Marvin Gaye approached Berry Gordy What’s Going On, Gordy took a profound dislike to the song, calling it “the worst thing I ever heard in my life”. Gaye responded by going on strike from recording anything else for the label unless Gordy relented. Gordy also felt the song was too political for a radio hit and too unusual compared for popular music, or commercially successful.
Harry Balk got the song released to record stores, sending 100,000 copies of the song without Gordy’s knowledge, on January 17, 1971, with another 100,000 copies sent after that success. The song became a hit and Motown’s fastest-selling single, peaking at number 1 on the Hot Soul Singles Chart, and peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. A stunned Gordy drove to Gaye’s home to discuss him making a complete album. Gordy stated Gaye could do what he wanted with his music if he finished the record within 30 days before the end of March. Gordy effectively giving him the right to produce his own albums.
What’s Going On