Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye

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In 1964 he began a remarkable six-year stretch that kept him at the top of radio playlists with tunes such as "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)," "I'll Be Doggone," "Ain't That Peculiar" and "It Takes Two" (with Kim Weston).

In '67 and '68 he teamed with Tammi Terrell, a well-traveled R&B backup singer, for a stunning run of hits: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Your Precious Love," "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By."

Album cover: Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Album cover: Gaye & Tammi

In October 1968 he had his biggest hit with a cover of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which, remarkably, had been a Top 5 record the year before for Gladys Knight. He followed that with "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" and "That's the Way Love Is."

By 1970, Gaye was fed up with what he called "silly love songs." Informed by his brother's experiences in Vietnam and by social unrest in America, Gaye went to work on an LP that would become his seminal musical statement.

In May 1971 Motown released Gaye's "What's Going On," a complex concept album whose topics included war, the ecology, racism, poverty, faith and political and social corruption. Its hit singles were "What's Going On,"  "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues."

As author Ben Edmonds wrote, "Marvin's new kind of soul music came from the soul itself. Marvin's question 'What's going on?' was to black music what Bob Dylan's 'How does it feel?' had been to rock 'n' roll a half-decade earlier."

Gaye signed a $1 million record deal with Motown. He gave his father a gift of a new Cadillac.

A writer asked whether the father was grateful.

Gaye said dryly, "Not especially."

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