Sly and the Family Stone might have psychedelicized soul music, but Marvin Gaye personalized it.
Although the powers-that-were Motown didn't even want to release the record, the unexpected success of What's Going On, issued in 1971, inspired Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and just about every other black artist on the planet to take greater responsibility for their music and its meaning. Gaye co-wrote the songs and produced the album, flavouring it with layer upon layer of his own multi-tracked vocals, oceans of hand percussion, strings, flutes, and jazzy horn solos. spacey and loose as a spliff-fueled sunday afternoon jam in the park, the nine songs all played like a hit single. The title track - inspired by his brother's return from the Vietnam war - and the obvious social commentary of Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler) and Mercy Mercy Me (the Ecology) actually were hit singles. Two other tracks (Wholly Holy and Save the Children) would inspire hit covers by Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross, respectively. Nevertheless, What's Going On sounds as fresh today as it did the week that it came out.