Happy Birthday, Marvin Gaye!
Marvin Gaye's influence on music is profound, which is why a common argument against the "Blurred Lines" verdict is that a majority of R&B songs created by artists are liable to be sued just like Pharrell and Robin Thicke because his sound is everywhere. While it's debatable if that's a proper legal argument, the statement itself is no hyperbole. Gaye should be one of your first thoughts if you're talking about the most influential singer-songwriters of all time. He would've been 76 years old today (April 2).
Before he became the legend that he is, Gaye was known as one of Motown's (then known as Tamla) talented artists. He had a string of hits in the late '60s and formed a hitmaking duo with Tammi Terrell, with whom he made "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." His hits were sweet and his voice was powerful, but that surefire dynamic was upended by the end of the decade.
Gaye was depressed when Terrell, his close friend, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1967. He eventually went into a downward spiral of seclusion and drug abuse because of her death in 1970. The singer even felt that Tamla was unsympathetic to her passing and treated her as a commodity.
But Gaye emerged out of that darkness and chaos with 1971's What's Going On, one of the greatest, pathos-reaching achievements in modern music. At its core a cry for human empathy, the greatness of the What's Going On album still resonates (and, in some ways, haunts) because of how its underlying turmoil and bluesy look at urban decay ("Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)") are still relevant today.
What's Going On is Gaye's greatest work, but not his lone essential. Within that ethereal voice lied a proclivity for potently covering multiple aspects of human life. Let's Get It On is a mellifluous exploration of human sexuality, while Here, My Dear is a vivid look at domestic pains. Trouble Man is just the epitome of cool. The legal drama surrounding "Blurred Lines" and his name will blow over soon. Gaye's greatness is here to stay.
Watch Marvin Gaye Perform "What's Going On" & "What's Happening Brother"
See 10 Music Milestones From Great Black Artists