Marvin Gaye is a legend for a reason. He may have passed on, but his music has lived on, forming the pulsing, powerful and joyous undertone to countless genres and innovations. But the art of the posthumous release is a tricky one – someone can be a legend, but they’re usually a legend because they released their best music while they were alive, and had control of the release schedule. Past experience shows us that lost albums can either be glorious rediscoveries or disastrous and better forgotten.
Last month, nearly five decades after Gaye was laid to rest, his album You’re the Man was released posthumously. According to the original schedule, this album would have fallen right between What’s Going On (1971) and Let’s Get It On (1973). The former, particularly, was a smash hit when it dropped. And for decades now, there have been news and rumors of a lost Gaye album that fans and critics never got to hear, bridging the gap between the cerebral, heartfelt concept approach of What’s Going On and the instant-classic crowd-pleasers of Let’s Get It On.
There’s only a sliver of truth to that, though. Some of the tracks that were originally written and recorded for You’re the Man made it to the shelves in other forms. The most popular is the title track, which was released right around the time the original album was scheduled for release; but following that release Gaye cancelled the release of the rest of the record. In its posthumous avatar, it’s a complete compilation of 17 tracks, many of which were released in CDs over the years since 1972.
For fans who’d been following his work since the 70s, this record is like a bittersweet gift. The all-important question is this – how does the record score musically? And how relevant is it now, decades after it should have been released?
On both counts, the album fares well. Despite Gaye’s decision to cancel release, it packs a punch, and it’s more a testament to his sky-high standards at the high watermark of his career than a best-forgotten cash-in. And we needn’t have worried: for any album, the songs are everything, and the songs don’t disappoint. Early on in the album is a revealing number titled “The World Is Rated X.” Here, amidst dramatic notes on the strings, Gaye’s darker and more cynical nature finds expression. Up next is “Piece of Clay,” in which Gaye gives one of his finest vocal performances. The lyrics add power to his voice (or is it the other way around?), and the underlying emotion of raw empathy is hard to miss.
“I’m Gonna Give You Respect” is a bit more personal, followed by “My Last Chance”: a heavenly piece, with the saxophone adding purple, romantic layers to a beautiful track with lyrics that go “May I have this last dance? This is my chance to get close to you.”
Other tracks in this record (both the ones you’ve heard before and the ones you haven’t) sound incredible when heard in succession. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia, or perhaps it’s the fact that something that was once believed lost has now been found. But whatever the reason, there’s no denying that Gaye’s last, posthumous album strikes all the right chords. Get it, you won’t regret it.
Marvin Gaye – You’re The Man [2LP vinyl]
Produced by Marvin Gaye (1), Hal Davis (2), Gloria Jones and Pamela Sawyer (3), Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell (4)
- You’re The Man 5:45
- The World Is Rated X 3:50
- Piece of Clay 5:10
- Where Are We Going? 3:53
Produced by Willie Hutch
- I’m Gonna Give You Respect 2:55
- Try It, You’ll Like It 3:55
- You Are That Special One 3:35
- We Can Make It Baby 3:20
Produced by Marvin Gaye except *Freddie Perren and Fonce Mizell
Mixes for tracks 1-3, by SaLaAM ReMi, and track 5, by Art Stewart, are previously unreleased.
- My Last Chance 3:40
- Symphony 2:52
- I’d Give My Life For You 3:31
- Woman of the World* 3:30
- Christmas In the City (instrumental) 3:48
Produced by Marvin Gaye
- You’re The Man Version 2 4:40
- I Want to Come Home For Christmas 4:48
- I’m Going Home (Move) 4:38
- Checking Out (Double Clutch) 4:50