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What's Going On
Format: Audio CD|Change
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There's nothing else like it. Marvin Gaye's sublime and transcendent album, What's Going On, had a musical style and depth of feeling that lifted it up into the highest level of pop and soul releases and made it uncopyable even by Gaye himself, who was smart enough not to try. It seems to float, practically luminous in a sea of congas and percussion, talking and strings, saxophone and multi-tracked Gaye and background singers in a constantly changing mix that bursts with energy like life itself. It passes through many moods: hope, anger, desperation, depression, joy and prayer. It offers no glib slogans, no easy answers and mostly calls for a more spiritual existence that might lead mankind to a better place. It's as relevant today as it ever was though sad to say, I believe times are even worse now than they were when the album was made.

The big surprise was that it was Marvin Gaye who made it. Gaye was Motown's superstar solo act who had had a hit filled career since Stubborn Kind of Fella in 1962. His image was that of a suave, smooth, happy-go-lucky guy, always well dressed and somewhat of a ladies man, an image reinforced by his many duets with Mary Welles, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell. But that was a record label image. The real Marvin Gaye was aware of the time in which he lived, a time that had left the sunny early 60's behind and which had become turbulent and torn by a multitude of problems: the Vietnam War and its protests, the counterculture, life in the ghetto, drugs and the only recent realization that the natural environment was being destroyed in a way no one had suspected. Then came a personal crisis of the worst kind, the death of his singing partner and friend Tammi Terrell from a brain tumor. We all go along in life thinking there's some kind of sense and justice to it all, then something really horrible happens to someone really good and undeserving of such a fate and that shakes you to your foundations. I think that her death, on top of everything else really shook Marvin Gaye and made him realize he couldn't put out another happy, bouncy Motown album as he always had.

The song came from Obie Benson the deep voice of the Four Tops who co-wrote it with Motown house songwriter Al Cleveland. But the other Four Tops didn't want to do what they saw as a protest song and passed on it. But Gaye was interested and cut the single in the Summer of 1970. Then came the resistance to it in the form of Berry Gordy Jr. who called it "The worst thing I have ever heard" and vetoed its release. But Berry Gordy Jr. was very old school. His dream had been to make popular music for the mainstream and get black performers out of the isolation of the R&B charts and onto the pop charts. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. But beyond that he only wanted to get his acts into fancy clubs like the Copa and on network TV. He didn't seem to have much of a social consciousness and if he did, it didn't matter because he saw anything controversial as something that could ruin Motown. Norman Whitfield had been able to update the Temptations into edgier songs but nothing as all-encompassing as this.

But Marvin Gaye was fired up by this song, truly inspired. He went on strike, swearing not to record anything until the song was released. Motown was forced to release a Super Hits album instead of a new one and some weak singles that didn't chart very high. In the end Gordy gave in and the single, What's Going On was released in January of 1971. Opening uniquely with a party in full swing then the clarion call of a beautiful alto sax, it commanded the immediate attention of everyone by its sheer originality. It soon was #2 in the country and stayed on the charts for months. Gordy had to give the green light for the album, which was recorded over just ten remarkable days in March. Gaye often called it "God's album" not only because he sought a spiritual answer to mankind's problems but because he, the musicians (Motown's Funk Brothers house band), the producer (David Van De Pitte) and his co-writers all felt a rush of inspiration like they had never felt before.

The result was unique among Motown albums. Songs flowed into each other without breaks. Instead of the usual punchy beat this album seemed to float effortlessly, buoyed by multiple rhythms and jazz sax that continued throughout most of the tracks. Only Right On leaves this sound world and inhabits an earthier kind of jazz that almost brings the album down a bit too much until it ascends again with Wholly Holy. Each song is its own vignette from the puzzlement of the returning soldier of What's Happening Brother who comes home to a decade's worth of change in just a few years (which is how fast things were changing in the 60's) to the addict of Flyin' High (In the Friendly Skies (the United Airlines slogan) who knows he's hooked. Mercy Mercy Me is still practically the only ecology song that isn't cloying and it has one of the eeriest endings ever in a pop song. and direct pleas like Save the Children and God Is Love are sincere pleas for some kind of sanity in this world. It all ends with the album's final hit single, Inner City Blues which ends us where it all began with the beginning of What's Going On.

Universal owns the Motown master tapes and this CD sounds fantastic, with every note clear and full. Many good things have been said of this album. Many claims of greatness have been made. They're all true.
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on August 17, 2015
How anyone could ever review this album lower than the highest rating is beyond me. Marvin Gaye struggled with a lot of demons. He was a devoted man; to his friends, his family and, most important, his God.

Barry Gordy did not want this record released. He didn't believe in its merits. It was a message album. It was socially conscious. It was a concept album (something that was unheard of at the time) and Gordy believed that there were no hit songs. Marvin insisted. It is one of the first examples of an artist going against a label for creative freedom. Gordy relented and this album stands the test of time as one of the 4 or 5 greatest albums of all time.

Listening to this on vinyl again is so very inspiring. Nothing close to this recording has been released in the last 25 years. An absolute masterpiece that could stand beside Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" as a love song to God and hope for a better society.
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on March 15, 2018
Not as advertised! When ordering, you can select different formats (Audio CD, Vinyl, etc). The Audio CD version, at least, is NOT the original studio recording of "What's Going On" (yes, easily one of the greatest albums of all time. Instead, this is some sort of strange compilation of live tracks created by a 3rd party and sold under the same title. The audio quality is rubbish - bootleg quality at best.

I found it rather interesting, as well, that upon going through the steps to initiate a return of this item to Amazon, I received a message stating that my refund was being processed, and I did NOT need to return the item to Amazon! Why would that be, unless it's known that this (and not the *correct*) version of Marvin Gaye's album is absolutely worthless...
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on June 13, 2014
Forged through the fire of pain and despair (losing his favorite duet singer, Tammi Terrell, business, family and cocaine problems) the artist rose up and delivered an album with a different approach to "soul" music - as it was called in the late 60s. Here was the first concept album for people to move and groove to, yet it is so much more. A mirror of the turbulent times, the early 1970s (the beginning of the end of the Vietnam era, bussing and housing issues for minorities, Kent state, Nixon's 2nd term before Watergate erupted, dissolution with the political process etc. all reflected in the lyrics. Yet it rises from the depths of drug addiction "Flying High" to heights of hope "Save the Children" "God is Love", "Wholly Holy." Sung and played deep from the heart, One of the most beautifully arranged, produced and performed albums and one of the most important of the 70s and probably forever.
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on January 29, 2018
Side one was Marvin Gaye but side two was a mix of totally random and weird artists. Someone else posted a review of this exact same thing happening to them a few days ago, too. Whoever makes this vinyl needs to get their act together.
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on November 25, 2009
When I listen to this landmark album, I wish more artists would follow in these album-oriented footsteps where the individual songs behave like pieces of a larger suite. And when I listen to THIS release of Marvin Gaye's masterpiece, I find myself wishing more music, both old and new, remastered with these sorts of audiophile sensibilities. I daresay, What's Going On has never sounded better than it does here with Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs' Gain 2 system.

The sound spectrum is perfectly balanced throughout and there is no unnecessary compresion of any kind to be found. This Super Audio CD is demonstration quality! What impressed me most were all the tiny percussive instruments throughout Inner City Blues that sounded as if they were being played right in my listening and not simply coming out of my high-definition HSU RESEARCH horns. I was impressed with everything up to this point, but the sound of those tiny cymbals played through a quadraphonic matrix was absolutely stunning!

If everyone remastered Super Audio CD material as well as MFSL, the format probably wouldn't be struggling in the manner it has. I just hope that MFSL will take a supportive look at the recent Direct Stream Digital Remasters of The Alan Parsons Project. While some of those were very good for red book compact discs, a few, like Pyramid, suffered from an undue narrowing of the dynamic range since mp3s are the only format really selling these days. Oh, how I wish the public at large would start using their ears demand quality as opposed to white noise.
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on March 29, 2016
This Album is a landmark album, the contents of which spoke to different generations. Pointing us to address different topics facing America at that time, polution, faith, love, mercy. The Album is iconic, and a masterpiece. Marvin Gaye hit the pinicle of his greatness as a writer and his love shows through on this album. The Motown staple of singers and talents will never be surpassed, what a time to be a part of its greatness.
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on March 3, 2011
I got this album super quick on standard shipping from GoHastings. Thanks man! Ordered it on Tuesday, got it today (Thursday). Now for the record. Marvin Gaye was a genius at composing music! The Funk Brothers, a group of jazz musicians who did all the recordings for the Detroit era of Motown (1959-1972), were even bigger geniuses!! This is one of those classic albums that everyone should have in their music collection! Every single song has a sick groove and a flow that can't be matched. From "What's Going On" to "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" on side A to "Right On" to "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" on side B, the whole album is phenomenal and runs smoothly from one song until the next. This album is for Marvin Gaye what "Abbey Road" was for The Beatles. Just one flawless masterpiece! There is a funny story to the music. If you've seen the documentary; "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown", you'll know this about the album's recording sessions. If you haven't, find it on Amazon and buy it. It's a great little documentary. Anyway, Funk Brother bassist, James Jamerson, originally didn't want to do the recording but did so out of respect for Marvin Gaye. Marvin found James at a club James was playing at. James was pretty drunk when Marvin found him. James was so drunk that he couldn't even sit down let alone stand up. So they gave James his bass and he lied down on the floor and played the opening track for "What's Going On". Most people can't play the bass line for the song and James Jamerson did it lying down on the floor, stroking the strings only with his right index finger! If that doesn't make you want this record for the awesomeness that was James Jamerson, I don't know what will! Trust me, you want this record in your collection! Future generations need to listen to the classics of artists like Marvin Gaye, real music is a dying art it seems today.
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on March 10, 2016
The music has been five stars since '71 but this review is for this particular vinyl pressing. This pressing is flawless. There's nearly zero surface noise. The auto-rip mp3 that comes with the album sounds horrendous but the mastering job on the physical record is incredible. You can hear every note in all its glory. Highly recommended.
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on June 6, 2000
I can't or won't try to compete with the well written reviews that have appeared here before mine. I will say however, that this album is simply one of the finest ever recorded. If I had to choose one for eternity, this one would be it. I can hear it once a week and never tire of it's nuances, pain and beauty. Timeless is the correct word, but it does not do this work justice. We live in a disposable society, what from 1971 shines as brightly as this?

Update for the 30th Aniversary or Deluxe Edition:
Despite having 2 different CD versions of this disk already I purchased the Deluxe Edition as well in Spring 2011. I enjoyed the "extra" content as a whole but felt we could've done without the "Live Concert" on the second disk. As a professional musician I found that performance excrutiating to listen to. The missed intros and outros, flams total unfamiliarity of the horns and strings with the material all combined to make the outing unlistenable. What truely shines on this disk to me are the "Detroit Mixes" of the album. Those that outstanding and results in almost a different album. Those cuts were worth the price of admission alone.

Da Worfster
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