The rich layers of Marvin Gaye’s unmistakeable vocals.
The lush strings of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
An important message that seems more relevant than ever today.
Listen: The full story behind Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”
Recorded 50 years ago this summer, Gaye began recording his vocals for what many critics would say is his greatest artistic achievement in July 1970 — the single “What’s Going On?” That would later spur an album of the same name released the following year.
It’s a major Motown anniversary that longtime music reporter Brian McCollum dove into recently for the Detroit Free Press.
“He was, in a sense, saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ before it was actually in our lexicon,” says McCollum.
McCollum says that at the time of the single’s recording, Berry Gordy’s Motown record label still viewed Gaye as a crooner with sex appeal for female fans, an identity that Gaye wrestled with throughout his career.
But with Gaye’s brother returning from Vietnam with horror stories of war and the fight for civil rights marching on, he wanted to venture into new musical and lyrical territory. Despite Gordy’s reservations, Gaye was determined to expand his artistry and use his voice as a wake up call.
“Motown didn’t want to put it out. Berry Gordy in particular really thought it was the wrong move for Marvin,” says McCollum.