Release Date: May 31, 2011
Record label: Motown
What's Going On is both time-stamped and timeless: a picture of Vietnam-era turmoil that will blow minds as long as there are ears. This 40th-anniversary version lives up to its bombastic billing: two CDs and a vinyl LP, plus demos, B sides and the stripped-down version of "What's Going On" that Motown refused to release. But it's the original LP (heard here in remastered form) that transfixes: Listen to Gaye's unearthly multitracked voice over the spacey gospel of "God Is Love." Greatest protest album ever made? Most stirring soul-music symphony? Yes and yes.
Conceived as a statement from the viewpoint of a Vietnam veteran (Gaye's brother Frankie had returned from a three-year hitch in 1967), What's Going On isn't just the question of a baffled soldier returning home to a strange place, but a promise that listeners would be informed by what they heard (that missing question mark in the title certainly wasn't a typo). Instead of releasing listeners from their troubles, as so many of his singles had in the past, Gaye used the album to reflect on the climate of the early '70s, rife with civil unrest, drug abuse, abandoned children, and the spectre of riots in the near past. Alternately depressed and hopeful, angry and jubilant, Gaye saved the most sublime, deeply inspired performances of his career for "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," and "Save the Children.
It’s difficult to overestimate the quality and impact of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 masterpiece, What’s Going On. It was voted as best album of all time by the NME and British newspaper The Guardian, and it rests at number 6 on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums list. The album was not only a departure for Gaye himself, but for Motown and for soul music in general.
Marvin Gaye submitted a version of the most important single of his career, "What's Going On", to Motown Records in the summer of 1970. Over the previous seven years, the relationship between the singer and his label was contentious yet fruitful; gritty uptempo songs like "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Hitch Hike" were hits, but they undermined Gaye's dream to be a balladeer in the mold of Nat King Cole. Those lusty trifles also roused the internal conflict between the artist's gospel upbringing and his endless desire for carnal pleasure.
One of the greatest albums of all time, and nothing short of a masterpiece. David Katz 2011 Easily one of the greatest albums of all time, What’s Going On is nothing short of a masterpiece. Like Bob Marley’s Exodus, it mixes gritty social commentary and anguished dissatisfaction with expressions of religious devotion; indeed, the singer once stated that the album had been written by God, with Gaye merely the vehicle selected to deliver its messages.