Part owner of Marvin Gaye song sues Ed Sheeran over hit song

NEW YORK (AP) — A part owner of Marvin Gaye’s „Let’s Get It On“ is suing Ed Sheeran for $100 million after getting blocked from a similar lawsuit brought by other copyright owners.

Both lawsuits say the British songwriter copied parts of the soul classic for his Grammy-winning hit „Thinking Out Loud.“

A lawyer for Structured Asset Sales said the new lawsuit’s Thursday filing was necessary because a judge refused to let the company join a 2016 lawsuit by the family of a co-writer of Gaye’s song.

Court sides with Marvin Gaye family in ‘Blurred Lines’ fight

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a copyright infringement verdict against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over the 2013 hit song „Blurred Lines,“ agreeing with lower courts that it illegally copied from Marvin Gaye’s „Got to Give it Up.“

Court sides with Marvin Gaye family in ‘Blurred Lines’ fight

Review: Isley Bros & Santana are ‘Power of Peace’ advocates

The Isley Brothers & Santana, „Power of Peace“ (Sony Legacy)

Ronald and Ernie Isley team up with Carlos Santana on the vigorous „Power of Peace,“ putting their stamp on mostly spiritually inclined songs from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Bacharach & David and Swamp Dogg.

Review: Isley Bros & Santana are ‘Power of Peace’ advocates

Bruce Springsteen surprises audience at Van Zandt concert

RED BANK, N.J. (AP) — Bruce Springsteen has surprised concert-goers in New Jersey with a performance during the encore of a Steven Van Zandt show.

Count Basie Theatre executive Jon Vena said Monday the crowd „erupted“ when Van Zandt introduced Springsteen during the Saturday show as „a friend who’s out of work.“

Springsteen emerged on stage during the encore and played four songs, including „Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out“ and a cover of Marvin Gaye’s „Can I Get a Witness.“

Bruce Springsteen surprises audience at Van Zandt concert

Sylvia Moy, Motown songwriter and producer, dies at age 78

DETROIT (AP) — Motown songwriter Sylvia Moy, the storied recording studio’s first female producer who penned or collaborated on several hits, including Stevie Wonder’s „My Cherie Amour“ and Marvin Gaye’s „It Takes Two,“ has died in suburban Detroit. She was 78.

Moy died Saturday at a hospital in Dearborn from complications from pneumonia, her brother, Melvin Moy, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Sylvia Moy, Motown songwriter and producer, dies at age 78

Lawsuit: Ed Sheeran copied R&B classic ‘Let’s Get It On’

NEW YORK (AP) — The family of a co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s „Let’s Get It On“ is suing Ed Sheeran, claiming the British singer-songwriter’s hit, „Thinking Out Loud,“ sounds too much like the soul classic.

The lawsuit filed by the family of Ed Townsend claims Sheeran copied the „heart“ of „Let’s Get It On“ and repeated it continuously throughout „Thinking Out Loud.“ It says Sheeran continued to perform the song even after he was notified of the copyright infringement claim…

Timberlake, Alba bring seriousness to Teen Choice Awards

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The rowdy revelry of the Teen Choice Awards momentarily took on a somber tone Sunday when Jessica Alba, Ne-Yo and a group of teenagers called for an end to gun violence.

The actress was joined on stage at the fan-favorite ceremony by a group of teens related to shooting victims in such places as San Bernardino, California; Newtown, Connecticut; and Orlando, Florida.

Alba and singer Ne-Yo, who performed Marvin Gaye’s „What’s Going On,“ asked the…

Review: Catchy return of ‘Motown: The Musical’ on Broadway

NEW YORK (AP) — Motown. The single word instantly conjures memories and snatches of songs from the many gold records and superstars who came out of that Detroit label — Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Four Tops, to name a few.

Now „Motown: The Musical“ has returned to Broadway for a rafter-rattling version of the iconic record label’s tumultuous history, told from the perspective of founder Berry Gordy,…

Marvin Gaye

) (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) was an American soul and R&B singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, record producer and performer who gained international fame as an artist on the Motown label in the 1960s and 1970s. Gaye’s soul music performances were unique in their high emotionalism and volitional stylisms which translated into Gaye’s unselfish actions to better communicate with others, since his early personal life was beset with violence and miscommunications and Gaye sought to mend his ways. In soul and R&B, Gaye sang about an unselfish love for others to help bridge the racial divisions of the time.

Beginning his career at Motown in 1961, Gaye quickly became Motown’s top solo male artist and scored numerous hits throughout the 1960s, working within the constraints of the creatively restrictive yet undeniably effective Motown hit-making machine, in which performers and songwriters and record producers were generally kept in separate camps. [1] However, with his successful 1971 album, Gaye, who was a part-time songwriter for Motown artists during his early years with the label, proved that he could write and produce his own singles without having to rely on the Motown system. This achievement (along with those of contemporaries, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton), would pave the way for the successes of later self-sufficient singer-songwriter-producers in Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and Babyface.

Marvin Gaye ‚What’s Going On?‘

As the ’60s came to a close, Marvin Gaye was forced to ask some serious questions about the world as he found it; the result was the sublimely soulful piece of social commentary, ‚What’s Going On‘.

It has been hailed as Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece and soul music’s finest moment. What’s Going On, a song cycle focusing on the shattered American dream of the early 1970s, melded a darkly atmospheric, jazzy sound with heartfelt lyrics about the country’s military plight abroad and socio‑economic problems at home, to create what many still perceive as the apex of artistic musical expression. Released in May 1971, Gaye’s 11th studio album cast the singer‑songwriter‑musician with the four‑octave vocal range — who had spent the past decade recording sensual R&B hits — in the role of a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran. The reason for his disillusionment? On his return, he discovers that the America whose values he’s been defending is plagued by poverty, police brutality, drug abuse, abandoned children, urban decay and civil unrest. In more ways than one, What’s Going On was different to anything that Gaye or Motown had previously issued, taking its inspiration from the classic track of the same name that he’d recorded in June 1970 and which, in March 1971, hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

Marvin Gaye

When Marvin Gaye began recording his eleventh album, What’s Going On, in June of 1970, Americans were steeped in chaos and disillusionment at home and abroad. In late April, the Vietnam War had escalated as President Richard Nixon and members of his administration reversed a campaign promise to withdraw military presence in Southeast Asia and sent in troops to invade Cambodia. On campuses and city streets across the nation, anti-war demonstrations swiftly followed, culminating violently when four students were killed and nine wounded by National Guardsmen at Kent State University on May 4. In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, more student strikes followed at over 450 colleges and universities from coast to coast that May, stretching from the NorthwesternJackson State in Mississippi, the latter protest resulting in the deaths of two black students, shot to death by police, and the wounding of a dozen more people. Days later, an anti-Vietnam War protest drew over 100,000 people to Washington D.C.

Concurrently, as outrage over the war erupted, the killing of Henry Marrow, a black Vietnam veteran murdered by his white neighbors in Oxford, North Carolina, would further fuel the civil rights movement that summer. Over a stretch of five brutal years, Americans had mourned the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, and reckoned with the systemic racism that sparked 1965 Watts riotsDetroit’s Twelfth Street riots in 1967. The Democratic National Convention in 1968 was tainted with violence as members of Chicago’s police department and the Illinois National Guard, called in by Mayor Richard Daley, assaulted both demonstrators and journalists.

On a more personal level, Gaye, who had just turned 31 on April 2, 1970, was at an emotional and professional crossroads. He was distraught over the March 16 death of his Motown singing partner Tammi Terrell, just 24, who had valiantly battled a malignant brain tumor for three years, undergoing nine operations. The pair had seemed an unstoppable force, releasing three albums and over seven top 40 hits from 1967 to 1969, primarily working with writers and producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson on songs like „Ain’t No Mountain High EnoughYou’re All I Need To Get By,“ and „Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.“ Terrell and Gaye had an irrefutable bond and following her passing, he refrained from performing in public for a spell.

„I had such emotional experiences with Tammi and her subsequent death,“ he told Britain’s Disc and Music Echo in 1971, „that I don’t imagine I’ll ever work with a girl again.“ (He eventually did, recording a duets album with Diana Ross in 1973.)

Compounding Gaye’s depression over the death of Terrell was his tempestuous relationship with his wife, the songwriter and record executive Anna Gordy Gaye (Berry Gordy’s sister), and the nightmarish Vietnam War stories he had been hearing from his younger brother Frankie, a veteran and fellow singer. Via frequent letters, while he was still overseas on duty, Frankie told Marvin of the horrific combat, death and destruction he had witnessed in Vietnam, a war he saw as unjust and unfair.

Marvin was deeply affected by his brother’s recollections and as Frankie Gaye recalled in his book, Marvin Gaye, My Brother, profoundly troubled by the riots and discord in America too. Those exchanges between brothers would coalesce into a conceptual arc for Marvin. As Gaye’s biographer David Ritz wrote in his album notes for the 1994 reissue of What’s Going On, „[Gaye] made Frankie the main character of What’s Going On, projecting himself into the soul of his sibling, a man returning to America after the nightmare of war.“

In an interview, Gaye told Ritz: „My phone would ring, and it’d be Motown wanting me to start working and I’d say: ‚Have you seen the paper today? Have you read about these kids who were killed at Kent State?‘ I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop crying.“

Another catalyst for the album was a song sent to Gaye by the Four Tops‘ Renaldo „Obie“ Benson and songwriter Al Cleveland, after it had been rejected by both Joan Baez and the Four Tops. The song reflected Benson’s own experiences with anti-war protests and police brutality. Gaye revised and rewrote the melody and some of its lyrics, calling it „What’s Going On.“ As the album evolved, he also cowrote two songs with his wife Anna—“God is Love“ and „Flyin‘ High (In the Friendly Sky).“

Until this point in his career, Marvin Gaye had perfected his public persona as one of Motown’s romantic leading men. Born as Marvin Gay in Washington D.C., he was the son of a Pentecostal preacher and he endured a harsh childhood, escaping his father’s frequent beatings through the comfort of church music. As a teenager, Gaye sang in early doo-wop and R&B groups like the D.C. Tones, The Marquees and The Moonglows. He was a session drummer too, eventually crossing paths with Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1960, and signing to the label’s subsidiary Tamla.

Gaye released his first album, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye in 1961. But his first hit wasn’t until 1963 with „Stubborn Kind of Fellow,“ a song Gaye allegedly wrote about Anna Gordy, early in their courtship. He also co-authored songs like „Dancing in the Street,“ which became a hit for Martha and the Vandellas, but mostly recorded songs written by others, like Holland, Dozier, and Holland’s „Can I Get A Witness,“ which became a hit for Gaye in 1963 or Whitfield and Strong’s „I Heard It Through The Grapevine,“ which catapulted onto the charts in 1966. He recorded duets with Mary Wells (1964’s Together), Broadway tunes (1964’s Hello Broadway), and eventually, a Top 40 charting solo album for Tamla, 1969’s M.P.G., that found Gaye mostly covering the songs of other writers. But after working with Wells and Kim Weston, it was his transcendent collaboration with Terrell that showed just how magical those two united voices, male and female, could be.

What’s Going On, a nine-song conceptual suite and one of the greatest masterpieces of American music, was released on May 21, 1971, a few weeks after the first anniversary of the Kent State shootings. It was an album born of Gaye’s turbulent personal life (even his failed attempt to play pro football with the Detroit Lions fed into the recording of the title track), and his dissatisfaction with Motown’s control and the music industry as a whole. But Gaye was mostly driven by his need to address, as a songwriter and artist, a ruptured United States, torn asunder by war, racial inequality, poverty, crime and pollution. In a perfect storm of despair and determination, Gaye not only transformed his own career, but the trajectory of contemporary protest albums, giving black Americans an album that defined their concerns. It was a direction also taken by Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield who tackled tough, sociopolitical topics.

Following What’s Going On, Gaye wrote the music for his one and only soundtrack for the 1972 crime thriller Trouble Man, directed by Ivan Dixon, again writing in character, as „Mister T.“ But it was Gaye’s his own sexual worries, dysfunctions and fears—which traced back to his father’s abuse and austere attitude towards sex—that led him in a more sensual, rather than sociopolitical, direction. He chose to weave spirituality, romance and desire via 1973’s seductively funked-out Let’s Get It On.

„I contend that SEX IS SEX and LOVE IS LOVE,“ boldly wrote Gaye in the album notes, as a means of briefly explaining erotic, jazzy, late night come-ons like „Just To Keep You Satisfied“ or „You Sure Love To Ball.“ He continued: „I don’t believe in overly moralistic philosophies. Have your sex, it can be very exciting. If you’re lucky. I hope the music that I present here makes you lucky.“

Let’s Get It On, a smooth combination of lush production and lusty provocation, became a cornerstone in the „quiet storm“ wave of soul music and gave Gaye the freedom he desired too: he recorded the album after signing a $1 million contract in 1971 with Motown. The title track, released as a single, sold over three million copies and became Motown’s biggest hit to date at that time. Three years later, he released I Want You, inspired by his ongoing love affair with Janis Hunter, who would become his second wife in 1977 after a bitter (and expensive) divorce from Anna Gordy. But while Let’s Get It On and I Want You earned Gaye many accolades, they certainly brought him no contentment.

Gaye’s heavy cocaine habit and alcoholism lay waste to his personal life; in the throes of addiction, he wasn’t a good husband or a father to his three children in. His 1978 album Here, My Dear is a brutal, autobiographical account of his broken marriage to Anna, albeit a stunning examination of the dissolution of a relationship. It stumbled commercially and critically, but more recently has gained traction as one of Gaye’s strongest albums.

But the late ’70s were devastating for Gaye. Estranged from Hunter, he was forced to tour due to a massive tax dept to the IRS. He was bankrupt and struggling with depression and drug abuse. He confessed to attempting suicide. The rush release of 1981’s In Our Lifetime was not what Gaye had intended (he’d abandoned another album, Love Man) and he exited Motown. His first album for Columbia Records—his seventeenth and final album—was 1982’s Midnight Love. The release gave Gaye the resurrection he needed as a musician; not only did it spawn the massive hit „Sexual Healing,“ but it was the most commercially successful album of Gaye’s career. Most importantly, perhaps, it earned him the respect and affirmation he sought, especially as a middle-aged man looking anxiously at the fast-rising ascension of the very young Prince and Michael Jackson.

„That Gaye not only commands our attention so forcefully but that he commands it so effortlessly should remind us that he has been one of our most underrated musical forces for a long time,“ wrote Dave Marsh for Rolling Stone in a January 1983 review of the album.

But barely a year and four months later after that glowing review and the singer’s return, Gaye would be dead, shot by his father on April 1, 1984, a day before Gaye’s 45th birthday. (Marvin Gay Sr. was later charged with voluntary manslaughter.)

Marvin Gaye has been gone for over 32 years; had he lived, he’d be 77 years old. In a parallel world, he might be making music, like Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen. Gaye’s violent death so long ago hasn’t entirely dimmed the magnificence of his output to younger listeners; the contemporary resonance of his music still resonates via artists like Flying Lotus, Blood Orange, Esperanza Spalding, and Lenny Kravitz. His feisty heirs still make headlines when Gaye’s influence is too easily discerned in other songs, suing over Pharrell and Robin Thicke’s „Blurred Lines“ or Ed Sheerhan’s „Thinking Out Loud.“

Gaye and Terrell’s version of „Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“ serenades those who attend the rallies of Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In Britain, Roy Williams‘ play Soul, about the troubled relationship between Gaye and his father, premiered in Northampton and London earlier this year. A documentary called „Marvin, What’s Going On“ has been announced too; it’s the first such film made with the approval and support of Gaye’s family and is slated release in 2017.

In this tumultuous year, one that feels particularly fraught and tense for many Americans, revisiting What’s Going On feels particularly apt. Listening to it, there’s no real sense of the passage of 45 years; the songs could have been written yesterday. We can’t help but wonder what Gaye would make of 2016 or the songs he might have written about the world today. A brilliant, difficult and complex man and musician, Marvin Gaye is absolutely one of our .


Gaye died in 1984, at the hands of his clergyman father. Gaye’s father was spared from a first degree murder conviction because of the extenuating circumstances involving his son. Gaye’s character and human spirit still prevailed and Marvin Gaye has become one of the most influential and beloved artists in all of soul music.


In 1987, Marvin was inducted posthumously to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Marvin’s first wife Anna Gordy and son Marvin III accepting for Marvin. He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. In 1996, he was posthumously awarded with the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Throughout his long career, Gaye scored a total of forty-one Top 40 hit singles on s Pop Singles chart between 1963 and 2001, sixty top forty R&B singles chart hits from 1962 to 2001, eighteen Top Ten pop singles on the pop chart, thirty-eight Top 10 singles on the R&B chart (according to latest figures from Joel Whitburns Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004, 2004), three number-one pop hits and thirteen number-one R&B hits. His development as an artist was immense over the course of his career and mirrored the changing world around him:

Marvin Gaye’s entire recorded output signifies the development of black music from raw rhythm and blues, through sophisticated soul to the political awareness of the early 70s, and the increased concentration on personal and sexual politics thereafter. [18]

Today, Marvin Gaye is considered one of the most gifted vocalists to emerge from Motown, one of the great musical visionaries of soul music, and thus one of the greatest artists in the history of rock music.

A Change Of Direction

It was Renaldo ‚Obie‘ Benson of the Four Tops who originally began penning the song after witnessing cops manhandle and arrest several young anti‑war protestors in San Francisco. Hence the lines „Picket lines and picket signs/Don’t punish me with brutality”. Nevertheless, unwilling to meddle with the formula that had brought them success by way of relationship‑based songs, Benson’s vocal‑group colleagues refused to sing about such an incendiary subject. And even when he offered it to protest singer Joan Baez after recruiting Motown in‑house composer Al Cleveland to help flesh out the lyrics, the still‑untitled number remained unrecorded. It was at this point that Marvin Gaye entered the picture.

For the previous few years, Gaye had felt increasingly frustrated by the lack of artistic freedom afforded him by the commercial, pop‑oriented edicts of the Motown hit machine and its autocratic founder Berry Gordy (who also happened to be his brother‑in‑law). Then, in March 1970, when a brain tumour claimed the life of Gaye’s friend and collaborator Tammi Terrell, he plunged into a full‑blown depression. Refusing to sing on stage or in the studio, he made an unsuccessful attempt to join the Detroit Lions football team, before agreeing to record once more, but only on his own terms, which meant making artistic decisions without deferring to Motown’s head honcho.

„In 1969 or 1970, I began to re‑evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say,” Gaye would later tell Rolling Stone magazine. „I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realised that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.”

Accordingly, after a golf game with Obie Benson and Al Cleveland resulted in them playing Marvin Gaye the unfinished song back at his house, he came up with the title and added more lyrics, while also embellishing the melody on his piano. ‚What’s Going On‘, Gaye thought, would be ideal for the Originals, whose hits ‚Baby I’m for Real‘ and ‚The Bells‘ he had co‑written and produced. Benson convinced him otherwise, and so on June 10th, 1970, Marvin Gaye entered Studio A at Motown’s Hitsville USA to record the song himself.

Ken Sands & The Funk Brothers

„One thing I’ll say about Marvin is that he was always kind,” says Ken Sands, who was involved in the recording and the mix. „He was forceful in terms of what he wanted, a vision person in terms of what he was trying to do, but he was also a very sweet and gentle man who treated people calmly. That’s who he was, and I loved him and I miss him.”

It was in late 1964, while still in high school, that Vincent Kenneth Shensky secured a job as a board operator at radio station WLIN FM in Lincoln Park, just southwest of downtown Detroit, running programmes and announcing ads and news bulletins. Thereafter, using the on‑air moniker of Kenneth Sands (now his legal name), he worked at several different stations in the Detroit area, until 1966, when he became a disc jockey at WTRX AM in Flint, Michigan. It was then that he met Clarence Ringo, the chief engineer at WCHB AM in Detroit, who was also working part‑time at a small recording studio called Magic City. Sands subsequently split his own work time between Magic City and local radio station WJLB, and used a demo reel of his sessions at the former to help land a staff job at Motown in 1967.

„I started out as an engineer doing basic rhythm tracks,” he recalls. „We would have three‑hour recording sessions and cut several tunes during each session with the Funk Brothers.”

Purported, according to the 2002 documentary film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, to have „played on more number‑one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined,” the Funk Brothers were the in‑house musicians who provided the backing to most of the company’s recordings from its inception in 1959 until its relocation to LA in 1972. Virtually anyone who played on the records could be classified as a Funk Brother, including Marvin Gaye, who acquitted himself pretty handily on the drums for acts such as the Miracles, the Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Martha & the Vandellas, the Supremes and Little Stevie Wonder. Nevertheless, only 13 people have been officially recognised (by NARAS, for a Lifetime Achievement Award, and on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame) as official members of the Funk Brothers.

Aside from some singles and albums by Earl Van Dyke, What’s Going On was the first Motown record to actually credit the Funk Brothers‘ contributions. Before that, working alongside legendary in‑house songwriter‑producer Norman Whitfield, Ken Sands engineered Marvin Gaye’s smash‑hit version of ‚Too Busy Thinking About My Baby‘, his follow‑up to ‚I Heard It Through The Grapevine‘, as well as the million‑selling ‚That’s the Way Love Is‘.


In the case of ‚What’s Going On‘, it was Steve Smith who recorded the basic drums, bass and piano.

„That’s how Marvin would usually start his sessions,” Sands continues with regard to the general approach on Gaye’s records. „He’d play the piano while Pistol [Richard ‚Pistol‘ Allen] was on the drums and Jamerson was on bass, and he would also do a demo vocal along with that rhythm track on track one. The microphones that we used were tube Neumann U67s; they had an extremely clean sound, but they would also allow for a certain amount of distortion/compression that was just enough to give things an edge.

„Pistol would play a relatively small, dark mother-of-pearl Rogers drum kit that was actually designed for jazz. There was a large ride cymbal, a crash on the left, a small tom‑tom, a floor tom‑tom and snare. Pistol would keep that set tuned the way he liked it for playing — he was responsible for the drum sound after Benny Benjamin died.

„Benny was a heavy drummer with a broader sound,” Sands says. „Pistol, on the other hand, was a really good, close friend of mine, and he taught me how to play drums. Then there was Uriel Jones — they were consummate jazz musicians. To record Pistol, I would use just three mics: an RCA DX77 ribbon on the foot, a U67 on the snare, and a U67 overhead. People couldn’t believe we were using a ribbon microphone on a bass drum — ‚Why would you do that?‘ The wave front of a bass drum would tend to stretch the ribbon of a ribbon microphone, but that’s what we used. That was the foot sound, that was Motown.”

As it happens, ‚Pistol‘ Allen didn’t drum on the sessions for the ‚What’s Going On‘ single or album. Looking for a different sound, Marvin Gaye assigned that role to Chet Forest, described by bass player Bob Babbitt as „more of a swing big‑band drummer, a very excellent musician and an unbelievable drummer,” in a 2010 Bass Guitar magazine article. It was Forest who played the song’s main groove, while Gaye added an extra beat with a box drum.

Given that, according to Ken Sands, „the overall setup didn’t really change” on Motown records, regardless of who the main artist was, when Steve Smith recorded the rhythm track for ‚What’s Going On‘, he likely saw Chet Forest drumming in the rear left corner of the Studio A live area. Marvin Gaye, playing piano, would have been in the near left corner, and to his right would have been Robert White on guitar. James Jamerson normally played bass while standing in front of the DI, but in this case his positioning was apparently a little different.

In the book Standing In The Shadows Of Motown: The Life & Music Of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson, written by one Dr Licks, Dave Van DePitte — who arranged the entire What’s Going On album — stated that „Jamerson always kept a bottle of [the Greek spirit] Metaxa in his bass case. He could really put that stuff away, and then sit down and still be able to play. His tolerance was incredible. It took a hell of a lot to get him smashed.”

Well, smashed Jamerson apparently was when he arrived at Studio A after Gaye had located him playing in a local club and asked him to drop by once the set was over. Too drunk and tired to sit upright in a chair, he lay down on the floor and, after taking a look at Van DePitte’s chord charts, played the chromatic, syncopated, constantly‑changing bass line that still captivates legions of admirers.

As Van DePitte would recall, „He just read the part down like I wrote it. He loved it because I had written Jamerson licks for James Jamerson.” The bassist’s wife, Annie, also remembered him returning from the session and describing ‚What’s Going On‘ as a masterpiece; a notable display of enthusiasm from a man who rarely discussed his work with her.


Meanwhile, after Steve Smith completed his work on the song, Ken Sands sat behind the console for the overdubbing and layering of assorted parts: the tambourine and percussion provided by Jack Ashford; the bongos and congas of Eddie ‚Bongo‘ Brown; and, of course, Marvin Gaye’s lead vocal — in this case, a double vocal that resulted not from a mistake (as has been reported elsewhere), but from the singer capitalising on a Sands decision that, unwittingly, would result in Gaye’s trademark sound, layering as many as three lead vocals on his subsequent recordings.

„We recorded two lead vocals that Marvin wanted to compare with one another when each was incorporated into the track,” Sands explains. „He wanted me to make him two 7.5 ips copies that could be played individually, but instead of doing that I made him one stereo 7.5, with the entire track in the centre of the mix, the first vocal on the left hand side and the second vocal on the right. This was to be expeditious, so he could listen to them simultaneously or against each other. As it turned out, singing against himself worked, but I’m not going to take credit for thinking things through and saying, ‚This is what I want to happen‘. It just happened. That’s how a lot of things happen. A lot of brilliance is bred of happenstance.

„At that time, Mike McLean had converted both studio facilities from tube‑type microphones to solid-state mics, so for lead vocals we used the Neumann U87, which is the solid-state version of the U67. Marvin took his time doing his vocals and he’d often come back and try a different approach. For ‚What’s Going On‘ he did the vocals in Studio B, wearing his knitted skull cap, and everything went very smoothly.”

While Gaye added his own backing vocals in the form of the „what’s going on” refrain, he also recruited his Detroit Lions friends Mel Farr and Lem Barney to contribute party‑like background chatter alongside some of the Funk Brothers. On the other hand, Eli Fountain’s alto sax intro wasn’t part of Gaye’s original vision, but he loved the hook and responded to Fountain’s assertion that he was „just goofing” by telling him, „you goofed off exquisitely”.

‚What’s Going On‘

The result, after Ken Sands took care of the mix, was a protest song like no other that had come before; a number that, rather than ask „what’s going on,” answered this by reporting on America’s struggles and Marvin Gaye’s personal strife without bitterness or anger. In a relaxed, laid‑back manner that exuded empathy and understanding, Gaye addressed a „father, father” in reference to his troubled relationships both with God and the patriarch who would eventually kill him, and reached out to the „brother, brother, brother” as an appeal to not only his Vietnam vet sibling Frankie, but all of humankind.

„You see, war is not the answer, For only love can conquer hate,” Gaye intoned, blending the vocal spirituality of his gospel roots with the soulfulness and warmth of the song’s sax breaks and jazz‑flavoured rhythms, but this didn’t impress Berry Gordy. On the contrary, denouncing ‚What’s Going On‘ as „too jazzy”, after Gaye presented it to him with the religiously‑infused B‑side ‚God Is Love‘, the Motown CEO refused to issue the single.

The possibility that Gaye’s political statements might alienate certain white listeners can’t have been Gordy’s primary concern — earlier in 1970, he had approved the release of Edwin Starr’s ‚War‘ and the Temptations‘ ‚Ball Of Confusion‘ (mixed by Ken Sands with producer Norman Whitfield). Quite simply, he just didn’t like ‚What’s Going On‘, telling Harry Balk — who had sold his Impact and Inferno labels to Motown before running its Creative Division — that it sounded „old” and that he hated its „Dizzy Gillespie‑styled scats”.

Marvin Gaye responded by refusing to record any other material until ‚What’s Going On‘ was released, and when Gordy asked Smokey Robinson — then Motown’s Vice President, as well as one of its biggest stars — to persuade the Prince of Soul to change his mind, Robinson informed him that, „like a bear shitting in the woods, Marvin ain’t budging.”

The stalemate lasted several months until January of 1971, when Harry Balk pushed for the single’s release. Quality Control’s Billie Jean Brown disagreed, so they turned to Vice President of Sales Barney Ales, who sided with Balk, resulting in 100,000 copies being pressed and promo singles being mailed to radio stations. Gordy was placated when the former sold out within 24 hours, leading to the pressing of a further 100,000 discs to meet demand and ‚What’s Going On‘ hitting the top spot on the R&B chart that March. Reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100, it ended up shifting over two‑and‑a‑half million units, making it the fastest‑selling release in Motown’s history up until that time.

By then, predictably, Berry Gordy had commissioned the recording of an entire album to cash in on the single’s success. Ken Sands took care of the strings and brass on those sessions alongside David Van DePitte in Studio B, while also recording the lead vocals and some of the backing vocals. The rhythm section and other parts were tracked at Studio A, Detroit’s United Sound Studios and The Sound Factory in West Hollywood before, according to Sands, he did the final mix on the tenth floor of the Motown Center. Completed in May 1971 and released that same month, What’s Going On was the first of Marvin Gaye’s albums to afford him credit as sole producer.

„Steve Smith did a couple of mixes and I did the final one,” Sands recalls, contradicting the conventional wisdom that, after he arrived in LA for a film project, Gaye scrapped ‚The Detroit Mix‘ and remixed the album to give it an even softer, smoother feel. „It was my mix that I heard on the radio,” Sands insists, „and that was my final assignment for Motown before the company relocated to the West Coast.”

Either way, What’s Going On remained on the Billboard Top 200 for over a year, selling more than two million copies, while being named ‚Album Of The Year‘ by Rolling Stone, which, in 2003, would rank it number six on its list of the ‚500 Greatest Albums Of All Time‘.

Early life and career

Marvin Gaye was born the first son and second eldest of four children to Rev. Marvin Pentz Gay, Sr. and Alberta Cooper. His sisters, Jeanne and Zeola, younger brother, Frankie, and Marvin lived in the Washington, D.C.’s Deanwood neighborhood in the northeastern section of the city. Gaye’s father preached in a Seventh-day Adventist Church sect called the House of God, which went by a strict code of conduct and mixed teachings of Orthodox Judaism and Pentecostalism. Marvin’s relationship with his father was contentious and embattled. Marvin Sr. was a domineering father, beating his children frequently, demanding strict adherence to the tenets prescribed by the House of God, even after he himself left the sect. Gaye described the difficult nature of his childhood to biographer David Ritz:

Living with Father was something like living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel, and all-powerful king. You were supposed to tip-toe around his moods. You were supposed to do anything to win his favor. I never did. Even though winning his love was the ultimate goal of my childhood, I defied him. I hated his attitude… If it wasn’t for mother, who was always there to console me and praise my singing, I think I would have been one of those child suicides you read about in the papers. [2]

A benefit of growing up in his father’s church was that Marvin started singing and playing instruments in the choir, and his natural musical talent and charisma emerged. While attending Cardozo High School, Marvin took up with a few of his peers also interested in music and formed a group, in which he played drums and piano. Marvin’s growing interest in secular music and the culture that accompanied it put additional strain on his home life and his relationship with his father in particular, and he decided to drop out of school at age 18, and join the United States Air Force. However, he was honorably discharged after only eight months of duty due to his general unruliness and lackadaisical attitude. [3]

After leaving the Air Force, Gaye continued his music career in earnest, performing in several doo wop groups, before settling in with The Marquees, a popular D.C. group. Also at some point during this time, he changed the spelling of his last name from „Gay“ to „Gaye,“ adding the „e“ to separate himself from his father’s name, to curb gossip about his sexuality and also in earnest imitation of his idol, Sam Cooke, who also added an „e“ to his given last name. [4] With Bo Diddley, The Marquees released a single, „Wyatt Earp,“ in 1958 on Okeh Records and were then recruited by Harvey Fuqua to become The Moonglows. „Mama Loocie,“ released in 1959 on Chess Records, was Gaye’s first single with the Moonglows and his first recorded lead. After a concert in Detroit, the „new“ Moonglows disbanded and Fuqua introduced Gaye to Motown Records president Berry Gordy. He signed Gaye first as a session drummer for acts such as The Miracles, The Contours, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, and others, most notably playing drums on The Marvelettes‘ 1961 hit, „Please Mr. Postman“ and Little Stevie Wonder’s „Fingertips Pt. 2.“

Gaye developed a serious relationship with Gordy’s sister, Anna Gordy, seventeen years Marvin’s senior, who he would later marry in 1963. With her help, he convinced Berry Gordy to let him record his first album. In June 1961, Gaye issued his first solo recording, album. Gaye had envisioned himself as a sophisticated crooner, in the vein of Perry Como or Nat King Cole, and, with Anna’s help had convinced Gordy to let him record an album of mostly Broadway standards and jazz-rendered show tunes. It was a commercial failure.

Early Motown success

After arguing over the direction of his career with Gordy, Gaye eventually agreed to conform to record the more R&B-rooted sounds of his label mates and contemporaries, issuing three singles that were written by Gordy. His first single release, „Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide,“ built upon a Ray Charles vibe, failed to chart, as did the follow-ups, „Sandman“ and „A Soldier’s Plea,“ each released in 1962. Ironically, Gaye would find his first success as a co-songwriter on the Marvelettes‘ 1962 hit, „Beechwood 4-5789.“ Finally in the fall of 1962, the single, „Stubborn Kind of Fellow,“ brought Gaye success on the R&B chart. The record, co-written by Gaye and produced by friend William „Mickey“ Stevenson, featuring Martha and the Vandellas (then known as The Vells), was an autobiographical jab at Gaye’s nonchalant moody behavior, and became a top ten hit on the Hot R&B Songs chart.

The single would be followed by his first Top 40 singles „Hitch Hike,“ „Pride & Joy“ and „Can I Get a Witness,“ all of which were charted successes for Gaye in 1963. The success continued with the 1964 singles „You Are a Wonderful One“ (which featured background work by The Supremes), „Try It Baby“ (which featured backgrounds from The Temptations), „Baby Don’t You Do It,“ and „How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),“ which became one of Gaye’s signature songs. During this early success, Gaye contributed to writing Martha and the Vandellas‘ 1964 smash, „Dancing in the Street.“ His work with Smokey Robinson on the 1966 album, he also became one of the few Motown artists to perform at the Copacabana.

Tammi Terrell and increasing success

A number of Gaye’s hits for Motown were duets with female artists, such as Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell; the first Marvin Gaye/Mary Wells duet album, 1964’s birthed the massive hits „Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“ (later covered by Diana Ross and more recently, by former Doobie Brothers singer, Michael McDonald) and „Your Precious Love.“ Real life couple Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson provided the writing and production for the Gaye/Terrell records; while Gaye and Terrell themselves were not lovers (though rumors persist that they may have been), they convincingly portrayed lovers on record; indeed Gaye sometimes claimed that for the durations of their duets he was in love with her. On October 14, 1967, Terrell collapsed into Gaye’s arms onstage while they were performing at the Hampton University homecoming in Virginia. She was later diagnosed with a brain tumor and her health continued to deteriorate.

Motown decided to try and carry on with the Gaye/Terrell recordings, issuing the were archived Terrell solo songs with Gaye’s vocals overdubbed onto them.

Gaye achieved his greatest commercial success with 1968’s „I Heard it Through the Grapevine,“ his first #1 single on the Pop charts. Although the single was first released by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and had even been a #1 pop hit for them, Gaye had actually recorded his version before Knight. Initially vetoed by Berry Gordy during discussions about its release, the success of the Knight version and the persistence of the song’s co-writer, Norman Whitfield, made its release possible. It stayed at the top position on the pop charts for seven weeks, from December 1968 to January 1969, and would turn out to be the highest selling Motown single of the entire decade, selling nearly four million copies. [5][6]

Marital and personal difficulties

Meanwhile, Gaye’s marriage with Anna was crumbling. The union had been tempestuous from the beginning and physical violence between the two was not uncommon. Marvin’s growing fame and the resultant female attention, as well as the couple’s inability to conceive a child (they adopted a child, which they named Marvin III, in 1965) added to the strain on their relationship. Marvin had also begun using drugs since arriving at Motown, and by the end of the 1960s was abusing cocaine. Terrell’s illness contributed to putting Gaye in a depression and he even contemplated suicide. Even in the face of the unprecedented success of „I Heard It Through the Grapevine,“ Gaye was unsatisfied, saying that his success „didn’t seem real“ and that he „didn’t deserve it.“ [7]

What’s Going On

Tammi Terrell died of a tumor on March 16, 1970. Devastated by her death, Marvin was so emotional at her funeral that he’d talk to the remains as if she were going to respond. [8] Gaye subsequently went into seclusion, and did not perform in concert for nearly two years. At the same time, Marvin had begun to feel musically irrelevant, singing endlessly (albeit successfully) about love while popular music underwent a revolution and began addressing social and political issues.

Fueled by personal turmoil, the political unrest brewing in the country, and by letters he received from his brother Frankie, an enlisted soldier fighting in Vietnam, he entered the studio in June 1970 and recorded the songs „What’s Going On“ and „God is Love.“ „What’s Going On“ was written by Renaldo Benson of the Four Tops and Motown staffer Al Cleveland, and presented to Marvin to sing. However, overseeing production and instrumentation, Gaye made the track his own, a moving and soulful plea for peace, both in the world, and within. [9]

Gaye wanted to release the two songs as a single, with „What’s Going On“ on the A-side. Motown head Berry Gordy refused, however, calling the single „uncommercial“ (Even after the success of the song and the eponymous album it was drawn from, Gordy asserted that he didn’t understand the album. [10]). Gaye refused to record anything else until Gordy gave in and released the song, which became a surprise hit in January 1971. Gordy subsequently requested an entire album of similar tracks from Gaye.

The album, also entitled became one of the highlights of Gaye’s career and is today his best-known and most well-regarded work. Both in terms of sound (influenced by jazz, and Latin rhythms) and lyrical content (which was both topical and heavily spiritual) it was a major departure not only from his earlier Motown work, but from anything Motown had yet released. Two more of its singles, „Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)“ and „Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),“ became Top 10 pop hits and #1 R&B hits. The acclaim for the album was immediate, earning Gaye a NAACP Image Award, a key to the city of Washington D.C., [11] Billboard magazine’s Trendsetter of the Year award and Cashbox magazine’s Male Vocalist of the Year award.[12]

The album became one of the most acclaimed soul albums of all time and made the concept album the new frontier for soul music. It has been called „the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices.“ [13] In an measure of just how enduring and well-regarded the album is, Rolling Stone Magazine in 2003 placed the album at #6 on its list of the greatest albums of all time.[14]

Continued success in music

Gaye’s first project after the ground-breaking success of in 1972. An album of songs and instrumental score music, it scored Gaye another hit single with the title track, which peaked at #7 on the pop charts.

After . Also, with the title track, Gaye broke his own record at Motown by surpassing the sales of „I Heard It Through the Grapevine.“ The album would be later hailed as „a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy.“ [15]

Gaye began working on his final duet album, this time for Diana Ross, for the project, an album of duets that began recording in 1972, while Ross was pregnant with her second child. Gaye refused to sing if he couldn’t smoke in the studio, so the duet album was recorded by overdubbing Ross and Gaye at separate studio session dates. Released in the fall of 1973, the album yielded the U.S. Top 20 hit singles „You’re a Special Part of Me“ and „My Mistake (Was to Love You).“

In 1976, Gaye released the LP, which yielded the number-one R&B single, „I Want You“ and the modest charter, „After the Dance.“ and produced erotic album tracks such as „Since I Had You“ and „Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again“ with its musical productions gearing Gaye towards more funky material.

Marital upheaval

Marvin’s marriage to Anna, plagued for years by infidelity, bickering, and physical violence (by both parties), finally entered its last phase in 1973, when Marvin began a long-running affair with Janis Hunter, daughter of jazz musician Slim Gaillard, and seventeen years Marvin’s junior. Marvin met Janis during sessions for recording period. Their relationship produced two children, Nona Marvisa Gaye (b. September 4, 1974) and Frankie Christian Gaye (b. November 16, 1975). Marvin and Janis married after Marvin’s divorce from Anna was finalized in 1977. Shortly after their October 1977 wedding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, however, they separated due to growing tensions between them, finally divorcing in February 1981.

Later years

In 1977, Gaye released the seminal funk single, „Got to Give It Up,“ which went to number-one on the pop, R&B and dance singles charts simultaneously and helped his which addressed the sour points of his marriage to Anna and almost led to Anna filing an invasion of privacy against Marvin. That album tanked on the charts however (despite its later critical reevaluation and acclaim), and Gaye struggled to sell a record.

By 1979, besieged by tax problems and drug addictions, Gaye filed for bankruptcy and moved to Hawaii where he lived in a bread van. In 1980, he signed with British promoter Jeffrey Kruger to do concerts overseas with the promised highlight of a Royal Command Performance at London’s Drury Lane in front of Princess Margaret. Gaye failed to make the stage on time and by the time he came, everyone had left. While in London, Marvin worked on {border:none !important;display:block !important;float:none !important;line-height:0px;margin-bottom:15px !important;margin-left:0px !important;margin-right:0px !important;margin-top:15px !important;min-height:250px;min-width:300px;text-align:center !important;}

After being offered a chance to clear things out in Oostende, Belgium, he took up residency there in 1981. Still upset over Motown’s hasty decision to release performing „What’s Going On.“ He then embarked on a U.S. tour to support his album. The tour, ending in August 1983, was plagued by health and drug problems, Gaye’s bouts with depression, and Gaye’s paranoia about potential attempts on his life.

Final days and death

When the tour ended, he isolated himself by moving into his parents‘ house. He threatened to commit suicide several times after numerous bitter arguments with his father, Marvin, Sr. On April 1, 1984, one day before his forty-fifth birthday, Gaye’s father shot and killed him after an argument that had started after Marvin’s parents argued over misplaced business documents. [16] Ten thousand mourners, including Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and comedian and activist Dick Gregory, were present at Gaye’s funeral in Los Angeles, which was presided over by the head of his father’s old church, the Chief Apostle of the House of God.[17]

After Gaye’s death, two of his children followed in his footsteps to show business: eldest son Marvin Pentz Gaye III became a record producer, while Gaye’s only daughter, Nona, became a model, an actress and a singer. His youngest child, son Frankie Christian, has not followed his siblings into show business.