Conceived and recorded during the political maelstrom that engulfed the US during the late 60s/early 70s, Marvin Gaye's legendary 1971 album What's Going On still sounds as original (and relevant) today as it did back then. Often touted as the first 'soul concept album', What's Going On plays as a single soul symphony, with a vocal and instrumental sophistication (and dexterity) pretty much unparalleled (certainly in its genre) before or since. But, of course, it was not just the musical concept of the album that was revolutionary, with What's Going On, Gaye took on the role as political and social commentator (building on his increasing social concern and disaffection first given voice on his earlier cover of Dick Holler's Abraham, Martin and John) in the process surprising just about everybody in the music business.
Certainly, it was probably not that surprising that Motown supremo Berry Gordy Jnr., took an immediate dislike to Gaye's title song (originally written by The Four Tops' Renaldo Benson) - how can a mournful, jazzy, dreamy, mid-tempo song about war and social disintegration possibly be commercially successful? Of course, once it became clear that Gaye's song was indeed destined to become a massive hit, Gordy soon changed his tune (no pun intended), and the album subsequently went on to be Gaye's highest charting album release to date.
Some of the religious (hippy, even) imagery conjured up by songs such as Save The Children, God Is Love and Wholy Holy may, of course, appear to us now as somewhat dated, not to say hopelessly optimistic, particularly in the context of the (principal) direction of today's (equivalent 'urban black'?) music, but on the other hand, it could also be argued that their message is now even more relevant (though probably no less unattainable). Certainly, the (for 1971) radical content of the album's masterpieces, the title song, with its anti-Vietnam and oppression sentiment ('Picket lines and picket signs, don't punish me with brutality), Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), with its self-explanatory treatise on world pollution and the crime/police vicious circle expounded upon in Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) would still resonate with many people today. My other personal favourite on the album is the sublime seven and a half minute song Right On, which is particularly notable for its great piano part played by Gaye and the evocative flute playing of Dayna Hardwick and William Perich (the finest soul flute I have heard alongside that of Brian Jackson with Gil Scott-Heron).
on 6 April 2000
I'm not a huge soul music fan, and I don't normally go for records that are big on social commentary, and the presence of any religious references would normally have me diving for the remote. However as well as sounding fantastic, and having hooks you'll be humming for weeks, this record always leaves you feeling like a better person after a listen, which is praise indeed as I'm normally about as cynical and miserable as they come. My record collection is getting on for 1000 albums, and this is the best by a long long way - I can't recommend it highly enough. For something about 30 years old it still sounds very fresh, very positive, and, very very cool.
on 23 May 2000
I had to write a review of this, I've just lent it to a friend to go on holiday with (a bit of musical education) and my room doesn't feel right without the possibility that I could put it on at any moment (even though I've got another 500 CD's to fall back on) The first time you hear it is like the first time you realise that well, maybe girls aren't so bad after all. Every subsequent listen reminds you exactly what it's all supposed to be about in the first place. A home without "What's going On" is just a big building with some rooms in.
on 4 August 2004
At a time when Motown was one of the biggest hit producing record companies in the world they refused to record this for Marvin Gaye. Inspired by his brother's return from Vietnam, he ingnored the love songs that all the other Motown artists were recording, and wrote about the things in life that he cared about at the time. Fortunately he managed to get this recorded even after Berry Gordy Junior refused, but Smokey Robinson interceded for him and as they say, the rest is history...
From the title track onwards we get a heady mix of motown, jazz, blues and cool, laid-back tunes. Lyrically it is far superior to anything that previously came from a Motown artist, and it rightly deserves its place in the various top 10 albums of all time lists that it regularly gets into.
It's great music to listen to whilst driving to work, and songs like 'Whats Happening Brother' and 'God is Love' are just great to groove along to in the car.
It really is one of the best albums ever recorded!
on 1 August 2005
I purchased this album in January and have played it out so much that I have to buy a new c.d. thats how great this album is!I knew it was gonna be good because I brought 'I want you' by marvin first and loved that album but I was blown away by 'whats Goin On'. It's one of the few albums that you can play all the way through without having to skip because all the tracks are amazing. Even though it was released over thirty years ago, all the tracks sound fresh and the lyrics are relevant today. Marvin's voice has never sounded so smooth, strong and melodic. do yourself a favour and buy the album, it actually lives up to the hype! Also check out the bonus tracks they're really good. My favourite songs are 'God is Love', 'What's happenin Brother' and 'Save the Children' although all the tracks are outstanding. Really is the best soul album ever,full stop.
on 30 June 2011
Having bought all the previous versions, bonus tracks, deluxe editions, I had to think why go buy this now. Because of what it is, I thought go ahead, it is a phenomenal album, what could go wrong.
It arrived this morning and the whole presentation is just stunning, for any Marvin Gaye fan it is a wonderful addition to your collection and I would have to say a must buy to those folk. We all know the various versions on this edition, how they got there etc and I am sure that those who are looking to buy this are the fans who know the history.
Presentation is LP gatefold sleeve style with lyrics printed in the inner sleeve that originally appeared in the album's original release and an informative booklet. All I can say it if you're thinking about, don't deliberate - just buy it.
on 27 December 2013
I've loved this album for years, and a recent interest in the Vietnam War... oh sorry... make that the "War in Vietnam" - the US never declared war on Vietnam - yeh, I know :-/ 560,000 servicemen were allocated to the region at the peak of the conflict! But no declaration? Saying that they never declared war on Iran or Afghanistan either - they are, one and all, in the words of the Executive: "Police Actions"... for the good of humanity. ANYHOOOO, my recent interest in the Vietnam War, both its domestic and international repercussions, has added yet another layer of contextualisation to this HEARTFELT & SOULFUL CRY for a better way of living with one another. I love albums that keep on giving as your own perceptions develop. And this is one of the best.
There's nothing new to say about the original album. This set is worth the additional purchase price to hear the original Detroit mix, which is a more raw version, arguably even more soulful, if that is possible.
I can take or leave the live material, personnally, but as a chronicle of the great man's abilities this set is essential for any MG fan
A thank you for a great Christmas present. 10 stars
"What's going on" resonates down the years and the vision, soul and love invested in this album by Marvin Gaye is impeccable. Thank god Berry Gordy finally released the album despite his revulsion at its countercultural politics and social themes. Three hit singles later followed and probably the greatest ever Motown album was born.
From the joyous but hugely political opener gradually the concept of the album takes shape. What follows is a velvet soul voice in the same league as Sam Cooke and a concept album of songs which don't just hang together they are vice like in their tightness and solidity. The wonders of songs such as "Flying High in a Friendly sky", "Mercy Mercy Me" and "Inner City Blues" (make me wanna holler), the street talk and the overt social concerns make this Gaye's immortal testament to the tragedy which engulfed his own life.
I am ashamed to say that I had never previously heard "the Detroit Mix" prior to December 25th but these rawer almost unplugged recordings give the released album new dimensions with Gaye's voice right out in front. The version of "Inner City Blues" in particular which feels more edgy and urban, similarly "Whats Happening Brother" is bloody brilliant. Gaye's live performance at the Kennedy Center in 1972 is a treat and the whole album package is well put together; even some of the looser "sessions" have fascinating historical value.
As for Motown possibly only Stevie Wonder's albums ever came close to this peerless collection by Marvin Gaye who showed that political concerns and songwriting can go together without sounding crass and clichéd. How the man was later missed. Finally as a present it is much better than a jumper with a reindeer on the front! Truly magnificent and groundbreaking.
on 19 February 2009
When I picked this record out of my mother's old collection of vinyls, I listened to it and was amazed; now I am just a 14 year old kid, but this album really spoke to me. Love your brother, love your father: these lyrics partcularly touch me, because of all the hate in this modern world, the lyrics are still more than relevant. I listened to the album over and over again, loving Marvin's vocals and poignant lyrics, strangely political for a Motown record. This album will just get better with age, and the youth of today should listen to it, to stop all the violence and hate.