By Connor Newsome
“What’s Going On” was Marvin Gaye’s 11th studio album. This album was
recorded from June- September of 1970 and was released on May 21st, 1971 from the
record company, Motown Records. This album really tackled major social issues from
back in this time. The issues that his lyrics mainly focused on were drug abuse, the
Vietnam War, and poverty. When Gaye’s album was released he refused to go out and
promote the album by having concerts because he was still heartbroken over the
passing of his singing partner Tammi Terrel, who died of a brain tumour. In the late 60’s
when before he had released this album Marvin Gaye had been going through a lot of
depression with his partner dying, his divorce, and substance abuse and he attempted
to take his own life. The inspiration for his hit song “What’s Going On” was actually a
song written by one of his old band mates but was turned down by the rest of the band.
The band mate who wrote the song, Obie Benson, was riding in a tour bus with his band
in 1969 and witnessed an act of police brutality upon a group of anti-Vietnam war
protesters and he later told author, Ben Edmonds “I saw this and started wondering
‘what was going on, what is happening here?” This was his inspiration to write this song
which was later an anthem for peace all across the country. Later Benson’s song that
was turned down by his band was eventually one of Marvin Gaye’s most known songs.
I personally really enjoy this album a lot, but the only songs that stand out to me
are “What’s Going On.” I really like the instruments and rhythm in the song and I also
really like the message that is portrayed in the song. The background vocals used in the
song really tie the song together and the whole funk feeling to the song just makes it
perfect. I personally rank this album a 6/10 mainly just because the other songs are
decent, but “What’s Going On” is really what brought the attention to this album.