By Casey Brown
This week marks the anniversary of both Marvin Gaye’s birth (April 2nd 1939) and sadly also his passing at the age of 44 (April 1st 1984). But in our music at least, it’s like he never left. With some artists there’s just something special about their work, their voice, and their performance that makes them icons. With a tenderness and gravity-defying range, Gaye could charm singing about everything from the bedroom to politics. He was a Motown icon that slowly turned into musical visionary.
Today Gaye’s sonic afterlife still pays tribute to the soul he poured onto records and into our musical history. I’m not just talking about trendy shout-outs to the name that rhymes with Chardonnay. I’m talking about the musical legacy that keeps finding its way way into our grooves and into our consciousness. Here are just three of many compelling Marvin samples/references around:
If Marvin was alive now, wow..
I know the minor world would probably look strange to him
Would he feel like today had a place for him?
Global imprisonment, sickness, indifference
When he said, “Save the babies,” was we listenin?
Mos Def’s 2004 track discusses Gaye’s legacy in a modern context. The commentary, however, is preceded by the track’s psychedelic use of “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky)” as if creating an intergenerational dialog. Lovely, introspective… quite a “collaboration”.
The loop behind the famous Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet accompanied yet another artist with a tragic tale and a timbre to match it. Only this time it’s not a love duet but a hook-up-break-up anthem. Amy Winehouse sings: “He walks away / The sun goes down / He takes the day but I’m grown / And in your way / In this deep shade / My tears dry on their own”. Tragic, lovely, not to mention catchy.
Let’s take it all the way up to 2011 with a new jam. At thirteen seconds in, Monica quotes Gaye’s “You’re All I Need To Get By,” singing “Like the sweet morning dew / I took one look at you / And it was plain to see / You were my destiny”. But this recent track isn’t all Marvin and Monica have in common. Last weekend Monica kicked off the NCAA basketball tournament Final Four semifinal game with her rendition of the national anthem. Twenty-nine years before Gaye shook up America with his free-flowing, Star-Spangled rendition at the NBA All Stars game.