What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album)

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What's Going On
A photo of Gaye looking away from the camera
Studio album by
ReleasedMay 21, 1971 (1971-05-21)
RecordedJune–September 1970; March–May 1971
Studio
Genre
Length35:38
LabelTamla
ProducerMarvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye chronology
Super Hits
(1970)
What's Going On
(1971)
Trouble Man
(1972)
Singles from What's Going On
  1. "What's Going On"
    Released: January 20, 1971
  2. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
    Released: June 10, 1971
  3. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"
    Released: September 16, 1971
  4. "Save the Children"
    Released: November 11, 1971

What's Going On is the eleventh studio album by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye. It was released on May 21, 1971, by the Motown Records subsidiary label Tamla. Recorded between 1970 and 1971 in sessions at Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World, and United Sound Studios in Detroit, and at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California, it was Gaye's first album to credit him as a producer and to credit Motown's in-house studio band, the session musicians known as the Funk Brothers.

What's Going On is a concept album with most of its songs segueing into the next and has been categorized as a song cycle. The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye's introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent.

The album was an immediate commercial and critical success, and came to be viewed by music historians as a classic of 1970s soul. In 2001, a deluxe edition of the album was released, featuring a recording of Gaye's May 1972 concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Broad-ranging surveys of critics, musicians, and the general public have shown that What's Going On is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and a landmark recording in popular music.[1] In 2020, it was ranked number one on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[2]

Background[edit]

An ornate white building
Gaye experienced personal and professional turmoil in the late 1960s and part of his refocusing on music was attending concerts from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall at the Max M. Fisher Music Center.

By the end of the 1960s, Marvin Gaye had fallen into a deep depression following the brain tumor diagnosis of his Motown singing partner Tammi Terrell, the failure of his marriage to Anna Gordy, a growing dependency on cocaine, troubles with the IRS, and struggles with Motown Records, the label he had signed with in 1961. One night, while holed up at a Detroit apartment, Gaye attempted suicide with a handgun, only to be saved from committing the act by Berry Gordy's father.[3]

Gaye started to experience more international success around this time as both a solo artist with hits such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" and as a dual artist with Tammi Terrell, but Gaye said during this time that he felt he "didn't deserve" his success and he felt like "a puppet - Berry's puppet, Anna's puppet. I had a mind of my own and I wasn't using it."[4][5][3] In March 1970, Gaye's singing partner Terrell died of a brain tumor. The singer responded to Terrell's death by refusing to perform onstage for several years. In January 1970, Motown released Gaye's next studio album, That's the Way Love Is, but Gaye refused to promote the recording, choosing to stay at home. During this secluded period, Gaye ditched his previous clean-cut image to grow a beard, and prefer to wear sweatsuits instead of dress suits and sweaters.[6]

The singer also got back in touch with his spirituality and also attended several concerts held by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which had been used for several Motown recordings in the 1960s.[6] Around the spring of 1970, Gaye also began seriously pursuing a career in football with the professional football team the Detroit Lions of the NFL, even working out with the Eastern Michigan Eagles football team.[6] However, his pursuit of a tryout was stopped after the owner of the team advised him that any future injury would derail his career.[6][7][8] Gaye befriended three of the Lions teammates, Mel Farr, Charlie Sanders and Lem Barney, as well as then-Detroit Pistons star Dave Bing.

Conception[edit]

Benson in a suit looking sideways
Fellow soul singer Renaldo Benson inspired Gaye to write about political themes and social change in his music.

While traveling on his tour bus with the Four Tops on May 15, 1969, Four Tops member Renaldo "Obie" Benson witnessed an act of police brutality and violence committed on anti-war protesters who had been protesting at Berkeley's People's Park in what was later termed as "Bloody Thursday".[9] Benson later told author Ben Edmonds, "I saw this and started wondering 'what was going on, what is happening here?' One question led to another. Why are they sending kids far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own kids in the street?"[9][10] Returning to Detroit, Motown songwriter Al Cleveland wrote and composed a song based on his conversations with Benson of what he had seen in Berkeley. Benson sent the song to the Four Tops but his bandmates turned the song down.[9] Benson said, "My partners told me it was a protest song. I said 'no man, it's a love song, about love and understanding. I'm not protesting. I want to know what's going on.'"[9][10]

Benson offered the song to Marvin Gaye when he participated in a golf game with the singer. Returning to Gaye's home outside Outer Drive, Benson played the song to Gaye on his guitar. Gaye felt the song's moody flow would be perfect for The Originals. Benson eventually convinced Gaye that it was his song. The singer responded by asking for partial writing credit, which Benson allowed. Gaye added new musical composition, a new melody and lyrics that reflected Gaye's own disgust. Benson said later that Gaye tweaked and enriched the song, "added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story and not a song ... we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it."[11][10] During this time, Gaye had been deeply affected by letters shared between him and his brother after he had returned from service in the Vietnam War over the treatment of Vietnam veterans.[12]

Gaye had also been deeply affected by the social ills plaguing the United States at the time, and covered the track "Abraham, Martin & John", in 1969, which became a UK hit for him in 1970. Gaye cited the 1965 Watts riots as a pivotal moment in his life in which he asked himself, "with the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?"[12] One night, he called Berry Gordy about doing a protest record, to which Gordy chastised him, "Marvin, don't be ridiculous. That's taking things too far."[11] The singer's brother Frankie wrote in his autobiography, My Brother Marvin, that while reuniting at their former childhood home in Washington, D.C., Frankie's recalling of his tenure at the war made both brothers cry.[13] At one point, Marvin sat propped up in a bed with his hands in his face.[14] Afterwards, Gaye told his brother, "I didn't know how to fight before, but now I think I do. I just have to do it my way. I'm not a painter. I'm not a poet. But I can do it with music."[14]

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Marvin Gaye discussed what had shaped his view on more socially conscious themes in music and the conception of his eleventh studio album:

In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say ... I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.[15]

Recording[edit]

Two two-storey houses with signs marking one as Hitsville U.S.A.
Gaye recorded the album at Motown's in-house studio Hitsville U.S.A. (since converted into a museum)

On June 1, 1970, Gaye entered Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. studios to record "What's Going On". Immediately after learning about the song, many of Motown's musicians, known as The Funk Brothers noted that there was a different approach with Gaye's record from that used on other Motown recordings, and Gaye complicated matters by bringing in only a few of the members while bringing his own recruits, including drummer Chet Forest.[11] Longtime Funk Brothers members Jack Ashford, James Jamerson and Eddie Brown participated in the recording.[11] Jamerson was pulled into the recording studio by Gaye after he located Jamerson playing with a local band at a blues bar and Eli Fontaine, the saxophonist behind "Baby, I'm For Real", also participated in the recording. Jamerson, who couldn't sit properly on his seat after arriving to the session drunk, performed his bass riffs, written for him by the album's arranger David Van De Pitte, on the floor.[16] Fontaine's alto saxophone riff to open the song was not originally intended. When Gaye heard the playback of what Fontaine thought was simply a demo, Gaye instantly decided that the riff was the ideal way to start the song. When Fontaine said he was "just goofing around", Gaye being pleased with the results replied, "Well, you goof off exquisitely. Thank you."[11]

The laid-back sessions of the single were credited to lots of "marijuana smoke and rounds of Scotch".[11] Gaye's trademark multi-layering vocal approach came off initially as an accident by engineers Steve Smith and Kenneth Sands.[16] Sands later explained that Gaye had wanted him to bring him the two lead vocal takes for "What's Going On" for advice on which one he should use for the final song. Smith and Sands accidentally mixed the two lead vocal takes together.[16] Gaye loved the sound and decided to keep it and use it for the duration of the album.

That September, Gaye approached Gordy with the "What's Going On" song while in California where Gordy had relocated. According to one account, Gordy didn't like the song, allegedly calling it "the worst thing I ever heard in my life".[11] As a result, Gaye angrily responded to Gordy's alleged putdown by going on strike until Gordy changed his mind.[17][11] Gordy himself denied this claim, stating he loved the song's jazzy feel but cautioned Gaye that the sound was out of date of the sound of the times and also feared the loss of Gaye's crossover audience by releasing the political song.[18] Gaye continued to record his own compositions during this time, some of which later made his 1973 album, Let's Get It On. Motown executive Harry Balk recalled trying to get Gordy to release the song at the end of the year, to which Gordy replied to him, "that Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting, it's old."[19] Gordy mentioned later that he feared no one would buy songs with a jazz influence after his attempt to be a record store owner of a jazz shop folded after a year, years prior to starting Motown. Most of Motown's Quality Control Department team also turned the song down, with Balk later stating that "they were used to the 'baby baby' stuff, and this was a little hard for them to grasp."[20]

With the help of Motown sales executive Barney Ales, Harry Balk got the song released to record stores on January 20, 1971, sending 100,000 copies of the song without Gordy's knowledge, with another 100,000 copies sent after that success.[17][16] Upon its release, the song became a hit and was Motown's fastest-selling single at the time, peaking at number 1 on the Hot Soul Singles Chart, and peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.[17] Stunned by the news, Gordy drove to Gaye's home to discuss making a complete album, stating Gaye could do what he wanted with his music if he finished the record within 30 days before the end of March[11] and thus effectively giving him the right to produce his own albums. Gaye returned to Hitsville to record the rest of What's Going On, which took a mere ten business days between March 1 and March 10. The album's rhythm tracks and sound overdubs were recorded at Hitsville, or Studio A, while the strings, horns, lead and background vocals were recorded at Golden World, or Studio B.[16]

The album's original mix, recorded in Detroit at both Hitsville and Golden World as well as United Sound Studios, was finalized on April 5, 1971. When Gordy listened to the mix, he worried that no other hit single would emerge from it.[17] To ease Gordy's worries, Gaye and the album's engineers entered The Sound Factory in West Hollywood in early May, integrating the orchestra somewhat closer with the rhythm tracks, while Gaye used different vocal tracks and added extra instrumentation. Presented to Motown's Quality Control department team, they were worried about future hit singles due to its concurrent style with each song leading to the next. Gordy however vetoed their decision, agreeing to put this mix of the album out that month.[18]

Music and lyrics[edit]

"What's Going On," the title track, features soulful, passionate vocals and multi-tracked background singing, both by Gaye. The song had strong jazz, gospel, classical music orchestration, and arrangements. Reviewer Eric Henderson of Slant stated the song had an "understandably mournful tone" in response to the fallout of the late 1960s counterculture movements.[18] Henderson also wrote that "Gaye's choice to emphasize humanity at its most charitable rather than paint bleak pictures of destruction and disillusionment is characteristic of the album that follows."[18]

This is immediately followed in segue flow by the second track, "What's Happening Brother", a song Gaye dedicated to his brother Frankie, in which Gaye wrote to explain the disillusionment of war veterans who returned to civilian life and their disconnect from pop culture.[18] "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)", which took its title from a United Airlines tag, "fly the friendly skies", dealt with dependence on heroin. The lyric, "I know, I'm hooked my friend, to the boy, who makes slaves out of men", references heroin as "boy", which was slang for the drug. "Save the Children" was an emotional plea to help disadvantaged children, warning, "who really cares/who's willing to try/to save a world/that is destined to die?", later crying out, "save the babies". A truncated version of "God Is Love" follows "Save the Children" and makes references to God.

"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" was another emotional plea, this time for the environment. According to Motown legend, musician and Funk Brothers leader Earl Van Dyke once mentioned that Berry Gordy didn't know of the word "ecology" and had to be told what it was though Gordy himself claimed otherwise. The song featured a memorable tenor saxophone solo from Detroit music legend Wild Bill Moore. "Right On" was a lengthy seven-minute jam influenced by funk rock and Latin soul rhythms that focused on Gaye's own divided soul in which Gaye later pleaded in falsetto, "if you let me, I will take you to live where love is King" after complying that "true love can conquer hate every time". "Wholy Holy" follows "God Is Love" as an emotional gospel plea advising people to "come together" to "proclaim love [as our] salvation". The final track, "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", focuses on urban poverty, backed by a minimalist, dark blues-oriented funk vibe, with its bass riffs composed and performed by Bob Babbitt, who also performed on "Mercy Mercy Me" (Jamerson played on the rest of the album). The entire album's stylistic use of a song cycle gave it a cohesive feel and was one of R&B's first concept albums, described as "a groundbreaking experiment in collating a pseudo-classical suite of free-flowing songs."[18]

David Hepworth described the album as "like a jazz record not merely because it had jazz manners and was slathered in strings and employed congas and triangle as its most prominent form of percussion...But it's also jazz in the sense that...[i]t plays like one long single."[21]

The Absolute Sound described the album as "a brilliant psychedelic soul song-cycle".[22]

Release and promotion[edit]

Released on May 21, 1971, What's Going On became Gaye's Top 10 entry on the Billboard Top LPs, peaking at number six. It stayed on the chart over a year, selling some two million copies within twelve months. It was Motown's (and Gaye's) best-selling album to that date - until he released Let's Get It On in 1973. It also became Gaye's second number-one album on Billboard's Soul LPs chart, where it stayed for nine weeks, remaining on the Billboard Soul LPs chart for 58 weeks throughout 1971 and 1972. The title track, which had been released in January 1971 as the lead single to promote the album, sold over 200,000 copies within its first week and two-and-a-half-million by the end of the year.[16] It hit #1 in Record World, #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (behind Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World"), #1 on the Cash Box Top 100, and held the pole position on Billboard's Soul Singles chart five weeks running.

The follow-up single, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", peaked at number-four on the Hot 100, and also went number-one on the R&B chart. The third, and final, single, "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", peaked at number-nine on the Hot 100, while also rising to number-one on the R&B chart, thus making Gaye the first male solo artist to place three top ten singles on the Hot 100 off one album, as well as the first artist to place three singles at number-one on any Billboard chart (in this case, R&B), off one single album. The album had a modest commercial reception in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom; "Save the Children" reached number 41 on the latter country's singles chart, while the album reached number 56 twenty-five years after its original release. In 1984, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 following Gaye's untimely death. In 1994, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in the United States for sales of half a million copies after it was issued on CD. According to Nielsen SoundScan, it has vended over 1.6 million copies since sales tracking began (in 1991). It was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry for shipments of 300,000 albums.

Six months after the release of What's Going On, Sly and the Family Stone released There's a Riot Goin' On (1971), titled in response to Gaye's album.[23]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[24]
Chicago Tribune4/4 stars[25]
Christgau's Record GuideB+[26]
MusicHound R&B5/5[27]
The Observer5/5 stars[28]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[29]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[30]
Slant Magazine4/5 stars[31]
Sputnikmusic3/5[32]
The Village VoiceB[33]

What's Going On was generally well received by contemporary critics. Writing for Rolling Stone in 1971, Vince Aletti praised Gaye's thematic approach towards social and political concerns, while discussing the surprise of Motown releasing such an album. In a joint review of What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's Where I'm Coming From, Aletti wrote, "Ambitious, personal albums may be a glut on the market elsewhere, but at Motown they're something new ... the album as a whole takes precedence, absorbing its own flaws. There are very few performers who could carry a project like this off. I've always admired Marvin Gaye, but I didn't expect that he would be one of them. Guess I seriously underestimated him. It won't happen again."[34] Billboard described the record as "a cross between Curtis Mayfield and that old Motown spell and outdoes anything Gaye's ever done".[35] Time magazine hailed it as a "vast, melodically deft symphonic pop suite".[36] The Village Voice critic Robert Christgau was less impressed. Writing in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), he deemed it both a "groundbreaking personal statement" and a Berry Gordy product, baited by three highly original singles but marred elsewhere by indistinct music and indulgent use of David Van De Pitte's strings, which Christgau called "the lowest kind of movie-background dreck".[26]

According to Paul Gambaccini, Gaye's death in 1984 prompted a critical re-evaluation of the album, and most reviewers have since regarded it as an important masterpiece of popular music.[35] In MusicHound R&B (1998), Gary Graff said What's Going On was "not just a great Gaye album but is one of the great pop albums of all time",[27] and Rolling Stone later credited the album for having "revolutionized black music".[15] The Washington Post critic Geoffrey Himes names it an exemplary release of the progressive soul development from 1968 to 1973,[37] and Pitchfork's Tom Breihan calls it a prog-soul masterpiece.[38] BBC Music's David Katz described the album as "one of the greatest albums of all time, and nothing short of a masterpiece" and compared it to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue by saying "its non-standard musical arrangements, which heralded a new sound at the time, gives it a chilling edge that ultimately underscores its gravity, with subtle orchestral enhancements offset by percolating congas, expertly layered above James Jamerson's bubbling bass".[39] In his 1994 review of Gaye's re-issues, Chicago Tribune reviewer Greg Kot described the album as "soul music's first 'art' album, an inner-city response to the Celtic mysticism of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, the psychedelic pop of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band [and] the rewired blues of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited."[25] Richie Unterberger found the album somewhat overrated, writing in The Rough Guide to Rock (2003) that much of its "meandering introspection" paled in comparison to its three singles.[40]

A remastered deluxe edition with 28 additional tracks was released on May 31, 2011, to similar acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 100, based on ten reviews.[41]

Accolades[edit]

In 1985, writers on British music weekly the NME voted it best album of all time.[42] In 2004, the album's title track was ranked number four on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[43] A 1999 critics' poll conducted by British newspaper The Guardian named it the "Greatest Album of the 20th Century". In 1997, What's Going On was named the 17th greatest album of all time in a poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM.[44] In 1997, The Guardian ranked the album number one on its list of the 100 Best Albums Ever.[45] In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 97, while in 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 4. In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. What's Going On was ranked number 6 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, one of three Gaye albums to be included, succeeded by 1973's Let's Get It On (number 165) and 1978's Here, My Dear (number 462).[46] The album is Gaye's highest-ranking entry on the list, as well as several other publications' lists. In a revised 2020 list, this time voted on by musicians instead of music critics, the album moved up to the top spot, replacing The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.[2]

Publication Country Accolade[47] Year Rank
Bill Shapiro United States The Top 100 Rock Compact Discs 1991 *
Jimmy Guteman The Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time 1992 *
Chris Smith 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music 2009 *
Elvis Costello (Vanity Fair, Issue No. 483) 500 Albums You Need 2005 *
Chuck Eddy The Accidental Evolution of Rock'n'Roll 1997 *
Consequence of Sound Top 100 Albums Ever 2010 19
Vibe 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century 1999 *
Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein The 40 Best of Album Chartmakers by Year 1981 7
USA Today Top 40 Albums of All Time 2003 *
Gear The 100 Greatest Albums of the Century 1999 2
Life Dozen Discs That Shook the World 2005 *
Pitchfork Top 100 Albums of the 1970s 2004 49
Rolling Stone The Essential 200 Rock Records 1997 *
Rolling Stone The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 6
Rolling Stone The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2020 1
Spin 15 Most Influential Albums Not By Beatles, Stones, Dylan or Elvis 2003 *
The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs 1998 *
Kitsap Sun Top 200 Albums of the Last 40 Years 2005 32
Robert Dimery 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 *
Time Top 100 Albums of All Time 2006 *
Paul Gambaccini The World Critics Best Albums of All Time 1987 4
Gary Pig Gold Canada The 40 Most Influential Records of the 20th Century 1999 *
The Guardian United Kingdom 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die 2007 *
The Guardian The 100 Best Albums Ever 1997 1
Melody Maker All Time Top 100 Albums 2000 24
Mojo The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made 1995 6
Mojo The 100 Records That Changed the World 2007 63
NME All Times Top 100 Albums 1985 1
NME All Times Top 100 Albums + Top 50 by Decade 1993 4
NME Top 100 Albums of All Time 2003 27
Q The 50 Best Albums of the 70s 1998 20
Q The Ultimate Music Collection 2005 *
Sounds The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1986 15
The New Nation Top 100 Albums by Black Artists 2005 1
Paul Gambaccini The World Critics Best Albums of All Time 1977 106
Paul Gambaccini The World Critics Best Albums of All Time 1987 4
The Observer 50 Albums That Changed Music 1956–2006 2006 6
The Times The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1993 49
Times Online The 20 Most Influential Albums 2008 17
Vox 100 Records that Shook the World 1991 *
Hot Press Ireland The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1989 23
Hot Press The 100 Best Albums Ever 2003 41
Adresseavisen Norway The 100 (+23) Best Albums of All Time 1995 4
Aftenposten Top 50 Albums of All Time 1999 3
Dagbladet The Best Albums of the Century 1999 *
Eggen & Kartvedt The Guide to the 100 Important Rock Albums 1999 *
Panorama The 30 Best Albums of the Year 1970–98 1999 2
Platekompaniet Top 100 Albums of All Time 2001 12
Tor Milde The 100 Best Pop and Rock Albums of All Time 2004 2
Expressen Sweden The 100 Best Records Ever 1999 8
Slitz The 50 Best Albums of All Time 1990 13
Pop The World's 100 Best Albums + 300 Complements 1994 14
Soundi Finland The 50 Best Albums of All Time + Top 10 by Decade 1995 4
OOR Netherlands The Best Albums of the 70s 1979 19
OOR The 100 Best Albums of All Time 2007 5
VPRO 299 Nominations of the Best Album of All Time 2006 *
Musik Express/Sounds Germany The 100 Masterpieces 1993 22
Spex The 100 Albums of the Century 1999 6
Sounds The 50 Best Albums of the 1970s 2009 1
Volume France 200 Records that Changed the World 2008 *
RockDelux Spain The 100 Best Albums of the 1970s 1988 1
RockDelux The 200 Best Albums of All Time 2002 2
Alternative Melbourne Australia The Top 100 Rock/Pop Albums 1996 67
The Courier-Mail 50 Defining Rock Albums 2005 5
(*) designates lists that are unordered.

Track listing[edit]

All songs produced by Marvin Gaye.

Standard edition[edit]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."What's Going On"3:53
2."What's Happening Brother"2:43
3."Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)"3:49
4."Save the Children"
  • Gaye
  • Cleveland
  • Benson
4:03
5."God Is Love"
  • Gaye
  • A. Gaye
  • Stover
  • Nyx
1:41
6."Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"Gaye3:16
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Right On"
  • Gaye
  • Earl DeRouen
7:31
2."Wholy Holy"
  • Gaye
  • Benson
  • Cleveland
3:08
3."Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"
  • Gaye
  • Nyx
5:26

2002 CD bonus tracks[edit]

No.TitleWriter(s)Length
10."God Is Love"
  • Gaye
  • A. Gaye
  • Stover
  • Nyx
2:48
11."Sad Tomorrows"
2:22

2001 Deluxe Edition[edit]

In 2001, a "Deluxe Edition" 2-CD version of the album was released by Motown, which included the original LP as released, the discarded "Detroit Mix" of the album, and the mono 45 rpm mixes of the singles. Also included was a recording of Gaye's first live concert performance after two years away from the stage following Tammi Terrell's illness and death, performed at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall in his native Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1972.

Disc one (original album and bonus tracks)
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."What's Going On"Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye, Renaldo "Obie" Benson3:53
2."What's Happening Brother"Gaye, James Nyx Jr.2:43
3."Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)"Gaye, Anna Gordy Gaye, Elgie Stover3:49
4."Save the Children"Cleveland, Benson, Gaye4:03
5."God Is Love"Gaye, A. Gaye, Stover, Nyx1:41
6."Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"Gaye3:16
7."Right On"Earl DeRouen, Gaye7:31
8."Wholy Holy"Benson, Cleveland, Gaye3:08
9."Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"Gaye, Nyx5:26
10."What's Going On" (Detroit mix) 4:08
11."What's Happening Brother" (Detroit Mix) 2:43
12."Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)" (Detroit Mix) 3:49
13."Save the Children" (Detroit Mix) 4:02
14."God Is Love" (Detroit Mix) 1:47
15."Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (Detroit Mix) 3:08
16."Right On" (Detroit Mix) 7:32
17."Wholy Holy" (Detroit Mix) 3:08
18."Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (Detroit Mix) 5:46
19."What's Going On" (Rhythm & Strings mix) 3:50
Disc two
No.TitleRecordedLength
1."Sixties Medley" ("That's the Way Love Is"/"You"/"I Heard It Through the Grapevine"/"Little Darling (I Need You)"/"You're All I Need to Get By"/"Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing"/"Your Precious Love"/"Pride and Joy"/"Stubborn Kind of Fellow")Live at the Kennedy Center13:23
2."Right On"Live at the Kennedy Center7:33
3."Wholy Holy"Live at the Kennedy Center3:32
4."Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"Live at the Kennedy Center9:06
5."What's Going On"Live at the Kennedy Center5:42
6."What's Happening Brother"Live at the Kennedy Center2:54
7."Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)"Live at the Kennedy Center3:51
8."Save the Children"Live at the Kennedy Center4:22
9."God Is Love"Live at the Kennedy Center1:43
10."Stage Dialogue"Live at the Kennedy Center2:34
11."Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) (Reprise)"Live at the Kennedy Center5:12
12."What's Going On (Reprise)"Live at the Kennedy Center4:07
13."What's Going On" (Single version) 3:56
14."God Is Love" (Single version) 2:56
15."Sad Tomorrows" 2:27
16."Head Title" (also known as "Distant Lover") 4:07

2011 Super Deluxe Edition[edit]

Disc 1 (original album)

Disc 1 (bonus tracks)

  1. "What's Going On" (Original Rejected Single Mix)
  2. "Head Title (Distant Lover)" (Demo)
  3. "Symphony" (Demo)
  4. "I Love the Ground You Walk On" (Instrumental)
  5. "What's Going On" (Mono Single Version)
  6. "God is Love" (Mono Single Version)
  7. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (Mono Single Version)
  8. "Sad Tomorrows" (Mono Single Version)
  9. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (Mono Single Version)
  10. "Wholy Holy" (Mono Single Version)

Disc 2 ("The Detroit Instrumental Sessions and More")

  1. "Checking Out (Double Clutch)"
  2. "Chained"
  3. "Country Stud"
  4. "Help the People"
  5. "Running from Love" (Version 1)
  6. "Daybreak"
  7. "Doing My Thing"
  8. "T Stands for Time"
  9. "Jesus is Our Love Song"
  10. "Funky Nation"
  11. "Infinity"
  12. "Mandota" (Instrumental)
  13. "Struttin' the Blues"
  14. "Running from Love" (Version 2 with Strings)
  15. "I'm Going Home (Move)"
  16. "You're the Man" (Parts I & II)
  17. "You're the Man" (Alternate Version 1)
  18. "You're the Man" (Alternate Version 2)

LP (Original Detroit Mix – April 5, 1971)

  1. "What's Going On" (Detroit Mix) – 4:08
  2. "What's Happening Brother" (Detroit Mix) – 2:43
  3. "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)" (Detroit Mix) – 3:49
  4. "Save the Children" (Detroit Mix) – 4:02
  5. "God Is Love" (Detroit Mix) – 1:47
  6. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (Detroit Mix) – 3:08
  7. "Right On" (Detroit Mix) – 7:32
  8. "Wholy Holy" (Detroit Mix) – 3:08
  9. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (Detroit Mix) – 5:46

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak

positions[49]

U.S. Billboard Pop Albums[50] 6
U.S. Billboard Top Soul Albums[51] 1
Canadian RPM Albums Chart[52] 37
Chart (1984) Peak

positions

U.S. Billboard Pop Albums[53] 154
Chart (1996) Peak

positions

UK Albums (OOC) 56[54]
Chart (2006) Peak

positions[49]

Irish Albums[55] 64

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1971) Peak

positions

U.S. Billboard Pop Albums[56] 52
U.S. Billboard Top Soul Albums[57] 3
Chart (1972) Peak

positions

U.S. Billboard Top Soul Albums[58] 27

Singles[edit]

Title Information
"What's Going On"/"God Is Love" (alt. version)
"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"/"Sad Tomorrows" (alt. version of "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)")
"Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"/"Wholy Holy"

Certifications[edit]

Certifications for What's Going On
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[62] Platinum 300,000*
United States (RIAA)[63] Gold 500,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Marvin Gaye What's Going On". Acclaimed Music. Archived from the original on 2008-10-22. Retrieved 2008-08-23.
  2. ^ a b "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone. 2020-09-22. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  3. ^ a b Gulla 2008, pp. 344.
  4. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 126.
  5. ^ Posner 2002, p. 225.
  6. ^ a b c d Gulla 2008, pp. 345.
  7. ^ Music Urban Legends Revealed #16 Archived 2012-07-12 at the Wayback Machine. Legendsrevealed.com (2009-07-29). Retrieved on 2012-05-14.
  8. ^ Gates 2004, pp. 332.
  9. ^ a b c d Lynskey 2011, pp. 155.
  10. ^ a b c Edmonds 2003, p. 75–78.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lynskey 2011, pp. 157.
  12. ^ a b Lynskey 2011, pp. 156.
  13. ^ Gaye 2003, p. 72.
  14. ^ a b Gaye 2003, p. 75.
  15. ^ a b Rolling Stone 2012.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Marvin Gaye 'What's Going On?'". July 11, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  17. ^ a b c d Bowman 2006, pp. 16.
  18. ^ a b c d e f "Slant Magazine Music Review: Marvin Gaye: What's Going On". SlantMagazine.com. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  19. ^ Bowman 2006, pp. 15.
  20. ^ Bowman 2006, pp. 15–16.
  21. ^ Hepworth, David (2016). Never a Dull Moment: 1971 - The Year That Rock Exploded. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 77. ISBN 9781627793995.
  22. ^ "Marvin Gaye: What's Going On". The Absolute Sound. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  23. ^ Lewis, Miles Marshall (2006). There's a Riot Goin' On. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 70–72. ISBN 0-8264-1744-2.
  24. ^ Bush, John. Review: What's Going On. AllMusic. Retrieved on 2010-01-17.
  25. ^ a b Kot, Greg. "Review: What's Going On". Chicago Tribune: 4. July 22, 1994. (Transcription of original review at talk page)
  26. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (1981). "Marvin Gaye". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0-89919-025-1. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
  27. ^ a b Graff, Gary; du Lac, Joshua Freedom; McFarlin, Jim, eds. (1998). "Marvin Gaye". MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 0-8256-7255-4.
  28. ^ Benson, George (February 22, 2004). "The Classic: Marvin Gaye: What's Going On". The Observer. Archived from the original on March 27, 2007. Retrieved January 17, 2010.
  29. ^ "Review". Rolling Stone. January 23, 2003. p. 68.
  30. ^ Edmonds, Ben (2004). "Marvin Gaye". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 324. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  31. ^ Henderson, Eric. Review: What's Going On Archived 2003-12-19 at the Wayback Machine. Slant Magazine. Retrieved on 2010-01-17.
  32. ^ Butler, Nick (January 16, 2005). "Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (album review 3)". Sputnikmusic. Archived from the original on October 31, 2010. Retrieved June 26, 2019.
  33. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 12, 1971). "Consumer Guide (21)". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 2012-10-22.
  34. ^ Aletti, Vince (August 5, 1971). "Marvin Gaye: What's Going On : Music Reviews". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on February 25, 2007. Retrieved 2008-08-23.
  35. ^ a b "Marvin Gaye – What's Going On". SuperSeventies.com. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  36. ^ McKeen 2000, pp. 532.
  37. ^ Himes, Geoffrey (May 16, 1990). "Records". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 26, 2021.
  38. ^ Breihan, Tom (May 19, 2011). "Marvin Gaye's What's Going On Gets Box Set". Pitchfork. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  39. ^ "BBC – Music – Review of Marvin Gaye – What's Going On – 40th Anniversary Edition Review". 27 June 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  40. ^ Unterberger, Richie (2003). "Marvin Gaye". In Buckley, Peter (ed.). The Rough Guide to Rock. Rough Guides. p. 418. ISBN 1-85828-457-0.
  41. ^ "What's Going On [40th Anniversary Edition] Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 2011-08-04.
  42. ^ "NME Writers Top 100 Albums Of All Time". NME. 1985-11-30. Retrieved 2011-05-19.
  43. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 2004-12-09. Archived from the original on August 15, 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-10.
  44. ^ "Music of the Millennium". Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  45. ^ "The Guardian 100 Best Albums Ever List, 1997". rocklistmusic.co.uk. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
  46. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" Archived 2008-06-23 at the Wayback Machine. Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2008-08-23.
  47. ^ "Acclaimed Music – What's Going On". Archived from the original on April 20, 2012. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  48. ^ Sounes, Howard (2006). Seventies: the sights, sounds and ideas of a brilliant decade. Simon & Schuster. p. 134. ISBN 0-7432-6859-8. "... such as Bobbye Hall whose insistent bongos can be heard ..."
  49. ^ a b There's a Riot Goin' On > Charts . All Media Guide, LLC. Retrieved on 2008-08-16.
  50. ^ "Billboard 200 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  51. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  52. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums - August 21, 1971" (PDF).
  53. ^ "Billboard 200 Chart". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  54. ^ "Marvin Gaye | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". www.officialcharts.com. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  55. ^ "irishcharts.com - Discography marvin gaye". irish-charts.com. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  56. ^ "Billboard 200 Albums - Year-End". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  57. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums - Year-End". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  58. ^ "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums - Year-End". Billboard. Retrieved 2021-06-01.
  59. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - April 17, 1971" (PDF).
  60. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - August 14, 1971" (PDF).
  61. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - November 20, 1971" (PDF).
  62. ^ "British album certifications – Marvin Gaye – What's Going On". British Phonographic Industry.
  63. ^ "American album certifications – Marvin Gaye – What's Going On". Recording Industry Association of America.

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]