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What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album)

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Title: What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album)  
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Subject: Marvin Gaye, Anna Gordy Gaye, Save the Children (song), Frankie Gaye, Marvin Gaye discography
Collection: 1971 Albums, Albums Certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, Albums Certified Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry, Albums Produced by Marvin Gaye, Albums Recorded at Hitsville U.S.A., Concept Albums, Counterculture of the 1960S, English-Language Albums, Grammy Hall of Fame Award Recipients, Marvin Gaye Albums, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Albums, Song Cycles, Tamla Records Albums, United States National Recording Registry Recordings, Universal Deluxe Editions
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

What's Going On (Marvin Gaye album)

What's Going On
A photo of Gaye looking away from the camera
Studio album by Marvin Gaye
Released May 21, 1971 (1971-05-21)
Recorded June–September 1970; March–May 1971
Studio Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World, and United Sound Studios in Detroit and The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California
Genre Soul, R&B
Length 35:38
Label Tamla
Producer Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye chronology
Super Hits
What's Going On
Trouble Man
Singles from What's Going On
  1. "What's Going On"
    Released: January 20, 1971 (1971-01-20)
  2. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
    Released: June 10, 1971 (1971-06-10)
  3. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"
    Released: September 1971 (1971-09)

What's Going On is the eleventh studio album by soul musician Marvin Gaye, released May 21, 1971, on the Motown-subsidiary label Tamla Records.[1] Recording sessions for the album took place in June 1970 and March–May 1971 at Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World and United Sound Studios in Detroit and at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California. What's Going On was the first album on which Motown Records' main studio band, the group of session musicians known as the Funk Brothers, received an official credit.

The first Marvin Gaye album credited as being produced by the artist himself, What's Going On is a unified concept album consisting of nine songs, most of which lead into the next. It has also been categorized as a song cycle; the album ends on a reprise of the album's opening theme. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing only hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye's introspective lyrics discuss themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with criticizing global warming before the public outcry against it had become prominent.

What's Going On was both an immediate commercial and critical success. Having endured as a classic of 1970s soul, a deluxe edition set was released on February 27, 2001, and featured a rare recording of a May 1972 concert shot at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center. Worldwide surveys of critics, musicians, and the general public have shown that What's Going On is regarded as one of the landmark recordings in pop music history, and one of the greatest albums of the 20th century.[2] The album was ranked number six both on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", and in the magazine's update nine years later.[3]


  • Background 1
  • Conception 2
  • Recording 3
  • Composition 4
  • Commercial performance 5
  • Critical reception 6
  • Accolades 7
  • Track listing 8
    • Original LP 8.1
    • 2001 Deluxe Edition 8.2
    • 2002 remaster 8.3
    • 2011 Super Deluxe Edition 8.4
  • Personnel 9
  • Charts 10
    • Album 10.1
    • Singles 10.2
  • See also 11
  • References 12
    • Sources 12.1
  • External links 13


During the late 1960s, Marvin Gaye had fallen into a deep depression following the collapse and later diagnosis of his singing partner and fellow Motown artist Tammi Terrell having a malignant brain tumor. Gaye was also depressed with the fallout of his first marriage to Anna Gordy, a growing dependency on cocaine which he often rubbed on his gums or ate because he had trouble snorting, troubles with the IRS and struggling with his relationship in Motown Records, the label he had signed with in 1961. At one point, Gaye attempted suicide at his brother-in-law Berry Gordy's father's home with a handgun, only to be saved from committing the act by Gordy, Sr.[4] During this time, Gaye began experiencing international success for the first time in his career following the release of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and subsequent hit singles such as "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby", "Abraham, Martin & John" and "That's the Way Love Is". But Gaye was in no mood to celebrate: "My success didn't seem real. I didn't deserve it. I knew I could have done more. I felt like a puppet—Berry's puppet, Anna's puppet. I had a mind of my own and I wasn't using it."[5][6][4]

During this time, Gaye was able to prove his worth as a producer, producing several songs for Motown vocal group The Originals. The songs, "Baby, I'm for Real" and "The Bells", became hits as a result. On March 16, 1970, Terrell succumbed from her illness, roughly five weeks before her 25th birthday. Gaye dealt with Terrell's death by going on a prolonged seclusion from the music business. After his success with the Originals, Gaye changed his look, ditching his clean-cut, college boy image to grow a beard and dressing more casually, wearing sweatsuits.[7] Gaye also pierced his ear in defiance and stood up to Motown executives who felt he should have been touring.[7] He also began working on fixing his personal issues, re-embracing his spirituality and also attended several concerts held by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which had been used for several Motown recordings in the 1960s.[7] Around the spring of 1970, Gaye also began seriously pursuing a career in football with the professional football team the Detroit Lions of the NFL, even working out with the Eastern Michigan Eagles football team.[7] However, Gaye's pursuit of a tryout with the Lions was stopped after being advised that an injury would derail his music career, leaving him upset.[7][8][9] Despite this, Gaye would befriend three of the Lions teammates, Mel Farr, Charlie Sanders and Lem Barney, as well as the Detroit Pistons star and future Detroit mayor Dave Bing.


While traveling on his tour bus with the Four Tops on May 15, 1969, Four Tops member Renaldo "Obie" Benson witnessed an act of police brutality and violence committed on anti-war protesters who had been protesting at Berkeley's People's Park in what was later termed as "Bloody Thursday".[10] A disgusted Benson later told author Ben Edmonds, "I saw this and started wondering 'what was going on, what is happening here?' One question led to another. Why are they sending kids far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own kids in the street?"[10][11] Returning to Detroit, Motown songwriter Al Cleveland wrote and composed a song based on his conversations with Benson of what he had seen in Berkeley. Benson sent the unfinished song to his band mates but the other Four Tops turned the song down.[10] Benson said, "My partners told me it was a protest song. I said 'no man it's a love song, about love and understanding. I'm not protesting. I want to know what's going on.'"[10][11]

The song was presented by Benson and Cleveland to Marvin Gaye while finding him at a golf game. Returning to Gaye's home in Outer Drive, Benson played the song to Gaye on his guitar. Gaye felt the song's moody flow would be perfect for The Originals. Benson, however, felt Gaye could sing it himself. Gaye responded to that suggestion by asking Benson for songwriting credit of the song. Benson and Cleveland allowed it and Gaye edited the song, adding a new melody, revising the song to his own liking, and changing some of the lyrics, reflective of Gaye's own disgust. Gaye finished the song by adding its title, "What's Going On". Benson said later that Gaye tweaked and enriched the song, "added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story and not a song... we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it."[12][11] During this time, Gaye had been deeply affected by letters shared between him and his brother after he had returned from service over the treatment of Vietnam veterans.[13]

Gaye had also been deeply affected by the social ills that were then plaguing the United States at the time, even covering the track, "Abraham, Martin & John", in 1969, which became a UK hit for Gaye in 1970. Gaye cited the 1965 Watts riots as a pivotal moment in his life in which he asked himself, "with the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?"[13] One night, Gaye called Berry Gordy about doing a protest record while Gordy vacationed at the Bahamas, to which Gordy chastised him, "Marvin, don't be ridiculous. That's taking things too far."[12]

Reuniting at their parents' suburban D.C. home, Marvin's brother Frankie discussed the events of his tenure at Vietnam, detailing experiences that sometimes left the two brothers consoling each other in tears.[14] Then after Frankie explained witnessing violence and murder before he was to depart back to the states, he recalled Marvin sitting propped up in a bed with his hands in his face.[15] Afterwards Marvin told his brother, "I didn't know how to fight before, but now I think I do. I just have to do it my way. I'm not a painter. I'm not a poet. But I can do it with music."[15]

In an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, Marvin Gaye discussed what had shaped his view on more socially conscious themes in music and the conception of his eleventh studio album:

In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say.... I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.[3]
— Marvin Gaye


On June 1, 1970, Gaye entered Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. studios to record "What's Going On". Immediately after learning about the song, many of Motown's musicians, known as The Funk Brothers noted that there was a different approach with Gaye's record than there had been with other Motown recordings, and Gaye complicated matters by only bringing in a few of the members while bringing his own recruits, including drummer Chet Forest.[12] Longtime Funk Brothers members Jack Ashford, James Jamerson and Eddie Brown participated in the recording.[12] Jamerson was pulled into the recording studio by Gaye after he located Jamerson playing with a local band at a blues bar and Eli Fontaine, the saxophonist behind "Baby, I'm For Real", also participated in the recording. Jamerson, who couldn't sit properly on his seat after arriving to the session drunk, performed his bass riffs, written for him by the album's arranger David Van De Pitte, on the floor.[16] Fontaine's open alto saxophone riff on the song was not originally intended. When Gaye heard the playback to what Fontaine thought was simply a demo, Gaye let him go. When Fontaine said he was "just goofing around", Gaye replied, "well, you goof off exquisitely. Thank you."[12]

The laid-back sessions of the single was credited to lots of "marijuana smoke and rounds of Scotch".[12] Gaye's trademark multi-layering vocal approach came off initially as an accident by engineers Steve Smith and Kenneth Sands.[16] Sands later explained that Gaye had wanted him to bring him the two lead vocal takes for "What's Going On" for advice on which one he should use for the final song. Smith and Sands accidentally mixed the two lead vocal takes together.[16] Gaye loved the sound and decided to keep it and use it for the duration of the album.

That September, Gaye approached Gordy with the "What's Going On" song while in California where Gordy had relocated. Gordy took a profound dislike to the song, calling it "the worst thing I ever heard in my life".[12] Gaye, who had also begun recording some songs that would later be featured on his later album, Let's Get It On, responded by going on strike from recording anything else for the label unless Gordy relented.[17][12] Motown executive Harry Balk later recalled that he had tried to get Gordy to release the song to which Gordy replied to Balk, "that Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting, it's old."[18] Most of Motown's Quality Control Department team also turned the song down, with Balk later stating that "they were used to the 'baby baby' stuff, and this was a little hard for them to grasp."[19] Gordy also felt the song was too political to be a hit on radio and too unusual compared with what was considered a part of the popular music sound of that time to be commercially successful.[20]

With the help of Motown sales executive Barney Ales, Harry Balk got the song released to record stores, sending 100,000 copies of the song without Gordy's knowledge, on January 17, 1971, with another 100,000 copies sent after that success.[17][16] Upon its release, the song became a hit and was Motown's fastest-selling single at the time, peaking at number 1 on the Hot Soul Singles Chart, and peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.[17] Gordy was stunned by the news and drove to Gaye's home to discuss him making a complete album, stating Gaye could do what he wanted with his music if he finished the record within 30 days before the end of March[12] and thus effectively giving him the right to produce his own albums. Gaye returned to Hitsville to record the rest of What's Going On, which took a mere ten business days between March 1 and March 10. The album's rhythm tracks and sound overdubs were recorded at Hitsville, or Studio A, while the strings, horns, lead and background vocals were recorded at Golden World, or Studio B.[16]

The album's original mix, recorded in Detroit at both Hitsville and Golden World as well as United Sound Studios, was finalized on April 5, 1971. When Gordy listened to the mix, he cautioned Gaye of the album's potential of possibly alienating Gaye's core fan base, which was mostly women; however, Gaye refused to budge.[17] Gaye and his engineers did a new sound mix of the album at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood in early May, integrating the orchestra somewhat closer with the rhythm tracks. Though Motown's Quality Control department team feared no other hit released from the album due to its concurrent style with each song leading to the next, Gordy surprisingly allowed this mix to be released that month.[20]


"What's Going On" features soulful, passionate vocals and multi-tracked background singing, both by Gaye. The song had strong jazz, gospel, classical music orchestration and arrangements. The song also featured major seventh and minor seventh chords, which was then unusual for pop music at the time.[21] Reviewer Eric Henderson of Slant stated the song had an "understandably mournful tone" in response to the fallout of the late 1960s counterculture movements.[20] Henderson also wrote that "Gaye's choice to emphasize humanity at its most charitable rather than paint bleak pictures of destruction and disillusionment is characteristic of the album that follows."[20]

This is immediately followed in segue flow by the second track, "What's Happening Brother", a song Gaye dedicated to his brother Frankie, in which Gaye wrote to explain the disillusionment of war veterans who returned to civilian life and their disconnect from pop culture.[20] "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)", which took its title from an United Airlines tag, "fly the friendly skies", dealt with dependence on heroin. The lyric, "I know, I'm hooked my friend, to the boy, who makes slaves out of men", references heroin as "boy", which was slang for the drug. "Save the Children" was an emotional plea to help disadvantaged children, warning, "who really cares/who's willing to try/to save a world/that is destined to die?", later crying out, "save the babies". A truncated version of "God Is Love" follows "Save the Children" and makes references to God.

"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" was another emotional plea, this time to the environment. Funk Brother musician Earl Van Dyke once mentioned that Berry Gordy didn't know of the word "ecology" and had to be told what it was. The song featured a memorable tenor saxophone riff from Detroit music legend Wild Bill Moore. "Right On" was a lengthy seven-minute jam influenced by funk rock and Latin soul rhythms that focused on Gaye's own divided soul in which Gaye later pleaded in falsetto, "if you let me, I will take you to live where love is King" after complying that "true love can conquer hate every time". "Wholy Holy" follows "God Is Love" as an emotional gospel plea advising people to "come together" to "proclaim love [as our] salvation". The final track, "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", focuses on urban poverty, backed by a minimalist, dark blues-oriented funk vibe, with its bass riffs composed and performed by Bob Babbitt, who also performed on "Mercy Mercy Me" (Jamerson played on the rest of the album). The entire album's stylistic use of a song cycle gave it a cohesive feel and was one of R&B's first concept albums, described as "a groundbreaking experiment in collating a pseudo-classical suite of free-flowing songs."[20]

Commercial performance

Released on May 21, 1971, What's Going On became Gaye's first album to reach the Billboard Top LPs top ten, peaking at number six, and staying on the chart for nearly a year, selling over two million copies, by the end of 1972, becoming Motown's and Gaye's best-selling album to that date until he released Let's Get It On in 1973. It also became Gaye's second number-one album on Billboard′s Soul LPs chart, where it stayed for several weeks. The album's leading single, "What's Going On", sold over 200,000 copies within a week of its release in January 1971, later going on to sell two-and-a-half-million units by the end of the year.[16] It spent several weeks at number-two on the Billboard Hot 100 behind Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World", and spent five weeks at number one on the Soul Singles chart between March 27 and April 24, 1971.

The follow-up single, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", peaked at number-four on the Hot 100, and also went number-one on the R&B chart. The third, and final, single, "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", peaked at number-nine on the Hot 100, while also rising to number-one on the R&B chart, thus making Gaye the first male solo artist to place three top ten singles on the Hot 100 off one album, as well as the first artist to place three singles at number-one on any Billboard chart (in this case, R&B), off one single album. The album had a modest commercial reception in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom; "Save the Children" reached number 41 on the latter country's singles chart, while the album reached number 56 twenty-five years after its original release. In 1984, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 following Gaye's untimely death. In 1994, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America in the United States for sales of half a million copies after it was issued on CD. On July 22, 2013, the album was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry for shipments of 300,000 albums.

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[22]
Billboard favorable[23]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[24]
Robert Christgau B+[25]
The Observer 5/5 stars[26]
Q 5/5 stars[27]
Rolling Stone favorable[28]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[29]
Slant Magazine 4/5 stars[30]
Uncut 5/5 stars[31]

In addition, What's Going On received the highest ratings from several leading American publications, including Time, Rolling Stone (who named it "Album of the Year"), The New York Times, and Billboard, who rewarded Gaye with the Billboard Trendsetter Award of 1971. Upon release, Rolling Stone magazine music critic Vince Aletti praised What's Going On for its thematic approach towards social and political concerns, while also mentioning the surprise of Motown releasing such an album. In a review of the album and Stevie Wonder's Where I'm Coming From, Aletti wrote:

Ambitious, personal albums may be a glut on the market elsewhere, but at Motown they're something new... the album as a whole takes precedence, absorbing its own flaws. There are very few performers who could carry a project like this off. I've always admired Marvin Gaye, but I didn't expect that he would be one of them. Guess I seriously underestimated him. It won't happen again.[32]

Billboard described the album as "a cross between Curtis Mayfield and that old Motown spell and outdoes anything Gaye's ever done".[33] In his Consumer Guide review, The Village Voice reviewer Robert Christgau categorized the album's three singles, "What's Going On", "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", as great singles that were "so original they reveal ordinary Motown-political as the benign market manipulation it is. And Gaye keeps getting more subtle vocally and rhythmically."[33][34] However Christgau thought the rest of the album as "pretty murky even when the lyrical ideas are good".[33][34] In its 2004 review of the album, Rolling Stone magazine listed the album as having "revolutionized black music".[3] Time magazine in its review of the album cited it as a "vast, melodically deft symphonic pop suite".[35]

Reviewer Paul Gambaccini said that Gaye's death marked a critical re-evaluation of the album, with most reviewers now regarding it as a major masterpiece in popular music.[33] BBC Music's David Katz described the album as "one of the greatest albums of all time, and nothing short of a masterpiece" and compared it to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue by saying "its non-standard musical arrangements, which heralded a new sound at the time, gives it a chilling edge that ultimately underscores its gravity, with subtle orchestral enhancements offset by percolating congas, expertly layered above James Jamerson's bubbling bass".[36] In his 1994 review of Gaye's re-issues, Chicago Tribune reviewer Greg Kot described the album as "soul music's first 'art' album, an inner-city response to the Celtic mysticism of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, the psychedelic pop of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band [and] the rewired blues of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited."[24]

Later on, many artists from different musical genres covered songs from the album, most notably live recordings by Aretha Franklin ("Wholy Holy" on Amazing Grace) and Donny Hathaway ("What's Going On" on Donny Hathaway Live), as well as Robert Palmer's medley of "Mercy Mercy Me/I Want You", among others. "Mercy Mercy Me" was featured as the b-side to The Strokes' single "You Only Live Once". Brian Auger's Oblivion Express would record a jazzy and lengthy version of "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)" on their 1973 album Closer To It.


In 1985, writers on British music weekly the NME voted it best album of all time.[37] In 2004, the album's title track was ranked number 4 on Rolling Stone′s list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[38] A 1999 critics poll conducted by British newspaper The Guardian named it the "Greatest Album of the 20th Century". In 1997, What's Going On was named the 17th greatest album of all time in a poll conducted in the United Kingdom by HMV Group, Channel 4, The Guardian and Classic FM.[39] In 1997, The Guardian ranked the album number one on its list of the 100 Best Albums Ever.[40] In 1998 Q magazine readers placed it at number 97, while in 2001 the TV network VH1 placed it at number 4. In 2003, it was one of 50 recordings chosen that year by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry. What's Going On was ranked number 6 on Rolling Stone magazine's 2003 list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time", one of three Gaye albums to be included, succeeded by 1973's Let's Get It On (number 165) and 1978's Here, My Dear (number 462).[41] The album is Gaye's highest-ranking entry on the list, as well as several other publications' lists.

Publication Country Accolade[42] Year Rank
Bill Shapiro United States The Top 100 Rock Compact Discs 1991 *
Jimmy Guteman The Best Rock 'n' Roll Records of All Time 1992 *
Chris Smith 101 Albums That Changed Popular Music 2009 *
Elvis Costello (Vanity Fair, Issue No. 483) 500 Albums You Need 2005 *
Chuck Eddy The Accidental Evolution of Rock'n'Roll 1997 *
Consequence of Sound Top 100 Albums Ever 2010 19
Vibe 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century 1999 *
Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein The 40 Best of Album Chartmakers by Year 1981 7
USA Today Top 40 Albums of All Time 2003 *
Gear The 100 Greatest Albums of the Century 1999 2
Life Dozen Discs That Shook the World 2005 *
Pitchfork Top 100 Albums of the 1970s 2004 49
Rolling Stone The Essential 200 Rock Records 1997 *
Rolling Stone "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" 2003 6
Spin 15 Most Influential Albums Not By Beatles, Stones, Dylan or Elvis 2003 *
The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs 1998 *
Kitsap Sun Top 200 Albums of the Last 40 Years 2005 32
Robert Dimery 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 *
Time Top 100 Albums of All Time 2006 *
Paul Gambaccini The World Critics Best Albums of All Time 1987 4
Gary Pig Gold Canada The 40 Most Influential Records of the 20th Century 1999 *
The Guardian United Kingdom 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die 2007 *
The Guardian The 100 Best Albums Ever 1997 1
Melody Maker All Time Top 100 Albums 2000 24
Mojo The 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made 1995 6
Mojo The 100 Records That Changed the World 2007 63
NME All Times Top 100 Albums 1985 1
NME All Times Top 100 Albums + Top 50 by Decade 1993 4
NME Top 100 Albums of All Time 2003 27
Q The 50 Best Albums of the 70s 1998 20
Q The Ultimate Music Collection 2005 *
Sounds The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1986 15
The New Nation Top 100 Albums by Black Artists 2005 1
Paul Gambaccini The World Critics Best Albums of All Time 1977 106
Paul Gambaccini The World Critics Best Albums of All Time 1987 4
The Observer 50 Albums That Changed Music 1956-2006 2006 6
The Times The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1993 49
Times Online The 20 Most Influential Albums 2008 17
Vox 100 Records that Shook the World 1991 *
Hot Press Ireland The 100 Best Albums of All Time 1989 23
Hot Press The 100 Best Albums Ever 2003 41
Adresseavisen Norway The 100 (+23) Best Albums of All Time 1995 4
Aftenposten Top 50 Albums of All Time 1999 3
Dagbladet The Best Albums of the Century 1999 *
Eggen & Kartvedt The Guide to the 100 Important Rock Albums 1999 *
Panorama The 30 Best Albums of the Year 1970-98 1999 2
Platekompaniet Top 100 Albums of All Time 2001 12
Tor Milde The 100 Best Pop and Rock Albums of All Time 2004 2
Expressen Sweden The 100 Best Records Ever 1999 8
Slitz The 50 Best Albums of All Time 1990 13
Pop The World's 100 Best Albums + 300 Complements 1994 14
Soundi Finland The 50 Best Albums of All Time + Top 10 by Decade 1995 4
OOR Netherlands The Best Albums of the 70s 1979 19
OOR The 100 Best Albums of All Time 2007 5
VPRO 299 Nominations of the Best Album of All Time 2006 *
Musik Express/Sounds Germany The 100 Masterpieces 1993 22
Spex The 100 Albums of the Century 1999 6
Sounds The 50 Best Albums of the 1970s 2009 1
Volume France 200 Records that Changed the World 2008 *
Rock de Lux Spain The 100 Best Albums of the 1970s 1988 1
Rock de Lux The 200 Best Albums of All Time 2002 2
Alternative Melbourne Australia The Top 100 Rock/Pop Albums 1996 67
The Courier-Mail 50 Defining Rock Albums 2005 5
(*) designates lists that are unordered.

Track listing

All songs produced by Marvin Gaye.

Original LP

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "What's Going On"   Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye, Renaldo "Obie" Benson 3:53
2. "What's Happening Brother"   M. Gaye, James Nyx Jr. 2:43
3. "Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)"   M. Gaye, Anna Gordy Gaye, Elgie Stover 3:49
4. "Save the Children"   Cleveland, Benson, M. Gaye 4:03
5. "God Is Love"   M. Gaye, A. Gaye, Stover, Nyx 1:41
6. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"   M. Gaye 3:16
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. "Right On"   Earl DeRouen, M. Gaye 7:31
8. "Wholy Holy"   Benson, Cleveland, M. Gaye 3:08
9. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"   M. Gaye, Nyx 5:26

2001 Deluxe Edition

In 2001, a "Deluxe Edition" 2-CD version of the album was released by Motown, which included the original LP as released, the discarded "Detroit Mix" of the album, and the mono 45 rpm mixes of the singles. Also included was a recording of Gaye's first live concert performance after two years away from the stage following Tammi Terrell's illness and death, performed at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall in his native Washington, D.C., on May 1, 1972.

2002 remaster

  1. "God Is Love" (Single Version) – 2:48
  2. "Sad Tomorrows" – 2:22

2011 Super Deluxe Edition

Professional ratings
2011 deluxe edition
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[43]
BBC Music (favorable)[44]
The Independent 5/5 stars[45]
No Ripcord (10/10)[46]
Pitchfork Media (9.5/10)[47]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[48]
Spin (9/10)[49]
Uncut 5/5 stars[50]

What's Going On was reissued and remastered in a deluxe edition with 28 additional tracks.[51] It was released on May 31, 2011 and received general acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 100, based on ten reviews, which indicates "universal acclaim".[51]

Disc 1
  1. "What's Going On" (Original Rejected Single Mix)
  2. "Head Title (Distant Lover)" (Demo)
  3. "Symphony" (Demo)
  4. "I Love the Ground You Walk On" (Instrumental)
  5. "What's Going On" (Mono Single Version)
  6. "God is Love" (Mono Single Version)
  7. "Mercy Mercy Me" (The Ecology) (Mono Single Version)
  8. "Sad Tomorrows" (Mono Single Version)
  9. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (Mono Single Version)
  10. "Wholly Holy" (Mono Single Version)




Title Information
What's Going On
  • US Pop Albums #6 (1971)
  • US Pop Albums #154 (1984)
  • Top R&B Albums #1


Title Information
"What's Going On"
"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
"Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"
  • Tamla single 54209, September 16, 1971
  • B-side: "Wholy Holy"
  • US Pop Singles #9
  • US R&B Singles #1

See also


  1. ^ – What's Going On (US LP). Discogs. Retrieved on 2008-08-17.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c Rolling Stone 2012.
  4. ^ a b Gulla 2008, pp. 344.
  5. ^ Ritz 1991, pp. 126.
  6. ^ Posner 2002, p. 225.
  7. ^ a b c d e Gulla 2008, pp. 345.
  8. ^ Music Urban Legends Revealed #16. (2009-07-29). Retrieved on 2012-05-14.
  9. ^ Gates 2004, pp. 332.
  10. ^ a b c d Lynskey 2011, pp. 155.
  11. ^ a b c Edmonds 2003, p. 75-78.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Lynskey 2011, pp. 157.
  13. ^ a b Lynskey 2011, pp. 156.
  14. ^ Gaye 2003, p. 72.
  15. ^ a b Gaye 2003, p. 75.
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  17. ^ a b c d Bowman 2006, pp. 16.
  18. ^ Bowman 2006, pp. 15.
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  21. ^ Edmonds 2003, pp. 84-85.
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  28. ^ Aletti, Vince. What's Going OnReview: . Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2010-01-17.
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  30. ^ Henderson, Eric. What's Going OnReview: . Slant Magazine. Retrieved on 2010-01-17.
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  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
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  52. ^ "...such as Bobbye Hall whose insistent bongos can be heard..."


External links

  • What's Going On at Acclaimed Music
  • What's Going On at Discogs
  • Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On': Songs We Love at NPR
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