Monday, November 10, 2014

Marvin Gaye, The #60 Artist of the Seventies*

This legend began singing in church when he was four years old.  Gaye joined several doo-wop groups at Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C., including the Dippers and the D.C. Tones.  His father was extremely strict, and would give him whippings for the slightest misbehavior.  When Marvin stood up to his father, he walked out of the house and dropped out of high school.

Gaye enlisted in the United States Air Force at 17 years old, but when he faked mental illness to avoid menial tasks, he was discharged shortly afterwards. 

Gaye became a superstar in the 60's; in many ways his sound helped define the decade.  He not only enjoyed soul hits such as "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", "Pride And Joy", "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", and "I'll Be Doggone", but teamed up with singer Tammi Terrell for several hit duets.

In 1970, Gaye released the album That's The Way Love Is.  It contained some minor soul hits, but success was limited there. 

Terrell's death on March 16, 1970 from brain cancer devastated Marvin, and he went into a long period of seclusion from the music business.  He briefly tried out for a position on the Detroit Lions National Football League team, but everyone concerned felt he would serve the world better with his music.

The time off to recover and reflect put Marvin in the right frame of mind.  Gaye returned to the Motown studio Hitsville U.S.A. in June and recorded the song "What's Going On".  It was inspired by an idea that Renaldo Benson of the Four Tops had after he witnessed police brutality at an anti-war rally in Berkeley, California.  But label boss Berry Gordy refused to release the song due to it being "too political" for radio.
Hearing this, Gaye went on strike from recording until Motown released the song--he believed in it that strongly.  Gordy finally relented, and within a month, "What's Going On" raced up to #1 on the R&B chart.  It stayed there for five weeks, and the song also reached #2 overall, selling over two million copies.  A few short years ago, Inside The Rock Era named "What's Going On" as one of The Most Important Songs of the Rock Era*

Gaye demanded that he record a full album with complete creative control, and in 1971, the album What's Going On came out.  It resulted in Gaye's first million-selling album, and two more socially conscious smashes.  "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song)" was #4, and gave Marvin another #1 R&B hit.

Gaye told it like it was, and it was high time the rest of America learned the truth about the less fortunate, and more importantly, do something about it.  "Inner City Blues" told that story, and America responded by taking it to #1 on the R&B chart and #9 overall.

Marvin had proven himself time and time again, and Motown responded by giving him a new deal worth $1 million.  Gaye released the soundtrack album Trouble Man in 1972.  The title song hit #7 on the Popular chart and #4 R&B.

The following year, Gaye released the album Let's Get It On.  The title song went Platinum and gave Marvin a double #1 on the Popular and R&B charts.  Thanks to the smash single, Let's Get It On was a best-selling album for two years and has now gone over the three-million mark.

n 1974, Marvin teamed up with another friend, Diana Ross, to record the album Diana & Marvin.  The hit single "My Mistake (Was To Love You)", #19 on the chart, can be found there. 

Gaye went on tour for the first time in four years to critical acclaim, and produced the album Marvin Gaye Live!

Gaye performed at a UNESCO benefit concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City to give voice to UNESCO's African literacy drive, and Gaye was commended at the United Nations for doing so.  He released the album I Want You in 1976; the title song hit a familiar spot on the R&B chart, #1, and was #15 overall.

Although he had just finished his U.S. tour, European fans were clamoring to see him, and he made them happy with his first tour there in a decade.

The mesmorizing effect he had on his European audience was evident in the release Live at the London Palladium.  The single "Got To Give It Up" was one of the last big hits for Gaye, reaching #1 on both the Popular and R&B charts.

Gaye released his final studio album of the decade, Here, My Dear, in 1978.  It was a response to the failure of his marriage to Anna Gordy, and that was just the beginning of problems for Marvin.  He intended to remit proceeds of the album to Anna for the purpose of alimony payments, but the album flopped.

Gaye compounded the problem by trying cocaine, and his career spiraled.  He began having financial issues with the Internal Revenue Service, a definite no-no.  He first moved to Maui, Hawaii, then to London, but by this time, he owed in excess of $4.5 million in taxes.

Gaye released two more albums in his career.  He sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game, then performed at the Motown 25:  Yesterday, Today, Forever television special.  He then went out on tour, but it was plagued by cocaine-triggered paranoia and sickness.

After the tour, Gaye retreated to his parent's house in Los Angeles.  On April 1, 1984, while Marvin was seated on his bed talking to his mother, Gaye's father shot Marvin twice.  Gaye was taken to the emergency room of the California Hospital Medical Center, but was pronounced dead on arrival, one day shy of his 45th birthday.  The gun which Marvin Gaye, Sr. shot his son with was given him by Marvin the Christmas before.  The father plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.  Washington D.C. has organized annual Marvin Gaye Day Celebrations since his death.  Gaye's mother founded the Marvin P. Gaye Jr. Memorial Foundation to help those suffering from drug abuse and alcoholism.

Marvin was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990, and in 1996 the Grammy foundation honored Gaye with its Lifetime Achievement Award.  The Grammys named three Gaye songs, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", "What's Going On", and "Sexual Healing" (his final big hit) among its list of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.  The What's Going On album was chosen in 2004 by the Library of Congress for its National Recording Registry.  In 2006, the park that Gaye enjoyed as a teenager in Washington, D.C. was renamed Marvin Gaye Park.  Gaye's three-octave voice and deeply meaningful and soulful songs will live forever. 

Gaye scored 22 hits in the decade (with six Top 10's and two #1's), but his affiliation with Motown affects him in the same way that it does the Spinners at #61.  RIAA puts his 70's sales at just over three million, when they are significantly higher than that.  To deal with estimates would be unprofessional--the solution is for Motown to behave like every other record company and have the sales of their artists certified by RIAA, so its artists can get the proper royalties they are due.

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