Malcolm, I like your point about how Marvin was able to simplify the “madness” in his life and spread a message that had become clear to him. I believe that those moments of clarity are fundamental to creating any great work and that is what allows for this album to be a timeless classic, as you describe it. Also as you noted, often times you have to fight for what you know to be true and Marvin gave us a concrete example of that through his work on Whats Going On? On a side note, watch out for spelling and word choice. In places I had to kind of fill in the blanks with what you were saying. I make the same mistakes, as most of us do. Just something to watch out for!
Prior to creating the iconic album, What’s Going On? Marvin Gaye spent much of his time touring and in the studio playing soulful jazz music. Marvin’s constant time away from home led to relationship problems with his wife, Anna. Undoubtedly this influenced Marvin’s soulful style and impacted how he performed his music. He also performed with Tammi Terrell leading up to What’s Going On and had established a connection with a young audience through Motown. At the time What’s Going On was released there was heavy tension throughout the country over issues of race, war, peace, and love. Amidst sorrowfully pondering the Vietnam war stories of his brother Frankie, Marvin collaborated with Four Tops member Obie Benson, who was observing police brutality in San Francisco and wondered what was happening to America. Marvin wanted to spread a message of love and, inspired by Obie, raised the question “What’s going on [with our society]?”. After the creation of What’s Going On? Marvin was stoked and so was Anna. This helped to resolve their relationship problems, but there was a bigger obstacle in the way of the album. Anna was the sister of record executive Berry Gordy. Berry wanted to market socially acceptable records and avoid any kind of controversy. Motown productions were prototypically aimed at the middle of the road to be uncontroversial and accepted by a large audience. “Protest songs” did not fit that prototype. Since What’s Going On was inspired by controversy and could be perceived as controversial for the times Gordy despised the album and intended to keep it unreleased. Anna firmly supported the Marvin and the album and this positive support towards a product that her brother was determined to see fail did not help get the album released. Additionally, the album was recorded and produced by means that were not typical of Motown records. For example, the saxophone intro was recorded while session player Eli Fontaine was “warming up”, unaware that the session had already begun. When he announced that he was ready to begin Gaye told him that they had what they needed and he could go home. This sort of innovation was not what the executives wanted to gamble on. It paid off though and when What’s Going On? was finally released behind Berry Gordy’s back it sold over 100,000 copies. Marvin personally delivered the news. Dedication to conviction is a huge point to learn from Marvin Gaye. Through What’s Going On? he displays how an artist can be successful and innovative while staying true to what they believe. These are the kind of values that professionals in the music industry must cling to in order to stay relevant in our society. I have always enjoyed the single, “What’s Going On?” but was actually a little bit disappointed with the rest of the album. I felt like he was reaching for something on some of the other tracks that didn’t quite come through to me. Perhaps this was just a first impression type response to the music but I felt like “What’s Going On?” stood apart and that the rest of the album couldn’t quite match it’s impact.
Brian Eno is a creative man. Creativity typically comes from some form of inspiration separate from the creative person. In Brian Eno’s case he has all sorts of inspirational influences. At its root it could be said that Brian Eno is primarily influenced by electricity. He began his career with Roxy Music playing keyboards and synthesizers. Synthesis in general is another word that can describe Brian Eno’s work. He consistently strives to find new and interesting ways to put things together. In addition to using electricity to put together sounds he was also influenced by more organic forms of music. A simple harp playing softly helped him come up with his ambient sound styles, displaying the profound influence that strings have had on him as a musician. The contrast between electronics on classical string arrangements can be heard throughout his body of work. For example, Roxy Music is heavily electronically driven, which Eno was highly responsible for. The style of Roxy Music can be described as upbeat, gleeful, and goofy, particularly in the vocals. It sounds like those musicians were just having a lot of fun. However, when listening to projects like U2’s Joshua Tree, there are more passionate emotions at work. While Eno was not part of U2 his influence is still present in the electronic ambience, and it is clear that he took a more serious approach to U2’s music. Perhaps he realized that while Roxy Music was fun, there were other ways to produce music to achieve different results. On the opposite end of Eno’s work there is the ambient sounds of Music for Airports. This is one example of how Eno’s music differs from other musicians. He made music that can be listened to for an indefinite amount of time without apparently repeating itself. Roxy Music is an example of his artfully fun attitude which has a distinct sound and characteristic to it. The first time I heard Roxy Music I thought, “What is this…? This is strange.” I didn’t really want to like it initially because of how strange it sounded to me, but after a few listens I came to enjoy it and understand it a little better, although I think it could take a lifetime to really comprehend what is going on there. Roxy Music for fun; U2 for popular social impact; Music for Airports for airports- those are the impressions that I get from Eno’s music. Each one has its purpose, between entertainment, business, society, and creativity, which everyone in the industry can take notes on.