Not the Pazz and Jop 1973 – #8

Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get It On

I expect I am on a very lonely island thinking “What’s Going On” is a highly overrated record. I am completely okay with that. Our reaction to music is deeply personal, and consensus doesn’t make something true. And I do like a lot of Marvin Gaye’s music. There are parts of “What’s Going On” that I love. My all-time favorite of his is “Got to Give It Up“, and I can’t believe I missed the obvious thievery (shame on everyone involved) of “Blurred Lines”. I never much cared for “Sexual Healing”, but his duets with Tammi Terrell still rock (just ask Meredith Quill). Marvin’s catalogue contains multitudes – you just need to find the bits that work for you.

I was not a fan of socially-conscious Marvin, but horny and lovelorn Marvin is a very different beast, and this is easily one of the most horned-up records of all time. There are funk elements in the backing tracks, but this isn’t a funk record. It’s right in the heart of what soul should be, while dabbling in a half dozen other areas, with pre-disco wah-wah guitars in places, jazzy elements in others and, in “Come Get to This”, he offers up a slightly slowed down version of something you’d expect to hear from an early ’60s girl group rather than the pre-eminent singer of sweaty ballads of a decade later. Finally, there’s almost a bossa nova feel to “You Sure Love to Ball”, and if you didn’t get the point from the title, the opening coos of pleasure from his female paramour remove those last few drops of uncertainty. It’s the kind of song you expect to hear near closing time at a bar that thinks it’s a lot classier than it is, filled with patrons with more self-awareness than the disc jockey but still happy to play along.

Marvin was far too attached to strings for my liking on “What’s Going on”, and it didn’t feel like a good fit for the harder-hitting content of that record. But they are perfect on a tribute to eros, and the cinematic strings – and liquid horns – of “If I Should Die Tonight” are a perfect complement to Marvin’s heartfelt yearnings.

It’s the rare record that has something unique to offer in every track. It’s also a record that marks a sort of journey, from the don’t-be-a-tease, you-know-you-want-this-as-much-as-I-do callout to a reluctant lover-to-be in the slow grind of “Let’s Get it On”, on to the grateful narrator’s attestation of happiness in “If I Should Die Tonight”. “Keep Gettin’ It On” has echoes, both in its sound and its lyrical content, to the title track, and the frustrated wanna-be lover of the first song is replaced with one who thinks he’s now found the key to how to make the world a better place. By “Distant Lover”, with its dreamy floating feeling, romantic but with the harder edge of his pathos-impassioned vocal, he has switched from frustration to satisfaction, from yearning for the unknown to wishing for a return to the known.

After all the back and forth, the push and pull, Marvin wants to love and be loved. But he knows the challenge of doing this. “Just to Keep You Satisfied” is a heart-rending finale, a tale of love that has soured, but with an enduring nostalgia for what was and sadness over what could have been. It’s the most affecting song on the record, and deeply personal. It doesn’t really end, just drifts away, and then dissolves into silence.

I really liked this album on the first listen, and now, four or five plays in, it just feels richer and more complex. This is a record in love with love, and all the sex talk is merely part of that. Marvin, like all of us, just wants to find that one person he can be himself with: his path to finding that just happens to start in the bedroom.