Marvin Gaye was a singer, songwriter and musician signed to the Motown label throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
He had started singing in church (at the age of four) and at school. He was part of a strict Christian religion, and he has described how his father would often beat him. He then starting signing with several local doo-wop groups, dropped out of high school, and joined but shortly left the air force. He formed the group The Marquees, who were then hired by Harvey Fuqua and became The New Moonglows. Singles (from both groups) were met with little success, and The New Moonglows disbanded in 1960.
Marvin moved with Harvey Fuqua to Detroit and performed for Berry Gordy, who signed him to the Motown label. Although at first he was only interested in recording jazz music and standards, he achieved massive success as an R&B-pop artist throughout the 1960s and became one of several artists that helped establish the “Motown Sound” mid-way through the decade.
As well recording successfully as a solo artist, he released several duet albums, most notably with Kim Weston and then Tammi Terrell – with whom (thanks to songwriter-producers Ashford & Simpson) he achieved huge success. Marvin’s song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” became his first Billboard No.1, arguably his best-known song and an acclaimed soul classic.
His 1970s material marked a massive change in direction, with his 1971 album What’s Going On told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing only hatred, suffering, and injustice. It brought the concept album format to R&B/soul music, and he became one of few Motown artists to break away from the reins of the production company.
He continued to record under the label throughout the 1970s, recording several more successful albums and embarking on various tours. By this point, Marvin had developed an addiction to cocaine, as well as serious financial problems, and moved to Hawaii and then London over fears of imprisonment for failure to pay back taxes. His work suffered critically and commercially, and he had reached a personal low.
He did however begin recording material for a new disco album. Someone stole a tape of a rough draft of the album and took it to Motown, who remixed the album and released it. Marvin accused Motown of editing and remixing the album without his consent. He vowed not to record any more music for the label, and signed with Columbia in 1982. His later music would go on to influence contemporary R&B subgenres like quiet storm and neo-soul; at Columbia he recorded one album and released his biggest ever career hit, “Sexual Healing”.
In 1984, Marvin visited his parents house after touring with the new song and gave his father a gun to protect himself from intruders. Marvin had become paranoid and suicidal by this point, and during an altercation between him and his father, he was shot by his father, twice. He was pronounced dead on arrival, at the age of 44. He was arguably Motown’s greatest ever male solo singer.
The Marvels of Marvin Gaye
Marvellous Motown currently recommends twenty-six songs (!) by Marvin Gaye – click on the link above for our archive or click on a specific song below:
- PRIDE AND JOY
- HOW SWEET IS IS (TO BE LOVED BY YOU)
- YOU’RE A WONDERFUL ONE
- AIN’T THAT PECULIAR?
- I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE
- THAT’S THE WAY LOVE IS
- WHAT’S GOING ON
- MERCY, MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)
- LET’S GET IT ON
- GOT TO GIVE IT UP
The Marvels of Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
The Marvels of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
- AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH
- AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING
- YOU AIN’T LIVIN’ ‘TIL YOU’RE LOVIN’
- YOU’RE ALL I NEED TO GET BY
- IF THIS WORLD WERE MINE
- YOUR PRECIOUS LOVE
- GOOD LOVIN’ AIN’T EASY TO COME BY
- KEEP ON LOVIN’ ME, HONEY
- WHAT YOU GAVE ME
- HOLD ME, OH, MY DARLING
- THE ONION SONG
- IF I COULD BUILD MY WHOLE WORLD AROUND YOU
- TWO CAN HAVE A PARTY
The Marvels of Marvin Gaye & Diana Ross
(P.S. Marvin wins the award for most songs with the word “ain’t” in the title – oh, yes, and the award for most songs. Duh!)