Forty years ago Marvin Gaye released his 10th album, That’s the Way Love Is. Two months later, in March of 1970, Marvin Gaye fell into a deep depression following the death of his singing partner and fellow Motown artist Tammi Terrell, who had a malignant brain tumor. By June he gathered enough courage to record the soulful yet politically charged single titled ”What’s Going On”.

But Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy objected to the material and refused to release it because he considered it both too controversial for radio and too musically unfamiliar to be a commercial success. A resolute Marvin Gaye stood his ground as he did not want to be restricted by Gordy’s ideas. Continuing to lobby his case to label executives, Gaye’s single was finally released in January 1971 and immediately went to the number one spot on the R&B charts for five weeks.

Seeing the promise in this revolutionary music, Motown approved more songs to be recorded and soon the thematic album What’s Going On was released to critical acclaim almost a year after the single was recorded. The beautiful thing about this album is its use of linked songs with both jazz and classical elements that make it much more than a Motown chug along. Social concerns that still exist today, like political corruption, war, racism, pollution and addiction, were creatively highlighted throughout the album and blended together into a song cycle unlike any that had been heard before.

Because there were no break between songs, the album did not lend itself to airplay but DJs still played the single and soon the album was climbing the charts where it remained for over a year. Twelve years later (one day before his 45th birthday), Marvin Gaye was killed when his father shot him after an argument. The recently released MFSL re-mastered hybrid SACD/CD and LP of this cohesive concept album is a sonic treat, so if you are a fan be sure and pick this up. A cheaper alternative is an ’80’s JM inscribed ’80’s LP.

(Photographer: unknown)