Friday, June 10, 2011

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On

Marvin Gaye [1939-1984] sings What's Going On followed by What's Happening Brother. This video is an excerpt from the DVD, "Real Thing: In Performance 1964-1981," released in 2006, which shows some of Marvin Gaye's greatest live performances on TV and film. The clips shown here are from Save The Children, a 1973 film, starring in addition to Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis Jr, Roberta Flack, Isaac Hayes and The Jackson 5.

I will comment here on the first and more popular of the two songs, What's Going On.

Written by: By Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Al Cleveland,
& Marvin Gaye
Recorded: June 10, 1970:  Detroit. Michigan: Hitsville, USA (Studio A)
Released: January 20, 1971
Album: What's Going On
Label: Tamla Records

Rolling Stone magazine has ranked the song number 4 on its list of 500 greatest songs of all time in its 2004 compilation. The song is a look at the social and political problems that have plagued the U.S., and which, to a great degree, still plague it today. Although Gaye had his vision set on his own nation, his questioning words are relevant for many of the industrialized nations that still have too much poverty, social unrest, high unemployment, and inequalities. Not to mention constant wars, which tend to normalize the message of death and destruction to society-at-large, to communities, to families, and to individuals.

No doubt, all these are great problems that hamper societal harmony, happiness and its betterment. Each day, such problems grind away at human dignity and undermine the human spirit, leaving society all the poorer, despite evidence of material wealth. A society operating with such a muted spirit will always bring increasing suffering to the greatest number of people. If war is not the answer, and it never is for long, Gaye's unsaid message of the need of universal redemption is as relevant as it is difficult for most to understand and accept.

Still, that does not make it less important. Quite the contrary. The way to redemption requires on our part, of course, acts of repentance (or teshuvah) and love. Talked about. Analyzed. Sought after. For only love can conquer hate. Sadly, this message is resisted by too many in power for a multitude of reasons as well known and ancient as humanity itself. Many others have said as much, either in song or in speeches, which only proves the need is great. Against this need, humanity continues on somehow.

Marvin Gaye died a violent death on April 1, 1984, shot by his father, after intervening in a domestic argument between his parents. Marvin Gaye was 44.

What's Going On: Album Cover, 1971.
Source: Wikipedia

What's Going On
By Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Al Cleveland,
& Marvin Gaye

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Ah, what's going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Father, father, everybody thinks we're wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we've got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Tell me what's going on
I'll tell you what's going on - Uh
Right on baby
Right on baby