What's Going On? When Marvin Gaye Went A Little Bit Crazy

By | May 21, 2021

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Soul singer Marvin Gaye performs onstage at Royal Albert Hall in 1979 in London, England. (Photo by David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

At the end of the 1960s, soul singer Marvin Gaye was among Motown's biggest names. But the "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" singer was quite rapidly losing his enthusiasm for pop music. Motown brilliantly created stars and catchy R&B music in a factory setting, but Gaye was disillusioned with the product. During turbulent times, many musicians were making personal statements through their music, something that interested Gaye more than getting the next big dance hit. To follow his muse, Gaye would need to rebel against Motown. The result was What's Going On?, one of the greatest albums in history, but to make it Gaye had to go to the brink of quitting music altogether.

The Years Leading Up To The Album

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Source: (Motown Museum).

Marvin Gaye, who did not have the easiest childhood, grew up with a father who was a Pentecostal minister; his father abused Gaye when he was young. He grew up in a public housing project, the Fairfax Apartments, in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood of Washington DC, an area that was mostly a slum. The buildings were small and many were in disrepair, lacking running water and electricity. In 1960, when Gaye was only 21, he signed on with Motown Records and became one of Motown’s top artists. As the 1960s drew to a close, Marvin Gaye was at the top of his game. He had some success before his No. 1 hit, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” which actually became the second biggest single of the year. In 1970, though, Gaye, who was angry about the state of the world, approached Berry Gordy and announced that he wanted to create an album with a political edge.