Marvin Gaye: The World’s Sexiest Politician

SOMETIMES THE ANNOYING GUY AT THE PARTY IS THE ONE WHO WON’T STOP YAMMERING ABOUT POLITICS. But it’s not that politics can’t be sexy. It’s just the delivery. Now adding instruments will always make a message more palatable but giving that guy an acoustic guitar will not make his shit any less pedantic. If you’re going to sex up your political message, there’s only one man you call: Marvin Gaye. After all, Gaye’s sexiest record is also his most political. 1971′s What’s Going On also been called the best record of the twentieth century, and the best record of all time. Those are some accolades.

But Gaye’s politics also got him into trouble. Motown CEO Berry Gordy was not the least impressed with What’s Going On and shuddered at the thought of Gaye making another political record. As a result, the recordings that immediately followed What’s Going On were shelved and 1973’s sexually charged Let’s Get It On, was the official follow-up. Those lost political records didn’t surface until after Gaye’s death in 1984, but we’ve collected them here. So what the hell, forty years later America is still at war and the run for the White House is as contentious as it’s ever been.

You’re the Man” was the only lost song to breathe airtime before Gaye’s death but it was a  short lived run. Taking cues from the politically charged What’s Going On this funk-driven song was directed at Richard Nixon during a politically explosive 1972 presidential run. Initially planned as the title track to a full length record, it was shelved because it was politically too hot for Motown which was doing little to promote it.  It still went to 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and hit 7 on the Soul Singles charts.

The World Is Rated X” was part of the shelved You’re the Man record project and is a direct descendant of What’s Going On’s infectious Inner City Blues (Makes You Wanna Holler) on What’s Going On. Both are scathing indictments of the hustle and perils of city life. Be careful with “Inner City Blues”- there’s a bass line in there that will make you pregnant if you’re not careful, and it’s by far the sexiest song about not being able to pay your taxes.  The former was written in 1972, but didn’t surface until 1986, two years after his death.

Gaye had a 35-year jump on Lady Gaga here when it came to the struggle for self-identity. The soulful ballad “Piece of Clay” was all about the struggle for self amid pressure to be something you are not. Given the context of Gaye’s life, the song turns out to be somewhat of a personal anthem. It’s no secret his father disapproved of his lifestyle and the reason this list occurs at all is because folks had other plans for his sound. Although this song was released shortly after his death, it didn’t surface again until it featured on the soundtrack for the 1996 film, Phenomenon, which has one of the strongest soundtracks in film.

Where Are We Going?” is where the plot really thickens if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Marvin Gaye fan. Gaye turned to the legendary Motown production team of the Mizell brothers before releasing What’s Going On’s official follow-up, Let’s Get It On in 1973. Together they recorded three songs, one of which is this track, which didn’t surface for an astounding 30 years after its recording. It’s remarkably close to What’s Going On’s title track, both in its composition and in its socially conscious lyrics. When this song was shelved, the Mizell brothers handed it to trumpet sensation, Donald Byrd, where it featured as the last song on Blue Note label’s Black Byrd. The Mizells did the same with the second song they recorded with Gaye, putting it on Byrd’s next record as an instrumental version at the end of the record once again. The third song?…Well only the Mizell brothers know where that song is.

Finally, if you’re going to establish yourself as the world’s sexiest politician, you have to be able to sing the national anthem in a way that will melt clothes right off the listener’s body. But Marvin was able to do just that. Here is Marvin Gaye, a year before his death, singing the “Star Spangled Banner“. In this writer’s opinion, it’s the best the song has ever sounded, drum machine and all.

Ian Orti is the author of The Olive and the Dawn (Snare Books) and L (and things come apart) (Invisible Publishing).

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