Sunday, December 31, 2017

Marvin Gaye – "What's Going On" (1971)

War is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate

This will be the last 2 or 3 lines for 2017, which was the year when the people of the United States of America lost their cotton-pickin’ minds for once and for all.  

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I recently saw this bumper sticker on a car parked at the community center where I go to work out when it’s too damn cold to be outside.  (It only costs $50 a year for a senior membership, which entitles me to unlimited use of the strength-training and cardio machines at any of the 19 community centers in my county.)

Technically speaking, you can’t say war is not the answer until you specify what the question is.  But let’s not quibble.

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War is not the only thing that isn’t the answer, of course:

And last but not least:

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On May 15, 1969, “Obie” Benson – who was one of the Four Tops – witnessed a violent clash between anti-war demonstrators and police in Berkeley’s People’s Park.  

Benson discussed the ugly scene with his friend Al Cleveland, a Motown songwriter, who wrote the original version of “What’s Going On.”

The other Four Tops didn’t want to record the song, so Benson gave it to Marvin Gaye, who rewrote the melody and the lyrics.  Gaye thought the song would be a good fit for the Originals – “a group that has been described as “Motown’s best-kept secret” – but Benson convinced Gaye to record it himself.

Motown’s head honcho, Berry Gordy, thought the idea of Gaye recording a protest song was “ridiculous.”  After Gaye recorded it, Gordy didn’t want to release it – he told Gaye it was the worst thing he had ever heard.

Of course, Berry Gordy didn’t want to release Gaye’s recording of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” as a single.  Go figure.

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“What’s Going On” sounded like no other record.  Perhaps that was because many of the musicians who performed on it were high as a kite during their time in the studio.

James Jamerson
Unlike his fellow musicians, legendary Motown bass guitarist James Jamerson apparently preferred booze to weed.  His drink of choice was reportedly Metaxa, a blend of brandy and wine that is made in  Greece.  The story goes that Jamerson drank so much Metaxa the night he was supposed to record the bass part for “What’s Going On” that he couldn’t sit up straight – instead he lay on the floor while playing.

Detroit Lions stars Lem Barney and Mel Farr were among those who take part in the simulated conversation at the beginning of the song.

Here’s “What’s Going On”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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