Marvin Gaye, while a fantastic singer throughout his tenure on Motown, supposedly only really hit his stride when he achieved artistic control of his records starting in 1971. Funny though, as I don’t hear it that way ...
For starters, Gaye’s muse was rather sporadic, resulting in long gaps between releases, or resorting to tactics like: basically taking over what should've more properly been songwriter Leon Ware’s album, with I Want You
. As well, he tended to focus on a particular theme, or even a groove, such that some of his later albums are a tad monotonous.
It was in the hands of commercially-minded songwriters and producers in Hitsville though, that Marvin Gaye produced his most enduring work. His distinctive voice, combined with one of the hottest bands around, made records that stand among the finest moments of 60’s Soul - songs like “How Sweet It Is”, “I’ll Be Doggone”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, and the biggest single hit of the decade, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”.
Where Gaye shined especially was on the lost art of the duet. I’m not sure why they don’t seem to make them these days, but a man-woman romantic duet is one of the coolest forms of music. There's the enjoyable contrast of voices, a bit of characterization in the lyrics, and great harmonies too. With Tim McGraw and Faith Hill raking in the bucks doing country duets, I’m not sure why some teen-pop svengali didn't stick Justin Timberlake and Mandy Moore together.
Here, Gaye is paired with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell, and Diana Ross, for a thrilling string of memorable recordings. The Ross recordings were just a contractual obligation in the early-70’s, where Gaye sounds disinterested, while the Wells recordings suffer from cutesy lyrics and raw production. But the Weston and Terrell duets date from Motown’s heyday (1965-1969), and convince me even more of the enduring value of this style of music.
by Reviewer: Steve Knowlton
(blogging at Steve's Record Reviews