Album #208 – What’s Going On
This album brought a lot of firsts for Motown/Tamla Records: the first album to have Motown backing group The Funk Brothers credited on a Motown album, one of the first political albums from a Motown artist and one of the first big selling albums from Motown records. It almost was not released. Berry Gordy, the founder and owner of Motown, did not want any of his artists to release a political album, let alone an album with one of his artist’s own songs. But, Gaye convinced him and the rest is history. This is the only Marvin Gaye studio album that I own and in my opinion, it is his best. The album deals with political, social, economic and religious themes. Nobody in r&b was doing this at the time. Stevie Wonder would eventually do the same thing a couple of years later. Gordy did not think the album would sell. He released it on Tamla Records, a Motown imprint. The album was an instant success. What’s Going On and Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) were and still are some of Gaye’s biggest hits. The album is very sad in tone and themes. But, this album came out at the right time and it causes the listener to think about the lyrics. It is also brilliant and beautiful. The arrangements are amazing and sound so good. The album’s backing group The Funk Brothers showed just how talented they were. They were and still are amazing musicians. There is a documentary about them called Standing In The Shadows of Motown. I really want to see it and it tells their story. Before this album, nobody knew who The Funk Brothers were. This album gave them the credit they so rightfully deserved. They were to Motown what The Wrecking Crew was to Phil Spector. This album can almost be classified as an endless non-stop suite of music with many songs going into the next one. Gaye and The Funk Brothers experiment with Latin sounds on Right On and jazz and classical sounds on the album’s other tracks. Gaye, in my opinion, would never equal this album. This album is a must listen and crosses all musical boundaries. Overall, I give this album 5.5. out of 5.
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