Marvin Gaye: 10 songs that tell his story on his 84th birthday

The R&B and soul pioneer released some of the world’s most iconic songs and what both Rolling Stone and NME have called the greatest album of all time in the form of What’s up.

From an early age on the projects, Gaye gained recognition for his voice while singing in a Pentecostal church.

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He became arguably Motown’s biggest star before his life was tragically ended the day before his 45th birthday when he was shot dead by his own father after a heated argument at the family home.

On his birthday, we take a look at the legendary singer’s life through his own work.

Let Your Conscience Guide You (The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, 1961)

The first single released by a young Gaye before Motown was Motown. Tamla 54041, which later became a cult label, was pushing for an R&B style, while Gaye wanted a Frank Sinatra-style pop album. Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide isn’t his best work, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Hitchhiking (That Sturborn Kinda Fellow, 1962)

It wasn’t until 1962 that Gaye had his first real hit, a funky dance number called Hitch Hike. In addition to co-writing the song and providing the vocals, Gaye also played drums and piano on the track, which would give him his first Top 40 hit.

How sweet it is (to be loved by you)

If “Hitch Hike” was a hit, “How Sweet It Is” was stratospheric. Inspired by a Jackie Gleason catchphrase and written by Motown’s legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team, it went to number six in America, selling over 900,000 copies.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (United, 1967)

Arguably Gaye’s most famous song – although his version may not be – “Ain’t No Mountain…” was almost recorded by British soul singer Dusty Springfield, but writers Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson withheld it as their “golden egg,” that they would get access to Motown. Diana Ross later had the biggest hit of her career with a cover of Gaye’s version.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine (In The Groove, 1968)

Gaye flipped that particular script and took a previously released song and took it to a new level. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was originally a hit for Gladys Knight & the Pips, but it really took off when it was included on Gaye’s 1968 album In the groove. At the time, it was Motown’s biggest single to date and the singer’s first UK number one.

What’s Up (What’s Up, 1971)

Gaye’s most enduring legacy is certainly What’s up, the 1971 album often cited as the greatest of all time. Told from the perspective of a veteran returning from Vietnam, the title track sets the scene: “Brother, brother, brother/ Far too many of you are dying.”

Inner City Blues (Makes Me Howl) (What’s Going On, 1971)

The final track from What’s up may be his outstanding moment. “Inner City Blues” deals with crime, policing, poverty, lack of opportunity and post-moon US government priorities: “missiles, moonshots/spend it on the have-nots”.

Let’s Do It (Let’s Do It, 1973)

A song so sensual that its opening chords are enough to convey the idea that two people get along splendidly, as evidenced by its use in everything from The Sopranos to Scrubs. The single sold more than two million copies in two weeks and launched Gaye as a sex symbol.

Sexual Healing (Midnight Love, 1982)

After a bitter divorce from Motown, Gaye released his 17th and final studio album in 1982. “Sexual Healing,” described in a Rolling Stone review midnight love as “a sort of polemic for the power of rampant humping,” it won two Grammys.

You’re the Man (You’re the Man, 2019)

The single was recorded and released in 1972, but the album of the same name was intended as a follow-up What’s up was shelved after a lukewarm reception. It was eventually released in full in 2019 to coincide with Gaye’s 80th birthday

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I Have To Give It Up (Live at the London Palladium, 1977)

The only studio recording on Live at the London Palladium, “Got To Give It Up” was cut to four for the single from the 12-minute album version. It was a direct inspiration for Michael Jackson in “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and was inserted into Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams’ 2013 hit “Blurred Lines,” prompting a lawsuit from the Gaye estate .

Once upon a time – Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise (Blackwater Surprise, 1996)

This modern soul song is a testament to Gaye’s legacy and pays tribute to the man himself, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley. It was later covered by The Gaslight Anthem and Animals’ Eric Burdon.

Ain’t That Weird (Moods of Marvin Gaye, 1965)

Gaye’s second million-selling “Ain’t That Peculiar” tells the story of a failed relationship and became one of the trademarks of the Motown legend.

Night Shift – The Commodores (Night Shift, 1985)

Recorded as a tribute to Gaye and Jackie Wilson a year after their respective deaths, it proved to be the Commodores’ only Top 10 hit after the departure of Lionel Richie. “Marvin/Singing of Joy and Pain/He opened our minds”.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)

The second single from What’s up saw Gaye lament the destruction of the environment: “Where have all the blue skies gone? / Poison is the wind that blows / From the north and south and east”. Marvin Gaye: 10 songs that tell his story on his 84th birthday

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