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5 stories about Marvin Gaye on the 34th anniversary of his death

Amanda Parris
Listen to Marvin's Room, March 30th 2018

Marvin's Room with Amanda Parris on CBC Radio


This weekend marks two momentous dates in the R&B world: April 1 is the 34th anniversary of Marvin Gaye’s untimely death. Gaye was murdered by his father the day before his birthday, so April 2 also marks what would have been Gaye’s 79th birthday. It is of course a time to imagine what could have been, to consider what potential was forever lost over three decades ago. But it’s also a time to celebrate the remarkable legacy. Marvin's Room was in fact named after one of those legacies: the recording studio where Gaye recorded some of his most celebrated work. So, today we celebrate the Prince of Soul with five stories about his musical genius.

1. The time he accidentally created a classic

Legend has it that the late, great singer was receiving tremendous pressure from Motown Records to join the disco sound. The thing is, Gaye wasn’t a fan of disco but he decided to create a parody of disco music with the song "Got to Give it Up." Even when making fun of disco, he was a perfectionist; Gaye wrote the lyrics, sang both lead and background and played the keyboards. "Got to Give it Up" ended up being a number 1 hit that influenced countless artists from Michael Jackson to Aaliyah and of course most infamously Pharell and Robin Thicke. Even when trying to make a parody, Gaye came out with a classic.

2. The time he went on musical strike to release 1 of the greatest protest records of all time

In the late '60s, Gaye approached Berry Gordy, the head honcho at Motown Records, with the idea of doing a protest record that he would produce himself. Gordy was appalled. Motown was a well-oiled assembly line that definitely didn’t do protest. Gaye began making the music anyway but when Gordy first heard the single for “What’s Going On?" he called it “the worst thing I ever heard in my life.” So Gaye went on strike, refusing to record anything. In the midst of the stalemate, one of Motown’s sales executives secretly released the single “What’s Going On?” to record stores and destiny came knocking. The song was such an undeniable hit that Gordy immediately drove to Gaye’s home and told him he could do whatever he wanted if he got it done in 30 days. The result was one of the most successful albums in Motown’s history.

3. The time he created 1 of the most sexually charged records of all time

In the early '70s, Gaye was at the top of his career. He was the highest-earning soul artist of the time but he was battling serious internal demons. During his childhood, Gaye was physically and emotionally abused by his father, who was a strict preacher, a cross-dresser and an alcoholic. The trauma of his childhood manifested itself later in life as depression, drug addiction and sexual dysfunction. As an adult, Gaye found it difficult to be intimate, so he turned to music. Gaye decided to explore the deeper side of sex, which led to the creation of Let’s Get it On. It became one of the most commercially successful albums of his career and the record that cemented him as a sex symbol.

4. The time he created a classic blaxploitation soundtrack

In the '70s, blaxploitation films were everywhere and the music coming out of them was funky, soulful and spoke to layers of the Black experience. Artists such as Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield and James Brown used the soundtracks as an opportunity to explore the more edgy and dangerous sides of their music, taking the politically charged storylines from the movies as their inspiration.

Gaye decided to jump on the bandwagon and craft the sound for the blaxploitation film Trouble Man. Never one to take the safe route, Gaye decided to make a jazz-based album that was mostly instrumental. This meant that he left his voice — his most recognizable and valuable asset — on the back burner on purpose for most of the record. The result is a classic that continues to be remembered long after the movie it was written for.

5. The time he created an ex-wife revenge soundtrack and accidentally made a classic

The story of Gaye and his ex-wife Anna Gordy Gaye (the sister of his boss Berry Gordy) is one of the most tumultuous in R&B history. The fighting and rumours of infidelity (on both sides) came to a head when Gaye fell in love with a 17-year-old Janis Hunter while recording his album Let’s Get it On. Gordy Gaye filed for divorce and sought child support but Gaye was in the midst of money troubles so he agreed to pay her with the advance for his next album and its future royalties. Gaye claimed he planned to make a mediocre album out of spite but became inspired by the idea of making a record for his ex-wife. The result was a project dedicated to the decimation of the relationship, titled Here, my Dear. The album was a dud when it was released but in the years since, it’s been recognized as a classic and many consider it one of his best works.

Marvin's Room playlist for March 30, 2018

  1. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough”
  2. The Temptations, “Get Ready”
  3. Nuela Charles, “Do it Right”
  4. Gloria Jones, “Tainted Love”
  5. Majid Jordan, “Gave Your Love Away”
  6. Leon Bridges, “Bad Bad News”
  7. Raphael Saadiq, “Good Man”
  8. Ania Soul, “Over You”
  9. NAO, “Girlfriend”
  10. Marvin Gaye, “Soon I’ll be Loving You Again”
  11. Maxwell, “Fortunate”
  12. ODIE, “North Face”
  13. Kyauna Clarke, “Turning Away”