Marvin (Penze) Gaye Time - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

After listening to the Motown album What's Going On, the Rev. Jesse Jackson informed its creator. Soul Crooner Marvin Gaye, that he was as much a minister as any man in any pulpit. Gaye does not see himself in quite that way, though he does admit to a certain "in" with the Almighty…. While such words would sound intolerably conceited from any other pop star, they come inoffensively from Gaye. Part mystic, part pentecostal fundamentalist, part socially aware ghetto graduate, this particular Motown superstar simply happens to believe that he speaks to God and vice versa.

The most prominant musical result these days is black beatitudes of sorts called What's Going On. The LP laments war, pollution, heroin and the miseries of ghetto life. It also praises God and Jesus, blesses peace, love, children and the poor. Musically it is a far cry from the gospel or blues styles a black singer-composer might normally apply to such subjects. Instead Gaye weaves a vast, melodically deft symphonic pop suite in which Latin beats, soft soul and white pop, and occasionally scat and Hollywood schmalz, yield effortlessly to each other. The overall style of the album is so lush and becalming that the words—which in themselves are often merely simplistic—come at the listener like dots from a Seurat landscape. They are innocent individually but meaningful on masse.

"Motown Beatitudes," in Time (copyright 1971 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 98, No. 15, October 11, 1971, p. 69.