An easy entry in Tondo’s Top 100 albums of all time to enjoy front to back is Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Released in 1971, What’s Going On is considered one of the greatest albums of all time and a landmark of soul music. The album’s title track, “What’s Going On,” was a major hit and became an anthem for the civil rights movement. I stumbled upon this record on a bus trip to France in early 1978 and while I did not fully understand its lyrics, the song immediately conveyed a sense of pain so profound that I had to buy the record. I was never able to buy the record, so I settled for a French Cassette, and I immediately began its translation process and it was in a Paris Youth Hostel that I fell in love with Gaye’s music and Motown in general. It took me nearly 5 years to finally get my hands on the original record in a “seedy” East Chicago record shop and my Record Collection has been better for it since.
The album was a departure from Gaye’s earlier work, which had primarily been focused on love songs and dance music. “What’s Going On” tackled social and political issues, including poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War. The album’s lyrics, written by Gaye and co-writers Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson, spoke to the struggles and challenges faced by African Americans in the United States but one does not need to be aware of such struggles to appreciate it as this record is a mix of soul, funk, and jazz with soring melodies and incredible arrangements from an ensemble of Violins, Grand Piano, Saxophones, Trombones, Flutes, Guitars, Cello’s and everything in between all of course tied together by Gaye’s silky vocals.
You will never skip a song on this album, and apart from the title song we have tracks such as “Mercy Mercy Me”, “Inner City Blues” and “Flyin’ High”. An instant commercial success, What’s Going On sold over two million copies and earned three Grammy Award nominations and remains one of the most iconic albums of all time and forever in my Top 100 play list.