Top 100 Album Review: #6 – What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye (1971)

A Fascinating Album & Undefinable Genre

An album that faithfully conveys the feelings and spirit of the never named Vietnam veteran returning home with a varied collection of soul, gospel, funk, R&B, and pop that can only be categorized as Marvin Gaye. 

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Rolling Stone’s Ranking: #6/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Marvin Gaye had to fight for this one.

Tired of having Motown dictate his creative direction, Gaye wanted to create an album that was more personal and less hit-oriented. Barry Gordon wasn’t having it, but after threatening to never record again, Gordon allowed Gay to have full creative direction.

This is a masterpiece of an album: nine songs that freely float into one another, recall motifs of previous tracks, and the most interesting story arc in concept album story telling. Following an African-American, Vietnam veteran after his return from war, the subject matter risks being too preachy, but by having an actual character as the vessel to experience everything, the album becomes a prescient bit of social consciousness. Instead of being hung up on politics, we get to experience and FEEL this unnamed protagonist’s plight.

“Don’t punish me with brutality,
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on.”

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