90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ Turns 40

Forty years ago this month, Marvin Gaye released the album “What’s Going On,” long considered one of the greatest soul albums ever made. The song, “What’s Going On,” was one of the nine tracks on the album and was one of the first soul songs to tackle social issues head-on.

Soul singer Marvin Gaye in New York City in an undated photo. (AP)

Soul singer Marvin Gaye in New York City in an undated photo. (AP)

Today, the album is being re-released with a few studio outtakes and alternate mixes.

The song quickly became an anthem, speaking to a generation rocked by tumultuous events, from the war in Vietnam to the ongoing struggle for civil rights and the violence and upheaval shaking the nation’s cities.

That societal unrest profoundly affected Gaye.

“In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say,” Gaye told Rolling Stone. “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.”

Gaye would also penned other topical songs, including “Abraham, Martin, and John.”

“What’s Going On” was both a commercial and critical success, though the tune did have its doubters. Motown founder Berry Gordy, for instance, panned it. “What’s Going On” was later issued as a single without Gordy’s knowledge, according to author Ben Edmonds.

In 2002, On Point talked with Edmonds and took a look at the famous song in the context of its time.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Jan 23, 2015
A Cuban flag and an American flag stand in the press room during the second day of talks between U.S. and Cuban officials, in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP)

President Obama comes out swinging in his State of the Union. High level talks in Cuba. Japanese hostages. “American Sniper” controversy. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Jan 23, 2015
People enter the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo., Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. The jury selection process in the trial of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes began Tuesday, and is expected to take several weeks to a few months. Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding more than 50 in an Aurora movie theater in 2012 (AP)

The Marathon bombing, the Aurora movie theater shootings, and the challenges of picking an impartial jury.

RECENT
SHOWS
Jan 23, 2015
People enter the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, Colo., Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. The jury selection process in the trial of Aurora theater shooting suspect James Holmes began Tuesday, and is expected to take several weeks to a few months. Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding more than 50 in an Aurora movie theater in 2012 (AP)

The Marathon bombing, the Aurora movie theater shootings, and the challenges of picking an impartial jury.

 
Jan 23, 2015
A Cuban flag and an American flag stand in the press room during the second day of talks between U.S. and Cuban officials, in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. (AP)

President Obama comes out swinging in his State of the Union. High level talks in Cuba. Japanese hostages. “American Sniper” controversy. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: January 23, 2015
Friday, Jan 23, 2015

New thoughts on Facebook, new analysis of State of the Union twitter activity and new weekend excitement. New! And exciting!

More »
Comment
 
Meet On Point’s Interns: Spring 2015
Friday, Jan 23, 2015

Good news! We have interns, and they are wonderful, and here they are for the spring term. Meet them digitally, right here.

More »
2 Comments
 
Caller To Author Ron Rash: ‘You Cared About People Like Me’
Thursday, Jan 22, 2015

An unexpected caller from South Carolina brings back guest Ron Rash’s years as a community college professor in a movingly real way.

More »
Comment