I am most definitely biased as I have loved Marvin Gaye since I was in elementary school performing a lame pantomime of "I'll Be Doggone". But something changed dramatically in my senior year when "What's Going On" arrived as one of the theme songs of my rites of passage, maturation into my college years. There was a "new" Motown sound being born. It is often said that by the end of the 60s, the "Motown Sound" neared its end. Untrue. Marvin, Stevie, Smokey, Ashford & Simpson and Norman Whitfield all ushered in a new evolving "Motown Sound". All of the aforementioned songwriters/producers utilized the same jazz-oriented "Funk Brothers" musicians that played on the Motown classics of the 60s and thru 1972 and beyond, the often applauded but never duplicated engineering sounds from Studio A, B & C at 2648 W. Grand Blvd in Detroit. So how could the Motown sound just end. Listen to The Four Tops "Still Water" mini masterpiece album or the grand production Ashford & Simpson executed for Diana's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". Separate from the golden period solo works of Marvin, Stevie and Smokey, those 2 phenomenal works signaled that Motown was more than ready for its great album era beginning in 1970.
The Funk Brothers guided by longtime great producer Gil Askey even got a chance to fully source their jazz roots with the excellent soundtrack to "Lady Sings the Blues" and its "locked in the vaults" until 2005 superb follow-up, "Blue" for the Queen of Motown, the preeminent, Diana Ross, showing her artistic leaps and bounds growth from her days as the lead singer for The Supremes.
"Whar's Going On" was an immediate success. It resonated with all the current events of 1971 to its timelessness still relevant today where it has only gotten more praise as possibly one of the Top 3 Albums of All Time. (I say Top 3 because its rankings on various respected periodicals range from #1-#3). Strangely, but maybe not so considering how it has shown itself to be woefully out of touch throughout the years.....it did not win a single Grammy, though it has been added to the National Library of Congress. With the Vietnam war, maturation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and some infidel named Richard millhouse Nixon, Marvin scored the soundtrack of our times in a manner never quite heard before, but, sounding so comfortingly familiar.
Now nearly 25 years to the release date of its third and final single of the same name, the platinum selling "Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye", comes this tribute album inclusive of everyone from Marvin's own daughter singer/actress, Nona to Bono to the inimitable and under appreciated, Lisa Stansfield to the forgotten Digable Planets and Neneh Cherry.
Though no one particular track comes anywhere near the brilliance of the original, Sounds of Blackness, Nona Gaye and Lisa Stansfield are the winners. In place of the marquee value of Bono, Diana Ross' self-produced version of "Save the Children" and Jon B.'s nearly indistinguishable version of "Mercy, Mercy Me" would have been better replacements for the admittedly more marketable, Madonna's "I Want You" or the plodding Digable Planets "Marvin You're the Man".
Still, it is the music of Marvin Gaye and its very difficult to go wrong. Diana would later tackle her belated brother's co-written, "I Want You" on her 2006, "I Love You" and while only possessing flashes of her father's genius, Nona Gaye's title tribute gets an "A" for admirable. (Nona, unlike say Natalie Cole, Tracee Ellis-Ross/Silberstein or the buzzing Evan Ross-Naess.....may be a perfect example of "a name can only take you so far" as she has had a couple of albums, varying small film roles..yet none has given her the taste of relativity that she probably longs for. Difference is until she recorded the Grammy winning Album of the Year, "Unforgettable", you rarely thought of her father when listening to her vast and pleasing repertoire....or surely watching the comedic timing of Tracee Ellis or the gripping intensity of Evan in his surprisingly strong indie filmography, you rarely if ever think of their mother, Diana. This is a great achievement for all 3 siblings and a magic one hopes Nona will soon find on her own).
While AllMusic.com praises madonna's "I Want You", she plays it like the oversexed, forgettable figure she does with ease.
Being biased once again, one still has to marvel at one company, one visionary responsible for inarguably, the greatest record label to have ever existed. From a Diana to Marvin to Stevie to Michael to Smokey to The Supremes to The Temptations.....all top tier....to the sometimes neglected to remember The Four Tops, the rock/soul white band Rare Earth, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Miracles to Martha Reeves an example of the 2nd tier, (a 2nd tier that a rival label would be happy to note as their first tier)......"Inner City Blues" is yet another testament to the impact of a Berry Gordy, Motown Industries and Marvin Pentz Gaye.