Category Archives: Generation X

‘What’s Going On’ at 45: The Time Marvin Gaye Reminded Us That Only Love Could Conquer Hate

Marvin Gaye (1971) - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition 2001) (A)

Marvin Gaye had to fight Berry Gordy at Motown to get this album made and released. The label was transitioning from Detroit to Los Angeles at the time. Vietnam kept raging on,President Nixon was blowing a dog whistle to bring down the sociopolitcal revolts of the 60’s and Marvin was depressed. He decided to write an album from the point of view of his brother Frankie-coming back into an unwelcoming America from Vietnam. With the help of the Four Tops’ Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Motown’s bass maestro James Jamerson, Marvin came up with a musical masterpiece whose appeal is still evolving.

What’s Going On has a basic groove-a cinematic soul jazz sort of sound on just about every song. Marvin scats and improvises many of the vocal adlibs himself. The title song begins the album on a happier note-hoping that people will come to deal with the racial,political and ecological concerns Marvin is so troubled by. By the time of the instrumentally brilliant,percussive Latin soul stomp of “Inner City Blues”,Marvin has given up. He sings “make me wanna holler/throw up both my hands”. To this day,it’s really up to the given listener whether they feel Marvin’s mixed emotions here are cathartic or enervating.

Berry Gordy turned out to be very wrong that this album had no potential. Not only was it a huge commercial success for Marvin Gaye,but he could hardly go one concert after this without inserting the title song of this album into his set. That goes to show how sometimes,the artist making the music really has more of a finger on the pulse of the people than those peddling their raw creative material. In 2001,the album was expanded into a 2 CD deluxe edition. Upon hearing it,I went to Amazon.com and reviewed this new presentation of this 1971 classic on thoroughly musical terms:

How do you make a overly reissued album classic better? Well actually this one DOES-I love all the songs on ‘What’s Going On’-it’s a great album but I always felt that it was highly overproduced.This one starts with the original followed by a different variation on the same album called ‘the original Detroit Mix’-THIS version is far more understated in the finest Donny Hathaway tradition and truly brings out the richness of Marvin’s voice and the depth of his vision-the sparer arrangement actually better expresses the music’s message of urban and environmental blight.There’s still orchestration but it isn’t mixed so high.

It’s also forcing one to acknowledge how great a pianist Gaye is.And that’s why I highly recommend that those who purchased previous issues of this CD should go out and pick this set up-that along with a bonus disk of live material and outtakes make this the definitive version of this album-to such an extent myself bought this and gave my original CD issue of this album (in this case the tepid ripoff of 1994’s so called ‘deluxe edition’) to my dad,a fellow music lover who I felt would benefit from having the album in his collection alongside his other classics like The Beatles White Album,Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Superfly’ and John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ where it belongs!For those who want to replace an old copy of this CD with a better one LOOK NO FURTHER!For those you for whatever reason haven’t been initiated-well,what more can I say-there is no better place to come!

Marvin was seeking with this album,to quote George Clinton about funk in general,not to tell people what to think but that they CAN think. It begins with a black man who’d made good in the world. And him looking through the eyes of a loved one who wasn’t so lucky in that regard. He starts out with a degree of optimism. By the end of the album,one realizes how much of a thoroughly human figure Marvin Gaye was. By the time it ends, he has almost lost  hope. Especially with Jamerson’s bass lines,the instrumentation is what tends to carry the positivity through when even Marvin can’t anymore.

This is the type of album inspired a lot of artists to make what I refer to as “people music”-a type of message music that takes the ethnocentric melodies and rhythms of the artists back-round to express important ideas. Unintentionally, this album became the “people music” for Generation X . This is an intelligent and aware generation of Americans who often lacked focus and interest. And with the election of Gen Xer Barack Obama for two presidential terms in America, this album seemingly succeeded in getting a generation who didn’t want to get involved to find that way to bring  loving here today.

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1971, Berry Gordy, cinematic soul, Detroit, Frankie Gaye, Generation X, James Jamerson, Los Angeles, Marvin Gaye, message music, Motown, people music, Renaldo Obie Benson, Vietnam War, What's Going on

Anatomy Of The Groove For 2/27/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Waterfalls” by TLC

As readers of this blog may have noticed? I’ve done previous little coverage of the 1990’s in Anatomy Of The Groove. My reasons for that,complex and subjective as they are,can be found over a number of my music reviews on Amazon. At the same time? I was very caught up in loving the music of TLC: T-Boz,Lisa Left Eye and Chilli. These were a trio of very funky divas who came around just after En Vogue with their own particular take on the music of that era.

Beginning with a loping drum shuffle and round keyboard warble,the music takes shape into a wah wah guitar playing the basic melody of the sung accented by a horn section of muted trumpets playing a jazzy counter accent. T-Boz throws down her best Sly Stone style vocal drawl  into this and with all three singing the chorus together of “don’t go chasing waterfalls/just stick to the rivers and the lakes that your used to/I know your gonna have it your way or no way at all/but I think your moving too fast” before the song fades on the same instrumental phrase on which it began.

One of the deepest things about this song for my personally is that 1994 was the year in which I had totally embraced the funky soul jazz spectrum of music as the sounds which influenced my own creative heart,mind and soul. Even than I recognized that this song,completely contemporary for it’s time,was completely embracing all the elements of that music. The vocal delivery was directly out of the trio’s Southern fried funk roots and it actually had a live instrumental backing of wah wah guitar and horns-which were just as distinctive and memorable to the song as the vocals and melody.

Thematically it is only recently that the wonders of this songs virtues actually revealed themselves to me. In a very poetic 70’s funky soul style? It finds TLC rhapsodizing the tale of a contemporary male urban teenager from a good family whose mother has concerns about the secrecy about his life,yet remains in the dark about the gangsta lifestyle he’s become involved in. It’s basically an image right out of what Maya Angelou refers to as “the thirteens”-seemingly a specific word for black American Generation X’ers.  This song takes the street sounds of mid 70’s hard funk,mixes it with a hip-hop style beat,live instrumentation and a message to young black men in particular what it might really to keep it real.

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Filed under 1990s, Chilli, Funk, Generation X, Lisa Left Eye Lopez, T-Boz, TLC, wah wah guitar, Waterfalls