“War is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate”
Today marks the 45th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s conscious, game changing single, What’s Going On. The opening saxophone melody at the beginning of the record wasn’t intentional and Marvin stopped the sax player, Eli Fontaine, before he ever began. The year before the release of this landmark single was a dim, trying time for Marvin personally & professionally. After losing his duet partner, Tammi Terrell, to a 3 year battle with a brain tumor and dealing with his brother Frankie being away and serving in the Vietnam War, he found himself at a crossroads.
It fascinates me that this song would be the catalyst to Marvin’s 11th studio album, if you put into perspective the greatness of it all you’d think this was a sophomore album the way Marvin dug deep into the music and really transcended himself beyond an artist and became a messenger to the people in a time when all the messages seemed masked, covered and slathered with hate, confusion, delusion and propaganda. Marvin stood up for himself at a time when individually and collectively people didn’t know how to do it for themselves. The story goes that Four Tops member Obie Benson wrote this song out of contemplation while hanging out in San Francisco called Haight-Ashbury, he saw hippies being beat by the police for seemingly nothing. It takes me to today in 2016 where police brutality is running rampant and this song is still unfortunately relevant. Obie finished the song with fellow songwriter Al Cleveland and then began to pitch it to different artists on the scene, Marvin ended up being the only one who saw the potential in the song. He took a song that nobody wanted to touch with a ten foot pole and turned it into a spiritual piece of art that has transcended time, genre and demographics.
It wasn’t an easy journey for this song to ultimately become what is has. Berry Gordy famously hated it but thank goodness he was occupied with Diana Ross’ milkshake & movie career that the song was able to slip from the mouth of Marvin onto the ears of the public and they showed him LOVE. It debuted on Billboard at #1 on the R&B chart and #2 on the Pop chart.
Thank you Mr. Gaye for being fearless and standing in your truth to give us music from your soul in a time when it was expected for you be everything else but yourself. Generations will continue to embrace & groove in consciousness because of you.