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Rear View Mirror: The Man Behind Marvin Gaye’s 'I Want You,' Leon Ware

Alex Redekop

Each week on Rear-view Mirror, Rich Terfry and the Radio 2 team look back at a great song from the good ol' days. Today, Pete Morey steps in for a story behind "I Want You" by Marvin Gaye.

It was one of his most seductive signature songs but "I Want You" wasn't written by Marvin Gaye, or even for him. But here's how Marvin Gaye made "I Want You" his very own.

Rear View Mirror - Marvin Gaye "I Want You"

Pete Morey gives you the story behind Leon Ware, songwriter of Marvin Gaye's "I Want You"


It began with the song's original writer, Leon Ware. Ware had been asked by the princess of Motown, Diana Ross, to work with her brother T-Boy Ross. Ross & Ware wrote the Jackson 5's early hit "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and then started work on songs for Ross’ Motown demo.

Ware had one song in his back pocket: a song called "I Want You," which he was planning to keep for himself to build his second album around. Selflessly, Ware gave the song to Ross to put on the demo. It would be credited to both men.

When Ware & Ross played "I Want You" for Motown boss Berry Gordy, Berry was thrilled. The song was perfect... for someone else!

Marvin Gaye was on a religious sabbatical, but Berry knew that Gaye was always looking for his next hit. It had been three years since Marvin's last album, and Gordy needed to get the "Prince of Motown" back to work, so he shelved the Ware & Ross project and took "I Want You" to play for Marvin. As Gordy predicted, Gaye loved it. He was inspired. Thrilled to work with a talent like Gaye, Ware emptied his songwriting cupboard. He shared songs from the T-Boy Ross project and songs he was saving for his own album.

Ware wanted one thing, to produce Gaye's album. But in those, days it was unusual at Motown to let one producer have so much control. Berry fought the decision and lost because Marvin said "yes," but Berry would get his revenge.

When it came time to record "I Want You," Ware brought the music, but Marvin brought the magic. Gaye was so relaxed during the sessions, he sang most of the vocals lying down in the voice booth on his back. He sang "I Want You" directly to his girlfriend Janis, who was there in the studio, and in the process made it his own. The proof of Ware & Gaye's combined magic is in the sales. In 1976, "I Want You" sold over a million copies.

Marvin's story is well known. But what happened to T-Boy Ross and Leon Ware?

T-Boy Ross eventually got to record a disco version of the song "I Want You", but it sold only 12,000 copies.

In 1976, with very little promotion, Berry Gordy and Motown rush-released Leon Ware's sophomore album, "Musical Massage." While it contained many of the songs he'd given to Marvin Gaye for his album "I Want You," Ware's versions of his own songs failed to connect the way Marvin's did.

By releasing both record the same year, Berry Gordy was essentially forcing Ware to compete with himself, let alone Marvin Gaye. It was a battle he didn't want to win. Leon never held it against Marvin. He was proud of the work they achieved together. He described the creation of "I Want You" as two men sincerely dedicated to sensuality!

Here’s Leon Ware’s song that Marvin Gaye’s Made his own. This is "I Want You," on CBC Radio 2 Drive.

More Editions of Rear View Mirror:

Steve Miller - "The Joker"

Ian & Sylvia - "Four Strong Winds"

Darrell Banks - "Open the Door to Your Heart"