Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It took me some time to appreciate the genius of Marvin Gaye. Of course, like most people growing up in the 80’s, I had been inundated with various Marvin Gaye duets and songs on the oldies stations my parents would play. It was only after listening to a cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine by The Slits in my late teens that I decided to seek out the originals. And what a treat that was. What’s Going On marked the dawn of the 70’s for Marvin Gaye. In fact, the song was deemed too political and was almost not released. Fortunately, Marvin stuck to his guns and refused to record or release anything else unless this song was released as a single. January 20, 1971 saw the official release of the song – it had been recorded 6 months earlier. The song is directly inspired by – and addresses – police brutality as witnessed by Obie Benson of the Four Tops. Vocally, it is one of the best performances of Gaye’s career. His voice pulls off the trick of sounding relaxed, emotional, and pained – sometimes within the same sentence. Musically, this is classic soul – infectious beats and a strong, strong melody. Lyrically, it is timeless – and modern. Unfortunately so. “Don’t punish me with brutality / Talk to me / So you can see / What’s going on”. On the full album, the song segues into What’s Happening Brother – the songs tied together lyrically with the beat acting as a segue between the tunes. Embedded below is a live performance of both masterful songs.

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