Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Let's Get It On - An Appreciation

This appreciation originally appeared on Facebook in the King Tut Vintage Album and Cassette Museum of Jacksonville blog, curated by David Roberts. I have known Mr. Roberts for going on 30 years and he was kind enough to tab me to pen this retrospective of Marvin Gaye's LET'S GET IT ON. The concept of his blog is that the "Museum" houses only LPs released from about 1964 to 1986 and each "delivery" to the Museum gets a reflection by the Curator, King Tut, or in my case, a guest curator.

MARVIN GAYE - LET’S GET IT ON. Released on Tamla Records, August 28 1973. Produced by Marvin Gaye & Ed Townsend. Imagine Berry Gordy is in his Motown office 1971 and he receives a telephone call from his biggest male vocal star, Marvin Gaye calling to pitch an idea for his next album. I think the conversation might have gone something like this. “Hello...? Yes... this, this is Berry... Hi, Marvin! You’re in the studio... Sure... And you’ve got, you’ve got your idea for your next album. Yep, you’re our star...Our biggest star... You want, you want to sing about what... The economy? Whew. I though you said ‘the ecology.’ Oh, you did... And the economy... Well... Mar, Marvin... Well, I don’t know if your fans want to hear you sing about---... Yes, you can do what you want... Yes, yep, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ was Number One... for 7 weeks... And you want to sing about the war? The war!? That war?... Marvin, just tell me there are going to be love songs on this LP... Lo-lo-love songs... You know like... ‘Too Busy Thinkin’ Bout My Baby’ or, or, or ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You?’... ‘God Is Love.’ ... That’s a single?... What’s going on, Marvin?... No, no, no, no, no, that’s not a good title... Marvin? Marvin!” Forward to Berry Gordy in his Motown office, 1973 and he receives a telephone call from his biggest male vocal star, Marvin Gaye calling to pitch an idea for his next album. The conversation might have gone something like this. “Hello...? Yes... this, this is Berry... Marvin! You’re back in the studio... Oh, okay, you have a new idea for your next concept album... Uh, huh? Uh, huh?... Sex? H*** yes!” 

Every good museum worth its weight has that wing of exhibits that make grown men sigh, ladies blush, teenagers giggle and young ones say, “Mommy, why can I see their privates?” Guaranteed to titillate, offend and sell millions of copies. Today’s Delivery belongs in that part of the Pantheon. LET’S GET IT ON is a monumental achievement as a tone poem to passion, intimacy and flat out sex. It was the Billboard Chart’s first nude. No pop star had gone down this path prior to Marvin Gaye, and no one expected him to after the thrilling sociological sonic journey that was WHAT’S GOING ON. Motown was in need of hits for adults who had grown up with the label. The Jackson 5 were big but bubblegum, Stevie Wonder hadn’t yet hit his stride, so it fell to Marvin to craft something spectacular again. The production actually bookended WHAT’S GOING ON, songs starting and stopping along the way and if you listen to them back to back they are of a piece. Instrumentally, LET’S GET IT ON is a stylistic triumph with Marvin on piano and the elastic backing performed by the Funk Brothers augmented by guitarist Don Peake of the famed Wrecking Crew. That indelible three-note phrase at the top of the title track, that’s Peake. Yeah, it’s playing in your head as you read this. “Let’s Get It On” became Motown’s biggest selling single to date. As the last note from Peake’s guitar rings, cymbals splash and there’s Marvin with one of the great first person album openers “I-I-I-I been really tryin’ baby...” Dig the bari sax feeling that bottom. Drum fills so ecstatic. Single entendres. Please, get it on. The mix puts us right in the studio amidst the flutes, saxes and strings flying in to paint a portrait of Eros and company. 

The album is relentless with Marvin’s multi-tracked doo-wop vocals, molasses-like grooves and suggestive lover man lyrics never before put on a chart-topping platter. “Distant Lover” was another track that became a live hit. It had to become a live hit because it resided on the album’s side two. My guess is, in 1973, few dude’s played the flip, because that meant you had to get off the couch to turn the record over. “Distant Lover” shimmers with sugar and drips with honey and longing. Lawd, have mercy and not on the ecology, but on the biology. This one of Marvin’s jazziest performances and is probably the aural masterwork on the LP. The titles of the other songs reveal a singular passionate narrative. “Keep Gettin’ It On” is basically the extended outro of the title track. “Come Get To This” is brilliant as a freaky 70‘s update of one of Marvin’s 60’s R&B shuffles. How one of the most insular and insecure artists in the pop idiom unleashed this work of naked bravado is one for the ages. Thank God, we had the gifts that Marvin Gaye left us as an artist. This was a singer who was fearless in the studio. LET’S GET IT ON belongs in the Museum and in the boudoir, on the radio and at the roller rink... couples’ skate. Dim the lights and come get to this.

#MarvinGaye #LetsGetItOn #Motown #Tamla

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