MARVIN GAYE: What’s Going On 40th Anniversary (Motown/Universal)

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It’s just 40 years since the release of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ and here is neither the time nor the place to go over its impact and magnitude. That’s been expertly done countless times by writers more worthy than the humble scribes here at SJF. What we do need to acknowledge though is that the Motown execs who handle the label’s legacy are always keen to exploit the marketing opportunities that significant anniversaries throw up. The 30th anniversary of ‘What’s Going On’, for instance, was marked by a splendid 2CD De Luxe edition and now ten years later we have a “Super” De Luxe edition and the label people have worked hard to try and come up with something new and they’ve succeeded just enough to ensure that Gaye’s fans and Motown collectors will shell out again for another copy of a landmark work.

What the fans and collectors will get for their investment is a lavishly packaged set that contains 2 CDs and a vinyl album and that vinyl disc is the easiest to start with. It contains what’s been called “The Detroit Mix” of the album. That’s to say, it’s more basic than the version that was released –lacking the overdubs that were added in Los Angeles. Some critics says it makes the music sound darker; I’d just say it makes it sound different. Most fans will already be familiar with it because it formed a key part of that 30th anniversary set. Here, it’s on vinyl for the first time.

This new set’s first CD starts with the original album in its entirety. It’s been newly remastered to give “a richer sound” but time’s not been too good to my ears and I find it hard to hear any new nuances. It’s after that that things start to get interesting with stuff like the original single mix of the album’s title song – the mix that was famously rejected by the Motown Quality Controllers. It’s startlingly different and you can hear why, maybe, it was knocked back. Equally intriguing are the single releases from the album. The mix of ‘God Is Love’ for instance is hugely different to the LP mix – but no less delicious.

The second CD is for the Gaye specialists. It consists chiefly of instrumental jams recorded in Detroit with players like Ray Parker Jnr, Wah Wah Watson and Michael Henderson. Stuff like ‘Checking Out’ and ‘Doing My Thing’ are loose and funky with occasional vocal interjections. They’re no more than sketches – best typified by the band running through a version of one of Gaye’s earlier hits – ‘Chained’. It’s claimed that most have never been released before, but some of the tunes have titles that will be familiar to fans since the same titles/tunes appeared on the 30th anniversary sets of both ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Lets’ Get It On’, but whether these are actually the exact same versions is hard to tell, but the Gaye anoraks will have a field day… and I guess they’re the people who this album is aimed at.

(BB) 5/5