Masterpiece: What’s Going On


[Today: Marvin Gaye laments…]

What's Going On - album

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

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5 Responses to “Masterpiece: What’s Going On”

  1. Arlo Chingaderas Says:


  2. Furr Says:

    uhh… huh… huhh..

    you said Gaye.

  3. Masterpiece: Psychedelic Shack « dk presents… Says:

    […] resulting albums – including Gaye’s What’s Going On, The Four Tops’ Still Waters Run Deep, and The Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack – finally […]

  4. Buried Treasure: Where I’m Coming From « dk presents… Says:

    […] runaway success of Marvin Gaye’s socially conscious 1971 album What’s Going On changed the artistic landscape at Motown Records, and many of that label’s musicians suddenly […]

  5. Buried Treasure: Talking To The People « dk presents… Says:

    […] was about the same as it ever was. This understanding was reflected in the music of Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton’s band Funkadelic. Like Funkadelic, Black Nasty was a […]

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