Album 18: What’s Going On? by Marvin Gaye

Hello, and welcome back to The Weekly Sound. Let me start off with an apology for the gap in posts. Work has kept me quite busy, but I’ll do my best from now on to give a warning if events like this occur.

Moving on now, we go into June with Motown and all its glory. Who better to start our trip than Marvin Gaye at his finest.

Recorded at the start of June 1970 and released a year later in May, What’s Going On is not, contrary to popular belief, a protest album. In fact Gaye and his fellow songwriters have described it as a songs about love and understanding.

While a concept album at its core, the story it tells is much more cohesive than others like The Who’s Tommy. The entire album is told from the perspective of a returning Vietnam veteran, tired of seeing the war, watching hate and violence full the streets.

Inner City Blues, What’s Happening Brother, and Right On tackle subjects of poverty, police brutality, and racial tension hidden within the sounds of saxophone and the joyous reactions of people greeting one another.

That’s one of the central themes of the album as well, the need to come together. Multiple times you’ll here the aforementioned sound of African-American men joining sides, embracing each other for a singular cause. Peace amongst all in country barely embracing their new freedom.

It’s the main songs though, Mercy, Mercy Me and the titular What’s Going On, where you feel the  message. Addressing politics, environmental protection (at the time, global warming wasn’t even near public thought) , police brutality, veterans, and more you can feel your hair stand on end when either song plays. Powerful and creative messages that carry the weight of the world, these two songs help position this album as one of the best of all time both in and out of its genre.


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