Marvin Gaye: Ahead of His Time
BY ANDREW GOUTMAN
Marvin Gaye died over thirty years ago on the day before his 45th birthday, but the circumstances of his death are not as important as his celebrated life. The Motown artist with the three-octave vocal range always seemed to be ahead of his time, especially when it came to these career milestones:
- Duets: Long before artists such as Carlos Santana and Tony Bennett made it a career staple, Marvin Gaye hit the top of the charts with duets with these female artists: Mary Wells, with whom he recorded a duet album, “Together;” Kim Weston, and their hit song, “It Takes Two;” and Tammi Terrell, with whom he recorded numerous Top 10 hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love.” After Terrell’s 1967 death due to a brain tumor, Gaye returned to solo artistry.
- Anti-War Protest and Social Consciousness: During a time when mainstream pop and R&B artists were beating their chests about love, Marvin Gaye captured perfectly the political unrest over the Vietnam War with the title song from his landmark album, What’s Going On. A subsequent hit off that album, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” remarked on humankind’s squandering of its natural resources.
- Sexual Freedom: Gaye followed What’s Going On with the 1973 release of the album, Let’s Get It On, the title song of which seethed with “sheer sensuality and carnal energy.” Following a hiatus in Europe and with a new deal with Columbia Records, Marvin hit it big (6 million sold, two Grammys) with the album Midnight Love and the sultry “Sexual Healing.” The 1982 song seemed perfectly paired with “Let’s Get It On,” and its honest appraisal of the 1970s sexual revolution.
Marvin Gaye always seemed to be a step ahead of his fellow musicians and entertainers. We miss him greatly.