1971 PROVED a pivotal year for Marvin Gaye. Having already established himself as big name in Motown, Gaye used his skills as a singer and a writer to create What’s Going On; an album riddled with political messages and Gaye’s own personal view on matters such as The Vietnam War. The album was a huge success, boosting Gaye to the level of both sexual commentator and sex icon. Following the release of the Trouble Man soundtrack in 1972, Gaye struggled with writer’s block, as well as relationship issues with his wife, Anna Gordy. She would be the subject of his 1978 album Here, My Dear.
The result was Let’s Get It On; an album where Gaye opens himself up sexually and personally. The album is more than just the title track; its Marvin Gaye singing about the twists and turns of sex and love. Of course, the title track has proved itself to be one of Gaye’s most popular songs. But in doing so it’s become almost a joke; sound tracking cringe worthy sex scenes in Hollywood comedy films. Such a shame for a song full that’s sincere to the core.
If anything, a more sexual number would be penultimate song ‘You Sure Love To Ball’ whose primary subject matter is sex. So much so, it actually incorporates sensual moans into the very song structure. The underlying smooth bass and guitar work is accompanied by a string section to create a beautiful structure that doesn’t impair Gaye’s vocal work. The entire song is topped off by a smooth saxophone solo.
Then you have songs that work in more of a traditional ‘love song’ level. ‘Please Stay (Once You Go Away)’ is a celebration of how Gaye feels once he’s with his lover, celebrating his elation and thankfulness for this love he’s found. There are some excellent examples of double-tracked vocals and harmonies on this track, layered above a funky percussion and guitar. Then you have ‘If I Should Die Tonight’, a track that describes how, even if he should pass away, Gaye wouldn’t really be dead as he’s had this woman in his life. In a surreal way, it’s quite touching.
It isn’t all happiness and sexual freedom on this album however. ‘You Sure Love To Ball’ is sandwiched between ‘Distant Lover’ and ‘Just To Keep You Satisfied’, two songs that speak more of longing than sexual gratification. ‘Distant Lover’ is a melancholic number where Gaye fondly dreams of his lover in a far off place. However, the song quickly turns sour as Gaye seems to be almost begging his partner to think of him whilst they are away. By the end, he’s praying he still remains in his lover’s mind. The tone for ‘Just To Keep You Satisfied’ is evident from the start. With slow, cinematic strings, the song seems to create of picture of what happens once the loving is over. The song ends with a seeming depressed shrug: “Well, all we can do is, we can both try to be happy”.
And through all of this we have Gaye’s terrific vocal performance. He had the ability to throw his very soul into a song. He creates something so funky, yet so deep and meaningful. His stage performance, as you’ll see below, was like watching a pastor preach to a congregation. An understanding of love and life makes his work deeply engrossing, and Let’s Get It On shows Gaye at some of his best. This album is so much more than the comedic cliché it can be often viewed as; it’s a movement promoting love and life, pushed through by the fantastic Marvin Gaye.
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