Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Marvin Gaye…

Numerous web sites, Soul Walking - Marvin Gaye, History Of Rock - Marvin Gaye, Rolling Stone - Marvin Gaye Discography & Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame - Marvin Gaye were quite helpful in preparing my tribute to Marvin Gaye. Please click on the hyperlinks to enjoy these web sites.

With a career that spanned the entire history of rhythm and blues, from '50s doo wop to '80s soul, Marvin Gaye exemplified the maturation of romantic black pop into a sophisticated form spanning social and sexual politics, Marvin Gaye was one of the most consistent and enigmatic of the Motown hit makers. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame - Marvin Gaye, as a performer, in 1987.

Biographer David Ritz said of Gaye, “His music was cathartic. His songs were prayers, meditations, strategies for survival.”

He was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., April 2nd 1939, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. and died April 1st, 1984, Los Angeles, U.S.A. (A horrible April Fools’ Day announcement, which I wish was an ill-timed joke.)

Marvin Gaye's contribution to Black Music over the past four decades is immeasurable. Marvin Gaye made a huge contribution to soul music in general and the Motown sound in particular. As one of Motown’s renaissance men, Gaye could do it all. He wrote, produced and played a variety of instruments. Most of all, Gaye possessed a classic R&B voice that was edged with grit yet tempered with sweetness. A musical visionary, he conceived of albums as something more than individual songs, whether it be his early collections of show tunes and standards or later thematic masterworks about the state of the world (What’s Going On?), sexual politics (Let’s Get It On) and marriage (Here, My Dear).

Marvin Gaye was named after his father, a minister and preacher in the Apostolic Church, with the obscure House of God, a small, charismatic sect that combined elements of Orthodox Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity. His mother worked as a domestic and raised Marvin and his four siblings. Gaye was three years old when he began singing in his father's church choir and was soon playing the organ and drums, too. The influence of the church in his early years played a formative role in his musical career, particularly from the 70's onwards, when his songwriting shifted back and forth between mainstream and religious topics.

Gaye sought to escape from his father’s stern hand and the harsh realities of ghetto life through music. His musical tastes were shaped by such R&B artists as Rudy West (of the Five Keys), Clyde McPhatter (of the Drifters), Ray Charles and Little Willie John. He cited “God Only Knows,” by the Capris, as critical to his musical awakening.

Gaye returned to his hometown of Washington, D.C. and started signing in a street corner doo wop group, The Rainbows. Marvin abandoned a place in his father's church choir, and in 1957, he joined the Marquees, with school chums Reese Palmer, James Nolan and Chester Simmons. Their lone single, “Wyatt Earp,” was produced by Bo Diddley, for the Okeh label.

The following year the group was taken under the wing of producer and singer Harvey Fuqua, who utilized them to reform his doo-wop outfit the Moonglows his backing group. However, in 1960, the group soon broke up and Fuqua moved to Detroit to form Tri-Phi Records with his girlfriend Gwen Gordy, bringing Marvin with them. It was Gwen that introduced Gaye to her brother Berry Gordy at Motown Records’ 1960 Christmas party. Soon Gaye was signed to his new Motown Tamla label in 1961. Gaye started as a session drummer at Motown, playing on all the early hits by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

Marvin added an 'e' to his surname (the word 'gay' was taking on newer meanings and Gaye was concerned about his reputation considering the flamboyant dress sense of his father) and began his career as a jazz singer. In 1961, he married Gordy's sister, Anna, and was offered a solo recording contract.

Though he initially envisioned himself a supper-club singer and dreamed of becoming “the black Frank Sinatra,” Gaye succeeded at Motown as a soul man who aimed his talent at a younger audience.

On December 8, 1961: The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, an album of jazz-pop standards and Gaye’s debut, is released. In 1962 he was persuaded to record R & B, and notched up his first hit single with the confident 'Stubborn Kind Of Fellow', a top 10 R & B hit. This record set the style for the next three years, as Gaye enjoyed hits with a series of energetic, dance songs that cast him as a smooth soul figure. Over the next ten years working with nearly every producer at Motown, including Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson, and Norman Whitfield, Gaye had over twenty hits. Specializing in mid-tempo ballads, he also had dance hits: "Hitch Hike," (#30, 1963), "Can I Get a Witness" (#22, 1963), and "Baby Don't Do It" (#27, 1964).

Gaye favored romantic and sometimes sensual ballads and felt that his desire to move into a more mainstream, sophisticated style was hampered by Motown's demand for hits. For a singer as unenthusiastic as Gaye later claimed to be, he gave almost every song an inspired reading. His Top Ten Hits include "Pride and Joy," (#10, 1963), "I'll Be Doggone" (#8, 1965), "Ain't That Peculiar" (#8, 1965), and "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You" (#6, 1965). Among his other thirty nine Top Forty singles of this period were "Try It Baby" (#15, 1964) with background vocals by the Temptations, "You're A Wonderful One" (#15, 1964, with backing vocals by the Supremes).

He also continued to work behind the scenes at Motown, co-writing Martha And The Vandellas' hit 'Dancing In The Street', and playing drums on several early recordings by Little Stevie Wonder.

On April 15, 1964, “Together”, an album of duets by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells, is released. It is Gaye’s fifth album and first to make Billboard’s Top 200 album chart.

His status as Motown's best-selling male vocalist left him free to pursue different avenues on his albums, which in 1965 included a tribute to the late Nat 'King' Cole and a collection of Broadway standards.

To capitalize on his image as a ladies' man, Motown teamed Gaye with their leading female vocalist, Mary Wells, for some romantic duets.

When Wells left Motown in 1964, Gaye recorded with Kim Weston until 1967, when she was succeeded by Tammi Terrell. On July 15, 1967: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the first of many duets by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, peaks at #19. The Gaye / Terrell partnership represented the peak of the soul duet, as their voices blended sensuously on a string of hits written specifically for the duo by Ashford And Simpson. Terrell developed a brain tumor in 1968, and collapsed onstage in Gaye's arms.

Records continued to be issued under the duo's name, although Simpson allegedly took Terrell's place on some recordings.

Through the mid-60's, Gaye allowed his duet recordings to take precedence over his solo work, but in 1968 he issued 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' (written by Whitfield / Strong), a song originally released on Motown by Gladys Knight And The Pips, although Gaye's version had actually been recorded first. It became the label's biggest-selling record to date. On December 14, 1968, Gaye’s version tops the R&B and pop charts for the first of seven weeks. It comes almost exactly a year after Gladys Knight and the Pips’ version of the song topped the R&B charts for six weeks.

Gaye followed up with another # 1, R & B hit, 'Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby', but his career was derailed by the illness and eventual death of Terrell, who had been Gaye’s favorite duettist, who passed away three years after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, in March 1970. Devastated by the loss of his close friend and partner, Gaye spent most of 1970 in seclusion. Gaye remarked, “I felt that I had somehow died with her.” Gaye, who considered himself more of a recording than a performing artist in any case, didn’t take to the stage again for five years after her death.

Subsequently, he reinvented and asserted himself to the point where he and Stevie Wonder became Motown’s first truly autonomous artists. Gaye’s artistry reached its peak with 1971’s What’s Going On, an ambitious, nearly operatic concept album that mused deeply on such issues as Vietnam, drugs, inequality, the economy and the environment over a free-flowing musical backdrop that drew on jazz, pop and classical forms. Gaye referred to the album as a “gift from God,” and the album’s spiritual dimension found overt expression in his liner notes: “We’ve got to find the Lord. Allow him to influence us. I mean, what other weapons have we to fight the forces of hatred and evil?”

'What's Going On' was a set of recordings that Motown at first refused to release, but which eventually formed his most successful solo album. On 'What's Going On', a number 1 hit in 1971, and its two chart-topping follow-ups, 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)' and 'Inner City Blues', Gaye combined his spiritual beliefs with his increasing concern about poverty, discrimination and political corruption in American society. Gaye evolved a new musical style that influenced a generation of black performers. Built on a heavily percussive base, Gaye's arrangements mingled varying influences into his soul roots, creating an instrumental backdrop for his sensual, almost pleading vocals. These three singles were all contained on 'What's Going On', a masterpiece on which every track contributed to the overall message. Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson say that this is their favorite 'all time' LP. It is the first Motown album to include printed lyrics and to credit Motown’s house musicians by name. In 1994, Britain’s Q magazine noted that What’s Going On “did for soul what Blonde on Blonde and Sgt. Pepper had done for rock.” In 2000, fellow Motown icon Smokey Robinson commented, “What’s Going On is my favorite album of all time. More than that, it is the greatest album of all time.”

On May 1, 1972, Washington, D.C celebrates “Marvin Gaye Day,” an homage to Gaye and his new album, What’s Going On. That night, Gaye performs his first concert in nearly four years at the Kennedy Center.

Gaye composed the soundtrack to the 'blaxploitation' thriller 'Trouble Man'. His primarily instrumental score highlighted his interest in jazz, while the title song gave him with another hit single.

Gaye's next project saw him shifting his attention from the political to the sexual with 'Let's Get It On'. Its explicit sexuality marked a major change in Gaye's career. On September 8, 1973, “Let’s Get It On,” by Marvin Gaye, tops the singles charts for the first of two weeks.

Meanwhile, he continued to let Motown market him in a traditional fashion by agreeing to collaborate with Diana Ross on a sensuous album of duets in 1973, although the two singers allegedly did not actually meet during the recording of the project. On August 17, 1974, Marvin Gaye Live!, which documents the singer’s first concert in five years, reaches #8 on the album chart as his album of duets with Diana Ross descends after a nearly yearlong run.

The break-up of his marriage to Anna Gordy in 1975 delayed work on his next album. On August 26-27, 1976, Marvin Gaye performs sold-out shows on consecutive nights in London, one of which will be released the next year as Marvin Gaye Live at the London Palladium. 'I Want You' followed to critical acclaim in 1976. The album was written by Leon Ware, who had, originally, intended recording the material himself, but was persuaded by Marvin to allow him to record the set. The title track was another number 1 hit on the soul charts, as was his 1977 disco outing, 'Got To Give It Up', which on June 25, 1977, becomes Gaye’s third Number One pop single and twelfth R&B chart-topper.

In 1978 he fled the US mainland to Hawaii in a vain attempt to salvage his second marriage, to his wife Janice, whom he married in 1977. Gaye devoted the next year to the 'Here My Dear' double album, released in February of 1979, a bitter commentary on his relationship with his first wife. Its title was ironic. He had been ordered to give all royalties from the project to Anna as part of their divorce settlement. With this crisis behind him, Gaye began work on an album to be called 'Lover Man', but he cancelled its release after the lukewarm sales of its initial single, the sharply self-mocking 'Ego-Tripping Out', which he had presented as a duet between the warring sides of his nature.

In 1980, under increasing pressure from the Internal Revenue Service, Gaye moved to Europe where he began work on an ambitious concept album, 'In My Lifetime'. When it emerged on January 15, 1981, Gaye accused Motown of remixing and editing the album without his consent, of removing a vital question-mark from the title, and of changing his original cover artwork. The relationship between artist and record company had been shattered, and Gaye left Motown for Columbia in 1982.

Persistent reports of his erratic personal conduct and reliance on cocaine fuelled pessimism about his future career, but instead he re-emerged in 1982 with a new single, 'Sexual Healing', which combined his passionate soul vocals with a contemporary slow-dance backing. The subsequent album, 'Midnight Love', in October 1982, offered no equal surprises, but the success of the single seemed to herald a new era in Gaye's music. On November 6, 1982: “Sexual Healing” tops the R&B chart for the first of ten weeks. Early in 1983 it will peak at #3 on the pop chart. On February 23, 1983, “Sexual Healing,” wins Grammy Awards for Best Male Vocal Performance and Best Instrumental Performance. They are the first Grammys of Gaye’s career. He sang live at the Grammy broadcast and in 1983, in concert at the Radio City Music Hall. Also in 1983, he appeared in one of the more memorable segments of the Motown 25th anniversary television special.

Gaye returned to the USA, where he took up residence at his parents’ home, in Los Angeles. The intensity of his cocaine addiction made it impossible for him to work on another album, and he fell into a prolonged bout of depression. He repeatedly announced his wish to commit suicide in the early weeks of 1984, and his abrupt shifts of mood brought him into heated conflict with his father, rekindling animosity that had been there since Gaye's childhood. On April 1, 1984 - a Sunday morning, and the day before his forty-fifth birthday, Marvin Gaye was shot to death at point-blank range by his father after a violent argument, an awful end to the life of one of soul music's premier performers. Following a star-studded funeral, his ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.

On January 21, 1987, Marvin Gaye is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the second annual induction dinner. Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson are his presenters.

On April 25, 1995: The Master 1961-1984, a four-disc overview of Marvin Gaye’s career, is released on Motown Records.

On February 28, 1996: Marvin Gaye posthumously receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences at the 38th annual Grammy Awards.

Motown and Columbia collaborated to produce two albums based on Gaye's unfinished recordings. 'Dream Of A Lifetime' mixed spiritual ballads from the early 70's with sexually explicit funk songs from a decade later, while 'Romantically Yours' offered a different reading of Gaye's original intentions in 1979 to record an album of big band ballads. In 1997, the album of 'big ballads' was issued under the title of 'Vulnerable'. Gaye once remarked, “Of all my albums, I love this one the most.”

On February 27, 2001, on the thirtieth anniversary of its original release, Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On,” is issued in a two-disc deluxe edition that includes alternate mixes and a historic 1972 performance.

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 70's, and the increased concentration on personal and sexual politics thereafter. Gaye's remarkable vocal range remains a testament for all subsequent soul vocalists, and his 'lover man' stance has been frequently mimicked.

Then, as you thought that that was the final word, Motown records embarked on a series of 'Deluxe' releases of Marvin's earlier material. One track, 'Where Are We Going?', created a great deal of interest. Written in part by the Mizell Brothers (Donald Byrd, Taste Of Honey, Bobbi Humphrey, Rance Allen etc.), the tune was heralded as the greatest release, of his, since Marvin's passing some 17 years earlier.

Marvin Gaye’s Discography…

There are so many Marvin Gaye CD’s, and Greatest Hits Compilations, that instead of listing each one, or, possibly listing many, and forgetting some, I will include a hyperlink, Rolling Stone - Marvin Gaye Discography. Click on the hyperlink to see the MANY Marvin Gaye recordings…

Marvin Gaye was an underrated legend. He has so many good songs. Among my favorites are Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Let’s Get It On, Me And Mrs. Jones, Sexual Healing and What’s Going On ?

Thanks, Marvin, for some smooth, sweet sounding music…Rest in peace…

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