masterpiece reviews: marvin gaye’s what’s going on

By 1970, Marvin Gaye’s life had reached a crossroad. His long time singing partner at Motown Records, Tammi Terrell, had died due to a brain tumor, he was experimenting with cocaine, and secluded himself from music all while he was reaching new heights of fame with singles like „Heard It Through The Grapevine“. It was at this point that Gaye completely changed his look and, based on letters he received from his brother who served in Vietnam, decided to release a protest record.

Recording at the legendary Hitsville U.S.A. studios, Gaye and Motown musicians The Funk Brothers recorded nine songs that would become What’s Going On. The album, featuring the seminal title track, tells a story told from the viewpoint of a Vietnam War veteran returning to America and commenting on topics including drug use, the environment, and poverty. Since it’s release in 1971, What’s Going On initially sold over two million copies, and has repeatedly been called one of the best albums of all time by multiple publications.

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