Wednesday, June 6, 2007

No. 6: What's Going On

Band: Marvin Gaye
Album: What's Going On
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Well, it's the standard by which almost all soul records are measured. It's one of the most socially conscious records of all time. Marvin Gaye is one of the best singers ever and this is his masterpiece. In an age where soul has been bastardized to mean some foul-mouthed kid singing a ringtone before a rapper chanted about how he's going to take a girl in the ass, Marvin Gay was singing sounds like “Inner City Blues.”
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I don't know that soul is right for this list, but I have to admit that I'm pretty ignorant about soul music.
Best song: Either “Mercy Mercy Me” or the title track.
Worst song: “God is Love” isn't great and “Right On” goes on too long.
Is it awesome?: Absolutely. I wonder about the 500 list (I think it should be just rock and roll records), but probably just my own ignorance.

I am not a Christian, so the records with more Christian overtones are always ones I won't get necessarily and this one is no different. Some of the songs have overtly religious themes – obviously, “God is Love” -- and that's not my bag.

Still, it's hard to disagree with any of these songs in context. Coming out of Motown – where most of the songs were written for Gaye – this record is amazing. He wrote introspective, socially conscious songs about problems affecting black America in the early 70s. That's hugely important, as a lot of artists weren't doing that. Black music didn't have a lot of protest songs and certainly none with the gravitas or import as Marvin Gaye's masterpiece. I mean, hell, this is “The Message” almost ten years before “The Message.”

And you know something? It sounds great. That makes it even better.

1 comment:

taotechuck said...

I've got to disagree with you about what should be included on the Top 500 list. To me, rock can either be a narrow categorization that includes rock & roll and its derivatives, or rock can be a broad umbrella that encompasses nearly everything from the past 50 years, including soul, folk, punk, hip-hop, and electronica.

To me, rock is much more about spirit than it is about demographics. In the record industry, "soul" simply means "black." That's bullshit. Prince has always been categorized as a soul artist, and he rocks harder than most rock bands could ever hope to rock. I remember when Living Color came out, people were confused about how to classify them. To me, Marvin Gaye absolutely belongs on a "best rock" list.

And if you haven't listened to Anthony Hamilton, you might want to check him out. He's certainly no Marvin (although he tries), but he's a departure from most of the crap that makes up modern R&B.