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Marvin Gaye - What's Going On - Lyrics Meaning

"What's Going On" is a 1971 classic performed by Marvin Gaye. "What's Going On" was a timely record that moved a generation at a time when there was much commotion throughout not just the United States but also the entire world. The song touched upon the deep-rooted political and social problems that were crippling mankind's progress. The idea for the song originated when Renaldo "Obie" Benson of the Four Tops witnessed turmoil while touring Europe. He joined with Al Cleveland, a Motown songwriter, and wrote a rough initial version of the song.

Marvin Gaye was an acquaintance from Motown and a golf partner of Benson and Cleveland. Gaye had taken a leave of absence from the music industry after his singing and recording partner Tammi Terrell passed away from a brain tumor at the age of 24. Prior to her diagnosis, Terrell actually collapsed into Gaye's arms on stage during a concert.

Gaye got caught up in political and social matters. He took a profound interest in his brother Frankie's stories upon returning home from the Vietnam War. Marvin was disturbed by inner city culture being overridden by drugs and rising black on black crime. And he was also bothered by the assassinations of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. With all of this weighing on his mind, and a troubled marriage as well, Marvin Gaye did not want to sing any more love songs. In fact, he didn't want to sing at all. He even tried out for football's Detroit Lions during his sabbatical from music.

He joined Benson and Cleveland with the intent of helping them write and produce the meaningful song they wanted. After he reworked the lyrics and arrangement, Benson and Cleveland insisted that Marvin sing the song. He arranged an elaborate production that included the background voices of Mel Farr and Lenn Barney of the Detroit Lions. Gaye allegedly came up with the title "What's Going On" after hearing the two of them greet each other during his pro football tryout. He emotionally sang lyrics that addressed the plight of mankind co-existing with one another.

Despite Motown founder Barry Gordy's feelings that the song was incapable of becoming a commercial hit, Marvin Gaye penned a legendary tune that not only ruled the pop and R&B charts in 1971, but has also withstood the test of time .

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