What's Going On

by Marvin Gaye

Original Release Date: 1971-05-21

What's Going On

When Marvin Gaye brought the title track of 1971’s What’s Going On to Motown founder Berry Gordy, Gordy reportedly said it was the worst thing he’d ever heard. The music was too loose, the lyrics too political. Too political? Gaye countered. This is the 1970s: You’ve got the Vietnam War; you’ve got growing poverty and systemic racism; you’ve got an environment under threat. Even Elvis was singing protest songs (1969’s “In the Ghetto”)—why couldn’t Marvin Gaye? The album’s genius is in its lightness. Songs drift and breathe; performances feel natural, even offhand—Eli Fontaine’s saxophone part on the title track, for example, was recorded when Fontaine thought he was just warming up. As Sly & The Family Stone channelled their anger into into bitter funk (1971’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On), Gaye sublimated his in lush string sections and Latin percussion—signals not just of musical gentleness, but cultural sophistication. Even in the face of bleakness (the addiction portrait of “Flyin’ High [In the Friendly Sky],” “Inner City Blues [Make Me Wanna Holler]”), he floats. The revelation is that political music doesn’t have to be confrontational—it can be mellow and inviting too, the province not just of radicals, but the same mixed, middle-class audiences that had been buying Gaye’s albums all along. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and as Gaye seems to say on What’s Going On, you don’t have to be a hippie to be worried by what you see—you just have to be human.


  1. What’s Going On (3:51)
  2. What’s Happening Brother (2:57)
  3. Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky) (3:40)
  4. Save The Children (3:04)
  5. God Is Love (2:31)
  6. Mercy Mercy (The Ecology) (3:05)
  7. Right On (7:20)
  8. Wholy Holy (3:20)
  9. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) (5:16)

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Release Images

Release Information

Key Value
Format Vinyl LP Album Reissue Remastered (180 Gram)
Label Tamla Motown
Catalog Number 0731453002210
Notes 180 gram vinyl remastered. Includes a voucher to download MP3 version of the album. Shrink wrapped copies featured red [l197898] sticker with [l138199] branding. Copies sold in France featured red [l197898] sticker with [l181316] branding, covering aforementioned sticker. Made in the EU. Copies exist with square white square sticker on back of sleeve (on shrink wrap) with black text “Disc Made In Germany”. ℗ © 1991 [l266901] Record labels: [l33859] branding Sleeve (spine and back cover): [l1723] branding Sleeve (front cover): [l6200] branding
Discogs URL Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On