Marvin Gaye: ‘You’re The Man’ reviewed

❉ Gaye’s “Lost” album would have been the perfect ‘part two’ to What’s Going On, writes Paul Abbott.

“Politics and hypocrites is turning us all into lunatics” – Marvin Gaye’s “Lost” album continues the political and personal pattern that began with What’s Going On, as it is finally made available to mark what would have been the soul singer’s 80th Birthday.

In 1972 the Nixon administration in America was in full swing and was ramping up for the next election. Whilst the Vietnam war continued, despite the lessening of US troop numbers over the previous couple of years, anti-war feeling at home in the States continued to dominate political and social debate and found its loudest voice in the creative output of filmmakers, musicians and artists. Marvin Gaye, who’d scored a phenomenal hit with 1971’s What’s Going On, continued his work in the studio, focusing his energies mainly on addressing the U.S. political system, as well as the generational differences that were perpetuating what he saw as the societal problems around him. These studio sessions produced the album You’re The Man for Motown and the lead single of the same name came out in the summer of ‘72.

You’re The Man, the single, was directly addressed to those in the running for the White House – Nixon and his opponent, the democratic candidate, George McGovern. It’s funny to be reviewing this record at a time when the pleading Gaye was doing in 1972 still rings true – he asks repeatedly if anyone has got a plan. A not unreasonable request to make of the people running your country, at any time, but it seems particularly relevant now. The song, in all its sarcastic glory, was a top ten hit in the soul charts, but the brazenness of the political message led Motown’s Berry Gordy, perhaps more politically conservative than Gaye, to allow the single to languish without the full support of the record label’s promotional machine. Despondent, Gaye shelved the planned album, despite finishing the recordings for the full-length LP.

UMC/Island are now issuing this fabled ‘lost’ record in a double-LP/CD/Download set, which contains all the tracks for the planned 1972 album, as well as other material from the period. 15 of the 17 tracks have never had a release on vinyl, although some of the songs have found homes elsewhere before. Whilst the record is still based on the versions created by Marvin Gaye acting as producer during the sessions, three of the tracks have been presented in remixes by SaLaAM ReMi (Nas, The Fugees, Amy Winehouse) and the track My Last Chance was the promotional release for the album  – but this number is perhaps not the most representative track from the album in production terms.

Most of the tracks are cast in the early seventies Soul/Funk style that proved successful for Gaye on both What’s Going On and his super-smash Let’s Get It On from 1973, but there are some excellent raw soul and gospel moments on this record, on tracks such as Piece Of Clay – a call out to everyone to stop passing their own bad habits and opinions onto the next generation – and Try It, You’ll Like It, where Gaye, singing in his classic Tenor voice is as powerful and entrancing as he was on any of his work. If there’s anything to let the record down it is that the lyrics for the non-political songs, such as the walk/talk, shelf/myself, seems/dreams rhymes of You Are That Special One seem remarkably twee and out-of-date in comparison to many of the tracks on the album. Even the featured Christmas track has an anti-war message, albeit accompanied by the ubiquitous sleigh bells.

Image: Prescription PR/Motown/UMe.

Had this album been released as intended in 1972, it would have been the perfect ‘part two’ to What’s Going On. It even contains what is ostensibly a follow-up query in the form of the track Where Are We Going? Whether it feels fully formed as an album is hard to say and I suspect the first disc will receive more play than the second, but all told this is an essential collection of music from Marvin Gaye, with probably some of his neatest vocal arrangements and some of his own best performances as a singer.

❉ Motown/UMe will release Marvin Gaye – ‘You’re The Man’, in 2LP gatefold vinyl and digital editions on March 29th with a CD release arriving early April. Pre-order You’re The Man here.

 Paul Abbott runs Hark! The 87th Precinct Podcast, which takes a look at each of the books in series in turn, but usually turns quite silly. He also makes noises with his band in Liverpool, Good Grief, and spends the rest of the time thinking about Transformers, The Beatles, Doctor Who and Monty Python.

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