An undoubted contender for the greatest vocalist of all time, Marvin Gaye is remembered mainly for his massive hit version of ‘I Heard It On The Grapevine,’ the sensual ‘Let’s Get It On,’ and the quiver-inducing ‘Sexual Healing.’ His album ‘What’s Going On,’ a release that was revolutionary for its tackling of wider social issues like the Vietnam War, unemployment and poverty, is widely hailed as his greatest work.
Personally, I prefer ‘Here My Dear’ – more intimate and introspective than the outward looking ‘What’s Going On’ and packing more varied and flowing musical arrangements that see Gaye flirt more openly with funk, the sheer range of emotions that Gaye explores and elicits on this release is astounding. This is the quintessential break-up album, depicting as it does the complex, confused and perplexing sentiments engendered by the irretrievable breakdown of a relationship. It’s on a par with Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks.’
This is an album with a fascinating back story: after being sued for divorce by his first wife, Anna Gordy, Gaye agreed to give up half of the profits made by his next album in an effort to end the drawn-out court proceedings (Gaye had a habit of squandering most of his money, thanks in part to a growing coke habit, and did not have enough to pay off Gordy). You would think Gaye might have been tempted to record a deliberately poor release to swindle his ex-wife, but instead he took a different route, creating an album that aired his rather one-sided version of events – detailing an honest, bittersweet, impassioned narrative of the dissolution of his marriage to Gordy.
The album opens with the prelude ‘Here, My Dear,’ directly addressing Anna Gordy and setting the context for the release – ‘This is what you want, / So I conceded. / I hope it makes you happy.’ The line ‘You don’t have the right to use the son of mine to keep me in line’ sets out the album’s bitter tone and clearly hints that Gordy did not allow him to see their son, an accusation she expressly denied. Yes, Gaye was a flawed individual – the son in question was actually conceived by Gordy’s fourteen-year-old niece! ‘I’ll don’t think I’ll have many regrets, baby’ – really now, Marvin! You’d nearly forgive him his falsehoods for his sexy synth work that pervades this cut – yes, that’s Gaye apparently!
‘I Met A Little Girl’ is a gorgeous song – he provides us with a summary of the relationship from its promising, lovestruck beginning up to when things turned sour. Gaye’s voice is like honey here opening with ‘Woo, I met a little girl, sure was fine / Pretty little thing just about blew my mind.’ So simple but the ecstatic timbre of his voice perfectly encapsulates the elation of love at first sight. There is some admittance of culpability here: ‘Nothing could go wrong, and it seemed everything I did / Seemed to please you; all the heartaches you hid.’ The first of many contradictory sentiments expressed on this release – but as I’ve said, it’s not meant to be a perfect portrayal of events, rather a snapshot of the conflicting emotions of a pained man. The first half of this song is gorgeous – it would rival any Gaye production for its ability to get the birds and the bees buzzing!
The mood then takes a turn in the middle:
‘Then time would change you ,
As time would really change me.
We thought our love would stand the test of time,
And, as I sing this song, right now, I wonder, today,
If you’re a friend of mine.’
I love these lines. You really have to hear him sing it, the sad lilt in the way he swoons ‘change you’ especially; the words on the page do it no justice, you need to read the inflections of his voice more so than the actual words he speaks. Gaye was renowned for his use of multi-tracking and it’s very to the fore here: for the rest of this section, it sounds like a chorus of Marvin Gayes crooning harmoniously together. The slight pauses after ‘wonder’ and ‘today’ really lend his musings an endearing, poignant sincerity. The age old conflict between time and love also gets a reference – Gaye mourning how people change and a love once thought unquenchable can shrivel up and die. A fantastic song that recalls both the excitement and bittersweet pain engendered by that ole devil. I also have to mention that unbelievable synth jame after 4.00 – how talented was this man!
Another of the album’s big hitters falls next – ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.’ The opening meditation about the pointlessness of wedding vows could be taken to be directed at Gordy, but personally I think it’s more generalised – Gordy, himself, everyone. Can anybody genuinely promise to love someone forever? Especially in today’s crazy world where, if not people, then certainly their inclinations change by the day? I like Gaye’s new rendition: ‘Instead I’ll say I’ll try to love and protect you / With all my heart as long as you want me to baby.’ Maybe not as romantic but a lot more mindful of the only constant in today’s society – change. Gaye’s voice is truly mesmerising here, hitting some stirring highs – the way he belts out ‘Do you remember all of the BULLSHIT BABY’ is something to behold! Then straight after this, the sweetness of his murmurs belies the venom inside, ‘If you ever loved me will all of your heart / You’d never take a million dollars to part.’ Some slap in the face!
Gaye’s pain is laid bare here for all to see with a small added sense of hope for new love in the future: ‘Pains of love, miles of tears, / Enough to last me for my lifetime / Broken hearts last for years, soon break away to the noonday sunshine.’ It’s amazing how this song is interspersed with heartbreak, recrimination, nostalgia (‘Still I remember some of the good things baby / Like love after dark and picnics in parks / Those are the days I’ll not forget in my life’) and goodwill (‘I wish you all the luck and all the love in the world’). Can you ever wholly hate someone you honestly loved? Such an emotionally dense song.
Near the end, Gaye seems to resolve to turn his back on all the bickering and feuding. If the way he wails ‘It don’t matter baby, take a lesson from them all’ doesn’t make you flutter just a bit, you’ll be needing an angiogram. The sax and trumpets are delicious too and really add an extra anguished quality to the track. Surely one of Gaye’s absolute, but lesser-heard, bests.
‘Anger’ is a meditation on that injurious emotion, ‘Anger can make you old, yes it can.’ Again, some owning up to his errors here perhaps, ‘When it cools I find out too late / I have lost at love, love, love, dear friend.’ I love the snarls in the background; it’s almost like anger is some vicious beast stalking Gaye in the background. ‘Is That Enough’ opens amid a lush, smooth as velvet synth, breaking into a luxuriously languid groove, insinuating the boredom Gaye felt over all the protracted squabbling and bickering. He aims another snub, ‘I was young and fine and you plucked me clean’ – an allusion to the fact Gaye was twenty-years-old, Gordy thirty-seven when they first got together. Gaye bemoans his own naivety, ‘I was a dumb little fool.’ He does admit he was in need of ‘that funky stuff’ though – I’ll leave it up to your imagination what that entails! Mad for it. The production on this track is dynamite, funky guitars and the sax at 3.20… goddamn! It becomes clear there’s a key word missing from the title – money: ‘The judge said she got to keep on living / The way she accustomed to.’ Poor Marv’s in desperate need of a much deserved fag after 4.30 I’d say as he bows out early, leaving his session musicians to tease out a silky, jazz-funk jam for the remainder, Gaye chipping in again via a chirpy synth at the end.
In ‘Everybody Needs Love,’ Gaye takes a respite from the accusations through this declaration of the universal longing for sweet luuuuv. A funky, synth-led arrangements allows Gaye’s sweet notes to swell – yet another Gaye number to ratchet up the animal magnetism. On a side, I keep thinking I can hear Kanye West’s ‘All Of The Lights’ in the trumpet bit at 2.30… has to be a sample!
We’re treated to ‘Time To Get It Together’ next, a gorgeous, funk-laden brew with the immortal chorus:
‘I’ve been racing against time
Trying my best to find my way
Change our world in just one day
Blowin’ coke all up my nose
Gettin’ in and out my clothes
Foolin’ ’round with midnight ho’s
But that chapter of life’s closed.’
So yeah… maybe you weren’t the ideal husband now, Marvin. His human weakness, his uncontrollable vices, his flawed inconsistencies are all laid bare here… but that was why he was so loved and still is. We’re all sinners, and black sinners. Hypocrites to differing degrees and Gaye recognises and acknowledges this within himself and others. He owns up to his failings and you have to admire him for that.
The recurring theme of time pops up here again, Gaye hoping to reform himself before his life ends, something he would sadly never achieve.
‘Sparrow’ is a lovely little number about an absent bird – a veiled metaphor for Gordy perhaps? Terrific sax on this one. ‘Anna’s Song’ sees Gaye adopt a tired and mournful air as he reminisces over his ex-wife, breaking into an epic ‘ANNA’ cry near the end – his pain and sorrow poured out in song. The instrumental version of ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me…’ avoids being labelled as filler thanks to its delicious extended sax and the more audible strings in the background.
A downright steamy classic trills in next in the form of the disco-tinged ‘A Funky Space Reincarnation.’ I have a hazy memory of Ben UFO warming up a smoky, near empty Fabric dancefloor with this cut. Gaye really lets his hair down here with the lyrics ranging from the racy ‘we gonna be getting down on the moon’ to the ridiculous ‘Now all of you who aren’t groovay / Send you over to the Plutotarium to be Plutotized.’ A hot, sensual, fun, cosmic jam.
‘You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You’ refocuses attention on the divorce theme. Listening to the way he lulls ‘So I’d satisfy you baby / You have won the battle / Oh but Daddy’s gonna win the war’ is just sublime, his heavenly tones a balm for any mental misery in spite of the joyless subject matter. Gaye’s rancour is evident again in the parting shot ‘You use to say that I was a gorgeous hunk of man / That didn’t help me baby / Ah, when you was on the stand.’
Finishing the album, ‘Falling In Love Again’ brings the release full circle, recalling the high of new love evoked on the opener ‘I Met A Little Girl.’ The backing vocals are lavish, Gaye humming and cooing angelically throughout the track, finishing the album on a hopeful note.
Altogether, ‘Here My Dear’ packs a spectacular raw range of emotions – elation, fury, regret, atonement, shame, playfulness, hope. The production is top notch too, all the tracks holding their own musically, a swinging combination of jazz, funk and disco.
It’s not an easy album to listen to at first due to both the rawness of its content and the improvised feel of the songs – they avoid the typical chorus-verse structure, but after a few listens this really adds to its confessional tone, Gaye sounding like he’s pouring out all his pent up grief and anguish. After a listen or two though, when you get a feel for this poet’s verse, you’ll get an ear for the lyrical and tonal high points. An undoubted masterpiece, entwining strands of distilled feeling and musical suavity to weave a rich soul tapestry.
Standout Tracks: ‘I Met A Little Girl,’ ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You,’ ‘Is That Enough,’ ‘Time To Get It Together,’ ‘A Funky Space Reincarnation,’ ‘I’m Falling In Love Again’