Released May 20th, 1971, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is undeniably one of the greatest albums of the 20th Century. While superficially one long lament, Gaye’s characteristic depth and soul — unmatched on Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) — turn a eulogy for mankind into a call for hope.
The album’s theme — the individual struggling to find peace in the face of the corrosive sweep of history that was the last century — can find root almost anywhere outside the rust belt of America where it was born, from war and economic decline in Europe to social revolution in Asia, from the birth of the assembly line (and its effect on work and life) to the emergence of the city as the primary home of humanity.
Which brings us to my favorite track on the album, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). The 20th Century saw the rise of the greatest megalopolises in history, each of which dwarfed the greatest empires of centuries past: Mexico City, Shanghai, Delhi, Sao Paolo, Tokyo, Jakarta, New York, Karachi.
Put on your headphones. Turn off the TV. Don’t look at anything. Just listen.
That percussion is the heartbeat of the city, any city in the world…