Sexual Healing
September 18, 2007 9:00 AM   Subscribe

His father was a minister in the Apostolic Church, but, after a series of arguments about his son's womanizing and heavy cocaine use he ended up shooting his own son down. The biggest of Motown's solo artists. Marvin Gaye often struggled with his brother-in-law, Berry Gordy over his desire to pursue different creative choices rather than following the tried and tested commercial formula.

Nevertheless, nobody defines The Sound of Young America more than Gaye did. He was hugely successful at every stage of the label's history, from his earliest dance records, through his romantic duets with the labels greatest divas.

After huge successes with material by Holland-Dozier-Holland during Motown's classic middle period, Gaye began exploring material not traditionally associated with dance oriented label, firstly with the socially conscious stuff on his 1971 album, What's Going On, which was then followed by his exploration of adult oriented love songs on his subsequent 1973 album, Lets Get it On, and the album he made prior to his death, Sexual Healing.

Covered by many, but never bettered.
posted by PeterMcDermott (32 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Great post. For my money, nothing beats his duets with Tammi Terrell (which were primarily written by Ashford & Simpson).

Gaye's contributions to Motown's early hits as a drummer, keyboardist and songwriter aren't to be understated, either.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 9:31 AM on September 18, 2007

Totally off topic, but I'm a huge Marvin Gaye fan & the pianist on Let's Get It On was one of my first piano teachers. He asked me to sing along to my playing one day and suddenly he turned around and said, "You know what? People would pay money to hear you sing." First person to ever say that to me and it's still one of the biggest compliments of my life. He was practically shaking me by the shoulders until I realized he was actually being serious. Nobody else could ever convince me I was a good singer, but he played with MARVIN FREAKING GAYE for Christ's sake. I still kinda freak out when I remember him saying it so seriously.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2007 [4 favorites]

I would really like to see some vid of Gaye behind the kit. I think he quite simpy had the most beautiful male voice of the 20th century, which overshadows his pretty awesome drumming. The groove on Let's Get it On is a mile deep.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:45 AM on September 18, 2007

I loves me some Marvin Gaye...
posted by miss lynnster at 10:46 AM on September 18, 2007

The only one who could ever reach me
Was the son of a preacher man. . .
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:10 AM on September 18, 2007

Wow, sounds like the stuff surrounding Gaye and his father was what inspired Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, at least in part. That's pretty crazy.
posted by shmegegge at 11:19 AM on September 18, 2007

That Marvin and Tammy album was my introduction to his work. As a young mod, around about 1969, there were two killer must-have albums. Otis Redding and Carla Thomas -- which I think was called King and Queen of Soul, and the Marvin and Tammy album.

I remember seeing him live -- I'm guessing about 1974 -- either just before or just after the follow-up to Lets Get it On was released. Because I worked in a venue, I got to see most of the major acts of the 60's and 70's, and there are just two that really, really stand out for their charisma and pure sex appeal. Mick Jagger, on the Stones Ya-Ya's tour. was very hot. But he didn't come close to Marvin. It was in a relatively small theatre -- the Liverpool Empire, a place that held about 1000 at most. Gaye had a nine piece orchestra and a couple of dancers, but the most striking part of the evening (aside from his voice) was his intimate rapport with the audience, and most specifically, with the female members of the audience. In a fairly racist northern city, during a pretty unenlightened era, you just had this string of women, mostly white, publicly offering themselves up to him.

And it was obviously that rich, rich voice with its fantastic control and phrasing. I've read a couple of biogs of Gaye, and in real life, he was a tortured soul, who, after hitting the cocaine, would really struggle sexually. There's an account of a female journalist going to interview him and finding him wired out of his skull, dressed in a dressing gown, and throughout the interview, he was repeatedly trying to masturbate and failing to overcome his cocaine flaccidity. But once he starts to sing, all of that goes away, and he's a man among men, PUA extraordinaire.

If I had to pick a favourite though, it would probably be his cut of this song. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy on YouTube to post.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:22 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

inspired Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude

I'd forgotten about that book, shmegegge. When Motherless Brooklyn first came out, I was desperate to read it because it sounded like such a great idea for a novel, yet it was seriously disappointing. Consequently, I wasn't particularly keen to read Fortress of Solitude, but I was stuck in Venice with nothing to read and that was one of a tiny number of books I could choose from. Turned out to be the most enjoyable novel that I read that year.

I never thought it was about Marvin Gaye though. I think I assumed it was probably based on Gil Scott Heron, though it's obviously an amalgam of characters.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:33 AM on September 18, 2007

I largely agreed about all the gushing about Marvin Gaye's voice, but now I'm actually more curious to know what happened with Miss Lynnster's singing career.
posted by psmealey at 11:37 AM on September 18, 2007

Another Gaye-related tidbit - James Jamerson's bass line on "What's Going On" is insanely beautiful and complex. (Scroll down for isolated track.)
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 11:43 AM on September 18, 2007

Marvin (Marvin, Marvin...)
he was a friend of mine
and he could sing a song
his heart in every line
Marvin (Marvin, Marvin...)
sang of the joy and pain
he opened up our minds
and I still can hear him say

Oh talk to me
so you can see
what's going on
say you will
sing your songs
forever more (ever more, ever more...)

posted by tallthinone at 12:03 PM on September 18, 2007

I'll let you know when I'm done with it, psmealey. That was 1999 & I took my first professional jazz singing gig about 4 months later. I can tell you for a fact, if he hadn't said that to me the way he did I doubt I ever would've EVER gotten onstage. Before he told me that, it never would've entered my mind that singing in front of people would've entailed anything other than people throwing tomatoes with force at my head.
(If you want to hear my voice, just go to my MeMu posts.)

Now back to the glory of all that is Marvin Gaye, my peeps!
posted by miss lynnster at 12:23 PM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another interesting Marvin tidbit:
I announced my presence, and reminded him we had an anthem to record. He asked if I had any ideas for it. I said, what about a really slow sexy groove on a drum machine, and really spread it out? Stevie thought for a moment, then said ‘uh-uh. Marvin tried that one time man. He sang it that way at an NBA all-star game, and you know what? he never got on TV again until the day he died. Because all the network executives couldn’t handle a black man singing a sexy soul version of the National Anthem.’
from here, with a link to the youtube video of Marvin singing the Star Spangled Banner his way.
posted by caddis at 12:30 PM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

wow, miss lynnster's comments in this thread are awesome. must remember to check memu when I get home. damn you, work!
posted by shmegegge at 12:35 PM on September 18, 2007

This is Gaye.
posted by Poolio at 2:26 PM on September 18, 2007

I put my Marvin Gaye on 'cuz of this. Thanks for the post. :)
posted by miss lynnster at 2:33 PM on September 18, 2007

this whole subject makes me so sad. he had such talent, and it just makes me sick to think of what might have been.

i feel the same way about donny hathaway. sadness.
posted by gforce414 at 2:45 PM on September 18, 2007

"Son, I've got a 45 I'd like you to hear..."
posted by lathrop at 3:02 PM on September 18, 2007

Excellent post PeterMcDermott. God I loved Marvin Gaye's voice. Loved the way he radiated mellowness, so sensual. oooooh. Good to have a chance now to look up a bit about this man, whose singing I loved so much.

His Sexual Healing is an awesome turn on still, decades later. It's a spectacularly memorable song, from the first moment I heard it. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard it, in 83 I think, in New Delhi and an English fashion designer had just brought it over from London. A riveting experience.

Always wondered what the hell was up with Marvin's murderous father, assumed he was just another malignant narcissist, who envied his kid so intensely it became homicidal. Thanks to your post prompting me to research a bit more, now I know.

Marvin changed his last name from Gay to Gaye because his father was a flamboyant but closeted cross-dresser and Marvin worried in the 60's that his reputation would be harmed by his last name. Maybe his intense womanizing was partly defensive?

Wikipedia says about his father, "The father and son were said not to have gotten along. Gaye, Jr., was said to have resented his father because his father was a closeted crossdresser. Gay, Sr., was displeased with his son's secular music and lifestyle, and arguments between the two were regular and frequent.

Gay, Sr., shot his son twice (in the shoulder and chest) and killed him during an argument at the Gays' Los Angeles, California home on April 1, 1984. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the charges were dropped after it was discovered that he had a tumor. He served five years probation for the filicide, after pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter, and was sent to a rest home for the remainder of his life. He died of pneumonia in Culver City, California, at the age of 84, in 1998."

He lived 14 years after murdering his talented son, only got probation. Seems wrong to me.

Marvin brought a lot of happiness into my life, from his 1963 hit Pride and Joy on.

His daughter is beautiful. His eldest son Marvin Pentz Gaye III became a record producer and has control of his estate. Wonder how his youngest son Frankie Christian, who did not follow his siblings into show business has been holding up? Frankie was named after Marvin's brother, who recently died in 2001.

It's a long overdue thought but rest in peace Marvin, thanks for the joy.
posted by nickyskye at 3:06 PM on September 18, 2007

Wonderful post. There's never been anyone quite like Marvin -- extraordinary talent and such a tragic end. I still remember when Marvin Gaye died, and even as a punk rock girl (who was really just a mod at heart) it hit me hard. Thanks.
posted by scody at 3:11 PM on September 18, 2007

Oh, and here's a nice tribute to Marvin by Smokey Robinson from a few years ago.
posted by scody at 3:28 PM on September 18, 2007

this whole subject makes me so sad. he had such talent, and it just makes me sick to think of what might have been.

See also:

Otis Redding
Sam Cooke
posted by tallthinone at 3:46 PM on September 18, 2007

shmeggege writes: must remember to check memu when I get home.

Indeed, and here's hoping LOTS more Mefiers will check MetaFilter Music as well, on a regular basis! Listen to the sounds your fellow MeFiers are so generously providing! All kindsa stuff over there!

And, great post, Peter, thanks so much.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:00 PM on September 18, 2007

One of my favourite early Marvin cuts (with some rather peculiar dance accompaniment).

The wonderful live version of maybe his best party* tune (audio-only original version, with exactly enough cowbell).

*"Party" as in "sounds like a party" + "gets your party going."
posted by hangashore at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2007

joseph, wicked track. thank you! I love it.
posted by Dantien at 4:15 PM on September 18, 2007

I'm not much of a Marvin Gaye fan, to be honest. I'm more of a Ray Charles to Stevie Wonder kinda guy. I don't understand why and I can't seem to find the words, but Marvin Gaye's work has always left me very meh. I say this without knowing the details of his personal life. I'm just going on the objectivity of his music and how it affected me, or didn't. I'm sure he was a great guy, with his own demons and angels haunting him just like the rest of us.

However, I have to admire the way this post was composed, and because of it, I'll now make a point to give Marvin's legacy yet another chance to pique my interest. Very impressive post, PeterMcDermott. It's stuff like this that keeps people coming back to The Blue.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:56 PM on September 18, 2007

Oh. and ditto on the MeFiMuse rocking the hizhaus! My newest favorite song ever is Rust. Very much not like Marvin Gaye but.. so I guess I'm veering off the topic. I'll shut up now...
posted by ZachsMind at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2007

Thanks Peter.

Gonna be some sweet sounds coming down
On the nightshift
I bet you're singing proud
Oh, I bet you'll pull a crowd
Gonna be a long night, it's gonna be all right
On the nightshift
Oh you found another home, I know you're not alone
On the nightshift
posted by vronsky at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

His record, Here, My Dear, is one of my favorites of all time. The divorce record. So honest, so dark, his voice aches and cracks, but is still gorgeous:

After filing for divorce in 1976, Gaye was told to give half of the royalties he would earn from his next project to Anna. After agreeing to the negotiation through his attorney, Curtis Shaw, Gaye went into work on his album. At first, the singer thought of giving Motown a "lazy" album, but as he began writing, Gaye's deep emotions took over. The resulting album talked not only about his marriage, but about other issues like anger management (the single "Anger"), Jesus ("Time To Get it Together"), and love ("When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You").
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:38 PM on September 18, 2007

My own favourite early Marvin cut. And a great cover.

Of course, all those early songs seem like the same song, Peculiar, Witness, Wonderful One, etc. Presumably the Gordy influence at work.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:00 AM on September 19, 2007

MeFites have been displaying fantastic taste in music lately. Thanks for the post.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:40 AM on September 19, 2007

PeterMcDermott, my friends and I always used to sing that when we were hungry. Only we changed the lyrics to "Can I Get a Wheat Thin?". Good times.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:58 AM on September 19, 2007

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