get this release.  This fight that he went through for this particular song teaches me to continue to believe in what I love and that is music.


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