Good Morning, Everyone. I hope you have a drama-free day.
In October 1968, Gaye’s recording of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was released and became Gaye’s first to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and also reached the top of the charts in other countries, selling well over a million copies. However, Gaye felt the success was something he “didn’t deserve” and that he “felt like a puppet — Berry’s puppet, Anna’s puppet…” Gaye followed it with songs such as “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and “That’s the Way Love Is”, which reached the top-ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. That year, his album, M.P.G., became his first top-40 pop album as well as his first number-one R&B album. Gaye, who was one of the few Motown artists to write his own material, produced and co-wrote two hits for The Originals including “Baby I’m For Real” and “The Bells”.
What’s Going On and subsequent success
On June 10, 1970, Gaye returned to the Hitsville U.S.A. studios where he recorded his new composition, “What’s Going On”, inspired by an idea from Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops after he witnessed an act of police brutality at an anti-war rally in Berkeley. Gaye later played the song to Berry Gordy, who refused to release it due mainly to its jazz-oriented sound, which Gordy labeled “outdated”. Gaye refused to record unless Motown released the song. The song was released on January 17, 1971 and quickly shot to number-one on the R&B charts within a month staying there for five weeks, also reaching number-two on the Billboard pop chart and number-one on Cashbox’s pop chart for a week, selling over two million copies.
Emboldened by its success, Gaye spent ten days recording the What’s Going On album after Gordy gave him an ultimatum of completing the album by the end of that March. Though the album’s subject matter again led to Gordy advising to Gaye of its potential of damaging his core fan base, Motown issued the album that May. The album became Gaye’s first million-selling album and featured two more top-ten hits, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues”. The album became one of Motown’s first autonomous works, without the help of Motown’s staff producers. Its themes and segue flow brought the concept album format to rhythm and blues music. The album was later hailed as “the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices”. Gaye won several music industry awards following the album’s success including Billboard’s Trendsetter of the Year while Rolling Stone named it the “Album of the Year”. He won several NAACP Image Awards including Producer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year while the album won Album of the Year. The “What’s Going On” song was nominated for two Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Following a couple of performances, one at the Kennedy Center in his native Washington, and for a non-profit organization dedicated to end the plight of urban poverty, Gaye signed a $1 million (US$5,556,086 in 2012 dollars) new deal with Motown, making it the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist at the time. Gaye first responded to the new contract with the soundtrack and subsequent score, Trouble Man, released in late 1972.
“Let’s Get It On” was written by Gaye and producer Ed Townsend, originally as a gospel song, and later as a protest song before eventually turning into a funk-oriented love anthem. It became Gaye’s second number-one hit in 1973.
The following year, Gaye released the Let’s Get It On album. Its title track became Gaye’s second number-one single on the Billboard pop chart. The album subsequently stayed on the charts for two years and sold over three million copies. The album was later hailed as “a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy.”