Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On Live’ Released: Listen

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The first stand-alone release of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On Live, newly mixed, was released on Oct. 18 by Motown/UMe in 2-LP, CD and digital editions.

The 1972 concert marked Gaye’s first live performance after a four-year hiatus from the stage; it was recorded at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center on “Marvin Gaye Day,” May 1, 1972.

That day, according to a press release announcing the album, “was a whirlwind day of celebration in Marvin Gaye’s hometown of Washington, D.C…It began with Gaye giving a speech to students at Cardozo High, the school he’d attended, before he and his parents were ushered by motorcade to other points around the city. They visited the office of D.C.’s mayor, Walter Washington, who presented Gaye with a key to the city. A VIP reception followed at the U.S. House of Representatives’ Rayburn House Office Building, before the evening’s hotly anticipated main event at the Kennedy Center: Marvin Gaye’s first live performance in four years. After opening acts and onstage testimonials by others, Gaye finally took the stage at around 11 p.m.”

Listen to the title track of What’s Going On from the concert

The release continues: “The legendary concert—Marvin Gaye’s only live performance of his iconic 1971 What’s Going On album in full—was recorded. After being shelved for decades, the recording was eventually released on CD in 2001 within Motown/UMe’s expanded deluxe edition for Gaye’s What’s Going On album. Never before issued on vinyl or as a standalone CD, What’s Going On Live is newly mixed by John Morales at M+M Mix Studios and mastered by Alex Abrash at AA Mastering for its October 18 release by Motown/UMe. The album is making its vinyl debut in black 2-LP and limited turquoise 2-LP editions with deluxe gatefold packaging, in addition to CD and standard digital, ADM (Apple Digital Masters), and 96kHz/24-bit HD digital audio editions. The vinyl and CD packages include rare photos from Gaye’s performance and new liner notes by Marvin Gaye biographer David Ritz.

Related: What were some of the other chart hits of the spring of 1971?

What’s Going On Live includes the only known live recordings of Gaye performing four songs: “That’s the Way Love Is” and “You,” which he opened the D.C. concert with as part of a meditative 13-minute medley…

… as well as “Right On”; and “Wholy Holy.” Due to an unfortunate lag in switching the first reel-to-reel tape to a second one during the concert, Gaye’s performance of “Mercy Mercy Me” from the What’s Going On album was not successfully recorded.

Listen  to “Wholy Holy” from the 1972 D.C. concert

Gaye did not tour in 1972, and he had not toured in years prior, following the collapse and subsequent tragic death of his singing partner Tammi Terrell. While he was on top of the world with the massive success of What’s Going On, he much preferred the studio to live performance, suffering from acute stage fright throughout his career. That year, his only live shows were the D.C. concert and one other, a brief set in Chicago on September 27, which was filmed and recorded for the Save the Children documentary film.

Years later, Gaye reflected on his “Marvin Gaye Day” experience in Washington, D.C., telling David Ritz, “I understood that I’d been punishing myself by staying away so long. I’d been denying myself love, and that’s one of the most foolish things a man can do. It was certainly the biggest day of my parents’ life. Here they came to Washington in the thirties without a penny, and their son was being honored by the mayor as some sort of hero. At least on this one day I felt like I made Father proud.”

Related: Gaye was honored with a U.S.P.S. stamp in 2019 for his 80th birthday

What’s Going On Live’s extended time spent unreleased parallels the long-delayed release of another shelved Marvin Gaye project from 1972. The Kennedy Center concert was recorded just as Gaye’s new single, “You’re the Man,” was released, but he did not perform the song in his set. Earlier this year, Motown/UMe released Gaye’s never-issued 1972 Tamla/Motown album, You’re the Man, in 2LP gatefold vinyl, CD, and digital editions.

Marvin Gaye was murdered by his own father on April 1, 1984, following a domestic dispute.

Related: Our review of the Motown book The Sound of Young America

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