Marvin Gaye

What's Going On

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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
No Image 1972 Motown
Anthology [1974] 1974 Motown 3:49
No Image 1976 Motown
What's Going On/Let's Get It On 1980 Motown 3:52
No Image 1981 Tamla 3:52
The Big Chill [Original Soundtrack] 1983
Original Soundtrack
Motown 0:00
Compact Command Performances: 15 Greatest Hits 1984 Motown 3:52
No Image 1985
Various Artists
MGM
No Image 1986
Various Artists
Pioneer
Sounds of the Seventies: 1971 1989
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 3:47
No Image 1990 Motown 3:52
Great Songs & Performances That Inspired the Motown 25th Anniversary 1990 Motown 3:49
Rhythm & Blues: 1971 1991
Various Artists
Time / Life Music
Hitsville USA - The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 1992
Various Artists
Motown 3:56
Soul Inspiration 1994
Various Artists
3:57
The Master 1961-1984 1995 Motown 3:49
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 Recordings
The Very Best of Marvin Gaye 1997 Motown / PolyGram 3:51
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
Selection of Marvin Gaye: The Man, The Music, The Legend 1998 Golden Sounds 3:58
No Image 1998
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Time / Life Music 3:54
Our Friend Martin 1999
Original Soundtrack
Motown 3:49
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 3:51
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Marvin Gaye, Vol. 2 2000 Motown 3:54
Entertainment Weekly: The Greatest Hits 1971 2000
Various Artists
Buddha Records 3:53
Universal Masters Collection 2000 Universal 3:51
The Evolution of Soul 2000
Various Artists
Collectables 3:49
The 70's [Original TV Soundtrack] 2000
Original TV Soundtrack
Island / Polygram 3:52
Soul Train: The Dance Years 1971 2000
Various Artists
Rhino 3:56
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection: Best of the '70s 2000
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:57
Motown: The Classic Years 2000
Various Artists
Motown 3:54
Radio's Greatest Hits: The '70s 2000
Various Artists
Trans World 3:51
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 UTV / Motown 3:52
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
Pure Soul Power 2001
Various Artists
UTV / Uptown / Universal 3:51
No Image 2001
Various Artists
Buddha Records 3:53
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: Motown 1970s, Vol. 2 2001
Various Artists
Motown 3:53
The Marvin Gaye Collection, Vol. 1 2001 Dressed To Kill 3:51
Mastercuts: Early Hours 2002
Various Artists
Mastercuts 3:50
Free Soul: The Classics of Marvin Gaye 2002 Motown 3:46
Peace Protest: 20 Sixties Classics 2003
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 3:50
Soul 70's: What's Going On 2003
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 3:52
The Marvin Gaye Collection [2003] 2003 Motown 3:16
Seventies Soul Sensations 2003
Various Artists
Dominion Entertainment 3:08
Motown Greatest Hits 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 3:51
Ultimate Collection 2004 Universal International 3:52
Time 100: Music of Our Lives 1960-1980 2004
Various Artists
WEA International 3:48
Motown Number 1's 2004
Various Artists
Motown / UTV 3:52
Gold: Greatest Hits [Universal Canada] 2004 Universal Distribution / Universal International 3:52
Back 2 Back 2004 Masters / Double Play Records 4:08
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
Icons 2004 Motown 3:52
Gold 2005 Motown 3:52
Motown Classics: Gold 2005
Various Artists
Motown 3:54
'70s: Gold 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 3:53
Motown Story [2006] 2006
Various Artists
Motown 3:48
Express Yourself: Soul In The 20th Century 2006
Various Artists
Universal / Um3 3:54
Motown Classics 2006
Various Artists
Drew's Famous 0:00
Number 1's 2007 Motown 3:53
20TH Century Masters: Chfi-FM 50 Years [Universal] 2007
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 3:54
Black Music History Hits 2008
Various Artists
Chron Reissues 3:53
Playlist Plus 2008 Motown 3:54
Favorites 2008 Universal Distribution 3:53
The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11A: 1971 2008
Various Artists
Hip-o Select 3:55
Motown 50 2008
Various Artists
Universal 3:55
Motown: The Complete #1s 2008
Various Artists
Motown 3:54
Motown 50 [International Version 2] 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 3:53
Now That's What I Call Motown! 2009
Various Artists
Motown 3:53
Motown 50 Fanthology 2009
Various Artists
Motown 3:50
Soul Legends 2009
Various Artists
Madacy 4:00
Rarities Edition: What's Going On 2010 Motown 5:42
Love Marvin: The Greatest Love Songs Of Marvin Gaye 2010 Island / Motown / Universal Music TV 3:53
Total Motown 2010
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 3:55
Icon 2 2010 Motown 3:54
5 Classic Albums 2012 Motown 4:51
Soul: Save the Last Dance for Me 2012
Various Artists
Bellevue Publishing 4:01
Motown the Musical: Originals – The Classic Songs That Inspired the Broadway Show 2013
Various Artists
Island / Motown 3:54
Best of Marvin Gaye 2013 Motown 3:58
Motown the Musical: 100 Originals 2013
Various Artists
Cobalt Helladisc / Universal Music 3:53
No Image 2014
Various Artists
Universal 3:52
What's Going On [Single] 2016 Island / Motown
The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick - The Soundtrack 2017
Various Artists
Universal 3:53
Higher Ground: Happy Birthday Marvin Gaye Mix 2019 Motown / Universal 3:48
Hitsville: The Making of Motown 2019
Various Artists
Motown 3:53
The Apollo [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2019
Various Artists
Universal 3:40
***** ***
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
70s Hits [2020]
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
70s Mix [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Best Bass Guitar Riffs
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Best of 70's [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Black Music Month Playlist
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Classic Soul [2019]
Various Artists
Universal 3:55
Concept Albums
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Dinner Party Summer
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Election 2020
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Fight the Power [2019]
Various Artists
UMG Recordings Inc. 3:17
Funk and Soul
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Good Music Only
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Greatest Album Covers
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Groovy Baby
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Hits From the Past
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
I Heard It Through the Grapevine Universal / Fontana / Hip-O / Spectrum Music 3:51
Icon: Motown Classics, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Motown 3:51
Inclusion Is Universal: Black Music Month
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Kitchen Music
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Legends of Pop
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
No Image
Various Artists
Universal Music 3:54
Motown Greatest Hits [2019]
Various Artists
Universal
Motown for Drivin'
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Motown the Musical: 40 Classic Songs That Inspired the Musical!
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Music Icons
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Music for Change
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
NOW Soul Classics
Various Artists
Universal 3:53
Old But Gold 70's
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Peace, Love & Music
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Protest Anthems
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Protest Songs
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
R&B Soul
Various Artists
Universal 3:46
Self Isolation Vibes
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Songs Everyone Knows
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Soul Classics [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Soul Essentials [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
Soul Hits [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Soul and Rhythm Classics
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
No Image
Various Artists
Allegro
Stars of the 70s
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
The Best of Marvin Gaye: Green Series Strategic Marketing 3:53
The Motown Story
Various Artists
Universal 3:48
The Roots of Motown
Various Artists
Universal / Universal Music / Universal Music Canada 3:51
The Seventies [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal 3:54
The Very Best of Soul
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Use Your Voice
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
Use Your Voice: Vote by Mail
Various Artists
Universal 3:51
No Image Motown / Universal 5:41