Marvin Gaye’s “Whats Going On”

Greetings Colleagues,

Marvin Gaye was one of the best artists of all time. “The Prince of Motown” is one of his nicknames; he went on to release an album that would be remembered as Motown’s 1st #1 album. The album that Berry Gordy Stated, “The worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life”, sold 100,000 copies in the first day of January 1971. Coming in at #2 on the pop charts that year and #3 on R&B, a first for Motown Records, aka “Hitsville”.

The music and image of Marvin Gaye prior to the recordings of “What’s Going On” was of a passionate nature. He sung about sex and love and was an image in Motown that displayed smoothness and kind-hearted. Social neighborhood concerns and national crisis influenced the lyrical content of the album. His brother Frankie was a Vietnam Veteran and after a long crying talk with him, he wanted to write something that addressed the social and international concerns in a positive manner.

Renaldo Obie Benson originally came up with the idea and presented it to Marvin and they spent countless hours in Hitsville, creating what will become the hallmark of Marvin’s style. When time came for recording and releasing “What going on”, there were many obstacles that Marvin had to face. One main challenge was convincing Gordy to release it. Marvin passed time by training with the Detroit Lions for the upcoming season that year, but was later turned down to play in the opening game.

During this timeframe, Motown with the help of Jack Ashford and James Jameson, created live quality production work. The instrumentation, studio musicians, and lyrics all played a big role in the success of Motown. With 75 producers and about 150 songwriters, Hitsville was just as good as the name it had created.  I love the song “What Going On” and as a listener, it has changed the way I view music to this day. As an industry professional, there was great creativity and passion that went into the making of this awesome masterpiece.

I thank God for such an experience and I believe it was stated in an article on the album that there had to have been another force at work when the release of the album finally dropped, because Gordy was not backing down.

With Respect,

Michael Roberts


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