MARVIN GAYE (By Phil Davies)
Born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr., April 2, 1939, Washington, D.C.
Died April 1st 1984. Shot to death by his father Marvin Gay Snr at the family home in South Grammercy L.A..
The second of three children born to Marvin Sr., an ordained minister in the House of God - a conservative Christian sect fusing elements of orthodox Judaism and Pentecostalism which imposes strict codes of conduct and observes no holidays - he began singing in church at the age of three, quickly becoming a soloist in the choir. Later taking up piano and drums, music became Gaye's escape from the nightmarish realities of his home life - throughout his childhood, his father beat him on an almost daily basis.
After graduating high school, Gaye enlisted in the U.S. Air Force; upon his discharge, he returned to Washington and began singing in a number of street-corner doo wop groups, eventually joining The Rainbows in 1956, a top local attraction. Like many groups the personnel changed, future soul/r&b stars Don Covay and Billy Stewart, were also group members. It's not certain whether they or Marvin sang on any of the bands records. In 1957 they split up and Marvin and some of the others became the Marquees. With the help of mentor Bo Diddley the group cut Hey Little Schoolgirl and Wyatt Earp, for the Okeh label.
Meanwhile Harvey Fuqua and the Moonglows were performing in Washington when a young teenager asked if he had time to listen to his group before going to lunch. He fobbed him off to another band member and went to eat, but the persistent kid returned to the band dressing room and Harvey then asked him where the band was, "They're outside," came the reply. In true showbiz tradition Harvey went out to the alley to listen and was impressed by The Marquees, the cocky young kid was Marvin of course. Harvey finished the week with his current Moonglows but instead of continuing their tour he took The Marquees back with him to Chicago. Mr Harvey , as Marvin always called him , added the Dells bass singer and a new Moonglows was formed. Their next 45 12 Months Of The Year features Marvin on the talking intro. They weren't a patch on the original band though. Their next brush with fame came when Chuck Berry used them as backing vocalists on the classic Almost Grown and Back In The USA. So even Shaun Mather has some Marvin in his collection!!! Marvin is featured on 45s like Harvey and the Moonglows 59 single Mama Loocie, where he sang lead. By now, Marvin had added an E to his surname in the style of his hero Sam Cooke .
Whilst touring the Midwest, the group performed in Detroit, where Gaye's graceful tenor and three-octave vocal range won the interest of fledgling impresario (and songwriter to Jackie Wilson) Berry Gordy Jnr., who signed him to the Motown label in 1961. Another Gordy, Berry's sister Anna who was 18 years older than her new beau, married the young Marvin. While first working at Motown as a session drummer and playing on early hits by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Spinner and others, he also sang back up for the Marvelettes. Upon mounting a solo career based originally on smooth bland Nat King Cole/Sinatra stylings , Gaye struggled to find his voice, and early singles failed; finally, his fourth effort, a more r&b styled song" Stubborn Kind of Fellow," became a minor hit in 1962, and his next two singles - the 1963 dance efforts "Hitch Hike" and "Can I Get a Witness" - both reached the Top 30. With 1963's "Pride and Joy," Gaye scored his first Top Ten smash, but often fou nd his role as a hit maker stifling - his desire to become a crooner of lush romantic ballads ran in direct opposition to Motown's all-important emphasis on chart success, and the ongoing battle between his artistic ambitions and the label's demands for commercial product continued throughout Gaye's long tenure with the company. He toured the UK with the Motown revue in the winter of 1964 and performed memorably on the Ready Steady Go Motown tv special
With 1964's Together, a collection of duets with Mary Wells (of My Guy fame), Gaye scored his first charting album; the duo also notched a number of hit singles together, including "Once Upon a Time" and "What's the Matter With You, Baby?" As a solo performer, Gaye continued to enjoy great success, scoring three superb Top Ten hits - "Ain't That Peculiar," "I'll Be Doggone," and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" - in 1965. In total, he scored some 39 Top 40 singles for Motown, many of which he also wrote and arranged; with Kim Weston, the second of his crucial vocal partners, he also established himself as one of the era's dominant duet singers with the stunning "It Takes Two."
However, Gaye's greatest duets were with Tammi Terrell, with whom he scored a series of massive hits penned by the team of Ashford & Simpson, including 1967's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Your Precious Love," followed by 1968's "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By." The team's success was tragically cut short in 1967 when, during a concert appearance in Virginia, Terrell collapsed into Gaye's arms onstage, the first evidence of a brain tumour, which abruptly ended her performing career and finally killed her on March 16, 1970. Her illness and eventual loss left Gaye deeply shaken, marring the chart-topping 1968 success of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," his biggest hit and arguably the pinnacle of the Motown Sound. 'Twas a huge 80s hit after being reissued in the long running Levi jeans ad campaign (guy takes jeans off in laundromat), which got Sam Cooke, Eddie Cochran, Ben E King and Muddy Waters back into the charts too.
At the same time, Gaye was forced to cope with a number of other personal problems, not the least of which was his crumbling marriage. He also found the material he recorded for Motown to be increasingly irrelevant in the face of the tremendous social changes sweeping the nation, and after scoring a pair of 1969 Top Ten hits with "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" and "That's the Way Love Is," he spent the majority of 1970 in seclusion, resurfacing early the next year with the self-produced What's Going On (frequently voted into the all time top 10 albums list, there was an excellent expanded reissue) a landmark effort heralding a dramatic shift in both content and style which forever altered the face of black music.
A highly percussive album which incorporated jazz and classical elements to forge a remarkably sophisticated and fluid soul sound, What's Going On was a conceptual masterpiece which brought Gaye's deeply held spiritual beliefs to the fore to explore issues ranging from poverty and discrimination to the environment, drug abuse and political corruption; chief among the record's concerns was the conflict in Vietnam, as Gaye structured the songs around the point of view of his brother Frankie, himself a soldier recently returned from combat. Sadly, his old Chess buddy Chuck was ignoring this social realism and playing with his ding a ling (laughing all the way to the bank though). The ambitions and complexity of What's Going On, baffled Berry Gordy Jnr, who initially refused to release the LP; he finally relented, although he maintained that he never understood the record's full scope. Gaye was vindicated when the majestic title track reached the number two spot in 1971, and both of the follow-ups, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," also reached the Top Ten; the album's success guaranteed Gaye continued artistic control over his work and helped loosen the reins for other Motown artists, most notably Stevie Wonder and a later notorious Peter Pan fan (think Bubbles) to also take command of their own destinies. Consequently, in 1972, Gaye changed directions again, agreeing to score the blaxploitation thriller Trouble Man; the resulting soundtrack was a primarily instrumental effort showcasing his increasing interest in jazz, although a vocal turn on the moody, minimalist title track scored another Top Ten smash.
The long-simmering eroticism implicit in much of Gaye's work reached its boiling point with 1973's Let's Get It On one of the most sexually charged albums ever recorded; a work of intense lust and longing, it became the most commercially successful effort of his career, and the title cut became his second number one hit. this also marked another significant shift in Gaye's lyrical outlook, moving him from the political arena to a deeply personal, even insular stance which continued to define his subsequent work.
After teaming with Diana Ross (lifelong friend of airport security staff) for the 1973 duet collection imaginatively titled Marvin and Diana, just edging out Diana and Marvin apparently, he returned to work on his next solo effort, I Want You (just edging out You Want I, oh pleaseeeeee) however, the record's completion was delayed by his 1975 divorce from Anna Gordy. The dissolution of his marriage threw Gaye into a tailspin, and he spent much of the mid-1970s in divorce court; to combat Gaye's absence from the studio, Motown released the 1977 stopgap Live At The London Palladium (highlight being the accapella I'm In Charge medley with Bruce Forsyth, Norman Wisdom and a deckchair, great controversy ensued when the Norman and the deckchair refused to go on the spinning stage at the show's finale. The proper album spawned the single "Got to Give It Up (Pt. 1)," his final number one hit. The deckchair is currently playing a summer season in Llandudno, cashing in (ouch) on the da nce remix of I Got Stripes.
As a result of a 1976 court settlement, Gaye was ordered to make good on missed alimony payments by recording a new album, with the intention that all royalties earned from its sales would then be awarded to his ex-wife. The 1978 record, a two-LP set sardonically titled Here My Dear, (now a personal fav!!) bitterly explored the couple's relationship in such intimate detail that Anna briefly considered suing Gaye for invasion of privacy. In the interim, he had remarried and begun work on another album, Lover Man, but scrapped the project when the lead single "Ego Tripping Out" - a telling personal commentary presented as a duet between the spiritual and sexual halves of his identity, which biographer David Ritz later dubbed the singer's "divided soul" - failed to chart. As his drug problems increased and his marriage to new wife Janis also began to fail, he relocated to Hawaii in an attempt to sort out his personal affairs.
In 1981, long-standing tax difficulties and renewed pressures from the I.R.S. forced Gaye to flee to Europe( living in London and Ostend for a while),where he began work on the ambitious In Our Lifetime, a deeply philosophical record which ultimately severed his long-standing relationship with Motown after he claimed the label had remixed and edited the album without his consent; additionally, Gaye stated that the finished artwork parodied his original intent, and that even the title had been changed to drop an all-important question mark. Upon signing with Columbia in 1982, he battled stories of erratic behaviour and a consuming addiction to cocaine to emerge triumphant with Midnight Love, an assured comeback highlighted by the luminous Top Three hit "Sexual Healing." Sadly this is not yet available on the national health service, (country folk swear by squirrel droppings mixed with Welsh sex drug Daiagra) The record made Gaye a star yet again, and in 1983 he made peace with ex bro-in-law by appearing on a television special celebrating Motown's silver anniversary. (the legendary one where Diana and the Supremes had a spat on camera!!)
That same year, he also sang a soulful and idiosyncratic rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the NBA All-Star Game which instantly became one of the most controversial and legendary interpretations of the anthem ever performed; it was to be his final public appearance. Gaye's career resurgence brought with it an increased reliance on cocaine; finally, his personal demons forced him back to the U.S., where he moved in with his parents in an attempt to regain control of his life. Tragically, the return home only exacerbated his spiral into depression; he and his father quarrelled bitterly, and Gaye threatened suicide on a number of occasions.
Finally, on the afternoon of April 1, 1984 - one day before his 45th birthday - Gaye was shot and killed by the Reverend Marvin Gay, Sr. in the aftermath of a heated argument. He was cremated after a star studded funeral and the ashes were scattered at sea. His father was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 5 years. With Gaye's death also came a critical re-evaluation of his work, which deemed What's Going On, to be one of the landmark albums in pop history, (I'll stick to the Chuck 45 and his early Motown 45s thank you very much )and his 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame permanently enshrined him among the pantheon of musical greats (and Paul McCartney). - One of the most gifted, visionary, and enduring talents ever launched into orbit by the Motown hit machine, the career of Marvin Gaye blazed the trail for the continued evolution of popular black music: moving from lean, powerful R&B to stylish, sophisticated soul to finally arrive at a n intensely political and personal form of artistic self-expression, his work not only redefined soul music as a creative force but also expanded its impact as an agent for social change. Fittingly he was given eh Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
David Ritz has written a fine biography Divided Soul : The Life Of Marvin Gaye,( he has also penned books on Ray Charles, Aretha, B B King, Etta James and the Neville Brothers, er not the Mancies!!). This biog was adapted from the All Music guide piece, Billboard Book Of Singing Groups (Jay Warner) and Ritz's cd sleeve notes. All attempts at humour are my fault.
Chuck Berry Almost Grown/Back In The USA, uh-hu-huh, oh yeah
Various Marquees/Moonglow 45s
V Best Of Marvin Gaye, recentish Motown 2cd set, despite the highly original title, it more than lives up to the description, the 60s sides on disc one are worth the price of entry alone especially the stonking You're A Wonderful One.
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