What’s Going On pleads for understanding. Marvin Gaye’s voice is markedly detached; a lonely, but passionate, voice in the crowd. The result of Gaye’s complex songwriting, combined with his abilities as a producer and an arranger was startlingly different from anything previously released by Motown.
Marvin Gaye..”What’s Going On”…Motown 25..1983
Berry Gordy, the CEO of Motown called it “the worst record he had ever heard.” Gordy apparently believed that the music-buying public at the time would not be able to identify with a heartfelt cry of confusion and despair over social unrest and injustice.
Marvin stood his ground, however, threatening to walk away from music forever and, after a short stand-off, What’s Going On was released, and critical and commercial response was almost instant. It became Motown’s fastest selling single, the biggest hit of 1971,