Graced with an extraordinary voice, complex personality, musical genius, and a backstory worthy of a Hollywood movie, Marvin Gaye wasn't your average soul singer. Born in Washington on the 2nd of April in 1939, the now legendary singer began his career singing at church at the age of four, accompanied by his father on piano. Marvin's mother was a supportive figure who encouraged her son to pursue music, and once he got to high school, he joined various doo-wop groups. By contrast, Marvin's father was a violent man who would regularly beat his son, and this pushed Marvin to join the U.S air force once he had completed his schooling. He quickly became disillusioned with the forces however, and faked madness in order to be discharged. Back in Washington, Marvin Gaye started the Marquees with his best friend, Reese Palmer. The band made quite a buzz, and found itself working with Bo Diddley, who managed to secure them a contract at OKeh records, a sub-division of Columbia.
Around the same time, Marvin Gaye began writing music but, in order to pay the rent, took a job washing dishes in a restaurant. His path crossed with that of Harvey Fuqua, co-founder of the Moonglows, who signed the otherwise rudderless Marquees. Subsequently, they became Harvey & the Moonglows, and moved to Chicago, where they recorded a number of tracks for the label Chess. At this time, Marvin sings his first lead on a track, and attracts a number of plaudits, including Chuck Berry.
In 1960, the group splits up and Marvin Gaye heads to Detroit with Fuqua, who was working with Gwen Gordy for Anna Records. For this label, Marvin worked a lot of different jobs, from concierge to handyman. Everything changes in 1960 however, around Christmas, when Marvin gets the opportunity to sing for Berry Gordy, the owner and manager of Motown. The producer, very impressed, buys Marvin out from Fuqua and signs him to Tamla Records, a sub-division of Motown. Initially though, Gaye's first job is to play the drums for the Marvelettes, the Miracles, and Little Stevie Wonder. With hindsight, this situation seems all the more comical now, when you know that Gaye never even intended on becoming a rhythm'n'blues singer, if anything, he was more into jazz. Influenced by artists like Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, Gaye would rather have been playing crooners than shaking things up on stage.
His real beginnings are in the summer of 1961, when he released The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye. But despite this first album, Gaye was still playing drums for the Miracles and Jimmy Reed to pay rent. The next year, he co-wrote Beechwood 4-5789 for the Marvelettes and got his first hit, Stubborn Kind of Fellow. Still in 1962, Hitch Hike was also a success. In 1964, he recorded duets with Mary Wells, that appeared on the album Together. In keeping with Motown's approach, Gaye - despite establishing himself as an artist in his own right - still found himself holding down more than one job at the label, most notably contributing drums and vocals for Dancing In the Street by Martha & The Vandellas.
In his continued ascent, Gaye wrote more singles that landed in the Top 10, including How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), I'll Be Doggone, and Ain't That Peculiar. At the end of 1966, he recorded a new duet, this time with Kim Weston, called It Takes Two. The year 1967 marks another change in his career, thanks to his first collaboration with Tammi Terrell. The duo go on to record one hit after another together (Ain't no Mountain High Enough, Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, You're All I Need to Get By) but in the autumn of that same year, Terrell collapses in the middle of a concert. At the hospital, she's diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite her illness and not appearing on stage anymore, the singer remains committed to recording. This situation leaves Gaye absolutely devastated, but in October 1968, he still manages to produce one of his best: I Heard It Through The Grapevine. His first number 1 in the charts at home and abroad! This success doesn't make him much happier however, as he still sees himself as Berry Gordy's puppet.
On the 6th of March 1970, Tammi Terrell passes away. Gaye immediately leaves the music business and enters into a period of deep depression. He starts a career in professional football and signs a contract with the Detroit Loins, before returning to music in June 1970. In the 70s America was facing some of its ugliest demons, both inside (segregation) and out (Vietnam), which sets the scene for Gaye's considered soul record. The charged prose of What's Going On brings Motown out of its comfortable reverie, and sets it face to face with reality. Only Gaye could combine groove and political comment with such panache. The intelligently balanced yet sweeping soundscape, combining rhythm and chorus with political message, was seen as a potential problem by Berry Gordy, as it flew in the face of Motown's (almost overly) positive image. Through What's Going On, Gaye forced Berry to confront the realities of the Vietnam war, racial tensions, and the ruin of American cities. As such, it immediately won a whole host of different prizes, and for the first time a record had been produced differently at Motown, without Berry's total control. Gaye signs another contract with the label, but this time for a million dollars, the largest for any black artist at the time.
His next record is far less politicised and much more groovy, focusing on the overtly sexual and sensual. With What's Going On, Gaye plunged Motown into the real world, but Let's Get It On in 1973 harks back to the older focus on feeling. His beautiful lover's voice attains the heights of eroticism and, paired with some popping horns and a discreet choir of violins, reaches the summit of soul.
Despite having sworn to never take to the stage after the death of Tammii Terrell, the singer caves in to pressure from friends and fans alike, in 1974. That same year, he signs with Diana Ross for what will be his last album of duets: Diana & Marvin. These continued successes are what allow Gaye to set up his own recording studio, and the release of I Want You in 1976 says it all. Dedicated to his (future) second wife, I Want You is funky, obsessive, and bewitching, combining hot brass with disco and soul.
In the summer of 1976, Gaye embarks on a live tour, which takes him to London, where the infamous Live At The London Palladium was recorded in 1977. Then in 1978 he publishes Here, My Dear, which is inspired by his disastrous marriage to Anna Gordy and serves in part to pay for the legal fallout from it. It's around this time that he starts flirting with much more dangerous lover: drugs. Then, after a bad encounter with the fiscal authorities in the States, Gaye relocates to London (partly to avoid paying the $4.5 million he owes!). All the while, Motown goes ahead and publishes some unfinished tracks from a far from finished album Gaye had been working on previously. After this disaster, he swears to never again record for Gordy or his affiliates.
In early 1981,Gaye moves to Ostende, Belgium, where he gradually weans himself off drugs and earns some confidence by singing at a local church. He reappears next on stage in London and in Belgium in the summer, before signing a contract with Motown and CBS the next year. While the financials of the deal remain secret, the album is flown to the top of the charts thanks to the incredible single Sexual Healing, which appears in 1982. This album is conscientiously and beautifully produced, rejecting any of the vulgarity that 80s funk might have had. Here, everything oozes class, and oozes Marvin. On the 18 of April 1983, he begins his last tour in San Diego, California, until August of the same year. Exhausted, Gaye then decides to take refuge in his parents' house in LA for a long break.
On the first of April 1984, at around 11 o'clock in the morning, Marvin Gaye is shot twice by his father over some insignificant squabble about misplaced papers. The singer dies on the eve of his 45th birthday. Over 10,000 people attend his funeral.
© MZ (traduit par RK)
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