Have ‘Mercy’! Marvin Gaye masterpiece still ‘Going On’ after 40 years by G r e g Cahill
sked four years ago to explain the of those horrible advertisements that coresurgence of soul—from the neo- opt all of the songs that we love. But even soul of James Hunter, and Sharon there, I think they sense something. They Jones and the Dap Kings, to hip-hop’s sense an alternative to the commodiﬁcaheavy sampling of Sly Stone and other tion—the thingiﬁcation, as Martin Luther classic soul artists, to the re-emergence of King called it—of our humanity.” 1960s soul singer Bettye LaVette—Craig For further evidence of how “durable Werner, the author of Highand elastic” that message is, er Ground: Stevie Wonder, the Times noted the Dirty Aretha Franklin, Curtis MayDozen Brass Band’s reiﬁeld, and the Rise and Fall magining of Marvin Gaye’s of American Soul (Crown), socially conscious 1971 hit told The New York Times “What’s Going On” as a that young audiences are in response to what has hapsearch not of retro-grooves, pened in New Orleans in the but of deeper meaning. For wake of Hurricane Katrina. these younger fans, he said, This month, Universal/ “It’s not a matter of wanting Motown issued What’s Goto go back to something” so Sixth greatest album of all time, acing On: The 40th Anniversamuch as “a case of wanting cording to ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. ry Edition. It showcases the to establish communication power of a recording that with something that is, if Rolling Stone magazine has not quite lost, then at least subdued in the ranked as No. 6 on its list of 500 Greatest culture right now. Albums of All Time. “People are hearing that something in In these trying times, this landmark conthe samples on hip-hop records—they’re cept album has lost none of its relevance. hearing it in the music in the background The 12-by-12-inch reissue includes two
In 1984, Gaye was shot and killed by his father during an argument at his parents’ house. He was 44.
CDs featuring the original album remastered, plus 28 bonus tracks (12 previously unreleased)—and an LP (the ﬁrst vinyl issue of the rare Detroit Mix). The discs hold a previously unreleased stripped-down version of the “What’s Going On” single and several rare funk instrumentals that foreshadow Let’s Get It On, as well as a colorful booklet with essays and rare photos. What’s Going On—one of the best recordings of all time—is still a compelling soul opera with a profound meditation on
life and splashes of jazz instrumentation (compliments of the Funk Brothers). It offers a sweeping, street-level view of the horror of war and its impact on families, urban decay, drug abuse, child welfare and the environment in decline. But What’s Going On also is about hope and faith and the promise of social and personal redemption. The real gem of this anniversary edition is the earthy Detroit Mix—the original version of the album minus vocal layering, keyboard overdubs and other production techniques added in L.A. just two weeks before the album’s release (a CD recording of the Detroit Mix was included in 2001’s 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition). The differences are signiﬁcant—the Detroit Mix production is sparse, the strings are less prominent and there’s less sweetening overall. On the junkie lament “Flyin’ High (in the Friendly Sky),” Gaye’s background vocals are brought to the fore, emphasizing the effective call-and-response aspect of the song. “Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology)” sounds more contemplative and the song’s melodramatic operatic coda is considerably subdued. As a result, the songs in the Detroit Mix ﬂoat wistfully on Gaye’s socially conscious lamentations and bring the work closer to the singer/songwriter convention. On “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” the closing track, the pumping bass line that drove the ﬁnal mix is hushed. Fittingly, the song trails off with a solitary conga beat, rather than the startlingly dramatic hosanna ending of the more familiar version, allowing the song, not the production, to make the ﬁnal statement. If you’ve never heard the Detroit Mix, you won’t be unmoved by the power and the passion of this timeless, soulful social statement. ✹ Get it on with Greg at email@example.com. Tune up to the Marin music scene at
›› paciﬁcsun.com/music 24 JULY 22 - JULY 28, 2011 PACIFIC SUN
Published on Jul 21, 2011