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Monday, January 15, 2018

Marvin Gaye: Recorded Live On Stage


1) Stubborn Kind Of Fellow; 2) One Of These Days; 3) Mo Jo Hanna; 4) The Days Of Wine And Roses; 5) Pride And Joy; 6) Hitch Hike; 7) Get My Hands On Some Lovin'; 8) You Are My Sunshine.

General verdict: Solid, but ultimately redundant, party-level entertainment.

I would presume that this record mainly exists because of James Brown's Live At The Apollo, whose success four months prior to the release of Marvin's first live experience must have con­vinced labels that demand for hot 'n' spontaneous live recreations of studio hits was a real thing. (RCA had almost managed to trump them all, recording Sam Cooke at the Harlem Square Club as early as January '63 — but then they were too afraid to release the results, shelving the album for more than two decades). Considering that Marvin suffered from stage fright and was never known as a particularly gifted and inventive stage performer, there is no other explanation than Motown somehow desperately pining for their own answer to the hardest workin' man in show business. After all, James Brown is a dancer first and foremost, and dancing is hardly relevant when we're talking live albums, right?

The good news is that even if Marvin did have stage fright, he never showed it much on that night when he gave the show in question at the Regal Theater in Chicago — comforted, perhaps, by the friendly support of Martha & The Vandellas and the positive response from the audience. The bad news is that his composure and self-confidence were sufficient for successfully recreating the excitement and melodicity of the original hit singles, and little else: the only reason somebody could favor these renditions of ʽStubborn Kind Of Fellowʼ, ʽHitch Hikeʼ, and ʽPride And Joyʼ over the originals are the whoops and wows of the enthralled listeners — provided they are not overdubbed (which could also be possible), there is a friendly and cheerful party atmosphere here that could be appropriate for... well, a party, I guess. But I would not go as far as to suggest a deep bonding between Marvin and the audience — certainly not on the shamanistic level of James Brown, as his goading of the charmed teens into action during the final moments of ʽStubborn Kind Of Fellowʼ sounds just a wee bit formalistic.

In terms of new material, there has to be at least one throwback to Soulful Moods, in the guise of ʽThe Days Of Wine And Rosesʼ (no better or worse than any of Gaye's other stabs at the G.A.S.); at least one ritualistic bluesy romp, in the guise of ʽMo Jo Hannaʼ, a long and mildly funny, but not very memorable, groove (essentially, I think, a missed chance at really suggestive interplay between the singer and his sexy backups); and at least one tribute to Ray Charles — the show ends with ʽYou Are My Sunshineʼ done Ray-style and The Vandellas impersonating The Raelettes. A decent enough impersonation, but only an impersonation nonetheless.

The record is almost surprisingly short — clocking in at about 26 minutes — but this was probably the average length of a Marvin Gaye performance at the time anyway, what with most shows being multi-artist revues and all; as such, it is nice to have it surviving as an authentic document, but, unfortunately, Brown's and Cooke's performances from the same year still blow it out of the water. Not for a second does Marvin sound truly bad or unconvincing, but the best live albums from the R&B / soul department are ecstatic quasi-religious rituals, and Gaye was always much too restrained to allow himself to head off straight into the stratosphere.


  1. The yellow font color on the white background makes for a difficult read, George. Can you change it to a darker color?

    1. Highlight it as a spoiler. The color marks the grade. It's just one line anyway.