Let’s Get It On: Marvin Gaye; Jack Black; Shannon Lawson

Hello there! Our song this week is Let’s Get It On. It is a sensual soul song from Marvin Gaye. We will review the original 1973 version by Marvin Gaye. We will also discuss covers by Jack Black, and by Shannon Lawson.

Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get It On:

Marvin Gaye was a singer-songwriter who became a superstar with Motown Records. Motown produced an incredible number of great male soul singers, from Smokey Robinson to Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson.

For my money, it’s hard to put any of them ahead of Marvin Gaye for versatility and creativity. Much of Gaye’s work was done at Motown Records, working with Motown’s charismatic founder Berry Gordy, Jr.

However, while Smokey Robinson was Gordy’s best friend and confidante, Marvin’s relationship with Berry Gordy was fraught with tension and confrontation.

Below is a photo of a very dapper Marvin Gaye performing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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Marvin Gaye came up through the Motown system. Initially, he signed on as a drummer (!) and session musician. However, Berry Gordy was impressed with Gaye’s singing talent and signed him to Motown’s Tamla Record label.

After a few flops with jazz-inspired songs, Marvin Gaye garnered his first Top 50 song with Hitch Hike in 1962. After that, he really hit his stride.

Motown issued a number of solo records for Marvin, but also paired him in duets with female artists such as Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell.

Following Terrell’s death from a brain tumor in 1970, Marvin Gaye fell into a deep depression and took a leave from the music business. An excellent athlete, Gaye tried out for the Detroit Lions professional football team.

Gaye returned to Motown in June, 1970, when he co-wrote the song What’s Going On with singer Obie Benson from the Four Tops. Benson wrote the first draft of this song after witnessing the police beating up anti-war demonstrators on the Berkeley campus.

Berry Gordy hated What’s Going On, in part because he was determined to avoid any political controversy at Motown, and in part because the song was radically different from the normal “Motown hit” formula.

Gordy prevented Motown from releasing the song for some time. Eventually, copies of the record were sent to disc jockeys without Gordy’s knowledge. The song became an instant smash hit, and this forced Berry Gordy to allow Marvin to issue the album What’s Going On.

When What’s Going On became one of the most acclaimed albums of all time, Marvin Gaye demanded a big raise and creative control over his records.

But Gaye’s friction with Gordy continued. Marvin was concentrating on ‘concept’ albums, a group of songs that were connected by a common theme. This was at odds with Gordy’s emphasis on individual single records. In addition, Gaye continued to emphasize controversial topics such as race relations, life in the inner city, and environmental issues.

In 1970, Marvin began work on another ‘concept’ album, which would be titled Let’s Get It On. This album featured sexually-charged ballads, with funky instrumental backing.

The title track from this album was a sexy bombshell of a song. To record this song, Marvin assembled a number of session musicians from the great Motown house band, the Funk Brothers. These included the great bass player James Jamerson, guitarists Robert White and Eddie Willis, and drummer Bongo Brown.

Gaye continued his habit of multi-tracking his own vocals on Let’s Get It On, which he co-wrote with Ed Townsend. At the time, the lyrics of the song were dangerously sexy, and the mood was genuinely erotic.

Marvin is trying to convince his girlfriend to have sex with him. He expresses his yearning for her, and the joy they could experience from making love.

I’ve been really tryin’, baby
Tryin’ to hold back this feeling for so long
And if you feel like I feel, baby
Then, c’mon, oh, c’mon

[CHORUS] Let’s get it on
Ah, baby, let’s get it on
Let’s love, baby
Let’s get it on, sugar
Let’s get it on

We’re all sensitive people
With so much to give
Understand me, sugar
Since we’ve got to be here
Let’s live
I love you

… Don’t you know how sweet and wonderful life can be
I’m asking you baby to get it on with me
I ain’t gonna worry
I ain’t gonna push, won’t push you baby
So c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, baby
Stop beatin’ ’round the bush

Here is Marvin Gaye in a live performance of Let’s Get It On.

The song begins with an unforgettable guitar line – ascending notes from a ‘wah-wah’ guitar. Then Marvin enters with his super-smooth vocals. His voice is truly remarkable – he moves from soft, smooth low notes to falsetto shouts. Marvin uses his incredible three-octave range to great effect here.

I had been told that Marvin Gaye always insisted that this song was meant to be taken in a spiritual rather than sexual context. And I always thought, “How could this song be spiritual? I have never heard a more overtly sexual tune.”

However, after reading about the genesis of this song, I finally understand where Marvin was coming from. As a youth, he had experienced persistent brutal beatings from his pastor father. The physical abuse had left Marvin associating sex with sado-masochistic feelings.

The net result was that Marvin Gaye felt guilty and confused about sexual activity. However, his introduction to spirituality allowed him to understand and deal with these feelings. This proved liberating to Marvin, and allowed him to enjoy sex. So in this song, his joyful tone is a direct result of this new-found spirituality.

Apparently, Marvin Gaye’s original lyrics for Let’s Get It On more directly reflected the spiritual dimension of the song. However, his co-writer Ed Townsend convinced Marvin that the tune was better suited to more sexual and romantic lyrics.

The duality between sex and spirituality was discussed by Gaye’s biographer David Ritz, who wrote:
Marvin’s prayer is to reconcile the ecstasy of his early religious epiphany with a sexual epiphany … The paradox is this: The sexiest of Marvin Gaye’s work is also his most spiritual. That’s the paradox of Marvin himself. In his struggle to wed body and soul, in his exploration of sexual passion, he expresses the most human of hungers—the hunger for God.

The album Let’s Get It On became Marvin Gaye’s best-selling Motown album ever, reaching #2 on the Billboard album charts, and staying on the album lists for 61 weeks. And the title tune became a #1 single for Marvin.

In addition, it established a new genre for Marvin Gaye: he became the king of smooth, sexy soul music. The entire album Let’s Get It On expressed these sentiments, and later Marvin would reprise this with his smoking-hot 1982 single Sexual Healing.

Alas, at some point things went seriously downhill for Marvin Gaye. He went through an extremely messy divorce with his first wife, Berry Gordy’s sister Anna Gordy. Then he developed a serious cocaine addiction.

To make matters worse, he got into serious tax issues with the IRS. Eventually, Gaye moved to Europe as he feared that he might be imprisoned because of the millions he owed in back taxes. After three years in Europe, Gaye returned to the U.S. and undertook a concert tour.

However, that tour was cut short because of recurring issues with cocaine. In fall 1983, Marvin moved into his parents’ house in Los Angeles to recuperate. But on April 1, 1984, Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his father at his parents’ home.

Marvin Gaye would have turned 45 the day after he was shot. What a tragic end to such a gifted, wonderful singer and songwriter. Marvin Gaye will be remembered forever.

Jack Black, Let’s Get It On:

Jack Black is an American actor and musician. He was born in 1969 in Santa Monica, CA. His parents were both engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.

Black enrolled at UCLA but dropped out in his sophomore year to pursue a career in acting. Below is a photo of Jack Black, as the character Barry Judd, singing Let’s Get It On in the film High Fidelity.

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Black appeared in a number of TV shows, and had small roles in a number of movies, a mixture of comedies and dramas. He made a number of appearances in the HBO TV sketch comedy Mr. Show.

The 2000 film High Fidelity was Jack Black’s break-out role. That film, based on the novel by Nick Hornby, starred John Cusack as the proprietor of a Chicago music store, Championship Vinyl. Black played Barry Judd, one of the employees in Cusack’s store, which catered to music snobs.
Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical, they compile “top five” lists for every conceivable occasion, openly mock the tastes of their customers, and, every so often, sell a few records.

In High Fidelity, the sarcastic and apparently talentless Barry was constantly badgering Cusack to allow his band, Sonic Death Monkey, to perform a musical number. Eventually Cusack relents; this movie clip shows Cusack introducing Jack Black/Barry, who performs Let’s Get It On.

To Cusack’s amazement, Barry turns out to be quite talented. I enjoyed Jack Black’s performance here; he can actually sing, and his homage to Marvin Gaye was one of the highlights of the film.

Black’s performance in High Fidelity led to starring roles in such films as Shallow Hal, the remake of King Kong, and The Big Year. Black has also become a star in animated features, particularly the three episodes of Kung Fu Panda.

At the same time, Black’s singing in High Fidelity also opened the doors for his musical group Tenacious D. This is a comedy-rock duo featuring Jack Black and Kyle Gass on acoustic guitars and vocals.

Black and Gass had performed together on the program Mr. Show, and formed the group Tenacious D in 1994. Writers David Cross and Bob Odenkirk from that program subsequently produced three half-hour Tenacious D shows on HBO.

Tenacious D issued a self-titled album in 2000, and a second album, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, as the soundtrack for a 2006 movie of the same name. Although the first Tenacious D album garnered favorable reviews and even had a top-10 song, both the movie Pick of Destiny and its soundtrack were treated harshly by the critics.

Since then, Tenacious D has issued one more album, goes on tour occasionally, and has opened for headliners such as Beck, Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters.

In the meantime, Jack Black struck acting gold once more as the lead performer in the movie musical School of Rock.

Both Black and Kyle Gass are outspoken advocates of legalization of marijuana, so presumably they are spending much of their time lately in Colorado and Washington.

So, to actor-musician Jack Black, we say “Get it on, d-u-u-u-u-u-de!”

Shannon Lawson, Let’s Get It On:

Shannon Lawson is a country music singer-songwriter. He was born in 1973 and brought up in Kentucky. A member of a musical family, Lawson began playing the guitar at age 4 and formed his first band in high school.

Below is a photo of Shannon Lawson performing.

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After attending college in Louisville, Lawson joined a blues group called Top Hat, and next joined a bluegrass group called The Galoots. Those groups didn’t go anywhere, but Lawson’s songwriting abilities were noticed, and he moved to Nashville.

In Nashville, Lawson signed a recording contract with MCA Nashville Records. In 2002, Lawson released an album called Chase The Sun. That album made it to #35 on the Billboard Hot Country albums charts.

Here is the audio of Lawson’s version of Marvin Gaye’s epic song Let’s Get It On. This appeared as a cut on Lawson’s album Chase The Sun.

Isn’t this fun? If I told you that Marvin Gaye’s smoking-hot soul ballad could be turned into a country song, you would think I was crazy.

However, Lawson manages it, and produces a tune that gives me a lot of pleasure. This is a bouncy, effervescent song, propelled along by guitar and a funky banjo. Chris Thile from the group Nickel Creek contributes some impressive licks on the mandolin, and there are also some enjoyable lines on the organ.

Next, here is a video clip of Shannon Lawson and Brasher Bogue performing Let’s Get It On live.

I have to say that this is much less enjoyable than Lawson’s single from Chase The Sun. Lawson now performs the song at a slow, stately pace, much like Marvin Gaye did. The funky country sound is now mostly gone, and although I like Lawson’s vocal stylings, this is a much more conventional version of Let’s Get It On.

Well, despite the fact that Shannon Lawson’s album made it into the Top 40 in the country album charts, MCA Nashville dropped Lawson. He then recorded an album for Clint Black’s Equity Music Group.

Two of the singles from that album were released and each one charted in the top 60 on the Billboard Hot Country charts. However, Equity Music decided against releasing the album.

So, Mr. Lawson continues to record. He has had some success as a songwriter for other groups, but has no further record releases on his own. The music business is harsh, man.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Let’s Get It On
Wikipedia, Marvin Gaye
Wikipedia, High Fidelity (film)
Wikipedia, Jack Black
Wikipedia, Shannon Lawson

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
This entry was posted in Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Soul music and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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