When I started doing “Friday Fives” it was to write about music (I can always write when I have to write about music) and to share music I love with a younger generation who might not yet be familiar with it. It about time, then, that we talk about Marvin Gaye.
Marvin Gaye is in my holy pantheon of musical gods. As I wrote on the 25th anniversary of his shooting and death:
He was about as good as you get, and you could feel it. Smokey Robinson said it well when he suggested “the driving force behind Marvin Gaye’s immense talent was his pain.” Marvin felt it all, and he made you feel it to. From the pop-based, post-doo-wop stuff of his early career; to the stellar duets and soul inspired solos in the mid and late sixties; to his socially-conscious turn in the late sixties and seventies; and to his dirty, make you feel all kinds of hot in his later years, Marvin had the gift that is the heart of soul music. It was pain. It was joy. It was relief. It was hope.
That diversity and greatness make any list of 5 songs hard to stand in for the man. That said, between songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Sexual Healing,” “What’s Going On,” and “Let’s Get It On,” the most-well known and often-played of Marvin’s hits do a pretty good job.
With an eye toward the songs younger fans might not know, here’s my 5 picks:
5. “Your Precious Love” (1967)
Some of Gaye’s most enduring recordings are duets with Tammi Terrell of songs written by the team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, as is this 1967 gem.
4. “Trouble Man” (1972)
In the early 70s, fresh off the monumental success of What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye was about as big as it gets in R&B. He had fame, money, and full control. As a follow-up, he wrote the score and soundtrack to a “blacksploitation” film Trouble Man. Gaye sings and plays drums in this, the title track.
3. “Pride and Joy” (1963)
This early hit is a gospel song masquerading as a pop song. Martha and the Vandellas sing back up.
2. “Distant Lover” (1973)
From his bedroom album, Let’s Get It On, this live performance in Oakland 1974 is a beautiful example of the man’s work with a crowd.
1. “Got To Give It Up (Part 1)” (1977)
Despite being in regular rotation on my oldies stations, and reaching the top of the present-day charts courtesy of the outright theft of Robin Thicke, this song doesn’t get played nearly enough.