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Marvin Gaye - What's Going On 50th Anniversary 2xLP (Tamla/UMe)

24 September 2022

Marvin Gaye’s catalog overflows with gems, but What’s Going On is the crown jewel. The soulful album saw Gaye emerge from a troubled period to assume control of his musical destiny as producer, setting pop fluff aside for weighty issues dominating headlines in 1970-1971. Aided by the Funk Brothers, Gaye observed the displacement of returning Vietnam War veterans in “What’s Happening Brother,” criticized misplaced government priorities in the face of poverty with the supremely funky “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” addressed the self-destructive escapism of drugs in “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky),” and lamented man-made ecological woes in “Mercy Mercy Me.” “Wholy Holy” called for unity and reverence. The album’s immortal title cut practically needs no introduction. Its soulful pop perfection is combined with sublimely sung but potent social protest of issues including police brutality toward the African-American community. “With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?,” asked Gaye at the time. This 50th anniversary vinyl pressing includes a second LP. One side of the bonus platter includes original mono single mixes for five of the album’s nine songs. B-side “Sad Tomorrows” offers a more upbeat treatment of “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky),” taking its own soaring flight with richly-arranged doo-wop backing vocals. The other bonus LP side includes mixes revealing the progress toward the final classic version of title cut “What’s Going On.” The captivating demo for follow-up song “Symphony” features Gaye’s early, improvised lyrics that overlap those of the album’s title cut. Several of the bonus cuts make their vinyl debut here, and the sleeve notes include Hanif Abdurraqib’s insightful new essay. (