Brother, Brother, Brother
This week, our host for Song Lyric Sunday, Jim Adams, has prompted us with Brother, Sister and Siblings. I can think of several songs but I’m curious to see what others come up with today. Maybe some siblings in a duo or band.
My choice is a great song by Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On” from the controversial album of the same name released in 1971. The album was ahead of its time with references to protests, anti-war and climate change in songs such as What’s Going On and Mercy, Mercy, Me.
When you read the story behind this song and album you will realize that history continues to repeat itself. What was happening then in the 60s is happening right now in 2020.
The song topped Detroit’s Metro Times list of the 100 Greatest Detroit Songs of All Time, and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it the fourth-greatest song of all time; in its updated 2011 list, the song remained at that position. It is included in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list, along with two other songs by the singer. It was also listed at number fourteen on VH-1’s 100 Greatest Rock Songs.
The song’s inspiration came from Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Motown vocal group the Four Tops, after he and the group’s tour bus arrived at Berkeley on May 15, 1969. While there, Benson witnessed police brutality and violence in the city’s People’s Park during a protest held by anti-war activists in what was hailed later as “Bloody Thursday”. Upset by the situation, Benson said to author Ben Edmonds that as he saw this, he asked, “‘What is happening here?’ One question led to another. Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own children in the streets?”
Upset, he discussed what he witnessed with friend and songwriter Al Cleveland, who in turn wrote and composed a song to reflect Benson’s concerns. Benson wanted to give the song to his group but the other Four Tops turned down the request. “My partners told me it was a protest song”, Benson said later, “I said ‘no man, it’s a love song, about love and understanding. I’m not protesting, I want to know what’s going on.” In 1970, Benson presented the untitled song to Marvin Gaye, who added a new melody and revised the song to his liking, adding in his own lyrics. Benson later said Gaye tweaked and enriched the song, “added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story than a song… we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.” Gaye titled it “What’s Going On”. When Gaye initially thought the song’s moody feel would be appropriate to be recorded by The Originals, Benson convinced Gaye to record it as his own song.
Gaye, himself, had been inspired by social ills committed in the United States, citing the 1965 Watts riots as a turning point in his life in which he asked himself, “‘With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” Gaye was also influenced by emotional conversations shared between him and his brother Frankie, who had returned from three years of service at the Vietnam War and his namesake cousin’s death while serving troops. During phone conversations with Berry Gordy, who was vacationing in the Bahamas at the time, Gaye had told Gordy that he wanted to record a protest record, to which Gordy said in response, “Marvin, don’t be ridiculous. That’s taking things too far.” Courtesy of Wiki
One of Motown Records’ most successful artists, Gaye was married to Anna Gordy, who was the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. The singer met Anna in 1960 after the disbandment of the Doo-Wop group Harvey and the Moonglows led him to follow leader Harvey Fuqua to Detroit. He began working as a drummer for Anna Records, a short-lived label run by the Gordy sisters (Anna and Gwen) along with songwriter Billy Davis.
Although Anna was 17 years older than Gaye, the pair married in June of 1963, a month after the singer released his first top-10 single, “Pride and Joy.”
The marriage ended in divorce, and Gaye named his 1976 album Here, My Dear after agreeing that royalties from the album would be used to pay alimony to Anna. Even though Gaye knew he would not see any money from the album, he still gave it his best effort.
Early in his career, Gaye was teamed with female Motown artists including Mary Wells and Kim Weston. It was his match with Terrell, however, that made magic. The duo recorded several hits together, often penned by the songwriting team Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” and “Your Precious Love.”
Ashford recalled the duo’s chemistry in an interview with Tavis Smiley: “The two of them together, that blend, I mean, it was like ice cream and cookies or whatever you want to call it, you know, just a good blend.”
Little did they know, their last concert performance together would be at a Homecoming celebration at the Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in 1967. Terrell collapsed onstage as Gaye rushed to catch her, a result of a brain tumor that would take her life three years later and leave Gaye devastated. According to John Pumilia’s article “Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Perfect Together,” Gaye recalled: “I think maybe what scared me the most was that I was so angered by the senselessness of it all. I had to accept that it was God’s will, but it was difficult to understand at the time. I grieved for years, and the fact that deep down inside I hated performing with somewhat of a passion made it even easier for me to stop. After taking time off, I developed a real fear of performing and it was even more difficult to come back.”
One of his last public performances was singing the US national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game. At the time, performers were expected to give a restrained and traditional performance when singing the national anthem, but Gaye delivered an emotional performance similar to other songs he would sing in concert. This caused some controversy, but the idea of personalizing the national anthem caught on, and singers often add personal touches to the song even today. >>
One day before the singer’s 45th birthday, an argument between Marvin Jr. and Marvin Sr. escalated into violence. The reasons behind the confrontation are murky. Some claim it was the conclusion of a decades-long period of abuse that the singer endured from his father. Others say depressed Marvin Jr. used his father’s rage as a way to commit suicide without actually having to pull the trigger himself. Regardless, on the night of April 1, 1984, Marvin Jr. was shot twice: once in the chest, once in the shoulder. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital, but his heart had stopped beating and attempts to resuscitate him failed. His funeral took place three days later at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, with notable mourners including Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Berry Gordy.
According to David Ritz’s Divided Soul: The Life Of Marvin Gaye, Marvin Sr. died without any recollection of shooting his son. After a six-year suspended sentence and a five-year probation period for voluntary manslaughter, he lived the rest of his life in nursing homes in Southern California. He died on October 10, 1998 at the age of 84..
Marvin Gaye always knew he was destined for greatness, but at 17 years old he wasn’t just thinking about singing; he was thinking about flying. As his home life became increasingly volatile, Gaye decided to escape to the United States Air Force and enlist as a Basic Airman. The reality of service and authority didn’t match his romanticized vision of soaring the skies. He realized all too quickly that he didn’t like peeling potatoes and certainly didn’t like taking orders.
“I needed to see the world. I thought that’s what the Air Force would be, but the Air Force was prison,” author David Ritz quotes Gaye in his biography, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. The singer remembered writing his superior officer a letter detailing everything that was wrong with the Air Force. That didn’t go over well.
After just eight months of duty, Gaye was desperate to be sent home. He disobeyed every order he could in an attempt to be kicked out. Eventually, he faked mental illness to get out of service with an honorable discharge in 1957.
In 1974, Marvin Gaye was coming back into the spotlight in more ways than one. He was embarking on his first tour since the tragic death of his duet partner Tammi Terrell four years earlier. Elsewhere, the singer was making a different kind of debut in the pages of a novel.
A Motown memorabilia collector from Detroit came across Marvin Gaye’s passport from 1964 tucked inside an old record sleeve. He made the discovery after buying a collection of LPs and singles from the family of a deceased former Motown musician. During an appearance on the February 3, 2014 episode of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, the passport was valued at a minimum of $20,000 by the show’s appraiser Laura Wooley.
Marvin Gaye’s real last name was “Gay.” However, he was a target of bullying in his young days as his father was a crossdresser. It was because of this, added with rumors of the singer’s own homosexuality, that Marvin added an “e” to his last name when he became famous.
Lyrics Mother, mother There's too many of you crying Brother, brother, brother There's far too many of you dying You know we've got to find a way To bring some lovin' here today, yea Father, father We don't need to escalate You see, war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate You know we've got to find a way To bring some lovin' here today Picket lines and picket signs Don't punish me with brutality Talk to me, so you can see Oh, what's going on What's going on Ya, what's going on Ah, what's going on In the mean time Right on, baby Right on Right on Father, father, everybody thinks we're wrong Oh, but who are they to judge us Simply because our hair is long Oh, you know we've got to find a way To bring some understanding here today Oh Picket lines and picket signs Don't punish me with brutality Talk to me So you can see What's going on Ya, what's going on Tell me what's going on I'll tell you what's going on - Uh Right on baby Right on baby Written by Marvin Gaye Courtesy of Songfacts