When people ask who my influences are and I get to Non Hip Hop artists Marvin Gaye is the first name 99.9% of the time. What’s Going On was that main reason too, it was something about the songs that stood out to me when I heard them. The Sunday before I left to move out here to KC I was at my aunts’ house with my dad and the CD was playing. It sounds so good to hear that album again, I always loved how there was no real pause or fade songs just lead right into the next song. This album and most of Marvin Gaye albums during this period had me lost in the vibe, What’s Going On was just mad different though. This album just puts in the zone of being back home smelling food cooking, weed smoke and beer stained breathes as older heads as they breakdown the meaning of each song when I was little. Even now I can listen to this album all day without even noticing.
This album was about the Vietnam War and how things just seem to be so bad everywhere. The title track is the first song and it does more than just set the mood, you get the feeling you’re invited to be part of a sit in where Marvin is the center of attention. To this day I love how the first thing you hear is “Hey, hey, hey what’s happing?” It’s just an intimate moment. The opening lines by all rights is basic and I mean that in a generous way. Some conscious songs were way to wordy but those opening lines were stretched out and with that makes the point that much more. Everything about “What’s Going On” is perfect from the strings and the horns to the background vocals. “What’s Happing Brother” musically starts of like “What’s Going On”, oddly enough that two songs don’t blend into one another like most songs do on this album. Here you hear Marvin questioning the state of the country as he meets up with an old friend. My favorite song on here is the album version of “Flyin’ High” where the overlapping vocals are really on display here for the first time on the album. The sound of the song is engaging intriguing and just different even for today it’s not something you would hear on an album. There have been many songs about drugs back then but this just gives off a different sound all together. “Save The Children” is just brilliant, he is giving a monologue and sings the words of that monologue simultaneously. This song like most of the album is still relevant today, this song even more with the closing of schools all across America and the poor education given to inner city children. The way the song breaks down and gets back the common musical sound them album has by this time established is cool. From there it breaks straight to “God Is Love” which is shorter in the mix of the album but still effective. From there you hear the most covered Marvin Gaye song EVER “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”. This song is still just brilliant and dope from the lyrics to the way it ends.
The B side of the albums gives us “Right On” that breaks down the diversity of our country from the haves and have nots to those who are selfish to those who generous. The vibe is bluesier and the flute and keys make the song funky as hell. It’s a different vibe for the album all together, album wise it’s cool, you see this is the shift musically. I’ve heard the CD of this album too and this song breaks the continuity of the album on CD even though it’s the start of a new vibe. The second side is totally different anyway but still CD wise you feel the shift. “Wholy Holy” is just beautiful and touching as the overlapping vocals are in full effect here as well. The slowness of this song draws you in to listen to what is being said and even when the keys and horns come in it never distracts you from the message. The album ends with “Inner City Blues” which breaks down our country economic and social vibe back then. Again this song could be released now and fit the way things are right now in 2011.
What’s Going On was and still groundbreaking on so many levels and you can hear the influence it has made on music, Marvin Gaye himself has influenced many musicians in all genres. The fact that this album is two different vibes with the same messages and that is what binds the album together. This is classic and still fresh not just cause the message is still relevant but because it’s an open honest either but because the way it was worded as well as recorded. I know D’Angelo tapped into aye type vibes on Voodoo. If you can get your hands on this album in any way do so, I myself, I’m trying to get that deluxe edition with the Detroit Mixes as well as the live from Kennedy Center stuff. I do have the vinyl and have ordered the CD too.