Our Valentine’s Day weekend preparation continues with a look back at the reissue prospects of Marvin Gaye, one of the finest soul voices of the century (and, in my opinion, one of the most heartbreaking losses in popular music). It’s quite interesting that Gaye’s catalogue, split about 90/10 between labels (Motown and Columbia), has been well-serviced by both. Chalk it up to the fact that one of his biggest hits, “Sexual Healing,” was released on the latter label in 1983.
Take a look at the many moods of Marvin Gaye’s classic back catalogue and think about having them on hand when you’re with that special someone this Valentine’s Day.
What’s Going On (Motown, 1971)
This album isn’t just a mere soul classic. It was a true game-changer as well – the first album for Motown, where “album” meant a unified collection of songs and not just singles and filler (a notable facet to consider in the singles-driven world of 2010). That, coupled with its focused perspective on the changing times – driven home from the outset, with its title making a statement and not posing a question – helped enable the mammoth career shifts of black male artists like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. And the Deluxe Edition of the record, released for the 30th anniversary in 2001, deepens the listening experience with rarely-heard single masters, a scrapped original mix of the record and a stunning concert recorded by Gaye in 1972, his first live performance since the death of Tammi Terrell several years earlier.
Let’s Get It On (Motown, 1973)
Like all good artists, Marvin followed What’s Going On with an album that took the best of his hitmaking formula – in his case, the complex song-cycle – and deepened its impact by turning his musical gaze from one great mystery (social politics in the 1970s) to another (the joy of physical and emotional intimacy). As the 29 bonus demos, outtakes and mixes in the 2001 Deluxe Edition indicate, it took quite a bit of heart and soul to mold the music into what it is today – but boy, was it worth it! (Note for collectors: the straightforward single disc reissue of Let’s Get It On, released after the Deluxe Edition, includes the single mixes of the title track and “You Sure Love to Ball,” not included on the bigger set.)
I Want You (Motown, 1976)
After another long gestation period, Gaye rekindled the erotic themes of Let’s Get It On into an LP that fused slow jams (of the so-called “quiet storm” genre) with upbeat, danceable tracks. Bolstered by tracks such as “After the Dance” and a cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (written by the album’s producers, Arthur “T-Boy” Ross and Leon Ware), the Deluxe Edition released in 2003 added another healthy dose of single mixes and a full disc of session outtakes.
Here, My Dear (Motown, 1978)
At first blush, Here, My Dear sounds like the work of a crazy person: Gaye, having just gone through a bitter divorce with wife Anna Gordy-Gaye (the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr.), was legally obligated to give half the royalties of his latest record to her as part of the divorce settlement. So he put out a double LP with virtually no commercial potential (seriously, songs like “You Can Leave, But It’s Going to Cost You” and “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You”) that promptly tanked and had Anna considering a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. But time has been kind to the record, now seen as a classic, raw meditation on the many demons that plagued such a master entertainer. And the Hip-O Select expanded edition in 2007, rather than dwell on the heartache, celebrated the personality through new mixes of alternate takes and demos by luminaries from Bootsy Collins to The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove.
Pops, We Love You (Motown, 1979)
Marvin may not have had the best relationship with Motown by the end of the ’70s, but he did lend a hand to this moving tribute to Berry Gordy, Sr., who’d died the year prior. Gaye, like many classic Motown acts, was close to the elder Gordy, and would contribute not only a vocal part for the title track (alongside Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson), but a new duet with Diana Ross (“I’ll Keep My Light in My Window”) and a new mix of “God is Love” from What’s Going On. It was reissued as a collectibe by Hip-O Select (complete with LP-style package) in 2004.
In Our Lifetime? (Motown, 1981)
Retreating from the continental U.S. after the failure of Here, My Dear, Gaye began work on Love Man, a planned feel-good funk record ideal for parties. But his personal turmoil – tax problems and a growing bitterness with Motown, his home for decades – soon gave way to a record that instead fused the funk to social concerns (think What’s Going On for the 1980s). The LP, called In Our Lifetime? (a rhetorical question about peace), was considered uncommercial by Motown bosses, but this time the suits got their way, remixing and re-editing the record and dropping the question mark from the title. Fortunately, Hip-O Select’s team reconstructed the record as best as they could in 2007, presenting two mixes of the record and a treasure chest of extracts from those Love Man sessions. The limited-edition title must have struck a nerve with Motown fans, as it sold out all 5,000 copies.
Midnight Love (Columbia, 1982)
Frustrated with Motown’s control, he fled the label for CBS and began working on another LP in Belgium. Desperate to break free from his personal struggles (and taking inspiration from the advice of biographer David Ritz, who said the singer needed “sexual healing”), he recorded a commercial, upbeat album that was also really darn good. Unfortunately, it would also be his last; he would be dead in two years. But the team at Legacy resurrected the album twice – once in 1998 with a bonus disc of “The Sexual Healing Sessions” (although there are alternates and outtakes for every track on the album) and again in 2008 with the same material as a lushly-packaged Legacy Edition.
The Master 1961-1984 (Motown, 1995)
The mid-1990s saw Motown really breaking out the box sets for their major artists (this was around the same time that Soulsation! by The Jackson 5, The Temptations’ Emperors of Soul and Smokey Robinson’s The 35th Anniversary Collection were released). The Master was a four-disc overview of Marvin’s career – not big on bonus tracks but very expansive (it even includes Midnight Love-era material) and also one of the first big pushes for pre-’70s Marvin on disc. And, like virtually every other Gaye set, it included in-depth liner notes from David Ritz, Gaye’s biographer.
Vulnerable (Motown, 1997)
Columbia worked with Motown to release two posthumous albums (Dream of a Lifetime and Romantically Yours, both in 1985) after Gaye’s death the year prior. Much of the Motown material was culled from a shelved set of recordings for an album of romantic ballads, which Gaye had been planning off and on between 1966 and 1978. Over two decades later, Motown released their take on the ballads LP (including, for the first time, the 1978 sessions). The album is slim pickings at just under 30 minutes, and it’s a bit of a departure from the early-’70s work, but Gaye’s adamant stance that it was the best of his material makes it worth a listen.
Motown Lost and Found: Love Starved Heart (Motown, 1999)
A significant vault-clearing from Motown – two dozen tracks recorded throughout the 1960s but never released, for whatever reason – includes some underappreciated tunes written by Motown’s best (Ashford and Simpson, Holland-Dozier-Holland) and, for the first time, the original mixes of tracks previously released on Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye: Never Before Released Masters (1986). Those of you wondering where the catalogue titles based on Marvin’s ’60s work are rewarded here.
Live at the Copa (Hip-O Select/Motown, 2005)
Following the success of The Supremes at the historic New York venue in 1965, Marvin Gaye was booked for a series of sets that Motown recorded and prepped for release in 1967. For one reason or another, the record wouldn’t come out until nearly 40 years later, as a tight 25-track set heavy on the hits (“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” “Ain’t That Peculiar” and a pair of Motown medleys) and some wild standards (“The Shadow of Your Smile” and “Strangers in the Night,” to name a few).
Playlist: The Very Best of Marvin Gaye (Legacy, 2008)
Although Legacy’s Playlist series typically comes off as a simply-packaged budget set sitting on a supermarket shelf, many of the titles in the series often have rare tracks or vinyl-only mixes. This one is no exception, containing a live recording of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from an NBA finals game and the original 12″ mix to “Sexual Healing” (not included on the Legacy Edition, oddly.)