Marvin Gaye

What's Going On

Composed by Al Cleveland / Marvin Gaye / Renaldo Benson

Song Review by

By the '70s, Motown artist Marvin Gaye was bored with "the Sound of Young America." When he wanted to go more in the direction of message music, label founder Berry Gordy wasn't pleased. It didn't help matters that Gaye had a reputation around the label of being "difficult," making him somewhat of a pariah among the talent pool. One of the key tracks for Gaye's new musical path was a song that was co-written by Four Tops member Renaldo Benson and Motown staff songwriter Al Cleveland. As Gaye worked on the song that would become "What's Going On," he angrily reflected on the stories told to him by his brother Frankie Gaye who was a Vietnam vet. The melancholy alto sax line was blown by Eli Fountain and, like the song itself, it seemed as a kind of aligned signal that the upbeat '60s were giving way to the more pessimistic '70s. When Gaye delivered the complete version of "What's Going On" to Motown, some executives thought it sounded like a radio that wasn't tuned well; to them it sounded like two records playing at once. Issued on January 20, 1971, "What's Going On" waited at number one R&B for five weeks and number two pop for three weeks in early 1971. Its flip side was the gorgeous ballad "God Is Love," which appeared in truncated form on the What's Going On album.

The What's Going On LP entered the R&B charts in the Top Five and held down the top spot for nine weeks before peaking at number six pop, going gold, and spawning three number one R&B/Top Ten pop singles: the title track, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," and "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)." Though Gaye had covertly dipped into message music before (he wrote Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancin' in the Streets"), his triumph was influential on his Motown labelmate Stevie Wonder, who'd just turned 21 around the same year and was beginning to feel his own sense of independence.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
What's Going On 1971 Motown 3:53
Live! 1974 Motown 4:49
Anthology [1974] 1974 Motown 3:49
What's Going On/Let's Get It On 1980 Motown 3:52
Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits 1981 Motown 3:53
The Big Chill [Original Soundtrack] 1983
Original Soundtrack
Hip-O 3:54
No Image 1984
Various Artists
Motown
Sounds of the Seventies: 1971 1989
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:47
The Marvin Gaye Collection 1990 Motown
No Image 1990
Various Artists
Motown
Greatest Hits Live 1990 Intercontinental Records 3:45
Greatest Hits Live [Video] 1991 Sony Music Distribution
Rhythm & Blues: 1971 1991
Various Artists
Time/Life Music
Hitsville USA - The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 1992
Various Artists
Motown 3:56
Summer in the City, Vol. 2 1993
Various Artists
Columbia 3:49
Sacred Sources, Vol. 1: Live Forever 1994
Various Artists
Cohiba
The Master 1961-1984 1995 Motown 3:52
Anthology: The Best of Marvin Gaye 1995 Motown 3:58
Cruzin' to Motown 1995
Various Artists
Thump Records 3:53
Walking Dead 1995
Various Artists
Motown 3:52
The Man, The Music, The Legend 1996 Arts International
Live [Newsound] 1996 Newsound 4:00
In Concert [Public Music] 1997 Public Music 4:02
The Very Best of Marvin Gaye 1997 Universal International 3:49
Forever Yours 1997 DTS Entertainment / Digital Sound 3:52
No Image 1997 Columbia River Entertainment Group 2:37
Motown 40 Forever 1998
Various Artists
Motown 3:42
The Jazz Singers 1919-1994 1998
Various Artists
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 3:47
Great Marvin Gaye: Live 1998 AdD / Goldies 4:00
In Concert [Mastertone] 1998 Mastertone 4:04
Sounds of the Seventies: '70s Gold 1998
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Time/Life Music 3:54
Our Friend Martin 1999
Original Soundtrack
Motown 3:50
Smooth Soul Grooves 1999
Various Artists
Jazz FM
Marvin Is 60: A Tribute Album 1999
Various Artists
Motown 3:51
No Image 1999 Motown 3:54
No Image 1999 Excelsior Recordings 3:57
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Marvin Gaye, Vol. 2 2000 Motown / Uptown/Universal 3:54
Entertainment Weekly: The Greatest Hits 1971 2000
Various Artists
Buddha Records 3:53
Universal Masters Collection 2000 Motown
The Evolution of Soul 2000
Various Artists
Collectables 3:49
The 70's [Original TV Soundtrack] 2000
Original TV Soundtrack
Island / Polygram 3:52
The Final Concert 2000 The Right Stuff 4:00
Number One Motown 2000
Various Artists
Polygram 3:41
Live: The Real Thing 2000 Edeltone 3:59
Motown: The Classic Years 2000
Various Artists
Motown 3:54
The Sexual Healer 2000 METRODOME 4:00
Music Men 2000
Various Artists
WEA
Sexual Healing [St. Clair] 2000 Music Digital 4:00
Live in Concert [Town Sound/South Park] 2001 Park South Records / Town Sound/South Park 3:58
Back to Black: 1900-1999 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 3:43
Vietnam: Songs from the Divided House 2001
Various Artists
Q Records 3:48
Mega Groove 2001
Various Artists
Wagram Records 2:37
I Heard It Through the Grapevine [Columbia River 2001] 2001 Columbia River Entertainment Group 4:02
The Very Best of Marvin Gaye [Motown 2001] 2001 Universal International 3:52
Final Concert [Planet Media] 2001 Planet 4:01
Funked!, Vol. 1: 1970-1973 2001
Various Artists
Universal Distribution / Debutante 3:48
Rock N Roll Classics [Columbia River] 2001
Various Artists
Columbia River Entertainment Group 4:02
Say It Loud! A Celebration of Black Music in America [Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 3:56
On Tour 2001 Town Sound 3:58
Entertainment Weekly: The Greatest Hits 1970-1974 2001
Various Artists
Buddha Records 3:53
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: Motown 1970s, Vol. 2 2001
Various Artists
Motown 3:53
The Legends Collection 2001 Dressed To Kill 3:51
The Marvin Gaye Collection, Vol. 1 2001 Dressed To Kill 3:51
The Sound of Motortown Detroit 2002
Various Artists
Goldies 4:02
Performance 2002 Goldenlane 3:58
No Image 2002
Various Artists
Brunswick / Universal 4:06
Mastercuts: Early Hours 2002
Various Artists
Mastercuts
Black & Proud 2002
Various Artists
Golden Stars 4:04
Free Soul: The Classics of Marvin Gaye 2002 Motown 3:46
Forever Gold: R&B Ballads 2002
Various Artists
St. Clair 4:01
Rocking After Midnight: The Last Concert 2003 Dynamic 4:01
Live in Montreux 1980 2003 Eagle Records 9:42
Live in Montreux 1980 [Video] 2003 Eagle Vision 9:42
Soul 70's: What's Going On 2003
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:52
Greatest Hits Live [Delta] 2003 Laserlight 3:57
The Marvin Gaye Collection [2003] 2003 Motown
Seventies Soul Sensations 2003
Various Artists
Dominion Entertainment 3:08
WCBS FM: Motown, Soul and Rock N Roll: Motown 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 3:55
No Image 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music TV
Motown Greatest Hits 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:51
Soul Ballads, Vol. 2 [St. Clair] 2003
Various Artists
St. Clair 4:01
Seventies [Goldies Box Set] 2004
Various Artists
Goldies 4:04
Essential 70's [Universal] 2004
Various Artists
Universal International 3:54
The Concert Anthology 2004 Cleopatra / Goldenlane 3:58
Ultimate Collection 2004 Universal International 3:52
Music Legends: Marvin Gaye in Concert 2004 Synergie 3:59
The Best of Marvin Gaye [Motown 2001] 2004 Universal Distribution / Motown / Um3 / Universal 3:52
Motown Number 1's 2004
Various Artists
Motown 3:52
Back 2 Back 2004 Masters / Double Play Records 4:08
Greatest Hits/Rockin' After Midnight 2004 Laserlight 3:57
Steal This Record: A Collection of Songs of Protest 2004
Various Artists
Koch 3:50
Best Of Soul [Madacy Box Set] 2004
Various Artists
Madacy 3:52
Capital Gold Soul Classics 2004
Various Artists
Universal Music TV
Let's Get It On [Pazzazz Collection] 2004 Pazzazz 4:01
The Best of: R&B Ballads 2004
Various Artists
St. Clair 4:00
Let's Get It On: Live 2004 Mojo Music (Independent) 3:58
Gold 2005 Motown 3:52
Simply the Best Singers 2005
Various Artists
WEA/Warner
Soul 2 Soul 2005
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:00
What's Going On [Pazzazz Collection] 2005 Pazzazz 4:01
Marvin Gaye Live 2005 Direct Source 4:00
Soul Deep: The Story of Black Popular Music 2005
Various Artists
Um3 3:50
Dancing in the Streets: Motowns Greatest Hits 2005
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:58
Chronicles 2005 Motown 3:53
Very Best of FM Lovearth 2005 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Ultimate Easy Album 2005
Various Artists
Sony BMG 3:49
Joy 2005
Joy
Yeaah! Records
The Essential Marvin Gaye [Mastercuts] 2005 Mastercuts 3:58
A Celebration of Black Music 2005
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:01
Absolute Soul Classics 2005
Various Artists
Eva 3:49
20th Century Masters: Best of Soul, Vol. 2 2006
Various Artists
Universal International 3:52
R&B Soul Lovers 2006
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:00
Voices of Motown 2006
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Golden Legends: Marvin Gaye Live 2006 Madacy 4:00
Express Yourself: Soul In The 20th Century 2006
Various Artists
Universal / Um3 3:54
Legend, Live and Forever 2006 Lightyear 4:00
The Real Thing: In Performance 1964-1981 [Motown DVD] 2006 Motown / Universal
Love Collection 2006 Universal International 3:49
Bits & Pieces About Marvin Gaye 2006 Delta Distribution 3:56
Soul Legends [Direct Source] 2006
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:01
Soul Legends 2006 Universal Distribution
Best of Marvin Gaye: Live [Direct Source] 2006 Direct Source 4:01
18 Greatest: Marvin Gaye Live 2006 Direct Source 4:01
Rock N Roll of the 70s 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 3:57
Dance Freak Discotheque@genius Tokyo 2006
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Soul Immortal 2006 American Legends 3:59
No Image 2006 CD Horizon
Get Your Groove on: 70s Smooth Soul 2006
Various Artists
St. Clair 4:00
Forever Soul R&B 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 3:59
The Real Thing: In Performance 1964-1981 [DVD/CD] 2006 Universal Distribution
Superstars of Black Music 2007
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:01
Number 1's 2007 Motown 3:53
Los Grandes del Soul 2007
Various Artists
Contrasena 3:50
70's #1 Hits 2007
Various Artists
Direct Source 4:00
Club Pineta: 50th Anniversary Edition 2007
Various Artists
Ritmica
Live! [Bayberry] 2007 Bayberry Records 4:01
The Essential Collection [The Exclusives] 2007 The Exclusives 4:02
Prime 17: Ultimate Soul #1 Hits 2007
Various Artists
Direct Source 3:52
Marvin Gaye [Madacy] 2007 Madacy 4:00
Very Best of Marvin Gaye/Montreux 1980 2007 Universal Distribution
R&B Soul: Live 2007 Direct Source 4:00
Marvin Gaye [St. Clair] 2007 St. Clair 4:00
50 2007
50
Universal 3:52
Flower Power [Time Life Box] 2007
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:54
No Image 2007
Various Artists
Daily Star Sunday
Sexual Healing, Disc 2 2007
Various Artists
St. Clair 4:00
Best of Motown, Vol. 1 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 3:51
Music of Your Life: Best of Marvin Gaye 2008 Diamond Recordings 4:01
Black Music History Hits 2008
Various Artists
Chron Reissues 3:53
Marvin Gaye for Lovers 2008 Q Records 4:55
The 70s Collection 2008
Various Artists
Brunswick 3:52
Lifestyle2: Acoustic Songs, Vol. 1 2008
Various Artists
Universal International 3:50
Favorites 2008 Universal Distribution 3:53
Playlist Your Way 2008 Motown 3:55
The Ultimate Live Collection 2008 Goldenlane 3:58
Great Seventies Collection 2008
Various Artists
Red X
Flower Power: California Dreamin' 2008
Variuos Artists
Time/Life Music 3:53
The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11A: 1971 2008
Various Artists
Hip-o Select 3:55
Motown 50 Fanthology 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:53
The Masters Collection 2008 Spectrum Music 3:53
Tour of Duty: Top 100 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:54
Now That's What I Call Motown! 2009
Various Artists
Motown 3:53
K-Tel Presents: Super Bad 2009
Various Artists
Micro Werks / Micro Werks/K-Tel 3:58
Motown 50 Fanthology 2009
Various Artists
Motown 3:50
Motortown Review 2009
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:57
No Image 2009
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:52
I Heard It Through the Grapevine Spectrum Music 3:51
No Image Phantom
North American Tour Legacy 3:59
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