“What’s Going On?” Michigan Honors The Motown Classic [Video]
The Marvin Gaye anthem to the turmoil of the late '60s and early '70s turns 50 years old today.
Fifty years to the day after it was released, Michigan has declared today, Wednesday January 20, "What's Going On" day in the state, in conjunction with Detroit's Motown Museum (which I highly recommend a visit if you're a hard core music fan like me).
The official declaration from Governor Gretchen Whitmer reads:
“Having this tribute on the calendar provides us with an important moment — one where we can come together as a unified state to pause, reflect and appreciate the need for ideas, perspective, love and understanding. These are values that mean more today than ever before, through the recognition of 'What’s Going On' Day, we hope to bring awareness to Marvin Gaye’s profound words as his timeless music remains in our hearts and minds and continues inspiring generations to come.”
Marvin wrote the song with his golfing buddies, songwriter Al Cleveland, and Obie Benson of the Motown group The Four Tops. Gaye wrote the lyrics as a reaction to the Civil Rights struggles and Vietnam War protests of the late '60s that had extended into the early '70s.
Up until this song's release, Motown owner Barry Gordy had kept a tight lid on his acts, and forbid them from expressing a political opinion. But music was changing, and op hits were becoming more topical by the day, so Gordy relented.
The result was a number one hit on the R and B charts and a number two pop hit.
The subsequent album of the same name was a huge critical success and still makes "Best Album" lists to this day.
Gaye didn't live long enough to enjoy the honor. He was murdered by his father in a domestic disagreement in 1984.
In the wake of political unrest this past summer, the song still resonates today. Give it another listen.
LOOK: 50 Black actors who made entertainment history