Two Beatific Visionaries: Bob Dylan & Marvin Gaye
Groundbreaking albums linked music to social justice movements.
Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a-Changing’
Bob Dylan & Woody Guthrie
Bob Dylan, the most influential singer-songwriter of our time, moved to New York City to be close to Woody Guthrie, Dylan’s hero, who was hospitalized nearby in North Jersey.
Dylan became a regular at the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, where he was sure to play his “Song to Woody,” a tribute to his ailing hero. According to his book Chronicles, Volume I, Dylan required special permission to perform at some clubs because he was not yet 21 years old,
Dylan signed a record contract in the fall of 1961, soon after his 21st birthday. Aside from his Woody Guthrie tribute, Dylan’s first, self-titled album contained covers of traditional folk songs and the blues.
But that would change very soon, as Bob Dylan’s songwriting chops surfaced with a vengeance.
In the winter of ’64, while America was fixated on the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, another musical milestone was being created not too far from where the Beatles landed.
That prior summer, Bob Dylan’s spirit was galvanized by the March on Washington and the murder of black civil rights activist Medgar Evers that gave the March its urgency. In New York City, he began recording his third studio album for Columbia Records.
The album, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” dug deep into the consciousness of America’s youth. Bob Dylan became a very reluctant champion of the 1960’s protest movements.
Mindful of the atrocities that culminated in Medgar Evers’ death (the song, “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” could have referred to Evers’ assassin), Dylan performed for voter registration activists in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1964.
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don’t criticize what you don’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for
The times they are a-changin’.
…and speaking of ahead of his time:
Marvin Gaye: Visionary in Three Octaves
For Marvin Gaye, the circumstances of his death are not as important as his life as a creative innovator. 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),” hung a lantern on environmental protection.
- 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 their honest appraisal of the 1970’s sexual revolution.
Gaye died of a shotgun wound inflicted by his father on April 1, 1984. People from around the world meet at Marvin’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame during the week of Apr. 1-5 to celebrate his music and his life.
Here is “What’s Going On,” the song and lyrics, publish by lyricsmanism in 2011, courtesy of YouTube: