Sentimental Seven: Marvin Gaye–What’s Going On
Sentimental Sevens is a series in which we retroactively give important/personally meaningful albums our highest rating of 7/7.
“When I look at the world
It fills me with sorrow
Little children today
Are really going to suffer tomorrow
What a shame
Such a bad way to live
Oh, who is to blame?
We can’t stop living
Live for life” – “Save the Children” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On is one of the most critically acclaimed works of music to date. Jam-packed into the 35 minute LP are songs that chronicle hatred, struggling to survive in America, race conflict, and even climate change. What’s discussed in this album feels as relevant today as it surely was when it was released. But despite the presence of lyrics and songs depicting struggle, the overall message of peace and speaking to one another to figure out the roots of our prejudices is central. Gaye understood the harsh reality that existed then as it does today, and perhaps through his explicit sonic depiction of urban ghettos and conflicts, he was trying to start a dialogue about these issues that have continuously been present in our lives.
Important too is the fact that this album is heavily conceptual. Songs flow into each other seamlessly as Gaye takes on the persona of a Vietnam War veteran who just returned from the conflict to a battered America. At points, it’s as if Gaye lets emotions in their raw form take hold of the music he makes–it’s soul music inside and out.
There’s a heightened sense of awareness necessary to produce an album like this. Luckily for us, Marvin Gaye had that. The music he made on this album made it clear that we have some problems we must deal with, but similarly, it makes it clear that the trials we face are not everlasting. We don’t have to fully conform or accept the society we live in because we can change it through recognition of differences and communication with one another. Even through hardships, we must continue to live life. Oversimplified, yes, especially in the societal configuration we function in, but perhaps it’s a message we need in unsure times like now.
Or perhaps it’s just another person’s flawed take on the situation. Listen and decide for yourself.