The legendary Marvin Gaye’s seminal album turns fifty.
Marvin Gaye famously sang that “war is not the answer” in his signature protest song “What’s Going On.”
But for the late Motown legend, football was the answer to help lift him out of a deep depression after the 1970 death of Tammi Terrell — his frequent duet partner on hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — and into creating “What’s Going On,” his classic album that was released 50 years ago on May 21, 1971.
Be mindful of the bit about Tammi Terrell. You’ll be seeing this material again.
“It was during a time when he was trying out for the Detroit Lions and being a football player,” said David Ritz, author of 1985’s “Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye,” the definitive biography of the singer. “He was a good athlete, and he had this notion of wondering if he could turn pro, but I’m not sure he had the chops. But he certainly had the drive.”
Ultimately, his would-be teammates stepped in. “They told him, ‘Hey Marvin, we’re crazy about you, but go home ‘cause we don’t want to hurt you.’”
Still, Gaye went on to become such good buddies with Detroit Lions players Lem Barney and Mel Farr that they teamed up to provide background vocals on “What’s Going On,” the song that inspired and introduced Gaye’s masterpiece album, which last year Rolling Stone ranked at No. 1 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In addition to coming in at Numero Uno on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time list, along with a tremendous number of other Best Ever enumerations from around the planet, What’s Going On remains the biggest-selling album Motown ever has had.
You DID remember what I said about keeping that Tammi Terrell mention fresh in mind, right? As promised, we’re coming back to that material, if from a somewhat sideways direction. See, although Marvelous Marvin did indeed produce a whole slew of truly wonderful work with Terrell, the duet of his I always liked best was with Kim Weston.
No slight whatever intended to Tammi Terrell, of course or any of the other artists fortunate enough to have shared a mic with Marvin Gaye. But that right there’s some goooood squishy.