What’s Going On (song)

What’s Going On visual representation

Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ remains an anthem of protest and reflection, resonating as strongly today as it did upon its release in 1971. This groundbreaking song marked a significant shift in Gaye’s musical direction, moving away from the Motown sound to explore more personal and societal themes.

The album of the same name, a concept piece, delves into the experiences of a Vietnam War veteran confronted with racial injustice, poverty, and the horrors of war. Gaye’s lyrics poignantly address these issues, making ‘What’s Going On’ a powerful commentary on the social and political climate of the time, and sadly, of the present day as well.

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    1. The Creation of ‘What’s Going On’

    2. The inspiration for ‘What’s Going On’ originated from Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson of The Four Tops, who witnessed police brutality at a protest in Berkeley in 1969. This incident provoked Benson to ponder the state of the world, leading him to collaborate with Al Cleveland on a song reflecting his concerns.

      Initially rejected by the Four Tops as a protest song, Benson later presented it to¬†Marvin Gaye, who saw its potential and reshaped it with his own lyrics and melody. Gaye’s personal experiences, including the Watts Riots and his brother’s accounts from the Vietnam War, deeply influenced the song’s narrative.

      Marvin aimed to craft a piece that spoke to the heart of societal issues, challenging the status quo of Motown and the broader music industry. This creative process marked a pivotal moment in Gaye’s career, as he took on the role of producer, blending traditional Motown musicians with his own recruits to create a unique sound that was both soulful and reflective of the era’s tumultuous social landscape.

    3. The Struggle and Triumph of Marvin’s Vision

    4. The journey of ‘What’s Going On‘ to the public was not without its challenges. Initially, Motown head Berry Gordy was reluctant to release the song, fearing its departure from Motown’s traditional sound might alienate listeners. However, Marvin Gaye’s steadfast belief in the song’s importance led to a standoff with Gordy, with Gaye refusing to record further unless the song was released.

      The song’s eventual release, without Gordy’s initial knowledge, was met with immediate success, selling over 200,000 copies within its first week. This overwhelming reception not only proved the song’s profound impact but also ushered in a new era of artistic freedom for Gaye. Gordy’s later reflections reveal his concern for maintaining a universal appeal in Motown’s music, but the success of ‘What’s Going On’ demonstrated that audiences were ready for more meaningful and socially conscious content.

      The song’s enduring legacy is a testament to its powerful message and Gaye’s vision, resonating across generations and continuing to inspire change and awareness.

    5. Lyrics

    6. Mother, mother
      There’s too many of you crying
      Brother, brother, brother
      There’s far too many of you dying
      You know we’ve got to find a way
      To bring some lovin’ here today – Ya

      Father, father
      We don’t need to escalate
      You see, war is not the answer
      For only love can conquer hate
      You know we’ve got to find a way
      To bring some lovin’ here today

      Picket lines and picket signs
      Don’t punish me with brutality
      Talk to me, so you can see
      Oh, what’s going on
      What’s going on
      Ya, what’s going on
      Ah, what’s going on

      In the mean time
      Right on, baby
      Right on
      Right on

      Mother, Mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong
      Oh, but who are they to judge us
      Simply because our hair is long
      Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
      To bring some understanding here today

      Picket lines and picket signs
      Don’t punish me with brutality
      Talk to me
      So you can see
      What’s going on
      Ya, what’s going on
      Tell me what’s going on
      I’ll tell you what’s going on – Uh
      Right on baby
      Right on baby

      Al Cleveland, Renaldo Benson & Marvin Gaye, 1971

    posted by admin    December 19, 2023    December 29, 2023