Why this was hyped as the ‘lost’ album is confusing because the material isn’t new as such which I think we were led to believe in the pre-publicity. Most of the tracks have snuck out as individual items in one form or another, on compilations like “Marvin Gaye: The Anthology”, “Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye:Never Before Released Masters”, “The Master: 1961-1984” and so on. So strictly speaking, the songs weren’t lost. However, having said that, I can fully appreciate why the album stayed under wraps as the track “You’re The Man Part 1” bombed when released as a single in America only during April 1972. Here’s a little back track. Hot on the heels of Marvin’s “What’s Going On” project which ignited music from the soul for the soul. A work dictated by human conscience, highlighting in music intense, soul searching issues that included unlocking the secrets of environmental disasters, and crying unashamedly over the futility of war. “What’s Going On” was a masterpiece on so many levels and changed, not only Motown’s strict code of recording, but that of the industry as a whole, and inspired other artists, like Stevie Wonder for instance, to have the courage to tread into previously forbidden territories.
Following the release of “What’s Going On” Marvin toyed around with ideas, fielded off third party material, with a state of mind that was far from solid. Gutted that “You’re The Man Part 1” died, and Berry Gordy’s directive that the proposed project be squashed, he said “I had a whole album planned around that track because I very much wanted to work in the movie field and I wanted to use this music as a soundtrack.” So, he strove to regain public acceptance once more, and while Motown was cautious about taking too many chances with his work, they both realised it was an impossibility to follow “What’s Going On”. Every aspect of Marvin’s life conflicted at this time; his personal life changed for the worst while his career expanded, yet Marvin lived one day at a time. “There were disputes over financial matters, over promotion, over a whole heap of things. Also my marriage was beginning to run into difficulties. Anna (Gordy) and I had in fact separated.”
Making music was all he had, yet his next project was an unexpected move which once again stretched Motown’s promotion department to the limit. In the wake of Isaac Hayes penning the movie soundtrack for Shaft and the growing popularity in low budget, semi-violent black flicks, Marvin jumped on the merry-go-round to write his only film score “Trouble Man”. He totally immersed himself in the project, adopting the role of the film’s main character ‘Mr T’ to write the whole album. The result was moody and jazz-tinged, almost a sinister reflection of his darkest moments. Despite offering film-goers similar ingredients as the other black flicks, “Trouble Man” was a non-starter, much to Marvin’s annoyance. Without the film’s visuals to support the music much of the excitement of “Trouble Man” was lost. “I wanted to say that I could divert from ‘What’s Going On’ and actually go into another area completely.” Following its release, Marvin admitted it wasn’t the official follow-up to “What’s Going On”, but rather a diversion, because he planned to write about his two passions in life – women and sex – and the “Let’s Get It On” ball breaker was conceived.
So, here we are, back to now, re-living songs recorded during this experimental period of indecision, where Marvin was in a dangerously fragile state of mind, where his sense of normality was scorched, and his cluttered mind bursting with ideas and emotions that made him unpredictable. His musical route was born from his confusion and this compilation is the result. From the opening and title track where he mercilessly attacks the political way of thinking which, to be honest, has changed not at all, we’re treated “The World Is Rated X” where Marvin returns to dissect certain aspects of “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)”. Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer’s composition “Piece Of Clay” is divine as it weaves through the way people are moulded like clay by dictatorship, while “You Are That Special One” is an upbeat Willie Hutch song, and a favourite of mine. Marvin’s unique falsetto voice inspires “Where Are We Going” and it’s an optimistic singer who sings “We Can Make It Baby”. Listening to “Symphony” sent shivers up my spine; beautifully conceived and styled; likewise “I’d Give My Life For You”, leaving a more funkier style to seep through on “Try It, You’ll Like It”. I smiled at the cheeky inclusion of “I Want To Come Home For Christmas” because it’s relevant to the period in Marvin’s life, yet so out of place here.
With a fresh vision injected into some of the songs by Salaam Remi, wiping the dust from the grooves, this compilation is a previously-loved collection of songs, and bringing them together as an 80th birthday present, was a stroke of genius, or was it a stroke of a quick dollar? However, accepting it as the former, it’s with a sad and happy heart that fans like myself will play this again and again, reminding ourselves that despite the tormented traumas Marvin was living through at this time, these songs are reflective of his unquestionable talent. As an aside, I wonder if the man himself would have approved?