The song What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, the #4 Great of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time according to Rolling Stone, was measured for speed by the method described on http://meanspeed.com as:
number of beats=376
mean time=3 minues, 41.7 seconds
meanspeed=101.8 beats per minute
meanspace=589 milliseconds per beat
Who better to write about the song than “The Stone” itself–they did make the list! We thank them for the reprint:
What’s Going On
Written by: Gaye, Renaldo Benson, Al Cleveland
Produced by: Gaye
Released: Feb. ’71 on Tamla
Charts: 13 weeks
Top spot: No. 2
“What’s Going On” is an exquisite plea for peace on earth, sung by a man at the height of crisis. In 1970, Marvin Gaye was Motown’s top male vocal star, yet he was frustrated by the assembly-line role he played on his own hits. Devastated by the loss of duet partner Tammi Terrell, who died that March after a three-year battle with a brain tumor, Gaye was also trapped in a turbulent marriage to Anna Gordy, Motown boss Berry Gordy’s sister. Gaye was tormented, too, by his relationship with his puritanical father, Marvin Sr. “If I was arguing for peace,” Gaye told biographer David Ritz, “I knew I’d have to find peace in my heart.”
Not long after Terrell’s passing, Renaldo Benson of the Four Tops presented Gaye with a song he had written with Motown staffer Al Cleveland. Benson later claimed that he gave Gaye a co-writing credit as an inducement to sing and produce the track. But Gaye made the song his own: directly overseeing the liquid beauty of David Van DePitte’s arrangement (although Gaye could not read or write music) and investing the topical references to war and racial strife with private anguish. Motown session crew the Funk Brothers cut the stunning, jazz-inflected rhythm track, which was unlike anything in the label’s Sixties hit parade (Gaye played cardboard-box percussion). Then Gaye invoked his own family in moving prayer: singing to his younger brother Frankie, a Vietnam veteran (“Brother, brother, brother/There’s far too many of you dying”), and appealing for calm closer to home (“Father, father, father/We don’t need to escalate”).
Initially rejected as uncommercial, “What’s Going On” (with background vocals by two players from the Detroit Lions) was Gaye’s finest studio achievement, a timeless gift of healing. But for Gaye, the peace he craved never came: On April 1st, 1984, he died in a family dispute — shot by his father.
Appears on: What’s Going On (Tamla)