Now I realize that I’m just a skinny white boy from the cornfields of Nebraska, but I know good soul when I hear it, and it just doesn’t get any better than this masterpiece from one of soul’s greatest performers, Marvin Gaye. What’s Going On is a perfect example of music that can be social commentary and pleasurable listening.
Recorded in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and written from the viewpoint of Gaye’s brother who had just returned from service, What’s Going On contains tales of social unrest, unemployment, environmental problems, urban decay, and the need for people to get together.
Musically, this album is a joy to these ears — sweeping string arrangements, basslines that are funky without being trashy, and subtle guitar licks. But the real star is Gaye, whose angelic vocals are both transcendant and incredibly human. Just listen to the confusion in his voice on the title track, or the plaintive cries for help on “Save the Children.”
Seamlessly flowing from one track into the other, this album showcases the talents of a truly gifted artist, and contains social commentary that’s as poignant now as then without ever stooping to preachiness. In other words, a completely real and human album.