Marvin Gaye’s Best Creative Tips

Marvin Gaye was arguably best known for his albums like I Heard It Through the Grapevine and What’s Going On , but if you look closely, you see an artist who has struggled with depression who somehow found a way to deal with it to release one of the greatest soul music ever. get out of Motown.

On the surface, Gaye’s life as a troubled hermit is not something to strive for. He survived two failed marriages, had a debilitating cocaine addiction and attempted suicide at least three times before being killed by his own father in 1984.

Yet Gaye was a great songwriter who broke the rules to take R&B outside of it, while remaining a fierce politician and spending a lot of time figuring out himself. The time leading up to the recording of What’s Happening , Inclusive may be the best look at Gaye’s creative outbursts. His approach to this recording largely shaped his future and music in general.

Failure can spur innovation

What’s Happening shouldn’t have been released at all. Motown boss Berry Gordy had a strict no-policy rule, and Gaye’s first single “What Going On” clearly broke that rule. So what did Gaye do? He waited :

Hearing the finished master, Gordy directly told Gay that he would not release the song. Gay left and over the next several months composed a series of songs, which, for example, “What’s Happening”, touched on a range of political, environmental and social issues. With roughly sketched tunes but not yet taped, Gay retired to his Detroit estate and waited for Gordy to change his mind .

Basically, Gaye went on strike until Gordy relented, refusing to release music until the release of “Whats Going On”. Gordy himself refutes this story , claiming that he was careful and wanted Gay to have a clear plan. Regardless of how it all happened, Gaye had a little time to figure things out before eventually ending up in the recording studio. Once he did that, the album began to take shape and he failed again. The Wall Street Journal shares one story about how a recording accident affected the overall sound of the recording:

Interestingly, the two most unusual aspects of “What Going On” that were extended to the album started out with mistakes. Eli Fontaine’s opening alto saxophone solo was actually a warm-up for the overdubbing, which Gay decided to keep. And Gay’s harmonious duets with himself arose when engineer Ken Sands accidentally played two of his vocal versions on the same monophonic cassette.

“Marvin will use this duo technique on many of his studio albums in the future,” Mr. Gordy said after we moved into his spacious home office. “We called his love of overlay ‘Marvin on top of Marvin on Marvin.’ We also had Marvin’s name in Motown, but I can’t remember it. “

Gaye supported the idea of ​​skating with kicks before, after and during the recording of Let’s Get It On . This adaptation to setbacks and accidents is more difficult than it seems when you are in the moment, but it is definitely something that can work in the long run.

Take a break and walk away

What’s Happening is not a classic solely because of its social awareness. It’s a classic because Gaye came back from hiatus with a new approach to songwriting. He abandoned the production methods of the Motown conveyor and made the record himself. He forcibly took control of creativity, which set the stage for other Motown artists to do the same. He used new multi-tracking to lay down multiple vocal lines to weave together a new sound unlike anything he had done before. The end result was an album that had never looked like anything before.

Before What’s Happening , Gay essentially left the public eye to cope with his depression in a semi-retirement state of exile. Speaking to journalist Phil Simes, Gaye described what the break was like:

It was not because I was arrogant or short-tempered that I have been unable to do interviews for the past three years. I was terribly disappointed with many things in life and in life in general, and decided to take time out to try to do something about it.

In a sense, the rumors that I had quit smoking were true; I retired, but only because of my personal presence. I did this because I always felt prominent on stage, and I’m not the kind of person who likes to be an exhibitionist.

I spent three years writing, producing and thinking. Thinking about life and especially about America – because that’s where I live – about its injustices, its evil and its good.

The result of this departure was What’s Going On , one of the most influential R&B albums of all time. Three years in exile is an extreme, but Gay took the same approach on a smaller scale, whether he realized it or not. Speaking to The Atlantic, guitarist / producer Gordon Banks talks about the recording of Midnight Love:

This man was a genius. He would lie down on the sofa in the studio and fall asleep while I worked on track after track. Then he woke up and recorded the whole track as if he hadn’t even slept. He lay back down and woke up to play another track. He did not do this for his living; it really was a part of him.

It’s easy to bang your head on a problem for hours on end, or work until you just can’t work anymore. Stopping, leaving, taking a nap, and giving yourself some space is often the only way to deal with the problem.

Find inspiration everywhere

When you listen to What Going On , you feel clearly inspired by the time spent by Gay’s brother in Vietnam, the murders of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy, the Watts riots, and the general socioeconomic upheaval that swept America during this period. 60s and 70s. What you don’t expect to hear is how two players from the Detroit Lions also played a role in the making of this album.

Gay befriended Lions players Mel Farr and Lem Barney in 1968, and he appeared frequently at Lions training camps. In turn, Farr and Barney looked at Gay’s notes. The timing was good for Gay, who was still dealing with the death of his recording partner,Tammy Terrell . The new friendship helped him lift his spirits and return him to writing and recording songs. It also allowed Gay to get to know the Lions and uncover an amazing fact about him: he wanted to play football.

As proof of this dream, Gay dedicated himself to training and training. He was not a great athlete, but he stayed with him until he ended up auditioning for the team. Obviously it didn’t work and he never made it to the team, but all the experience influenced his progress. Two Lions players, Farr and Barney, even appear in What’s Happening. The undefeated delves into history :

But he could only record the song on one condition: if Farr and Barney, the NFL’s rookies in the offensive and defensive game of the year, only three years earlier with The Lions, had backed vocals.

At first, the request seemed unrealistic, especially to Farru, who never hid his musical flaws. But Gay’s ultimatum was serious. They used to be in the studio with Gay as guests, but now he wanted to make them work. “He says, ‘Lem, you take this role,’ Mel, you take this role,” Barney recalled, the excitement in his voice increasing as he remembered the recording session. “The next time you listen to this, at the beginning, when he says, ‘Hey brother, what’s going on ?! Solid! Right to! Mom, mom … “We set him up for the whole song, dude!”

The Two Lions helped revive Gay’s spirit, overwhelmed by current events and nearly dormant after Terrell’s death. He came to life in the studio, conducting every part of the seance with the precision of an orchestra conductor and the insane creativity of a scientist. Where Malcolm and Martin instilled change with words, Gay also believed it was possible.

The two Detroit footballers probably don’t seem like an obvious place to look for inspiration for a song like “What Going On,” but it’s clear that they played a role in it, even if it was indirect. Gay was constantly looking outside of himself for inspiration, whether it be another musician or a pair of soccer players. It’s easy to get carried away with a small scene and only find inspiration in the things within that scene. To move forward, it is often necessary to look beyond this bubble.


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