How Marvin Gaye’s eleventh album was born?
Born Marvin Gaye Pentz Jr on the 2nd April 1939 to church minister and domestic worker Marvin Gay Sr and Alberta Gay. The couple had four children of which Marvin was the second eldest. After a childhood of suffering in silence by the hands of his violent and abusive father and the harsh realities of growing up in Washington D.C the musical prodigy decided to escape his tortured past in order to forge a music career with Motown.
In regards to origins the initial idea for “What’s Going On” came to Four Tops member Obie Benson after witnessing a police brutality incident whilst he was in San Francisco in 1969.
Benson later collaborated with fellow Motowners: Al Cleveland and Marvin Gaye who contributed lyrics, composition and arrangements. For Gaye this was a first having not previously participated in the song writing or production process. Event thought there was a lot of scepticism surrounding the project, Gaye wanted to make a statement as an artist.
The “What’s Going On” album tries to tackle and address a number of cultural, historical, social and political issues including war, poverty, racism, addiction, police brutality and misconduct, power and corruption as well as the hardship and discomfort of life in the ghetto.
The lyrics for “What’s Going On” was inspired by a series of life changing events that took place in Gaye’s life during the spring of 1970 including his marriage to Anna Gordy which was completely falling apart, the death of his duet partner Tammi Terrell who sadly past away after losing a 3-year battle with a brain tumour as well as the return of his brother who had returned home from the Vietnam War a broken man as a result of his service and the emotional effects and impact of war.
“What’s Going On” seems to be executed from a third party person’s perspective where Marvin Gaye tells the story from his brother’s point of view. The story of a soldier and war veteran returning home from war to a country he is no longer familiar with. A country filled with racism, injustice, violence, political disputes and protests. The album is a question-inducing commentary about change, love, and hate.