Marvin Gaye

Trouble Man

Song Review by

Though it was designed to function as the theme to a black action film, "Trouble Man" is of such high quality that many soul fans consider it to be one of Marvin Gaye's finest recordings. The lyrics are the autobiographical chronicle of man who has "come up hard" but has developed the kind of cool mindset necessary to make it on the mean streets. His philosophy is summed up by the couplet "There's only three things that's for sure/Taxes, death, and trouble." Although these lyrics fit the iconography of a blaxploitation film hero they were just as applicable to Gaye's troubled life, which veered back and forth between life-affirming artistry and life-threatening temptations. The music distills the cool feel of the lyrics by avoiding a conventional verse/chorus structure in favor of a jazzy melody that occasionally speeds up for scat-styled sections but otherwise grooves along in a sultry, hypnotic style. Marvin Gaye's recording of "Trouble Man" plays up the song's seductive quality with a subtle but mesmerizing arrangement that is equal parts jazz and psychedelia: after a few jazzy but hard-hitting drum rolls, a sparse backing consisting of chilly strings, a staccato two-note piano line, and periodic bursts of swinging horns is introduced. Gaye lays down a stunning vocal over the top, capturing the mixture of self-detached cool and anger in the lyrics with a performance that switches back and forth between a creamy falsetto and a gospel growl. The result fulfilled the needs of a film theme but had enough originality and artistry to stand on its own merits. As a result, "Trouble Man" became a major crossover hit for Gaye, becoming a Top Five hit on the R&B charts and a Top Ten hit on the pop charts. It remains a favorite with Marvin Gaye fans and soundtrack aficionados today thanks to its combination of stunning vocals and a moody melody.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Trouble Man [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 1972 Motown 3:48
Anthology [1974] 1974 Motown 3:46
No Image 1981 Tamla 3:50
Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits 1981 Motown 3:51
Every Great Motown Hit of Marvin Gaye 1983 Motown 3:51
Compact Command Performances: 15 Greatest Hits 1984 Motown 3:50
No Image 1987
Various Artists
The Marvin Gaye Collection 1990 Motown 3:51
Trouble Man/M.P.G. 1990 Motown 3:49
Sounds of the Seventies: 1973 - Take Two 1991
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:50
Pimps, Players & Private Eyes 1992
Various Artists
Sire 3:48
Motown Legends: Mercy Mercy Me 1993 Universal Special Products / Motown 3:48
Anthology: The Best of Marvin Gaye 1995 Motown 3:49
Se7en [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 1995
Various Artists
TVT 3:50
Classics Collection 1995 Motown 3:49
Movie Killers 1996
Various Artists
Forever Yours 1997 DTS Entertainment / Digital Sound 4:13
Super Bad on Celluloid 1998
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:51
Badmuthas: 18 Original Black Movie Hits 1998
Various Artists
MCI 3:51
Blaxploitation: The Payback, Vol. 3 1998
Various Artists
Global 3:49
Essential Soundtracks 1999
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 3:49
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Marvin Gaye, Vol. 2 2000 Motown 3:51
Universal Masters Collection 2000 Universal 3:48
The Very Best of Marvin Gaye [Motown 2001] 2001 UTV / Motown 3:51
Superbad!: The Soul of the City 2002
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:52
Free Soul: The Classics of Marvin Gaye 2002 Motown 4:18
The Marvin Gaye Collection [2003] 2003 Motown 3:15
Ultimate Collection 2004 Universal International 3:49
Gold: Greatest Hits [Universal Canada] 2004 Universal Distribution / Universal International 3:50
Paul Gambaccini Collection 2004 Universal International 3:50
Sexual Healing: The Love Collection 2004 Madacy 3:48
Greatest Collection 2004 Platinum Disc 3:48
Icons 2004 Motown 3:49
Gold 2005 Motown 3:51
Four Brothers [Original Soundtrack] 2005
Original Soundtrack
Motown 3:49
Soul Brothers: Isaac Hayes/Barry White/Marvin Gaye 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 3:48
Artist's Choice: Joni Mitchell 2005 Hear Music 3:50
Motown Made to Measure [Martin Freeman] 2006
Various Artists
Universal International 3:48
Love Collection 2006 Universal International 3:48
Soul Legends 2006 MSI Music Distribution / Universal International 3:51
Colour Collection 2007 Universal Distribution 3:47
Marvin Gaye for Lovers 2008 Q Records
Playlist Plus 2008 Motown 3:50
Favorites 2008 Universal Distribution 3:48
The Masters Collection 2008 Spectrum Music 3:48
The Complete Collection 2008 Motown / Universal 3:48
Icon 2 2010 Motown 3:50
5 Classic Albums 2012 Motown 6:36
The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 12B: 1972 2013
Various Artists
Universal 3:58
Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2014 Hollywood 3:49
I Heard It Through the Grapevine Universal / Fontana / Hip-O / Spectrum Music 3:48
No Image
Various Artists
Universal 3:49