[Today: Marvin Gaye laments…]
Marvin Gaye’s masterwork is a self-tortured, magnetic performance worthy of Hamlet. He struts and frets his hour upon the stage, locked in an album-length soliliquy on the evils of mankind. All of the songs on What’s Going On run together seamlessly, conveying the thoughts of a man conscious that the world is spinning out of control, but powerless against nefarious forces that seem to be aligned in all directions.
Consider Hamlet’s famous conundrum:
Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take up arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them.
against Gaye’s sweet soul music:
There’ll come a time, when the world won’t be singin’
Flowers won’t grow, bells won’t be ringin’
Who really cares?
Who’s willing to try to save a world
That’s destined to die
It’s telling that this record is never discussed as a ‘concept’ album – the real-life perils of war, drug abuse, ecological disaster, and mental illness apparently aren’t as sexy as the wizards, demons, and pimps that litter recognized concept albums. The irony is that What’s Going On just might be the greatest concept album of all-time. It is certainly the perfect expression of a truly universal conceit: despair at a world gone wrong. Unfortunately, it’s a theme that isn’t going out of style any time soon.
Listen: Mercy Mercy Me