To say that the new Marvin Gaye album is excellent would be an understatement. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write; not because I wouldn’t expect it to be great, but because he’s been dead for thirty-five years.) The standout crooner of the 1970s has provided us with—from the grave—an album that is more than great: it’s the perfect album for the times in which we live.
It will take a bit of backstory to explain this properly.
In 1972, Gaye was in the studio working on the intended follow-up to his masterpiece What’s Going On?, but when the album began to take on its own socially-charged themes, Motown founder Berry Gordy (who disagreed with Gaye’s views) pulled the plug. As a result, Marvin moved on to the film soundtrack Trouble Man and the bedroom soundtrack, Let’s Get It On. Just over a decade later he was dead, having been shot by his father.
I’ve written previously about how posthumous releases can be dicey. Sometimes the “lost” work we crave out of our hunger for one last taste of the artists we love serves to provide little more than subpar, unnecessary additions that can tarnish otherwise shining legacies. But with Marvin Gaye’s You’re the Man we didn’t just get an album we want—we got an album we need.
“There’s Misery In the Land”
There are two distinct reasons You’re the Man is the ideal soundtrack to our time.
First, its political content.
Politics and hypocrites
Is turning us all into lunatics
Can you take the guns from our sons?
Right all the wrongs this administration has done
– ” You’re the Man, Pt. I & II (Single Version) “
While these words were originally sung in reference to Nixon and his corrupt cohorts, it isn’t difficult to see how many in our country might translate Gaye’s lyrics into our current era. Even for supporters of the Trump administration, the message of having been spurned by the whims of hypocritical politicians will ring true. It’s why many of them decided to throw a metaphorical pipe-bomb into the works by voting for political-outsider DJT in the first place.
Back in 1972, Gaye was addressing issues that remain pressing today. Gun violence, unemployment, wage stagnation, pollution, women’s role in politics (“Maybe what this country needs is a lady for president…”), and feminism in general (“Chauvinism’s day is done…”)—You’re the Man reveals that abysmally little progress has been made in the ensuing five decades.
Marvin provides his musical prescription: voting and love.
“We’ve Got Love, So Much Love”
This brings us to the second reason Gaye’s voice from beyond
the grave is the one we need to hear right now.
The music of Marvin Gaye has always offered an amorous tone.
From pleading for us to “Save the Children” to suggesting a bit of “Sexual Healing,”
Gaye has long delivered a message of love spanning the humanitarian to the horny.
You’re the Man is no exception. From start to finish it is ripe with the ache for connection that has been common to all Gaye’s work. Songs such as “I’m Gonna Give You Respect” and “We Can Make It Baby” along with the overall tone of the album croon for us to come together individually and collectively to overcome hate with love.
From start to finish it is ripe with the ache for connection that has been common to all Gaye’s work.
This has been a common refrain of his, and though messages
like Let’s Get It On might suggest a
more prurient nature to his prescription, Marvin makes it clear that there’s
nothing dirty about love, but rather, “The
world’s situation should be X-rated.”
In 1972, things were looking grim. “I believe that America’s at stake,” Gaye sang in You’re the Man’s opening titular track. “The world today is in a grave situation,” he continued on track two.
Regardless of where one’s personal beliefs fall on the
political spectrum, I think this is a warning with which most people agree. And
to this end, Marvin’s message on You’re
the Man offers two relevant imperatives: