Welcome back, Marvin Gaye: A legacy rediscovered in ‘You’re The Man’

Sunday, March 31, 2019 - 4:31pm

MOTOWN

NOSELL

In preparation to write this review and at a loss for how to tackle the insurmountable legacy of Marvin Gaye, I did what anyone would do: I called my father. I called my father and I asked him, “What do you think about Marvin Gaye?” In response, he immediately sent me a Spotify link to the classic “Got To Give It Up (Part 1),” and told me: “This is the stuff. Be careful. It’s like mainlining heroin.”

Well, as much as it pains any child to admit it, my father’s not wrong. In fact, this may be the one and only exception where I have the guts to say, he’s really, really right.

Marvin Gaye’s music is a lot of things. He was (and still is) “The Prince of Motown,” a master of soul, R&B, with touches of jazz and the sing-song of the crooners, like Gaye’s idol Sam Cooke. His legacy has been formed by his battle with his inner demons, his revolutionary and socially conscious music and his confidence to break barriers, to break rules.

But to try and describe the depth of Gaye’s music-making through a list of things, of facts, would be a dishonor to his legacy. Words can’t (and won’t) ever properly capture the magic that is Marvin Gaye. To listen to Marvin Gaye’s music is to have what I can only describe as a spiritual awakening. 

However, even though words may be insufficient to capture the essence of Marvin Gaye’s music, this writer feels obligated to try. If only to entertain the possibility that the reader will see, hear, and feel these words somewhere deep, go home and go listen to Marvin Gaye.

First and foremost, to listen to Marvin Gaye sing is the closest thing to true and pure happiness one can find on this Earth. Sure, there are a lot of good things in life: Cake is good. Love is good, too. Yeah, financial or social success is okay, I guess. But Marvin Gaye? Marvin Gaye is life itself. To listen to Marvin Gaye’s music is to be torn between sinking into bone-deep relaxation or jumping up and dancing until your feet fall off and keep on dancing without you. To listen to Marvin Gaye is to face the agony of thinking, “Wait, there are people who walk this Earth who have never listened to Marvin Gaye?” and know the answer is yes.

Marvin Gaye’s posthumous album You’re The Man is all this and much more. In honor of what would’ve been Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday, MOTOWN has released a compilation of what were considered to be “lost” songs. The album, at its inception, was meant to be a follow up to Gaye’s beloved album, What’s Going On, but was ultimately never released due to clashes with the label, and lackluster reception of a preliminary release of the title song. Gaye was never afraid to push boundaries or showcase his vulnerabilities –– the release of this album after all this time is a testament to Gaye’s legacy of deep, honest and emotional music-making.

The album features a few remixes by producer Salaam Remi –– songs that are good, but with little to offer in alternative to the original versions. Then again, when it comes to Marvin Gaye, it’s nearly impossible to improve upon what is already a masterwork of musical genius. And overall, the album itself isn’t daring or shocking. There are no pretentious attempts by the label to pretend that You’re The Man is anything but what is it: Marvin Gaye. One should not sit down to this album expecting radical experimentation. Rather, the album is like warmly greeting an old friend who’s been gone far too long. For the long-time fan, it’s like feeling warm sunshine after a long, hard winter. For the newcomers, it’s a treasure-chest discovery of small proportions, with lasting impact. Once one has been introduced to Gaye’s brand of chill vibes and soulful optimism, it’s impossible to go back.

What is most striking about the album, however, is not the discovery of these hidden songs, nor the enjoyment of hearing dearly-missed friend, idol and artist sing once more. No, what is most striking about You’re The Man is how different it is from the music of today. When sitting outside on the streets of Ann Arbor, lavishing in the brief glimpse of spring and listening to Marvin Gaye, one word came to mind: happy. Because no matter how serious, insightful or vulnerable Gaye’s music can be, there is always a light, comforting touch in accompaniment. It is refreshing to listen to the this timeless music made by a man who saw the world for what it was –– good and bad –– and sought to capture the vital truths of life within his music. In the monotony of modern music, and the crush of endless expectation and obligation, one impression still lingers: how wonderful it is to welcome Marvin Gaye home, if for the last time.