The Enduring Power of Marvin Gaye’s Popular Music ‘What’s Going on

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Updated: Feb 01, 2024
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The Enduring Power of Marvin Gaye’s Popular Music ‘What’s Going on

This essay delves into the profound impact and enduring legacy of Marvin Gaye’s iconic song “What’s Going On.” It begins by exploring the song’s origins, inspired by social unrest and personal experiences, reflecting the tumultuous era of the 1970s. The essay highlights the song’s musical innovation, marking a significant departure from Motown’s traditional sound to a more introspective, soulful style, and its groundbreaking arrangement. The lyrical genius of the song is discussed, emphasizing its universal themes of war, poverty, and racial injustice, coupled with a unifying call for understanding and empathy. The piece also examines the immediate and far-reaching impact of the song on society and Marvin Gaye’s career, noting its role in establishing him as a voice for social change. Furthermore, the essay reflects on how “What’s Going On” continues to resonate across generations, serving as a powerful reminder of music’s ability to inspire and provoke thought. In summary, the essay presents “What’s Going On” as a timeless masterpiece that transcends music, embodying the spirit of its era and inspiring ongoing conversations about empathy and unity in society. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to Popular Music.

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Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” released in 1971, is more than just a song. It’s a cultural landmark, a poignant reflection of its time, and a timeless call for understanding and compassion. With its smooth melodies and profound lyrics, the song transcends the era of its creation, continuing to resonate with listeners even decades later. This essay explores the genesis, themes, and enduring significance of “What’s Going On,” delving into how it became not just a musical hit, but a powerful statement on social issues.

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The song’s origins are as interesting as its impact. “What’s Going On” was inspired by Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Four Tops, who witnessed police brutality at an anti-war protest in Berkeley, California. Deeply moved, he brought the idea to Marvin Gaye, who added his personal touch, influenced by his brother’s experiences in the Vietnam War and the social turmoil of the era. The result was a song that captured the essence of a nation in flux, questioning the violence and unrest that seemed to be tearing the society apart.

Musically, “What’s Going On” broke new ground for Marvin Gaye and Motown Records. Departing from the upbeat hits that had defined Motown, Gaye ventured into a more introspective, soulful style. The song’s layered arrangement, featuring jazz-inspired saxophone solos, subtle bass lines, and a chorus of harmonious voices, created a sound that was both revolutionary and deeply soothing. Its mellow groove belied the weight of its subject matter, creating a contrast that only heightened the song’s emotional impact.

Lyrically, “What’s Going On” is a masterclass in social commentary. Through its poignant verses, Gaye touches on themes of war, poverty, and racial injustice, posing questions that are as relevant today as they were in the 1970s. The song’s chorus, with its plea for understanding and love, serves as a unifying call, urging listeners to look beyond division and conflict. The genius of the lyrics lies in their universality; they don’t preach or accuse but instead invite reflection and empathy.

The impact of “What’s Going On” was immediate and far-reaching. It marked a turning point in Gaye’s career, establishing him as not just a talented musician but a voice for social change. The song challenged the norms of popular music, proving that songs could be both commercially successful and socially conscious. It struck a chord with a nation grappling with the Vietnam War, civil rights, and a growing sense of disillusionment with the status quo.

Over the years, “What’s Going On” has only grown in stature. It’s been covered and sampled by numerous artists, used in films and documentaries, and cited as an influence by musicians across genres. The song’s message of peace and understanding continues to resonate, finding new relevance with each generation. In times of social unrest or injustice, “What’s Going On” serves as a reminder of the power of music to inspire, comfort, and provoke thought.

In conclusion, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is a timeless masterpiece, blending soulful melodies with profound social commentary. Its legacy extends far beyond the realms of music, embodying the spirit of an era and continuing to inspire listeners with its message of empathy and unity. “What’s Going On” is not just a question posed by Gaye; it’s an invitation to engage with the world around us, to understand its complexities, and to strive for a better, more compassionate society. It remains a testament to the enduring power of music as a force for social change and a mirror of the human experience.

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The Enduring Power of Marvin Gaye's Popular Music 'What's Going On. (2024, Feb 01). Retrieved from