The 1971 album “What’s Going On” released by the Motown Record singer Marvin Gaye. A album that was almost not released by Motown due to its heavily political nature. As Motown at the time was all releasing feel good dance songs that could be heard in night clubs across the nation. Berry Gordy was quoted that after listened to Gaye’s song What’s Going On, he called it the worst thing he’s ever heard in his life. Although through all the criticism Gaye’s album was still released due to the fact that they were desperate for a new album from him. As we know today the album went on to be Gaye’s most successful and changed the direction of music for years to come.
The single of the album, the first song you hear when putting the needle to the album, What’s Going On is a master piece of Gaye’s ability to bring the actions happening within the world to light in just 3 minutes and 53 seconds. As the songs release came at the same time of the Vietnam War, the rise of black civil rights, and the election of Richard Nixon. Gaye’s song asks the question that at the time everyone in America was asking, what’s going on?
Throughout the song Gaye speaks on the events taking place in the Vietnam War as over 3 million people had lost their lives and having half of them being the citizens of Vietnam. As the song questions our reason for being there and why not leave the war alone. Gaye sings in his song “We don’t need to escalate. You see, war is not the answer. For only love can conquer hate.” The questions of America at this time are also brought into his lyrics as he talks about brutality to blacks and hippies across America. Gaye sings about putting violence to the side and using our words to eliminate problems, and we see this in his lyrics “Picket lines and picket signs. Don’t punish me with brutality. Come on, talk to me. So you can see. Ah what’s going on.”
The song still speaks to Americans today that listen to it. As many of the problems that Gaye faced as not only a black man in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but all Americans. Just as Gaye was told the horrific stories from his younger brother Frankie about the Vietnam War, friends and families today have in some way been affected today by the war in the middle east. As countless lives have been lost over a war in which many Americans do not understand the reason for. As Gaye advocation for the extermination of police brutality is evident in the song, as he witnessed first hand accounts of police brutality upon the lack community, as well as the hippies. His words still ring true today, as police brutality among the black community. If it’s not involving Black Lives Matter or a shooting of an innocent African American by a police officer, Gaye’s words still speak to this generation. If Gaye were still alive today, I don’t believe he would be asking what’s going on, but why’s it still going on?