In anticipation of an upcoming reissue of Marvin Gaye’s sole live performance of the landmark album What’s Going On, UMG/Motown has released a new, heartbreaking music video for its title track. Directed by Savanah Leaf, the video uses clips of Gaye performing live with a narrative that involves the horrors of gun violence, racial profiling, the Flint water crisis, and our broken for-profit healthcare system in a four minute package that brought tears to my eyes:
The original album was released in May of 1971, its title track preceding it as a single by four months. The single reached #1 on the R&B Chart and #2 on the Pop Chart. Later singles “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” achieved similar success. The album itself received mostly positive contemporary reviews, but received a new widespread appreciation following Gaye’s death in 1984.
It is now highly regarded as a masterpiece, with most critics placing it very highly among the greatest pop albums of all time. Despite a contemporary review of 4 out of 5 stars, Rolling Stone later placed What’s Going On at #6 on its 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The same year, it was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, which collects recordings deemed of importance historically and culturally to the United States.
Despite having passed away 35 years ago, 2019 has been a busy year for the legacy of Marvin Gaye. In addition to the upcoming live reissue (and first ever release on vinyl), this year also saw the release of You’re the Man, a previously unreleased LP originally intended to be the follow up to What’s Going On. Gaye himself had previously decided against releasing the album, deciding to go in a different direction after the lukewarm response to the lead single and title track.
The live vinyl release and CD reissue of What’s Going On will be available October 18 in stores and on streaming services.