Marvin Gaye: The Soul Legend

A few sweet lessons in life and love from a soul legend.

Marvin Gaye

The Soul Legend

Label: Wagram
US Release Date: 2014-04-01
UK Release Date: 2014-03-17
Label website
Artist website

Much has been written about how Marvin Gaye was one of the artists who truly changed the face of Motown and of soul music forever, so it kind of makes you wonder, what is the point in yet another compilation? Then, as this album starts, it hits you -- his voice is still as smooth, silky, relevant and meaningful as ever. Gaye, by the sounds on offer here, was a fantastically engaging performer both in the studio and on the stage. This is clearly evidenced by songs such as "My Funny Valentine" and a raucous take on perennial classic ballad radio station favourite "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", which sounds as though it might erupt out of the speakers at any second. Whereas now too many singers are too happy just to falsely emote away to their hearts' content, here is a man who knows how to savour a song and make every single note count. Gaye knows when to draw a sound out so we can relish it in all its sonic glory and when to cut it short, to shock us into listening that little bit harder. For full evidence of this, just listen to "Inner City Blues". Stripped here of all the melancholy and intimacy it has on the What's Goin' On album, the bass pumped up and Gaye singing as though he wants to make his lungs explode with passion, this then becomes a stark parable on the state of the American Nation.

There are almost no singular highlights on this album, every song is special in its own particular way. Even the early stuff, more the product of Motown's songwriting factory than Gaye's own heart (that would come later, with the What's Goin' On album), has been crafted and moulded with true care. You can almost taste the joy coursing through your stereo as the disc spins (or MP3 gets processed, or whatever). This is a singer who has remembered that this is supposed to be fun, that people are supposed to enjoy listening to your stuff. Whereas also, in lesser hands, the concert tracks towards the end of the set may have felt tacked on and opportunistic, here, one feels as though one is in the same room as the band playing and so one gets caught up in the true rush of the whole thing.

Because Gaye takes time to stop and give a bit of banter between songs, this feeling is truly enhanced to a superb degree and you feel as though he's talking directly to you, the listener, which makes it all the more special. You can hear the development of a true artist also, right from the early '60s hits, up to the concert tracks from 1981. Marvin Gaye did not start out with the same voice we all remember and treasure, it was an instrument in which he invested time and love and care. Listen, for example, to "The Masquerade Is Over", at the start of this collection and then "Let's Get It On" at the end. Where one has sharpness and urgency as the key qualities in the voice, the other has deepens, bass and a sorrowful, lived-in quality which could only have come from life experiences in between. He's backed by an excellent band also, who know when to give out a horn blast or let a bass groove ride supreme (no pun intended) at exactly the right moment.

Everyone gets their own little moment in the sun, which gives the record a very tight, full and satisfying sound that resonates with you long after the disc itself has stopped spinning. Indeed, the young Pop Idol/X Factor wannabes of today could learn much from a few listens to this album. They would find a man completely at one with his own talent, regardless of whatever else was going on around about him (wives, etc), an entertainer with a perfect grasp of crowd control and audience response. The audience on the live tracks sing along heartily and greet every single song as a long-lost favourite, with applause, laughter and a few tears.

Most important of all, they would find a man with a fearsome flair for prophecy. There is as much war, uncertainty and hurt in the world now as there was when these songs were laid down and Gaye always sounds as though he is singing with one eye on the future and one on the present. These songs, then, sound every bit as relevant to the world we live in now as they were to the one in which they were composed. A welcome introduction and also a stunning reminder of one of our great lost artists.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.