As the weeks have passed since the police involved shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas and the infamous lynching in Atlanta; there are many who dare to compare the uprising in response to these tragedies, to the civil rights movement of the past. However, as to not over emote or make light of the relevance regarding the current uprising; it must be understood the similarities reflect one important reference not yet resolved, the right to be free of racial discrimination. As Marvin Gaye once melodiously uttered in lyrical protest…
“Mother, Mother there’s far too many of you crying. Brother, Brother, Brother there’s far too many of you dying. You know we’ve got to find away, to bring some lovin’ here today.”
A timeless response to the unrest during the 1965 Watts Riots, based on the racial discrimination and injustice Black American citizens were experiencing in Los Angeles, California. So, why would a song with such brilliant and powerful words from the 1970’s hold any weight, or furthermore, any importance in the new millennium? Simple, nothing has changed and the current political rhetoric has proven this fact.
When the song, What’s Going On originally surfaced, it was inspired by a member of the Motown group The Four Tops, Renaldo “Obie” Benson; after witnessing police brutality during a protest against the Vietnam war in Berkeley, California. Benson eventually found himself struggling to understand the situation surrounding the country at the time. Benson wanted to know… what’s happening here, what’s going on? Meanwhile, Marvin Gaye was dealing with his own private ghetto making him wanna holla and throw up his hands in disgust, during phone conversations with his brother Frank (who fought 3yrs in Vietnam).
Eventually, Benson approached his band mates about recording the song, they turned him down feeling it was a protest song. Although, Benson begged to differ, he would introduce the concept and compose the song with Marvin Gaye and Al Cleveland. Gaye would be encouraged to put his own spin on it and make his own; thus rewriting and creating a beautiful eloquently written song that would stand the test of time. Gaye recorded the song and protest album on Motown records June 1, 1970, even after Berry Gordy voiced his disapproval, feeling Gaye went too far.
Fast forwarding to the present, the song’s timeless reflection depicts a current society still fighting for racial equality and justice. Still waiting for the right to freedom of expression without restriction resorting to unspeakable violence and abuse, ultimately leading to untimely death. As the song once said:
“Father, Father we don’t need to escalate. You see war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate. You know we got to find way, to bring some lovin here today. Picket lines and picket signs, don’t punish me with brutality. C’mon, talk to me so you can see what’s going on.”
- Classic Tracks Back To Back Singles. Thunder Bay Press. 2008. P. 125
- “The 100 Greatest Detroit Songs Ever!” Retrieved August 4, 2016
- Edmonds, Ben (2003). Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On and the Last Days of the Motown Sound (book). Canongate U.S. IBSN 978-1-84195-314-4