Certain Songs #1097: Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”

Album: What’s Going On
Year: 1971

While I personally don’t find What’s Going On as much of an early 1970s R&B landmark as, say, Stand! or Innervisions or even Maggot Brain, the rest of the world completely disagrees.

So I’m going to figure it’s a blind spot to me the same way that Pet Sounds or Transformer is: a couple of great singles, but it’s never quite worked for me as an album.

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Certain Songs #1096: Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”

Album: I Heard it Through The Grapevine
Year: 1968

You wanna know just insanely stacked Motown was in the late 1960s? They sat on Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard it Through The Grapevine” for over a year before they released. A year!

Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was originally recorded that year by the Miracles but nixed as a single — and listening to it now, you can tell why: it was a skosh too fast, and not slinky enough — and then recorded by both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight in 1967, but only Gladys Knight’s version was released that year.

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Certain Songs #1095: Martha and the Vandellas – “Dancing in the Street”

Album: Dance Party
Year: 1964

Initially conceived as a basic dance party track, “Dancing in the Street” has instead become a cultural touchstone used for purposes far beyond its initial reason for existing.

Co-written by Marvin Gaye (who also provided some dynamite drums), producer William “Mickey” Stevenson & songwriter Ivy Jo Hunter, what initially set “Dancing in the Street” apart was its inclusiveness: it wasn’t about dancing alone to the radio, it wasn’t about you and me dancing, or even all of us at the club dancing, it was about everybody everywhere dancing.

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Certain Songs #1094: Martha and the Vandellas – “Heat Wave”

Album: Heat Wave
Year: 1963

Oh man, “Heat Wave,” a song that is such a primeval force of nature that I’ve probably taken how important it is for granted. It might not have been first single from the Motown record machine, but it was absolutely one of the very first full-blown Motown sound singles, and its importance to what came after cannot be understated. Even now.

Want a hit? Figure out how to do a variation on the “Heat Wave” rhythm. Ask Outkast or Janelle Monae or even Portugal.The Man.

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Certain Songs #1093: Marshall Crenshaw – “Don’t Disappear Now”

Album: Life’s Too Short
Year: 1991

If “Better Back Off” set a tougher tone for Marshall Crenshaw’s 1991 Life’s Too Short album, then then second song, “Don’t Disappear Now,” was the indicator that was going to be the direction that permeated the whole record.

Opening with a long, snaking Crenshaw guitar line over a Lou Reed-y rhythm as set by drummer Kenny Aronoff and bassist Fernando Saunders, “Better Back Off” is the story of a relationship that burnt hard and bright abd begins with one of my favorite opening lines to any song.

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