New Marvin Gaye tracks draw a parallel between yesterday and today
August Pelliccio—Photo Editor
Not often does such an iconic artist have an entire posthumous album published, but Marvin Gaye’s “You’re the Man” sounds as appropriate today as ever.
Though the tracks on the album were recorded in the early 1970s, all but two have been unreleased until now. The album is eclectic in message, varying from love songs to political songs, and even a Christmas song. The most prominent message within the tracks is social commentary.
The title track, “You’re the Man, Pt. I & II” kicks the album off. The song immediately sets the mood of soul and Motown. Percussive, staccato guitar strumming with a wah-pedal effect begins the recording, a sound many listeners would quickly place in the ‘70s. Soon Gaye’s lead vocals enter the recording, with a soft, sweet background vocal track.
Though the song was released at first as a bonus track on the extended 1972 “What’s Going On” album, an alternate version is included on the new album. The two tracks share lyrics, but the alternate version is in an entirely different key, and the instrumentation highlights different aspects of the song. The original version may trap the listener in a groove, wherein they just enjoy the rhythm and funk, but it is difficult not to pay attention to the intense social commentary on the alternate track.
“Maybe what this country needs is a lady president,” Gaye sang. “We don’t want to hear no more lies about how you plan to economize.”
Gaye is long gone, but his message has not died yet. The lyrics in the title track alone make the album relevant today. The verses sound like a laundry list of what a political leader should fight for; what has not been fought for enough.
In the alternate track, Gaye utilizes a key modulation that can also be heard in his 1971 single “What’s Going On,” adding continuity to his signature sound.
“The World is Rated X” is one of many tracks on the album that includes strings in the instrumentation. This is another instrument choice that gives the album a disco-reminiscent ‘70s sound. Commentary about the world’s “grave situation” focuses on people dying and suffering, likely the fruits of hate crime and war.
Chord progressions in “Piece of Clay” give the piano track a Motown signature sound, and the guitar introduction is almost Hendrix-like, in its use of the wah-pedal. Whether interpreted as commentary on personal relationships or societal standards, Gaye sings that molding people like clay is what is wrong with the world.
“Try it, You’ll Like It,” has a decidedly pop music sound. It is upbeat in tempo, and optimistic and cheerful sounding, in a major key. This track surely would have made radio success at the time of recording.
The album closes with a story song, “Checking Out.” What then may have been a redundant explanation of the musical movement taking over Detroit sounds like a tribute to Motown today.
“These are just a bunch of guys from Detroit,” Gaye sang. “They could play the music straight, but they thought they’d double-clutch it for you.”
The somewhat outdated reference to an automobile gear-shifting technique implies that the music is exceptionally smooth, which proves true.
By and large, the album offers a mix of ‘70s style pop music, and social commentary that Gaye needed to be heard. Life in America in 1972 and in 2019 do not sound drastically different, from a political standpoint, when listening to the album.