Stubborn kind of fellow. Marvin Gaye sang a song with the same title but to all intents and purposes he could be talking about himself. Fed up with the non-stop rollercoaster of Motown promotion and hard-sell and at the same time defying the orders of label boss Berry Gordy (who wanted instant hit after hit), he set up camp for the best part of a year recording what many of us consider to be his masterpiece, ‘What’s Going On’.
I expect most of you here to know about the socio-political overtones in the lyrics, about how at the time (1971) such things were no-go for someone in Gaye’s world of work. You could argue that Marvin pushed open all sorts of doors with ‘What’s Going On’. Certainly, Stevie Wonder’s political work was just around the corner, but Marvin was one of the first mainstream million-selling artists to start writing this sort of stuff. Nowadays anyone from Take That to Leona Lewis can have a political conscience, but Marvin’s work was truly groundbreaking. What makes it all the better was that he cajoled, coerced and conducted the Funk Brothers into playing the grooviest music imaginable. Political music doesn’t have to be flat and one dimensional. Billy Bragg, sit up and listen when I’m talking to you.
Marvin cajoles, coerces and conducts the Funk Brothers
Listen to this. An instrumental (with the odd leaked Marvin backing vocal thrown in at the end) ‘rhythm ‘n’ strings’ version of the title track of ‘What’s Going On’. Listen to that bassline! Listen to those vibes! The clipped guitar! The finger clicks! The sweeping strings! The bongos, man! THIS IS MUSIC!
Marvin took the same approach to recording a couple of years later when writing ‘Let’s Get It On’. An album dedicated to love, sex and all that sort of stuff, you could be forgiven for thinking that it might sound like a slushy mess if you’ve never heard it. Far from it. Like the album before, Gaye pushes the Funk Brothers to their limits (and they have some seemingly never-ending limits) and makes another belter of an album.
I was always in denial about ‘Let’s Get It On’ as an album. Nothing could ever match up to ‘What’s Going On’ and I thought it was slushy romantic crap the first time I heard it. Played it once then filed it away. Then I heard the title track again, at the end of ‘High Fidelity’ when Jack Black’s band sing it. Instant re-appraisal. Jack Black turned me back on to ‘Let’s Get It On’! S’true!
Listen to the original studio demo of ‘Let’s Get It On’. A bit rougher round the edges than the version Jack Black loves but smooth enough to suggest something might happen upstairs sometime soon. Actually, it’s very smooth. Flutes, piano, backing vocals, wah-wah’d guitar, saxophone. This is one lush demo. I like my demos to feature a wee bit of studio chat and the odd bum note here and there. This one is no different. Except I’ve never heard the Funk Brothers never play a bum note, ever. Even on a demo.
Marvin hears that all-too-familiar squeak of the bedsprings from the upstairs neighbours and decides to write ‘Let’s Get It On’.
‘Running From Love’ was an instrumental that never Marvin quite managed to find a complete set of lyrics for, so never made the final cut of the album. Shame, as this version with fuzzed intro makes it sound like some long-lost Blaxploitation theme. The other version is slicker and smoother and would make great incidental music on a chocolate advert. Ideal, indeed, for gettin’ it on. With Valentine’s Day but a few days away, what better present to give your loved one than a CD of these downloaded beauties? And if he/she thinks it’s the worst present in the world…ever, then you’ve got to ask yourself if they’re really worth the effort.