Marvin Gaye is enshrined in the public imagination as one of the ultimate soul performers, a singer whose love for his fellow man (and, all too frequently, many different women) knew no bounds.
Yet the Washington D.C. born legend was a complex, multi-faceted figure. From his early days as a sharp-suited Motown hit-maker to his socially-aware work, from his crippling stage fright to his often astonishing self-doubt, Marvin Gaye was a fascinating figure, inspiring and infuriating in equal measure.
Earlier this week, a United States jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had re-tooled Gaye's iconic 1977 hit 'Got To Give It Up' as their 'Blurred Lines'.
The lines that were truly blurred, though, were how to define Marvin Gaye for a modern audience.
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It's no secret that Marvin Gaye took time to find his way into music. Initially gaining entrance to Motown as a drummer, the aspiring solo art was chastised for singing with his eyes closed. True class, though, soon shone through and 'Hitch Hike' helped push Marvin to the forefront of the Detroit label's stereo. Infectious and soulful from the start, there's a sense of velvet-clad class here which hints at what was to come. (RM)
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This Love Starved Heart Of Mine
Motown was adopted as the music of choice by the Mod movement, with the later Northern Soul phenomenon taking pride in digging through the crates. 'This Love Starved Heart Of Mine' wasn't a hit – in fact it didn't gain widespread release until 1994 – but it has everything a classic soul record should have: a pounding horn section, incredible percussion and Marvin Gaye's pained, pleading vocal.
Adopted as a modern anthem by the Northern Soul scene, it still thrills clubs on a weekly basis. (RM)
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I Heard It Through The Grapevine
A song whose fame almost prevents the listener from fully analysing the its complexities, 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' remains one of the totemic moments of Marvin Gaye's career. From the opening organ line onwards, it's a song which is both intimately familiar and capable of thrilling each and every time.
Amidst the intense narrative it's unclear whether Marvin's lover has, indeed, left him or whether his jealousy has reached the stage of paranoid – whatever, it's clear that this perfect love affair has collapsed, amidst some of the sweetest, most pointed music of the era. (RM)
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What's Going On
Motown may have been the Sound Of Young America, but it always struggled with the turbulent times it existed in. Founder Berry Gordy was famously wary of introducing political themes into the label's output, and warned Marvin Gaye away from recording 'What's Going On'.
Not to be deterred, Marvin did exactly as he pleased: inspired by a real life example of police brutality during an anti-war march, 'What's Going On' is a true masterpiece. All poise, power and circumstance, the singer even went on strike in an effort to force Motown into releasing the track as a single.
Threatened with the loss of his cash cow (and brother-in-law) Berry Gordy relented; 'What's Going On' swiftly topped the charts, winning Marvin Gaye unprecedented artistic independence. (RM)
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Piece Of Clay
Descending to Earth on a cloud of swelling gospel organ and Santana-esque guitar noodling, settling on a long sustained note skirting on feedback, it's a un-usual beginning for a 'soul' song. Written by Gloria 'Tainted Love' Jones, 'Piece Of Clay' is actually a more traditional song than the intro would have you expect, bringing Marvin's version of 'Abraham, Martin & John' to mind with a certain otherworldly quality.
Dating back to shelved early 70s sessions, it's a true hidden treasure finally emerging into the light on the excellent mid-90s boxset, 'The Master'. (NA)
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Marvin Gaye always struggled with live performances. By nature a shy, sensitive artist, the death of Tammit Terrel in 1970 brought on a ferocious bout of stage fright which would last year. His enormous success, though, brought on pressure from fans and his label which ensured Marvin Gaye would return to the stage in 1974.
Initially wary, it was the showstopping performance of 'Distant Lover' which would provide renewed confidence to the soul icon: opening in the upper register, this languid, slowed down take on the studio original would remain a stand out concert moment until his untimely death. (RM)
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I Want You
In 1981 Marvin relocated to Holland to try to regain control of his increasingly chaotic lifestyle and career. Here he delivers a rough and ready take on the 1976 song, directing his band during rehearsals in a shabby Dutch function suite.
The setting and circumstances make for a compelling rendition with two remarkable elements to the scene. First is Marvin's pose throughout:relaxed doesn't quite sum it up, as he lies propped up on a sofa in a tatty looking tracksuit. Second is the voice, as magnificent as on any classic recording, it's beauty further contrasted by the down-at-heel environment. (NA)
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Words: Nick Annan / Robin Murray