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What's Going On

by Marvin Gaye

Released May 21, 1971 via Motown Records

Reviewed May 26, 2021

Top tracks (based on community voting)
What’s Going On (90%), Inner City Blues (49%), Mercy Mercy Me (41%)

It's a cruel, cold world outside. Marvin Gaye, age 32, pleads and practically begs for change in the world on his first politically motivated album, What's Going On. Gaye's simple, yet empathetic inquisitions yield universally relatable themes like fellowship, hardship, and a desire to break cycles. A dynamic and interconnected circuit of lush instruments support the project, stirring up and shifting down to mirror the singer's emotional state. A particularly brilliant moment, "Save The Children," brings about the conflicting feelings of hope and despair balancing in the dreams of a world ahead. Songs themselves—as well as the album as a whole—are moody, creating tension in the rise and fall of tempo, vigor, and morale. Knowing the dark side of life all too well, Marvin Gaye truly embodies an array of emotions, making What's Going On an awesome display of introspection and commentary. The message continues to hit heavily today, giving the chilling context that too little has changed in its 50 year life span. – DeVán (10/10)

One of the most notable, important, and successful balancing acts of political commentary and genuinely listenable music came from the genius mind of Marvin Gaye. Already a wildly successful pop single machine with Motown, the stylistic shift from Gaye’s works in the 60s to What’s Going On was both intriguing and precarious for his record label. Gaye insisted on every aspect of the album though, from social analysis to the unorthodox structure of seamless transitions. The product of his confidence in the album is an emblematic rally cry of the time in which it was conceived. Inspired by the connectedness between police brutality and the protest on the war, the singer crafted a tracklist consisting of call to action, realistic expectations, and asking the biggest questions; the result is an album that highlights the flaws in societal nature but isn’t overtly preaching a suggested solution. This open-conversation style motif allows the musicality of the album to reach a level that an intrinsically-stanced version wouldn’t have allowed. The Motown pop energy is still lurking beneath the beautiful string arrangements, and Marvin’s voice is given room to operate to the best of his ability. What’s Going On is clearly important in the ethos of political music, but it holds equal weight in its replayability, making it one of the most paramount albums of all time and the magnum opus of Gaye’s extensive career. – Pax (10/10)

The eleventh studio album from Marvin Gaye asks the ever-present existential question of What's Going On? It is a record that has proved that no matter how much the times change and seemingly progress, things will ultimately and unfortunately, remain the same. Omnipresent and laced with life's lessons—care for your brothers and sisters and think of our future, for example—What's Going On serves as an introspective soul-search into the world's collective psyche. The material traverses itself in a smooth fashion. The flow of the record remains a prominent feature and helps the albums guide-like quality, spiritual in essence, maintain due course. Music doesn't come as thoughtful and as well-intended as What's Going On; its power and place in popular culture is truly ingrained at this stage. – Peter (8.5/10)

Daniel: 10/10 | DeVán: 10/10 | Hadley: 10/10 | Pax: 10/10

Victoria: 10/10 | Enth: 9.5/10 | Dominick: 9.5/10 | Jared: 9.5/10

Cam: 9/10 | Peter: 8.5/10 | Henny: 7/10 | Alan: 6/10


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