How Do You Follow A Masterpiece? Marvin Gaye Tried With 'You're The Man'

Mar 29, 2019
Originally published on March 30, 2019 4:33 pm

In 1972, Marvin Gaye began recording a follow-up to his megahit album, What's Going On. He eventually laid down over a dozen new tracks, but personal and professional conflicts derailed the project. Most of the songs were never released except as bonus material on later anthologies. Now they've been assembled into one album called You're the Man, out Friday.

How do you follow up a personal and cultural masterpiece, not to mention a chart-topper? Gaye's label, Motown, was eager to see the hits keep on coming — but success had given the artist newfound creative control, and he didn't want to generate a carbon copy of the album he had just put out. Instead, beginning in the spring of '72, he went into the studio with some new ideas in mind.

Gaye had produced and co-written What's Going On in its entirety, but for these new songs he sought out a flock of producers and arrangers, from such emergent talents as Willie Hutch, Gloria Jones and Fonce Mizzell to seasoned veterans like Hal Davis and Gene Page. What emerged was an eclectic mix of styles that included sweeping, socially conscious anthems.

The songs on You're the Man may never have been meant to form into a cohesive album: They were a set of ideas, gesturing toward different "what coulda beens." Despite compiling more than enough songs to fill an LP, Gaye, for reasons we may never really know, ultimately decided to send most of them down to the vault. By year's end he had shifted his attention to a duet album with Diana Ross and to scoring the Trouble Man soundtrack.

Yet even if these are mostly a bunch of tunes trying to stick to the wall, the bulk of those songs stick really well. After all, you have Gaye, at peak form, pairing his indelible voice with some of the best soul production of the era. It may have taken 47 years to finally surface in a proper way, but You're the Man is still a powerful, resonant reminder of the greatness that was Marvin Gaye.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In 1972, soul music star Marvin Gaye began recording the follow-up to his mega hit album "What's Going On." He eventually laid down over a dozen new tracks, but personal and professional conflicts derailed the project. Most of the songs were never released except as bonus material on later anthologies. Now they have been assembled into one album out today called "You're The Man." Oliver Wang has our review.

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: How do you follow up a personal and cultural masterpiece, not to mention a chart-topper? Marvin Gaye's label, Motown, was eager to see the hits keep on coming. But the success of "What's Going On" gave Gaye newfound creative control. And he didn't want to generate a carbon copy of the album he just put out. Instead, beginning in the spring of '72, he went back into the studio with some new ideas in mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M GOING HOME")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One, two, three. One, two, one, two, three.

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) I'm going home to see my mother. I'm going home to see my dear, old dad.

WANG: Gaye had produced and co-written "What's Going On" in its entirety. But for these new songs, he assembled a flock of producers and arrangers - from such emergent talents as Willie Hutch, Gloria Jones and Fonce Mizell to seasoned veterans like Hal Davis and Gene Page. What emerged was an eclectic mix of styles that included sweeping, socially-conscious anthems...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WORLD IS RATED X")

GAYE: (Singing) Where's the love? Where's the peace? Where's the joy? Where's the hope for us all? God is watching. He knows where you're at.

WANG: ...Snappy dance jams...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE CAN MAKE IT BABY")

GAYE: (Singing) We got love.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) We got love.

GAYE: (Singing) So much love.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: (Singing) So much love.

GAYE: (Singing) Oh, we can make it baby. Oh, girl.

WANG: ...Beatific ballads...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SYMPHONY (SALAAM REMI LP MIX)")

GAYE: (Singing) Symphony, yeah. She's sort of like a song. She moves along in perfect rhyme, oh, la, la. Right now feel perfect time, baby.

WANG: ...And some down home Detroit funkiness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHECKING OUT (DOUBLE CLUTCH)")

GAYE: (Singing) So you see, they got together. These cats sure are funky. And they thought you might dig a little dance called the Double Clutch.

WANG: Despite compiling more than enough songs to fill an LP, Gaye, for reasons we may never really know, ultimately decided to send most of them down to the vault, and by year's end, had shifted his attention to a duet album with Diana Ross and to scoring the soundtrack for the film "Trouble Man."

It's important to remember this because the songs on "You're The Man" were never meant to form a cohesive album back then. They were a set of ideas, gesturing towards different what-could-have-beens.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU ARE THAT SPECIAL ONE")

GAYE: (Singing) There's something about the way you walk.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Walk.

GAYE: (Singing) And there's something about the way you talk.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Talk.

GAYE: (Singing) And I saw you sitting there on the shelf.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Shelf.

GAYE: (Singing) I knew I had to have you for myself.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Self.

WANG: Yet, even if they're mostly a bunch of tunes trying to stick to the wall, the bulk of those songs stick really well. After all, you have Gaye at peak form pairing his indelible voice with some of the best soul production of the era.

It may have taken 47 years to finally surface in a proper way, but "You're The Man" is still a powerful, resonant reminder of the greatness that was Marvin Gaye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY LAST CHANCE (SALAAM REMI REMIX)")

GAYE: (Singing) I think this is my last chance.

CHANG: The album is "You're The Man." Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and co-hosts the music podcast Heat Rocks.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY LAST CHANCE (SALAAM REMI REMIX)")

GAYE: (Singing) My last chance. Hey, baby, may I have... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.