I’ve been blogging for seven and half years now and not once have I posted about Marvin Gaye, my favourite singer. I think I first came across Gaye when I heard Paul Young’s brilliant cover of Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home). Although I liked Young’s version, I wanted to hear the music from the original. I wasn’t disappointed. Gaye’s oeuvre includes such classics as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I heard it Through the Grapevine, , What’s Going On, You’re The Man, Trouble Man, Let’s Get It On, Got to Give it Up and Sexual Healing. Recently he has been in the news with the plagiarism case against Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams for ripping off Got to Give it Up.
In this post I am not to look at a song, but an album. Here My Dear is definitely not his best and was a commercial and critical failure when it was released. There are others that are more necessary. Nevertheless, it is one that I do enjoy and its backstory is absolutely fascinating.
Gaye was in the midst of a painful divorce from his wife Anna. To complicate matters more Anna Gordy, 17 years older than Gaye, was the sister of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, the record company which had made him into a star. What’s more his finances were in a parlous state. He had messed up his taxes and owed Stephen Hill, his ex-manager $2 million. Anna was asking for $1 million dollars to settle. She was seeking alimony for their adopted son, Marvin Gaye III. In September 1976, a warrant was issued for Gaye’s arrest after he had failed to pay alimony. The singer hid from the public for several days.
Marvin’s lawyer Curtis Shaw came up with a novel solution. He proposed that Gaye pay her $600,000 – $305,000 from the advance Marvin was due for his next album and the rest from the earnings from the album. Gaye and Anna liked the idea and so Marvin Gaye went to the studio to record his 15th album.
Initially Gaye had thought he would just put out a quickie. He wasn’t going to break his back when he wouldn’t see any of the cash anyway. But gradually he changed his mind. On the one hand he owed his fans his best effort. On the other hand he wanted to put his typical passion into the product – it would be a cathartic experience. It would take him three months.
The album art was created by artist Michael Byran. The cover had a bearded toga-clad in A Roman setting. His pose was that of an emperor. On the back cover a mock Rodin statue of a couple in a passionate embrace while around the Holy temple of Matrimony collapsed. It was a double album and you opened it up the fold-out illustration showed a man’s hand reaching across to the hand of a woman’s, about to give her a record. The hands are extended on a Monopoly board – divorce was like a game.
Gaye, accompanied by engineer Art Stewart entered his recording studio on March 24, 1977. Gaye had a very particular way of working, composing on the spot, mumbling over pre-recorded tracks or to his own accompaniment. After three or four takes he would have the lyrics. He also played all the keyboards. Recording on the album ended on June 9, 1978. However, he held back its release for a year, afraid of the reaction.
The opening song, Here My Dear, was dedicated to Anna.
I don’t think I’ll have many regrets, baby.
Things didn’t have to be the way they was, baby.
You don’t have the right to use the son of mine
to keep me in line.
One thing I can’t do without
is the boy whom God gave to both of us.
Gaye wants our sympathy. He was accusing Anna of preventing him from seeing his son. I Met a Little Girl describes his how meeting Anna saved him from loneliness. It is sung in a doo-wop style. The central song on the album is When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.
But I can’t understand, ’cause if you love me
How could you turn me into the police?
Didn’t I love you good and try to take care of you best I could?
You were so divine and your love was like mellow wine
Pains of love, miles of tears, enough to last me for my lifetime
Broken hearts last for years to break away to the blue-day sunshine
One thing I can promise, friend: I’ll never be back again.
The song Anger reflects the fragile mental state:
One more time-anger, more ager
When it’s flaming hot
Anger burns to the bitter end
Know what I’m talkin’ ’bout
When it cools I find out too late
I have lost at love, love, love, dear friend
I said, anger will make you sick,
children, oh Jesus
Anger destroys your soul
You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You tells of a threat made by Anna when said he was going to leave her:
That young girl is going to cost you
If you want happiness, you got to pay
Marvin was now seeing Jan Hunter, who would be his second wife.
The final song Falling in Love Again is dedicated to Janis:
In this life….of….happiness and sadness
when you’ve lost….out on love…
and it all…ends up in madness
and you say….Love….please go away don’t torture me, night and day
then someone real…..someone who feel comes in.
Now I’m falling in love again-
Alas, Gaye would not find peace with Jan, and Janis filed for legal separation in 1979. Anna Gordy was also none too pleased, threatening a $5 million invasion-of-privacy lawsuit:
“I think he did it deliberately for the joy of seeing how hurt I could become.”
As I said earlier, I do not think that this is Gaye’s best work but it still worth listening. It does produce a strange effect. We are now used to the confessional culture and the voyeuristic tendencies of reality television, but this was not so usual in the 1970s. it is a rather self-indulgent self-pitying album. We hear an artist in turmoil. This is about more than just the divorce. Gaye is struggling with his very sanity. Singing is his only redemption.
Critics now have a more positive view of the Here My Dear. It is in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums. Even the victim, Anna Gordy, changed her mind: “It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to appreciate every form of Marvin’s music.”
Sadly less than seven years after the album was finished Gaye would be shot dead by his father. On April 1st 1984 Marvin Gaye Jr. was pronounced dead he was one day shy of his 45th birthday. I’ll end with a quote from Divided Soul – The Life Of Marvin Gaye, David Ritz’s definitive biography of the star:
Marvin never recovered from being an abused and battered child. His talent wasn’t enough to see him through. Because he never loved himself, he always felt unloved. Yet love broke through the barrier and infused his songs with something greater than passing pleasure: genuine joy. He had the rare courage to pour the pain of his troubled life into his art, and, as a result, his art was expanded and enriched. His creations, like prayers, were filled with a longing for love, not self-love, but a far wiser, far larger love, a love that transcends ego and turns our hearts back to the source of art itself. Marvin’s music—the sexual as well as the spiritual—is God-given, God-inspired, God-blessed.
“As an artist,” he said, “my purpose is to awaken the human spirit.”
Triumphantly, that purpose was met.