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Marvin Gaye - Marvin Gaye

  by Sarah Rowland

published: 26 / 6 / 2011

Marvin Gaye - Marvin Gaye


Sarah Johnson examines the 40th anniversary box set of Marvin Gaye's 1971 classic 'What's Going On' album

It’s always difficult to know whether to shell out for a re-release of an album, especially if there have already been other special editions, as is the case with Marvin Gaye’s pivotal album 'What’s Going On'. 'What’s Going On' is as close to flawless as an album can get. It delved deep into political, religious and social comment striking a frank and stirring tone that outshone Gaye's previous work. It was completely of it’s time, yet has grown and evolved during it’s 40 year history meaning every listen has the potential to unearth something new. The 40th anniversary edition of the album is a 31-track treasure trove of unreleased and alternative mixes of the original 9-track line up. This sits alongside a second disc of funky soul recorded by Gaye in 1971, just after the album’s release. It promises to fill the senses with yet another perspective on the original classic and it doesn’t disappoint. The original line up gets the juices flowing, a reminder of why this album has become so iconic. Album opener ‘What’s Going On’ never fails to send a tingly ripple down the spine, Gaye’s voice floating across a silky backdrop of sax and funky beats. The chance to listen and compare the title track to both its original mono single version and an unreleased original mix is perhaps reason enough to contemplate owning the re-release. The original mix is a stripped back version, with a more prominent guitar line and emphasis placed on the sentiment of the lyrics. The mono single mix introduces back the sax and layers up the vocals to create an echo effect that gives the song ‘live venue’ quality. Among the largely unreleased tracks on the second disc, ‘T Stands For Time’ is a funky instrumental that stands out. The reggae influenced beat sets up a careful guitar line that adds to the fantasy that this could have easily been a bridge during a Marvin Gaye live set. ‘I’m Going Home’ feels like it was accidentally left off the original album track listing. A letter from a home-bound soldier, the song has great significance to any generation touched by war. The second disc closes with three versions of political number ‘You’re the Man’. A comment on the voting system, the song has greater significance when comparing the landscape of American politics back when it was written in the early 70s compared with the present day. The only downside to an epic release like this is that it loses some of the completeness of the album. In the case of 'What’s Going On' that impacts big on the experience of listening to the songs which almost weave into each other, and feel very much like a completed puzzle. At times, listening to the re-release almost feels like a study session as you compare the tracks and examine the thought processes rather than letting the music carry you away. This in itself can open up the music in a whole new way, but it’s a far removed experience from enjoying a favourite album beginning to end. Having said that, with all the extra material it would be possible to create a personalised track listing that could reinvent the album all over again. A tempting thought for anyone who has more than a spectators interest in music. The 40th Anniversary Edition will definitely be a must for Gaye fans looking to reinforce their experience of the original album. But, as with any great release, it’s often impossible to beat the complete picture of the original album or recreate the feeling every listen manages to evoke.

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Marvin Gaye - Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye - Marvin Gaye

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What's Going On (2005)
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
In the latest in our 'Re :View' series, in which our writers re-examine albums from the past, Sarah Johnson reflects on Marvin Gaye's pivotal 1971 soul classic, 'What's Going On'

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