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Courtesy of Universal Music Group

April 9, 2019

TEST SPIN | Marvin Gaye — ‘You’re the Man’

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Just days before the late Marvin Gaye would have turned 80 years old, his full album You’re the Man, recorded in 1972, was released. While most of the songs had been previously released, they had never been released as one, cohesive album as Gaye intended. The album also includes three tracks that were recently mixed by Salaam Remi.

Mostly popular half a century ago, Gaye created top hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “What’s Going On,” “Let’s Get It On” and “Sexual Healing,” which recently resurfaced with Kygo’s remix.

Gaye’s music served as a political statement of the time. “What’s Going On” was so popular because it provided political commentary on the Vietnam War and promoted anti-violence and anti-war sentiments. His music and opinions were respected and the song moved to number one on the R&B charts at the time. However, Gaye’s producers did not want him to be too politically salient or controversial for the radio. Gaye was in constant conflict between singing about his opinions and adhering to restrictions he was given.

The release of this new album transcends generations. While this may be the music that our parents and grandparents listened to, the fact that the album is released now over 40 years after it was originally produced invites millennials to take a listen. And I’m really glad that I did.

Just like his music has withstood the test of time, unfortunately so have the social and political issues that he sang about. Quite honestly, if you just gave me the lyrics to some of his songs, I wouldn’t necessarily know if it was written today or all those years ago which is scary and sad yet unsurprising.

Gaye starts his album with “You’re the Man – Pts. I & II / Single Version,” which is later featured in an alternate version. Here, he wrote about the 1972 presidential election in which George McGovern ran against the incumbent Republican candidate Richard Nixon. McGovern preached a platform for pulling troops out of the Vietnam War and the return of prisoners of war. As an anti-war advocate, Gaye was thrilled with the idea.  Gaye shared his wariness and skepticism in his music. Gaye repeatedly asks McGovern, “do you have a plan” and even says he will vote for McGovern if he does have a plan.

While questioning the authenticity of a candidate is commonplace during election time, Gaye also includes other qualms with the government that are eerily similar to those we hear about now. In the same song, Gaye sings the lines, “Can you take the guns from our sons? / Right the wrong this administration’s done?” and “Try, get them to go your way / Tellin’ lies not to worry / That we won’t be led astray.” I think Gaye’s verses speak for themselves and are still just as potent today in the wake of numerous shootings and false statements that have been coming from the hill.

I can see why Gaye didn’t release the whole album right when he recorded it — it feels almost unfinished and lacks cohesion. Gaye is revered for his authenticity and rawness in speaking his mind, yet at the same time, he adheres to the wishes of his producers. He sings “We Can Make It Baby,” which is a super upbeat Motown piece about loving his girl. The same goes for “My Last Chance,” which is about asking a woman out on a date and “Symphony,” which is, again, about his love for a woman and this time comparing her to the mechanics of a song. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this side of Gaye too and it’s what helped to make him famous — “Let’s Get It On” has been used in countless movies and TV shows to denote romance and sexual tension. However, I also like that Gaye used his fame to make a political statement about what he believed in.

Gaye gets back to this political attitude later in his album with “I Want to Come Home For Christmas,” in which he takes the point of view of a prisoner of war during the holiday time. This piece juxtaposes the typical Christmas music vibe with very real concerns of not being “home / In time for the Christmas tree” or wanting to “give anything to see you, the family.” Gaye made a statement that he knew not everyone would want to hear during the happy holiday season, but that he felt needed to be said.

Gaye’s music came to a sorry end in 1984 when he was shot and killed by his father. He was constantly trying to gain acceptance and approval from his father throughout his life and even sang “I’m Going Home” as a tribute to his family and how they always made him feel loved and secure. It’s unfortunate that Gaye didn’t have more time to produce the music that he believed in and that the country loved, but I am glad that his work and messages have carried through time and are still being listened to today.

 

Rachel Mattessich is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at rjm463@cornell.edu.