Marvin Gaye‘s 1971 album “What’s Going On” is generally regarded as one of the best soul albums ever made. (In 2003, the album was ranked number 6 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.) The title track is known the world over as a classic (The magazine ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time.) As much as I adore both recordings, if there’s only one Marvin Gaye song to make The Great Songs series, it’s not “What’s Going On.”
It’s the song about his infatuation with a girl who had just graduated from high school.
“Let’s Get it On” is the title track from the 1973 album of the same name, and has its roots in a similar spiritual view of life as “What’s Going On,” but producer/co-writer Ed Townsend convinced Gaye it should be more sexually oriented. It became a sort of sexual liberation anthem, and the rumor is that Gaye’s infatuation (17-year old Janis Hunter, who would become his wife in 1977) was actually in the studio when he recorded the main vocal track.
It sure sounds like it.
Those lilting wah-wah-pedal notes at the beginning sound just like what I imagine sex would sound like if it was a melody. The beat kicks in and it is sparse, making way for the star of the song: The Voice.
Understand him, sugar: Gaye’s vocal delivery isn’t so much asking for permission as it is assuring the girl that when he makes love to her, everything will be alright with the world.
The melody is like jazz; slightly different cadences and soulful phrasing built around a simple melodic theme. The chorus is understated. The song demands repeat listens and rewards every single time. Is it possible to get sick of this tune? I don’t think so. Replay it here as often as you like and listen to all the subtle differences in each verse/chorus combination.
A new generation of kids were probably turned onto the song when Jack Black sang it in “High Fidelity” (which wasn’t altogther too bad an effort, honestly, for high camp value). If you’re one of them, it’s time to check out The Master.
“Let’s Get It On” became one of Gaye’s most successful singles, reaching number one on the Billboard Pop Singles chart on September 8, 1973. The single remained at there for two weeks, while also staying atop of the Billboard Soul Singles chart for eight weeks.
The Great Songs Series so far: