Meaning of What's going on by Marvin Gaye

What's going on

Marvin Gaye

The Meaning of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”

Marvin Gaye’s sensuous voice, flowing rhythms, and emotional lyrics have made an indelible mark on the music industry. However, if there is one song that properly represents this great artist’s depth and emotion, it is “What’s Going On.” Let us look at the history, significance, and impact of this great song, which peaked at No. 2 in the US charts. Cyndi Lauper, by the way, scored a hit with this song when she covered it in 1986 for her album True Colors. Her version went to number 12 in the US.

When “What’s Going On” was released in 1971, it was more than just a musical masterpiece; it was a statement, a question, and a comment on the turbulent times. The song was a smash hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the R&B charts. Marvin Gaye’s breakthrough raised an issue that would reverberate for centuries.

The Artist’s Point of View

Marvin was affected by the continuing Vietnam War and the letters his brother Frankie sent him from the front lines, coming from a position of personal grief and societal discontent. This link served as the foundation for a song that addressed societal challenges ranging from racial strife to environmental degradation.

Three golfing buddies who also happened to be Motown hitmakers wrote “What’s Going On”: songwriter Al Cleveland, Four Tops member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Marvin Gaye, who contributed lyrics and helped with the arrangement. The Originals were Gaye’s first choice to record the song, but Benson and Cleveland convinced him to perform it on his own instead.

Gaye’s lyrics in this song were inspired by the stories his brother told him when he came back from the Vietnam War. The song, in Marvin’s words, was a cry for understanding: “What’s going on, brother?” “What exactly is going on?” It was an honest, emotional look at society’s problems, urging introspection and reform.

Interpretations by Listeners

“What’s Going On” was more than a song to the audience; it was an anthem. Its deep melodies and sincere questions struck a chord with many people who were concerned about the state of the world around them. In the midst of societal turmoil, it became a rallying cry for peace, understanding, and love.

The song was and still is viewed as a bridge, connecting generations, races, and those with opposing viewpoints. It’s a plea to come together, to look past differences and find common ground.

Historical and Societal Background

America’s late 1960s and early 1970s were marked by transition, struggle, and conflict. It was a time of great societal tension, from the Civil Rights Movement to anti-Vietnam War protests. Gaye’s “What’s Going On” captured the mood, diving into war, racism, and environmental issues.

The song was more than simply a song; it was a mirror of a generation’s difficulties, hopes, and goals for a better future.

Lines like “Mother, mother, there’s far too many of you crying,” and “Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying,” confront the reality of war and brutality, showing the common grief and loss that many felt.

The poignant question, “Who are they to judge us simply because our hair is long?”* refers to countercultural movements of the time, emphasising the need for independence and self-expression.

*”You see, war is not the answer, because only love can conquer hate,”* becomes a universal truth, a mantra for all eras, urging listeners to embrace love over conflict.

Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a look back at a volatile moment, a call for peace, and a monument to music’s ability to reflect, confront, and shape cultural narratives. The song’s message is still pertinent nearly half a century later, asking us to question, empathise, and, most importantly, love.

So, the next time you hear Marvin’s voice crooning this classic, remember the history and passion behind the words. And maybe think about what’s going on in our globe right now.

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