Marvin Gaye was one of the most influential singers and songwriters in the 1960s, largely due to the role he played in creating the sound for which Motown became popular. While he was a gifted musician in his own right, his performance on songs such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You” is ingrained into the style of R&B and soul singers who came out of Motown during his time.
Gaye did not simply perform on his own, but with many of his contemporaries as well. He started as a member of a vocal quartet called the Marquees, followed by Harvey Fuqua and the New Moonglows, and he later played drums for groups such as the Marvelettes, as well as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. He also composed songs for these groups, as well as for himself. It was a two-way relationship, with Smokey Robinson writing songs for Marvin Gaye as well, including “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar.” Robinson has since noted that Gaye, whose vocal influences ranged from gospel to pop, jazz, and gutbucket blues, was always able to sing Robinson’s songs in his own style.
Marvin Gaye released ten studio albums prior to 1971, but one of the defining albums of his career was his eleventh, a concept album entitled What’s Going On. It was a song cycle of nine different tracks, each written from the perspective of a Vietnam vet who is dismayed to see the state of America upon his return. The album is still seen as one of the landmark albums of the soul genre to this day, and received both commercial and critical acclaim at the time of its release. Not only did it showcase Gaye’s voice, but also his ability to produce his own records and to write deep, meaningful, and socially conscious lyrics.
He was also known for his sex appeal, which was largely perpetuated by the release of his 1973 album Let’s Get It On. At that point, he was beginning to move away from the sound that he had popularized while working with Motown, and he was starting to mix smooth soul and funk. He also made use of a style known as “quiet storm,” known for slow jams that incorporated soul and R&B. the album was known for the songs “You Sure Love to Ball” and “Come Get to This,” but the most famous single off the album was the title track, “Let’s Get It On.” To this day, the song is still used in film and television to indicate sex appeal.
Marvin Gaye released his last studio album, Midnight Love, in 1982. It furthered his sex appeal with the song “Sexual Healing,” and the album received triple platinum certification in the United States. After his death in 1984, his music continued to influence other artists. He is remembered for his contributions to the genres of soul, funk and R&B, as well as for his vocal range of three octaves.
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