Review #422: Let’s Get It On, Marvin Gaye

Karla Clifton
3 min readJul 21, 2023

#422: Let’s Get It On, Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye was #1. No, that’s not a cheerleading chant, or a Spongebob quote. It’s a fact that Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On? is the top record on the RS 500 list. (Lots of things apparently going On for Gaye.) I actually hate my review of that — it’s the first one I did, and I’m trying to sound so smart and snarky, when I didn’t really know anything. So if you’ve ever read my reviews and rolled your eyes, me too.

I wasn’t expecting such a sexy album to have a sad backstory, but Marvin Gaye Jr. had a hard life. His father, Marvin Gay Sr., abused him in childhood, then shot him twice point-blank at age 44. Imagine being betrayed by your father like that. Gaye had already been ashamed of his father, and added an ‘e’ to his stage name. (Sam Cooke did the same thing, and also happened to be killed in a senseless act of violence, by a female passerby who basically just felt threatened. “Lady, you shot me.”) Some people have interpreted that this album — and Gaye implied as much — was partially inspired by his rejection the shame and stigma around sex he’d learned from his father, who was a preacher by day and a secret cross-dresser by night.

In fact the record started out as a little more pious, until Gaye and his songwriting partner Ed Townsend pivoted and turned it into a sweet series of songs about sex. Take the classic, instantly recognizable beginning of “Let’s Get It On,” in particular its exalted perspective on sex. I’ve been really tryin’, baby … to hold back this feeling … Since we’ve got to be here, let’s live. Reprise “Keep Gettin’ It On” is even more overt in its religiosity: Jesus is trying to get the people to come on.

Not that this is, like, a prudish Christian-soul sex album. He’s fairly descriptive on “Distant Lover,” and “You Sure Love to Ball” has some Weeknd-like sex noises right at the beginning. Instrumentation is dirty too, from jammy guitar (“Please Stay (Once You Go Away)”) to sexy sax (“Come Get To This”) to layered vocals (“If I Should Die Tonight”). I’m convinced that Prince and D’Angelo pray to that last song every night. Maybe the Weeknd too.

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: people are still fighting over Gaye’s catalog. They sued Robin Thick over the controversial single “Blurred Lines” and its similarity to “Got To Give It Up.” Gaye’s estate won, which also caused controversy. Lately, Ed Townsend’s camp sued Ed Sheeran over similarities between “Thinkin’ Out Loud” and the title song. Sheeran was indignant, said, “These chords are common building blocks” and wouldn’t “be a piggy bank for anyone to shake.” Townsend’s daughter simply said, “I was up against an arm.” They might both be right.

Marvin Gaye Jr. died years before the many lawsuits over songs he sang would start getting filed. Who’s to say what Gaye would have wanted, or what the right thing to do is? I’m not sure litigation is the answer to either of those questions.

Fun (?) Fact: Gaye co-wrote “Just To Keep You Satisfied” with his wife Anna Gordy, sister of Motown founder Berry. He then edited the lyrics after leaving her for his second wife Janis Hunter.

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