What’s Going On is an album that changes Marvin Gaye’s life in his music career. He started of as a session drummer and become one of the greatest Motown/R&B singer at his time. He was the sex icon during the 60s and 70s. All his songs were about love with upbeat happy grooving to it. He likes jazz a lot, therefore he infuse smooth jazz, and some other styles like gospel, blues into his songs too. But at one point in his life when he was into jazz, his popularity just drop a lot. Somehow during that period, What’s Going On just came into his life.
The original writer of this song was Renaldo Benson one of the member in the band called Four Tops. The inspiration of this song came events that happened in front of his eyes. He saw how the police were brutally attacking civilians on the street, and the violence towards the anti-war protesters. No one care to bother about the cruel things happening around them during that time. He thought “What’s going on?”
At first he tried asking band members whether they want his song, but they were not interested. The band thought the song was a protest song, they were not cool with it. However he explain that is a song that help people to get aware of things around them and showing love. He tried asking another singer too, but in the end he approach Marvin and think that he is the perfect person to sing it.
Marvin have the connection with the song. He feel that same with the dislike of violence use around the world and want to change it. During that time, His younger brother came back from his military service in the Vietnam war. He was tell Marvin all his experiences, how scare and terrified he was during that three years. ” War is hell, believe me. The value of life is unbelievably low. Nothing you’ve ever experienced can prepare you for the terror”. Marvin felt really sad and ask what can he do to help. and that is when he was so sure to do this album.
He was so excited to do this album, he personal track down his in charge during that time Berry Gordy to talk about it. Marvin showed him the songs, but he didn’t like it because it was all protest songs and didn’t want him to ruin his career and superstar image at that time. He had cold war for a very long time with Berry Gordy. In between this “cold war”, he retaliated with that he would not record any more songs for the company and joined the Detroit Lion to play professional Football.
In the end, he still recorded this album with some help without Berry Gordy, approval. in The process of creating this album, Berry Gordy actually commented that this was the worse thing he ever heard.
There were many interesting characteristic about this album and song. While tracking What’s Going On, he hired a saxophonist to play backing for the song. The saxophonist when in set up his instrument and start warming up and practice on the song. Marvin recorded the whole process, by the time when the saxophonist was ready to perform and record, he ask him to pack up and go. Because he already recorded the part and it was good enough for him. So if you haven’t or have listen to the recording, go and listen to it again carefully to the beginning. What a good saxophone sound.
The other thing was, even though What’s Going On is tell about all the negative things about the social issues, the song was actually very grooving , up beat, smooth jazz ( he loves a lot) and gospel R&B. The song feel so comfortable, happy and relax. I think he actually just wanted to have the jazz element, but I feel he was trying to tell the message across everyone about all the bad things in a happy way. Letting them understand what’s happen to our world now.
As a listener, I was just moving and grooving along with the song. I gives a very comfortable feeling at the same time knowing what’s happen to the world and what can we change to make it better. I can feel his passion and love in wanting to do the best in this album. Somehow it reminded me of Michael Jackson’s Heal the world.
As a professional, it was very inspirational for me. With all the odds that against him in recording this album, he showed passion and determination can against all odds. Never give up on what he wanted for his music and rights!