About the song
If you are a fan of soul music, you have probably heard of Marvin Gaye, one of the most influential singers of the genre. But do you know the story behind his signature hit, “What’s Going On”? In this blog post, we will provide detailed information about this song, without presenting or adding lyrics to the article, as requested.
“What’s Going On” is the title track and opening song of Gaye’s eleventh studio album, released in 1971 by Motown Records. The song was inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Four Tops, who co-wrote the song with Al Cleveland and Gaye. The song was also influenced by Gaye’s personal troubles, such as his divorce, his tax problems, and his drug addiction. The song reflected Gaye’s social consciousness and his concern for the issues of the time, such as the Vietnam War, poverty, racism, and environmental degradation.
The song marked a departure from Gaye’s previous work, which was mostly based on the Motown Sound formula of catchy pop songs. “What’s Going On” was a more personal and artistic statement, with a complex musical structure, a multi-layered vocal arrangement, and a jazz-inspired instrumentation. The song also featured a prominent saxophone solo by Eli Fontaine and a crowd noise of Gaye’s friends and family.
The song was initially rejected by Motown founder Berry Gordy, who thought it was too political and not commercial enough. However, after Gaye threatened to stop recording unless the song was released as a single, Gordy reluctantly agreed. The song became an instant hit, reaching number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Soul Singles chart. It also received critical acclaim and has been widely recognized as one of the greatest songs of all time. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked it number four on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
The song also paved the way for Gaye’s album of the same name, which was a concept album that explored the same themes as the song in a more elaborate way. The album was also a commercial and critical success, becoming Gaye’s second number-one album on the Soul LPs chart and staying on the Billboard Top LPs for over a year. The album is considered one of the landmarks of 1970s soul music and one of the greatest albums ever made. In 2020, Rolling Stone ranked it number one on its list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”.
“What’s Going On” is not just a song, but a message that resonates with listeners across generations and cultures. It is a timeless expression of hope, compassion, and awareness that challenges us to question our world and ourselves.