From one of the top five greatest albums ever made comes a song about the stress of everyday living by everyday people. Now four decades later, not much has no changed in terms of ease of living or social advancement.
The year 1971 marked my 14th birthday and the release of Marvin Gaye’s historic album “What’s Going On”. This album was a switch from the crooning recordings that solidified his already successful career. Though there was resistance from his label to back the project, it soon not only catapulted his career but brought about social awareness about the unpopular Vietnam War, rampant drug use, never ending police brutality, and ecological destruction. When I had the first opportunity to listen to the album (that belonged to my older brother) I was excited about how each song connected, better known as a “song cycle.” Even Marvin’s appearance was different, kind of intimidating I thought. I had never seen him sporting a beard. Maybe that was it.
The song “What’s Happening Brother” has an intro similar to “What’s Going On”, but the lyrics and the unforgettable bass guitar performance causes my emotions to stir up still today. Songs today average 5 to 7 minutes in length and nothing of substance has been said. But this short 2:43 classic describes a changing world through the eyes of man who has seen more than he bargained for. It’s a story about a young soldier happy to be home from the war. It was 1971 so mass media was nowhere near what we have today. The young man’s happiness quickly turned to anguish at the state of society. He encounters presumably an old friend and they strike up conversation about the terrible war, places where they use to party, how the hometown professional baseball team was doing, scarcity of employment and money. The soldier asks the question “Are things really getting better like the newspaper says?” Now forty years later, are they?