Off the Record – What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye – 4/10/17

On August 1st, I tweeted that I wanted to write more about new music, but was struggling to, because all I ever found myself listening to was Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On.

marvin gaye

I’d been living in Wi-Fi-less existence for the past month, having just moved house. It is hard to be 21 years old and without internet for a month. It is, however, a great opportunity to rediscover CDs you might not have listened to in a while.

This isn’t the case for What’s Going On, though. I listen to it on the regular, in a way that must annoy the neighbours. I’d just finished listening to it for the first time that day, and was walking over to the stereo to press play again. Then, I had a thought. Rather than two-stepping to it in the mirror for the second time in an hour, I’d write about it in the time it takes to listen to it the whole through. Thus, the idea for a new mini-series of pieces of writing was born.

In ‘Off the Record’, I will write about music that I’ve played over and over and over and over, even though it might not be cool or new or undiscovered. Most likely, these will be albums that have been written about time and time again, but, nonetheless, hold a very dear place in my heart. I will also only allow the length of the album’s running time to write about it (as both a time-saver and a challenge).

First up: Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. *presses play*

I bought What’s Going On in HMV in Wimbledon, around this time last year, in a 2 for £10 deal with Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange. I’d just moved into my first flat in London with girls I didn’t know, and fancied a couple of new CDs so I could quickly cook my dinner, avoiding eye contact, then sit in my room all night listening to music.

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After very nearly settling for the Notorious B.I.G’s Greatest Hits to complete the combo deal (which wouldn’t have been so bad, in hindsight), I couldn’t help but be drawn to Gaye’s omniscient look in his eyes on the cover of What’s Going On, plus, that collar (it was autumn 2016 – black PVC coats were seriously in).

I also thought that it was probably an album worth listening to, after all, it was one of those classics that you’d often see in Best Of lists, and famous musicians had often noted it as one of their favourite albums (including Bruce Springsteen, who said it was one of the greatest albums ever recorded, in his Desert Island Discs).

Once I’d got home, I played Ocean’s Channel Orange, and I liked it. It felt quite long (an ideal album for me is 10 tracks long, no more, no less) but I could see why people raved about it. I could really imagine making out to the album, for example, so it was good for something.

Then I put the Marvin Gaye disc in the player, and those opening bars of the title track seemed so familiar, like these were sounds that I’d heard – and enjoyed – many times before. Gaye’s voice has such a warm, soulful tone, and the way the first track just fades in (and each track bleeds over to the next one until the SEVENTH song) is magic, on recorded format. The production is second to none.

Its his 11th studio album, and very different to his previous work (some of Gaye’s best-known singles from the ’60s include Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and You’re All I Need to Get By – whereas this was released in ’71, at a time when tensions around the Vietnam War were high, something that influenced the themes of the album).

The opener is everything: Marv asking for peace (‘War is not the answer/For only love can conquer hate’), before going into something still relevant regarding police brutality in America today (‘Picket line, and picket signs/Don’t punish me with brutality/Talk to me, so you can see/What’s going on’).

This glides into a huge stand-out second track, What’s Happening Brother, (‘War is hell, when will it end/When will people start getting together again?’) before the rest of the album takes you to places, musically and emotionally, that ensure it’ll be an album you’ll listen to time and time again. There is so much there – you have to. It is a work of pure magic.

One of my ultimate favourite tracks on the album is God is Love, so much so that it made me consider a very low-key faith in Christianity at a time that I was Seriously Into This Album (but then neglected, after I realised I wasn’t into God as much as I was into Marvin Gaye). God is Love runs straight in from the previous track, Save the Children, and there’s something about the way the time signature changes and launches into ‘Do do doo doo doo, do do doo doo doo’ before the falling ‘Oh, don’t go and talk about my father/God is my friend (and I love him!)’ vocal that sends a shiver down my spine.

This stonker of a track then launches into Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), one of the greatest songs of its time (and therefore ever), asking what the f*** has happened to the O-zone layer, and ‘how much more abuse from Man can she stand?’ – which is still applicable now, but with an added 46 years of fossil fuels. Aside from the lyrics, the melancholic sighs of Gaye’s vocal complements the falling melody, making for a quietly exasperated plea asking, ‘Where did all the blue skies go?’ (something that is emotionally relatable on any rainy day, actual or metaphorical).

My boyfriend bought me a Marvin Gaye top for my birthday with the words: ‘Only love can conquer hate’ written on it (from the title track) – and, as cheesy as it seems (and is), that’s the essence of this album’s message.

I’m reaching the end of my time listening to this album, and while the above will get a necessary amount of editing, I want to stick to my plan to stop writing once the record has wound up. It is an utter joy to listen to this album, and I’ve definitely listened to it at least three times a week since I bought it a year ago. It cost me a fiver, and it’s had such a hugely positive impact on my life. It helped me through an incredibly rough patch earlier this year, as what it offers is the idea that a belief in hope – and a trust in love – will ultimately outweigh the bad in the world. It’s a beautiful message. (I’m not stoned, I promise). It also makes me rate Bruce Springsteen even more highly (if that’s possible), as, if the Boss says it’s the greatest album ever recorded, your mind should be made up anyway, before even listening to it.

If you’d like to, though, here it is:

Give yourself a hug: Avoid spontaneous combustion, and other things learnt during the past week…

Chimpanzee Melissa huddles forlornly over her baby, shielding him from a downpour. National Geographic | December 1965
Chimpanzee Melissa huddles forlornly over her baby, shielding him from a downpour.
National Geographic | December 1965

I gave myself a well deserved hug the other day. I think I’ve been beating myself up too much about things that aren’t in my immediate control, so I wrapped my arms around myself and was like, “Thanks, me. You’re doing just fine.”

After what had been a particularly stressful day, I got home to write up something for a competition – was so not up to it – so then went out for a drive (I am still learning post-first-fail), and ended up getting so angry that Dad was like: “Slow down! You’re gonna crash into that girl on her bike!” And I was all snotty and teary-eyed like: “I don’t even care!!”

I was basically in one of those moods when you literally cannot even right now, and there was no signs of it going away.

(I have since found that when you feel so anti-everything that you cannot literally even anymore, if you listen to ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’, things seem much easier to comprehend.)

This week I phoned my boyfriend DEMANDING that he sing ‘Hypnotize’ by The Notorious B.I.G until I felt better. It worked.

The hardest thing about bad situations is that you have to feel all of the things you are feeling, even the horrible, sad stuff that you’d rather fast forward.

Caitlin Moran wrote in her Times Saturday column yesterday (2 May) that her biggest advice for teenage girls is that you “only ever have to deal with the next 60 seconds of your life.”

When someone very close to you rips your heart apart, there is no way around it. (I am reminded of the children’s book, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’: “We can’t go under it; we can’t go over it – We’ll have to go through it!”)

It took me 18 years to realise that – and I’m no good at bottling stuff up. (JOURNAL KEEPER FOR 14 YEARS.) Cry about it, write a letter to whoever it is, trash their house minorly (make sure it’s reversible – no smashing or breaking. Trust me – I’ve KNOWN this)

Figure out how to deal with the stuff, and try it out (preferably without hurting anyone further, that can just re-lousy everything.)

Things aren’t going to be amaaaazing all the time, especially if you’re going through something that’s emotionally tough. You don’t always have to be the best version of yourself; so if you’re going through a hard time, cut yourself some slack. The happiness you’re aiming for needn’t be a constant state of ecstasy, but rather a middle-ish sort of OK. A great article about this way of thinking, written by Tim Lott, can be read here.

My biggest argument against suppressing these feelings (that make your head feel like it will pop off) is that there are ACTUAL reports of HUMAN SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION, so just take NO risks honey. It is not worth your beautiful hairdo.


I’ve been listening to Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Carrie and Lowell’ a lot recently because 1) it’s addictive and oh-so-moreish, and 2) He’s headlining at End of the Road this year.

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I had meant to write a proper review of it a few weeks ago but have been really busy doing other general life things; now I don’t think I could serve it justice.

I wholly admit I was not a fan of Sufjan before this, so I have nothing to compare it with, or do that ever-so-important music journo thing of citing his biggest influences – cause quite frankly kiddo, I just don’t know.

All I know is that it was written about his mother and stepfather, and, after a unanimous discussion re: SS by my friends, we came to the conclusion that he could write about rotting fruit or dog shit, or BOTH, and still make it sound beautiful.

For those real-melancholic types around here, check this out:

It both slows your heart down and speeds it up. It’s a wonderful record, and apparently his best.


I went to the National Theatre last night to see ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ Again – this play has been on since November of last year, so I can’t say I’m bringing you cutting-edge, hot-off-the-press reviews, but I get cheap seats, and for cheap seats my friends, you must seriously book WELL in advance.

It was set in Mumbai and focused on the lives of a community living in the slums near an airport, and the conflicts they faced with police/money/each other/etc.

I took a tonne of notes, as there was a lot to take in (I felt the play was longer than it ought to have been, but the pace was still excellent) and the writing was very human – of course – as is the writing of David Hare.

For your ease, and my ease: (I don’t need to write a long review – I am now v. hungry) Some – most are illegible – of my notes are included below:

  • incredible set – reeks of money. National Theatre.
  • Meera from the Kumars? Excellent
  • Feisty female roles
  • Prosthetics – burn make up good but v. gruesome
  • shows how extreme poverty can make people lose sense of morality
  • bit on the long side?? Am i tired??
  • baddies: “let them fight among themselves, then they won’t fight with us”
  • general audience consensus- good
  • Actor playing Abdul: Very sexy

I thought it was great to see a play that took a genuinely very humorous and human take on an awful situation (one that I admit I wasn’t aware of.) One minute you were laughing at the ‘look how ridicularse corruption is, darling!’ due to the witty, observational quips in the text, and then you were covering your eyes from somebody having their eyes gauged out after stealing scrap metal.

All in all, it was clear why this play has been running for so long. And even towards the end of the run, you wouldn’t have believed it. It’s not my usual choice of theatre – but I think it’s something that will stick with me for a bit. If you want to read a proper review, please divert your browsers to the search engine, ‘Google.’


In other news, I have started rehearsals for King Lear, been accepted into the National Youth Theatre and got tickets to Glastonbury! So there’s that. Also lined up is a trip to Belgium, Belle & Sebastian next week, in three weeks, and in seven weeks (lol) and my birthday! I’ll be writing about it all.

T.A.L x