I love Marvin Gaye, possibly more than anyone in the Halls of Rock. His music is in my blood. Could I start out with any more pathetic a claim? Probably not. However, what I’m getting at is that I grew up loving Marvin Gaye before I heard the song “What’s Going On.” I want to separate myself from the pack of balding, long-haired relics at Rolling Stone who spent the late-’60s putting their faith in Jefferson Airplane’s Manson Family pep rally tunes. I want to separate myself from the Millennials who first heard the What’s Going On album off Napster, the same day they illegally downloaded D’Angelo’s debut, when they got bored with Stephen Malkmus’ first solo records and feared Pavement wasn’t getting back together any time soon.
I don’t want to separate myself from the greatness of the song “What’s Going On.” That song – and “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and even “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” – is TREMENDOUS, but for a few years before those songs existed, when I was a little kid listening to the radio and records with my Mom, there was “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Hitchhike,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (with Tammi Terrell), and easily a dozen other killer singles from the 1960s. I was already in love with Marvin Gaye – his music and his super-cool, manly Look – before I heard the singles from the album What’s Going On. Those songs only added to his greatness, as did the the title track from his next album, Let’s Get It On, and the shy person’s party anthem “Got to Give It Up.” During this stretch, when I was 12 or 13, I bought the 3-album Motown anthology and soaked in another 2 dozen killer tracks.
The 3 gems from What’s Going On were included on that anthology, but not the whole album. A couple of years later, I finally bought the What’s Going On LP, which was considered a classic but had nowhere near the rep that started to develop by the late-’80s. Beside the killer trio of songs, What’s Going On is essentially a Muzak-style time-chewer of the title track’s opening statement. It gets called things like a “song cycle.” Hogwash! Gaye was impassioned and spot on in all that made him want to holler then and that still makes me and a lot of you want to holler today. I get the emotion that powers the high rankings that continue to build up for this album, but it overlooks the singles-oriented market that was still hanging on when Gaye patched together that album. In strictly musical terms, he was short on ideas. And he was toasted. He and the Motown studio crew took a few good songs and turned a single album into sides 5 and 6 of Sandinista. And yes, I love Sandinista, probably more than most of you.
I’ll resist saying some things that will only make me sound even more like a complete asshole. I am NOT a Fox News type. I am a liberal, peace-loving person ready for change, outraged by what Trump and his ilk have unleashed in our culture, but when it comes to my tastes in music, I’m not going to take a shortcut to demonstrating how in touch I am with Black culture and the serious plight of minorities and underprivileged people in this country by pretending that the roughly 20 minutes of filler that make up What’s Going On are worth my highest praise. Yes, I used to take a lot of drugs, and even then that extended groove felt like Marvin was buying time.
And I apologize for even taking a peak at another Rolling Stone list, especially one containing 500 entries. Just shoot me, if I ever peak at another Rolling Stone list, and as much as I love making lists, is any topic worth listing out and ranking as far as 500 entries? I’m reminded of a beloved founding Townsperson of old who used to list his 30 Top 5 Elvis Costello records. As yet another Townsperson who’s not returned for our pandemic-relief reboot used to say, Taste is taste or To each his own. (I think he would say that in French, because he had a fun way of expressing his pretentious professorial side.) So true. I shouldn’t be sharing these thoughts, but know that much of my ire is directed at the relics at Rolling Stone who continue to find new ways of exploiting pop culture for profit. I’ll tell you what: don’t wait for me to break my vow over not reading another Rolling Stone list. Just shoot me.