Singer Marvin Gaye surprised the pop music world 50 years ago today, May 21, 1971. Known for his soulful ballads Gaye released a totally different message album focused entirely on social commentary.
“What’s Going On” is filled with songs from the perspective of a Vietnam vet who has recently returned from the war and deeply reflects on inner city problems.
Motown’s Berry Gordy was at first reluctant to release “What’s Going On,” thinking the scat vocals and jazzy sound weren’t contemporary enough. But the single took off, so Gordy instructed Gaye to within a month come up with an entire concept album of similar material.
Last September when Rolling Stone published its latest ranking of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, “What’s Going On” was listed as #1.
In honor of the album’s anniversary, a new animated lyric video for the song came out today.
Gaye’s father was a violent alcoholic who made no secret that he never wanted his son. At one time Gaye said, “By the time I was twelve, there wasn’t an inch on my body that hadn’t been bruised and beaten by him.”
“My husband never wanted Marvin, and he never liked him,” Alberta Gay, Marvin Gaye’s mother explained. “He used to say he didn’t think he was really his child. I told him that was nonsense. He knew Marvin was his. But for some reason, he didn’t love Marvin, and what’s worse, he didn’t want me to love Marvin either.”
On April 1, 1984, Marvin Gaye and Marvin Gay Sr. argued. Gaye reportedly allegedly began beating his father until his mother, Alberta, separated them. While Gaye was talking with his mother in his bedroom and trying to calm down, his father reached for a gift that his son had once given him: a .38 Special.
Gay Sr. entered the bedroom and saying nothing shot his son once in the chest. Gaye fell to the floor and Gay Sr. shot him a second and third time at point-blank range.
Marvin Gaye died the day before his 45th birthday.