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6 Degrees Entertainment

Title - What’s Going On - 50th Anniversary [2LP Edition]
Artist - Marvin Gaye

Throughout 2021, the world was celebrating the life and legacy of R&B pioneer Marvin Gaye to honor the 50th anniversary of the release of his groundbreaking record What’s Going On.

After half a century, the wisdom behind R&B’s first seamless concept album, What’s Going On, continues to ring true: a poignant plea that we might organize to address often-overlooked issues of inequality and ecological distress.

Coming out on April 1st, 2022, Motown and UMe are continuing the celebration with the release of What’s Going On: 50th Anniversary [2LP Edition].

This premium vinyl release features direct-to-analog mastering from the original primary album tape reels by acclaimed engineer Kevin Gray, one of the first times this has been done since 1971, offering an undeniably authentic listening experience.

What’s Going On: 50th Anniversary 2LP Edition bonus LP opens up the album’s writing and production palette. Featured are four rare cuts making their vinyl debut, highlighted by a previously unreleased “stripped” version of the title song, plus all six original mono single mixes and their B-sides, with all of those 7” versions on vinyl for the first time since their original releases.

Among them are alternate versions of “God Is Love” and “Flying High (In The Friendly Sky),” the latter issued on 45 as “Sad Tomorrows.”

Side A: Original Album
1. What’s Going On (3:53)
2. What’s Happening Brother (2:44)
3. Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky) (3:50)
4. Save The Children (4:03)
5. God Is Love (1:42)
6. Mercy Mercy Me (3:13)

Side B:
1. Right On (7:32)
2. Wholy Holy (3:08)
3. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) (5:27)

In truth, What’s Going On was one of the first albums that got me into listening to albums, as a whole, rather than just singles/songs. Therefore I thought it fitting for this reason, and also that it is one of the greatest pieces of music ever laid down on tape/vinyl, that it should be myself that wrote this review here today.

It’s the record that I feel Marvin Gaye transitioned from Motown’s stylistic tendencies to a true soul artist in his own light. To start, there’s a noticeable difference between Gaye and his contemporaries in terms of his vocals. And although you can name many great R&B/soul singers: Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Al Greene, in my opinion, Marvin tops the list.

His charisma bleeds out of whatever lyrics he is singing. He’s begging, he’s yearning for whatever it is he wants, and in this record’s case, that is peace.

Context is important for those who listen to the album, as this record was a product of the tumultuous time of the Vietnam war. His brother was a large inspiration for this album due to the fact he was drafted and had also served time.

Indeed, the song What’s Happening Brother, Gaye has said that it was dedicated to him. Out of all the violence, hate, drug use, and racism that was prevalent at the time, you can tell it was Gaye’s ambition to make a record that was a concept album, with the concept of love at its heart.

Could some complain about the simplicity of the writing? How hippy-dippy he is in his execution? Sure, however doing so is completely missing the true nature and intention of this album.

Despite maybe its lack of diction you still hear every emotion packed in every word as Gaye delivers exactly how you want it to be delivered. The vocals aren’t just traditional vocals, as I said, they are executed with grandeur, only overridden (at times) by his love of gospel itself.

It helps add an emotional depth to the introspective lyrics that many others couldn’t due to the pallet of vocabulary that Gaye used. Flyin’ High is a song about drug abuse. How do you leave a world that has seemingly left you behind in the destruction? Do some drugs, so you are flying high without ever leaving the ground.

Save The Children is a song where Gaye states the obligation that his generation has on helping the next one. God Is Love is about, you guessed it, religion and he even tackles the mistreatment of the environment on Mercy Mercy Me, which in my opinion, and other than the title track, is the true standout on the album.

In fact, to my mind you won’t find a more cohesive and consistent 36 minutes on any other record, but despite this, it still manages to bring a good amount of sonic diversity to keep you constantly enthralled with the heavenly sounding backing instrumentation that accompanies Gaye’s angelic voice.

You could almost call this a jazz fusion album for the jazz influences are quite apparent throughout. Saxophones, bell percussive instruments, tight orchestration, sonically, at times it’s actually as large as the problems it’s vocally undertaking.

Indeed, back in the day, David Hepworth described the album as like a jazz record, but not merely because it has jazz manners and was slathered in strings and employed congas and triangle as its most prominent form of percussion, but it is also jazz in the sense that it plays like one long single.

Wholy Holy is a great example of the brilliance of such a quotation and it simply takes the listener to another place completely. Right On, the song previous, seamlessly transitions into the track and in doing so losses its own inbred rhythm a little, but then creates this feeling of floating, rooted only by the constant tapping of a hi-hat.

With such a bare space now prominent, that allows the saxophone, the strings, the piano chords to then all come in, slowly raising you into the air until you are amongst the clouds. It truly makes you believe that maybe there is this place of serenity that Gaye is longing for.

This album then ends with a reprise of the opening track and it’s almost as if this is supposed to represent how the desire for peace is a never-ending cycle, a constant beacon transmitted through eternity. A beacon that will forever continue until everyone gets the freedom and love they deserve.

Side C: Bonus Tracks
1. What’s Going On - Stripped Version * (3:57)
2. What’s Going On - Mix 1/No Strings or Horns (3:54)
3. What’s Going On - Rhythm & Strings Instrumental Mix (3:50)
4. Symphony - Demo Version (2:49)

Side D: Original Mono Single Mixes
1. What’s Going On (3:54)
2. God Is Love (2:51)
3. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) (2:30)
4. Sad Tomorrows (2:22)
5. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) (2:58)
6. Wholy Holy (3:09)

Produced by Marvin Gaye
Album Arranged and Orchestra Conducted by David Van DePitte
*Previously Unreleased

The second album in the set opens with a quartet of What’s Going On versions, the first being a delightfully stripped back track that showcases Gaye’s incredible vocal prowess to a tee, and then comes the Mix 1/No Strings or Horns version (which is a highly interesting take to now here all these years later), and then comes the oh-so lushly orchestrated, super smooth, free flowing ambiance of the Rhythm & Strings Instrumental Mix.

However, the track entitled Symphony (Demo Version) is the one that truly sat me down and had me listening in as it features a wholly different ebb and flow of What’s Going On, and thus is an incredible addition to this brilliant new release from UMe - one that with six (6) original mono single mix tracks making up the fourth side of this new double vinyl, brings the musical journey to a righteous close.

With two 180gm records, a tip-on heavy stock jacket, original gatefold with complete lyrics, this formidable release also includes printed sleeves with track details, a rare image from the cover sessions, and a brief essay honoring arranger David Van De Pitte.

Highlighted is a main essay by acclaimed author and poet Hanif Abdurraqib who was just named one of the 25 recipients of the 2021 MacArthur “genius” grant.

An e-commerce edition will also include three exclusive lithographs from the What’s Going On photo sessions.

Purchase the What’s Going On: 50th Anniversary 2LP Edition RIGHT HERE NOW!

In addition to What’s Going On 50th Anniversary 2LP Edition, Motown/UMe is releasing a four-track remix suite from GRAMMY®-nominated producer Salaam Remi, known for his work with countless hip hop, pop, and R&B icons.

The suite includes remixes of What’s Going On tracks, which includes “No Need,” an unreleased instrumental from the “Sad Tomorrows” sessions, as well as a reinterpretation of the holiday release “I Want To Come Home For Christmas,” originally recorded in 1972 and thematically tied to What’s Going On as a tribute to the Vietnam troops yearning to be with their families for the holidays.

With a vulnerable depth and complexity, Marvin Gaye opened the door musically, culturally, and politically for countless musicians over the last five decades to address the injustices of our world.

Sitting at the No. 1 spot on Rolling Stone’s 2020 list of “The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time,” What’s Going On has proven its evergreen relevance and its legacy will continue to influence and shape the music of future generations.

Official Website

Marvin Gaye @ Facebook

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Marvin Gaye @ YouTube

Marvin Gaye @ Spotify





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