The productiion history of Marvin Gaye’s WHAT’S GOING ON from Wikipedia;
In late March 1970, Marvin Gaye had fallen into a deep depression following the death of his singing partner and fellow Motown artist Tammi Terrell, who had died of a brain tumor earlier that month. Gaye refused to record or perform, going as far as to attempt an athletic career in football with the Detroit Lions of the NFL. After an unsuccessful tryout for the team, Gaye came in contact with musician Al Cleveland and the Four Tops’ Renaldo “Obie” Benson, who were working on a politically conscious song called “What’s Going On”. Gaye assisted Cleveland and Benson in completing the composition, and planned to produce the song as a recording for the Motown act The Originals. However, Cleveland and Benson persuaded Gaye to record the song himself.
In June 1970, Gaye recorded “What’s Going On” and his own composition, “God Is Love”, which further expanded his inclusion of his spirituality in his music.
Recording such material was a different direction for Gaye, who had previously performed and recorded radio-formatted and contemporary songs that were more representative of the Gordy-produced Motown Sound rather than politically or socially conscious music. When Gaye delivered the songs as the sides for his next 45-rpm single, his brother-in-law, Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy, Jr., objected to the material and refused to release the recordings.
Though he had already permitted other Motown artists to record and release material that hinted at social and political themes – Edwin Starr’s “War”, The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion”, both released earlier in 1970, and Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven Help Us All”, released later in the year – Gordy considered “What’s Going On” far too political to be promoted on radio and too unusual compared with the popular music sound of that time to be commercially successful. Gaye, however, stood his ground and continued to lobby his case to label executives and to Gordy, as he did not want to be bound by Gordy’s or Motown’s version of music.
In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say… I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world.
Gordy eventually gave in, certain that the record would flop. Upon its release in January 1971, “What’s Going On” became Motown’s fastest selling single at that point, going to the number-one spot on the R&B charts for five weeks and number-two for three weeks on the Pop listings, with “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night retaining the top spot.
After this success, Berry Gordy requested an entire accompanying album.
Gaye began recording the tracks that would eventually comprise his best-known work, the What’s Going On album, handling all of his own production and some of his own songwriting. The entire album was originally mixed in Detroit, with Marvin Gaye out of town and not present. This mix, dubbed “The Detroit Mix”, was scrapped and redone, with Gaye present, in Los Angeles.
To view the long version of WHAT’S GOING ON please go to this URL and dig the bongos.