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Monday, January 29, 2018

Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells: Together

MARVIN GAYE: TOGETHER (1964) (w. Mary Wells)

1) Once Upon A Time; 2) Deed I Do; 3) Until I Met You; 4) Together; 5) (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons; 6) The Late, Late Show; 7) After The Lights Go Down Low; 8) Just Squeeze Me (But Don't Tease Me); 9) What's The Matter With You Baby; 10) You Came A Long Way From St. Louis.

General verdict: Some potential here, but hard to strike a brand new R&B fire with rusty old standards.

The first of Marvin's many duet albums with Motown's little ladies, Together is usually looked upon as a rather lackluster commencement, because (a) he did not have much time to strike up any real chemistry with Mary Wells, who was on her way out from Motown anyway, and (b) they might have had the clever idea, but in the hurry to realize it they forgot to provide the duo with any good songs — and had to fall back on the same old standards that made Marvin's early LP career such a boring chore to sit through.

Both of these reasons are true enough, but still, one should not underestimate the relative fresh­ness of this approach — indirectly reflected in the album's relative commercial success (#42 on the US charts may not seem like much, but it turned out to be one of Marvin's biggest sellers in the Sixties). There can be no doubt about who was the real top dog here: Wells had scored at least three more top 10 singles than Marvin by 1964, and her ʽMy Guyʼ was a steady #1 and one of the biggest songs of 1964, whereas Marvin was still struggling. Nevertheless, for male chauvi­nistic reasons, it still feels more like a Marvin than a Mary album: not only because the material is taken largely from the same pool as the songs on When I'm Alone I Cry, but also because Marvin takes the lead on most of the tracks, and because Mary Wells was no Aretha Franklin — sounding powerful and dominant was never her thing.

Still, what the heck, when the songs are lively enough, they do sound good together. Only one single (with two A-sides) was newly written for them by a Motown team led by Clarence Paul and Mickey Stevenson: ʽOnce Upon A Timeʼ is an unremarkable mid-tempo ballad for boring prom nights, but ʽWhat's The Matter With You Babyʼ is catchy fun. Hopping along its ʽShakin' All Overʼ-ish rhythm guitar, it is delightfully nervous and paints a convincing picture of Marvin and Mary as a nagging couple — he cheats on her, goes away, comes back, she still loves him but is in no hurry to forgive him, you know the typical Sixties drill: subtly poignant, but generally harmless and playful. Were there significantly more songs like that on the album, it might have accidentally become a minor masterpiece of the realtion-building variety.

As it is, too much space on this already way too short record is given over to material such as ʽ(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasonsʼ and the title track, which goes all the way back to rusty 1928. Admittedly, some of the oldies are given fun, lively new coatings — for instance, Roy Alfred's and Murray Berlin's ʽThe Late, Late Showʼ is not only sped up, but decorated with actual smooching between the protagonists that later turns into slapping... oh, my. In short, it is not com­pletely true that Marvin and Mary could not really get it on: it is more likely that they just did not get enough time and creative freedom to really get it on. But they did the best they could under the circumstances; and while of all of Motown's female superstars, Mary Wells tends to be the most forgotten today — largely because her career ended so soon, but also because she never tried to go for the «self-empowering» female image that is so much more relevant for present times — she has a certain old-school classy charm here that none of Marvin's future partners possessed. This is not necessarily a good thing (to many people, that old-school classy charm will translate as reserved stiffness), but at least it explains why listening to Together might not be such a complete waste of time if you already have all those critically acclaimed Gaye / Terrell collaborations.


  1. Forgive me if I missed it, George, but what do the colors of the "General Verdict" text mean?

    1. Off my own intuition:

      Red = very good-masterpiece
      Yellow = average-good
      Green = mediocre-bad
      Grey = "unrateable" (like the early John/Yoko albums or "Metal Machine Music")

    2. Red = masterpiece/excelent
      Orange = very good
      Yellow = good
      Green = passable
      Blue = bad
      Grey = horrible/non music

  2. Red is good, grey is bad, and yellow is impossible to read.

  3. I can't wait for your "What's Going On" and "Let's Get It On" takes! Which reminds me, you never reviewed Sly's "There's a Riot Goin On" (or did you?). I hope you tackle more funk/soul albums in the future. Parliament awaits!