Arguably, the greatest soul record ever made, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, which was only reluctantly released by the Motown label. This recording marked a departure from the label’s usual method of a tightly controlled collection of singles. Instead, inspired by the return of his brother from Vietnam, Marvin Gaye created a 35 minute suite of lushly detailed pieces that blended social commentary and spirituality.
Rather than the normal slick sound of Motown singles, What’s Going On featured subdued bass-lines and a funky groove that would later become the bedrock of post 60’s soul music. The recording produced three major hits, “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)”, the title track “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me”. It’s also a testament to Motown session men, the Funk Brothers, such as bassist James Jamerson and guitarist Joe Messina. When they were allowed the opportunity to work in relaxed, open proceedings, they produced the best work of their careers.
It remains Marvin Gaye’s greatest moment, the message and the groove unified, as good as soul music can get!