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The Unusual Genesis Of Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing

Music | April 8, 2022

Gaye wrote Sexual Healing while in Ostend. He went there in 1981 to relax and recover from his drug problems, staying for 18 months. rateyourmusic

Marvin Gaye’s incomparable “Sexual Healing” burst onto the scene, thanks to strong pornography, writer David Ritz, and a coastal Belgium town called Ostend. The massive hit held the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles and reached #3 on the Top 100. “Sexual Healing” became Marvin’s first out after leaving Motown Records after two decades. The quintessentially Gaye song marked a high point in the artist's extensive rolodex of lovemaking music. Last but certainly not least, “Sexual Healing” indisputably holds the crown for best last line of any song, “Please don't procrastinate, It's not good to masturbate.”

David Ritz and Marvin Gaye in Ostend, Belgium. songwriteruniverse

An Autobiographer, A Belgium Town, And Pornography

After Gaye left Motown in 1982, his career looked about as hot as a Belgium winter. Autobiographer David Ritz failed to drum up any interest in a Marvin Gaye book, thanks to the lack of recent success. "When I met [Marvin Gaye], the intense drama in his life had just begun. He hadn't had a hit since ‘Got To Give It Up (1977). I tried to get a deal for this autobiography, you know, so we could get some money. But I couldn't get a deal. All the publishers said, ‘We aren't interested in a Marvin Gaye book. He hasn't had a hit since, you know, way back when.”

Gaye spent a few years traveling and soul searching before settling in Ostend, Belgium. As he hibernated, working through his litany of issues, the star eventually invited Ritz to visit him. There, Gaye’s expansive collection of strong pornography led to a prophetic conversation between the two.

Ritza said, "As I was writing the lyric, I was trying to capture Marvin's voice and style as a singer. Marca

The Brith Of Sexual Healing

As Ritz tells it, “I went up to his apartment and on his coffee table was this ... kind of cartoon pornography in which women were violated in all sorts of awful ways and I looked at it and I said, ‘Marvin, this is some sick [expletive]. What are you doing? What you really need is sexual healing.’"

Immediately, Marvin latched onto that phrase, “'I love that idea. What is that?” and Ritz responded, “It's just that, you know, you find a woman who loves you for you. When you love her in pleasure and you forget about pain, love is a positive thing and not some perversely complex twisted thing.”

Gaye recorded his Midnight Love album for CBS Records, it was his first Non-Motown production.soundcloud

Collaboration?

What happened after that conversation became something of a controversy. Ritz claimed that Gaye asked him to write a little poem, which eventually became the groundwork for “Sexual Healing.

As Ritz remembered, “So I sat down and I wrote a little poem, ‘When blue teardrops are falling ... what you need is sexual healing,’ and I handed it to him and he took them.

We really wrote the song in maybe five minutes or 10 minutes or 12 minutes. You know, it all happened really quickly.”

Sexual Healing won the 1982 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance while the instrumental version also won for Best R&B Instrumental.80s90suk

Controversy

Unfortunately, for Ritz, when “Sexual Healing” sent shockwaves through the musical world after Gaye returned to the US, his name remained conspicuously absent. Gaye did include a thank you to Ritz on the album’s notes but never offered a writing credit or any royalties. Perhaps Gaye felt giving access to a writer was compensation enough.

Reluctantly, Ritz sued but Gaye died before the suit ever went to court. Gaye’s estate eventually settled. A key piece of evidence came in the recorded conversations between Ritz and Gaye, stemming from their potential autobiography.

Ritz: “I was in this exchange with Martin when we actually wrote the song. It was in the middle of my interviewing him, so I had a tape of us doing it, of him saying, ‘Oh, these are great lyrics you wrote and this is a big hit we've done.’ So once his estate found that out, we never went to trial and I was listed as a co-author of the song.” But always remember, “Please don't procrastinate, It's not good to masturbate.”

Tags: David Ritz | Marvin Gaye

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!