b. Marvin Pentz Gay Jnr., 2nd April 1939, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
d. 1st April 1984, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Marvin Gaye’s contribution to Black Music over the past four decades is immeasurable.
Marvin Gaye was named after his father, a minister in the Apostolic Church.
The influence of the church in his early years played a formative role in his musical career, particularly from the 70’s onwards, when his songwriting shifted back and forth between mainstream and religious topics.
Marvin abandoned a place in his father’s church choir and in 1957, he joined the Marquees, who recorded for Chess under the guidance of Bo Diddley.
When Fuqua moved to Detroit in 1960, Gaye went with him.
In 1961, he married Gordy’s sister, Anna, and was offered a solo recording contract.
Marvin added an ‘e’ to his surname (the word ‘gay’ was taking on newer meanings and Gaye was concerned about his reputation considering the flamboyant dress sense of his father) and began his career as a jazz singer, but in 1962 he was persuaded to record R & B, and notched up his first hit single with the confident ‘Stubborn Kind Of Fellow’, a top 10 R & B hit.
This record set the style for the next three years, as Gaye enjoyed hits with a series of energetic, dance songs that cast him as a smooth soul figure.
In 1965, Gaye moved into a more sophisticated soul music style.
‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ epitomised his new direction, and it was followed by two successive R & B number 1 hits, ‘I’ll Be Doggone’ and ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’.
His status as Motown’s best-selling male vocalist left him free to pursue different avenues on his albums, which in 1965 included a tribute to the late Nat ‘King’ Cole and a collection of Broadway standards.
To capitalise on his image as a ladies’ man, Motown teamed Gaye with their leading female vocalist, Mary Wells, for some romantic duets.
tammi & marvin
tammi & marvin
The Gaye / Terrell partnership represented the peak of the soul duet, as their voices blended sensuously on a string of hits written specifically for the duo by Ashford And Simpson.
Terrell developed a brain tumour in 1968, and collapsed onstage in Gaye’s arms.
Records continued to be issued under the duo’s name, although Simpson allegedly took Terrell’s place on some recordings.
Through the mid-60’s, Gaye allowed his duet recordings to take precedence over his solo work, but in 1968 he issued ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (written by Whitfield / Strong), a song originally released on Motown by Gladys Knight And The Pips, although Gaye’s version had actually been recorded first. It became the label’s biggest-selling record to date.
Gaye followed up with another number 1 R & B hit, ‘Too Busy Thinking ‘Bout My Baby’, but his career was derailed by the illness and eventual death of Terrell in March 1970.
Devastated by the loss of his close friend and partner, Gaye spent most of 1970 in seclusion.
The following year, he emerged with a set of recordings that Motown at first refused to release, but which eventually formed his most successful solo album.
On ‘What’s Going On’, a number 1 hit in 1971, and its two chart-topping follow-ups, ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’ and ‘Inner City Blues’, Gaye combined his spiritual beliefs with his increasing concern about poverty, discrimination and political corruption in American society.
Gaye evolved a new musical style that influenced a generation of black performers.
Built on a heavily percussive base, Gaye’s arrangements mingled varying influences into his soul roots, creating an instrumental backdrop for his sensual, almost pleading vocals.
These three singles were all contained on ‘What’s Going On’, a masterpiece on which every track contributed to the overall message.
Gaye composed the soundtrack to the ‘blaxploitation’ thriller ‘Trouble Man’.
His primarily instrumental score highlighted his interest in jazz, while the title song gave him with another hit single.
Gaye’s next project saw him shifting his attention from the political to the sexual with ‘Let’s Get It On’.
Its explicit sexuality marked a major change in Gaye’s career, as he began to use cocaine more and more regularly, he became obsessed with his personal life, and rarely let the outside world figure in his work.
Meanwhile, he continued to let Motown market him in a traditional fashion by agreeing to collaborate with Diana Ross on a sensuous album of duets in 1973, although the two singers allegedly did not actually meet during the recording of the project.
The break-up of his marriage to Anna Gordy in 1975 delayed work on his next album.
‘I Want You’ followed to critical acclaim in 1976.
The album was written by Leon Ware, who had, originally, intended recording the material himself, but was persuaded by Marvin to allow him to record the set.
The title track was another number 1 hit on the soul charts, as was his 1977 disco outing, ‘Got To Give It Up’.
Drug problems and tax demands interrupted his career, and in 1978 he fled the US mainland to Hawaii in a vain attempt to salvage his second marriage.
Gaye devoted the next year to the ‘Here My Dear’ double album, a bitter commentary on his relationship with his first wife.
Its title was ironic.
He had been ordered to give all royalties from the project to Anna as part of their divorce settlement.
With this crisis behind him, Gaye began work on an album to be called ‘Lover Man’, but he cancelled its release after the lukewarm sales of its initial single, the sharply self-mocking ‘Ego-Tripping Out’, which he had presented as a duet between the warring sides of his nature.
In 1980, under increasing pressure from the Internal Revenue Service, Gaye moved to Europe where he began work on an ambitious concept album, ‘In My Lifetime’.
When it emerged in 1980, Gaye accused Motown of remixing and editing the album without his consent, of removing a vital question-mark from the title, and of changing his original cover artwork.
The relationship between artist and record company had been shattered, and Gaye left Motown for Columbia in 1982.
Persistent reports of his erratic personal conduct and reliance on cocaine fuelled pessimism about his future career, but instead he re-emerged in 1982 with a new single, ‘Sexual Healing’, which combined his passionate soul vocals with a contemporary slow-dance backing.
The subsequent album, ‘Midnight Love’, offered no equal surprises, but the success of the single seemed to herald a new era in Gaye’s music.
He returned to the USA, where he took up residence at his parents home.
The intensity of his cocaine addiction made it impossible for him to work on another album, and he fell into a prolonged bout of depression.
He repeatedly announced his wish to commit suicide in the early weeks of 1984, and his abrupt shifts of mood brought him into heated conflict with his father, rekindling animosity that had been there since Gaye’s childhood.
On 1st April 1984, another violent disagreement provoked Marvin Gay Snr. to shoot his son dead, an awful end to the life of one of soul music’s premier performers.
Motown and Columbia collaborated to produce two albums based on Gaye’s unfinished recordings.
‘Dream Of A Lifetime’ mixed spiritual ballads from the early 70’s with sexually explicit funk songs from a decade later, while ‘Romantically Yours’ offered a different reading of Gaye’s original intentions in 1979 to record an album of big band ballads.
In 1997, the album of ‘big ballads’ was issued under the title of ‘Vulnerable’.
The album was said to Marvin’s favourite record from his long and distinguished resume.
Marvin Gaye’s entire recorded output signifies the development of black music from raw rhythm and blues, through sophisticated soul to the political awareness of the early 70’s, and the increased concentration on personal and sexual politics thereafter.
Gaye’s remarkable vocal range remains a testament for all subsequent soul vocalists, and his ‘lover man’ stance has been frequently mimiked.
Then, as you thought that that was the final word, Motown records embarked on a series of ‘Deluxe’ releases of Marvin’s earlier material.
One track, ‘Where Are We Going?’, created a great deal of interest.
Written in part by the Mizell Brothers (Donald Byrd, Taste Of Honey, Bobbi Humphrey, Rance Allen etc.), the tune was heralded as the greatest release, of his, since Marvin’s passing some 17 years earlier.