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Friday, May 21, 2010

Marvin Gaye: What Happened Brother?

       Nat King Cole was an internationally popular jazz pianist and singer during the 1940s and 50s.  He had a rich smooth vocal style and had numerous hit records.  Cole was one of the first black entertainers to host his own television variety show.  He was a role model for Marvin Gaye, who began his singing career in the late 50s. In 1965 Marvin Gaye made a tribute album of the music of Nat King Cole.

             The son of a preacher, Marvin Gaye began his musical career singing and playing in the church.  In the late 50s he began singing in a R&B/Doo-wop group called the Marquees.  They were discovered by Rock and Roll legend Bo Diddley and signed to record what would become a minor hit.  Later, Gaye joined the Doo-wop group The Moonglows. 

             After leaving the Moonglows, Gaye went on to first become a session drummer on a number of records by well known artists and in 1961, began recording as a solo artist for Motown.  He began achieving a modest success and charted several hit records.  In 1967 he teamed up to record duets with Tammi Terrell, another Motown artist.  They recorded some of the finest male-female duet records ever made. Tammi Terrell was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in 1970.  Marvin Gaye went back to solo recording.

             In 1970, depressed from Tammi Terrell's death, Gaye recorded the first songs of what would later become the great album What's Going On.  Gaye wanted to release the song "What's Going On", but Barry Gordy, the head of Motown resisted, calling it "the worst record I ever heard".  Gaye insisted that the record be released and it became a major hit.  Gordy then ordered an entire album of songs in the same vein.  Rolling Stone magazine has ranked "What's Going On" as the fourth best song of all time.  The What's Going On album has ranked highly in many album rankings.

          What's Going On was Gaye's creative peak.  He recorded some fine highly successful albums in the following years, but eventually was caught in marital problems, drugs, and debt.   In 1984 he had gone back to live with his parents.  Since the days of youth he had been in difficult relations with his father.  The tension increased now that Marvin was back under his parents' roof.  Marvin was suffering from paranoia and delusions and had become difficult to relate to.  On April 1, 1984 some sort of conflict between the two men, which led Marvin Gaye's father to shoot his son, killing him instantly.  Marvin was nearly 45 years old when he died-- almost the same age as his idol Nat King Cole was when he had died twenty years earlier.

         If you have never heard the great album What's Going On, then you should make every effort to do so.  I think most of you will probably agree that it was a milestone in music history.  A clip of a live performance of two of the songs from this album is offered below.

         On Monday I will be posting NINE NICE JAZZ FAVORITES, a listing of jazz albums that are some of my favorites.  If you enjoy jazz, feel free to join me in this listing.  And remember that jazz can cover a wide range of musical styles including big band, smooth modern jazz, many vocalists, and numerous other styles.  I'll leave it to your interpretation.   As far as I am concerned, jazz does not just have to be hard to understand improvisational music.  What does jazz mean to you?


  1. Good day Lee, what a super blog? I loved Nat "King "Cole. especially
    "Let There Be Love". Marvin Gaye I also remember sad that he died so early, I also remember him With Tammy Terrell. very good duo they made.


  2. Thanks for enriching our lives with new music. I hope to sample all your suggestions at some point.Very sophisticated and informative writing, too!You know your subject well.

  3. I enjoyed the way you presented this!
    I love Marvin Gaye's voice and timeless appeal! Thanks for sharing; Some things I knew, some I did not! Sad...

    Nine huh?! A staycation with nine... You are tempting me! ;-D

    We have Marvin in common~

  4. Never got into jazz, but I won't run out of a room if it's playing. It did launch numerous other genres!

  5. I didn't know this about Marvin Gaye. Wow. Great post.

  6. Both amazing singers and artists, thanks for sharing Lee.

  7. Yvonne-- Nat King Cole had a great voice and could play the piano very well. Notced you signed up for the jazz list. I'm glad-- now I won't be going it along. I'll enjoy seeing your picks.

    Rae -- There's a lot of music in the past worth remembering.

    Ellie -- Sure! Join me. Nine is not too difficult and they're not desert island discs, they're just nine nice suggestions you'd like to let the rest of us know about.

    Diane -- I'll bet you like more jazz than you'd think if you include all styles. Jazz, like rock and other music genres, has a lot of offshoots of different stylistic approaches.

    Teresa -- Hi! I learned some more stuff as well when I was reading about Marvin Gaye.

    Alex -- I love music history.

    Matthew-- thanks for visiting.

    Kittie -- This music is loved by many.

  8. rLEE-b ~
    Why the number nine... number nine... number nine... number nine? Why are you not making it an even ten? Waz up wid dat?

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McD-Fens

  9. Nine reasons to have nine nice jazz favorites:

    1) Nine / nice --- Alliterates and makes for a catchy title.

    2) Nine rhymes with a lot of other words. (Yvonne signed up).

    3) There's nine planets-- well there used to be at least and Pluto sounds kind of jazzy.

    4) An artist could use the number nine as a good start to make a drawing of a jzzz musician.

    5) A cat has nine lives and jazz musicians are often referred to as cats.

    6) A baseball team is equivocated with nine players and I know you like baseball so I thought I toss that one in there.

    7) A jazz trio is pretty cool and if you had three jazz trios that would be really cool and it would also be nine musicians.

    8) Because jazz sometimes can put us on cloud nine.

    9) Because 15 was a lot and 10 is so commonly used for lists, and nine just seemed weird, and a lot of people seem to think jazz is kind of weird.

    See-- It's all totally logical.

  10. How magical was this posting! Thank you for sharing it with us. What joy... Thank you

  11. rLEE-b ~
    OK, fair enough. I'm just grateful you didn't reply: "Because I only know or like nine Jazz albums."

    --> "and a lot of people seem to think jazz is kind of weird."

    Yeah, I guess so. I did notice that Jazz seemed to be the most underrepresented musical genre throughout the 'Fifteen Fantasy Island Favorites' Festival. (Excluding Rap, of course, because I did say "MUSICAL genres".) Rock, Country and even Classical albums got mentioned more often than Jazz albums did.

    Jazz is THE BEST! Heck, everybody knows that the Jazz masters were just the Classical composers reincarnated and updated for a modern world. Duke Ellington was once Mozart, Dave Brubeck was once Beethoven, Miles Davis was once Bach, and Art Blakey was once... OK, I've already exhausted my awareness of Classical composers.

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McD-Fens

  12. Love Nat King Cole & Marvin Gaye! They're both so incredible :)

  13. Jarmara-- Thanks for stopping by today.

    StMc--A lot of people misunderstand jazz and one of the things they often don't realize is that a lot of the music they claim to like is categorized under jazz.

    Jemi -- I agree with you about that.

  14. A very informative blog with entertainment as a great addition.

  15. I grew up on Motown music. It's always sad when a unique talent like him dies.
    Enjoyed watching the video. It's been awhile since I've heard his music.


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