Playlist – “What’s going on” by Marvin Gaye is 50 years old: a look back at a masterpiece of burning topicality

There are few records as visionary as What’s going on. When he began recording this monument of soul music at the end of 1970, Marvin Gaye was in the midst of an artistic and spiritual crisis.

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His label, Motown, notoriously conservative, initially refused to follow this metamorphosis, before yielding to the insistence of the singer, ready to go on strike to carry out his project.

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What’s going on was finally released on May 21, 1971 and remains, fifty years later, one of the pinnacle of 20th century popular music. Here it is summarized in five songs, but it’s actually the whole album that you have to listen to.

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1. What’s going on

Huge success when it was released as a single, this exceptional song summarizes, in 3 minutes and 56 seconds, all the turmoil of a tormented era. And the most amazing thing is that we can listen to it again today without changing a single line.

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2. Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)

We leave the Earth and its problems to fly very high, and float between two worlds where everything is luxury, calm and voluptuousness. But the song is misleading. The promised paradises are… artificial! The harder the fall.

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3. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

Fifty years ago, Marvin Gaye detailed with great melancholy the destruction of the environment. Unfortunately, even the most beautiful songs do not prevent disasters.

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4. Right on

With his quiet and funky groove, his aerial flute, his saxophone in jazz mode and his Latin percussions, Right on brings a light and dancing touch, despite lyrics that are still just as committed.

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5. Inner City Blues

The album ends with this heart-rending cry from an artist desperate for poverty, which hits the most disadvantaged populations of an America that is nevertheless prosperous. Once again, the song remains disturbingly modern.

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Remi Bonnet

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Playlist – “What’s going on” by Marvin Gaye is 50 years old: a look back at a masterpiece of burning topicality

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