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Monday, January 1, 2018

Marvin Gaye: The Soulful Moods Of Marvin Gaye


1) (I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over; 2) My Funny Valentine; 3) Witchcraft; 4) Easy Living; 5) How Deep Is The Ocean; 6) Love For Sale; 7) Always; 8) How High The Moon; 9) Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide; 10) Never Let You Go; 11) You Don't Know What Love Is.

Marvin Gaye's somewhat inauspicious debut record is a bit of an irony — well acquainted as we are with the triumphant history of Marvin Gaye eventually emerging as a serious, independently minded, artistically unique personality out of Motown's factory grinder, it is amusing to realize that his very first LP released on that album was basically a permission from the label to present himself as a serious artist... and a failure to live up to those promises.

In a nutshell, Marvin Gaye did not want to perform teen-oriented R&B: he wanted to be the next Nat King Cole, with a bit of Ray Charles thrown in for good measure, and distinctly valued the Great American Songbook as a far more mature entity than whatever the youth-oriented pop machine was churning out at the moment (and seeing that «the moment» was that unfortunate bit of lull in between the early rockers and the Beatles, we can sort of see his point there). On the other hand, he was certainly no stranger to modern sounds and production techniques, the idea being that all those serious oldies might gain new life if played according to contemporary trends in jazz, blues, and soul music. Somehow he got Berry Gordy to go along with the plan — under the condition that at least a couple of the songs would still land squarely in the R&B ballpark — and, not surprisingly, the plan backfired in spectacular fashion.

Admittedly, Marvin's self-confidence here is admirable: by combining Motownish arrangements with the charismatic power of his voice, he hopes to be able to revitalize the oldies in much the same manner as Ray Charles was revitalizing country at the same time. Unfortunately, the trans­formations just do not go far enough — as sweet and adorable as the man's voice was from the very beginning, Soulful Moods still end up sounding like a charming young man's tribute to Irving Berlin and Co.: nothing less, nothing more. He plays his own piano, like Nat King Cole, but he never had that much practice (or talent) with it; his vocal interpretations are generally light and fluffy, but squarely in the middle, so that there is neither the required level of giddiness in ʽHow High The Moonʼ nor the demanded degree of tragedy in ʽMy Funny Valentineʼ. His small backing band does a good job (the guitarist, in particular, plays some very tasteful electric guitar jazz solos now and then), but since this is neither a proper jazz nor a proper R&B album, it lacks the best liveliness standards of either genre, and remains, at best, non-irritatingly listenable.

Of the two new numbers, ʽNever Let You Goʼ is a rather jarring and silly bit of feather-light twist, very much out of place with everything else here (and far wimpier than any proper R&B that Marvin would be soon engaging in); and Gordy's own ʽLet Your Conscience Be Your Guideʼ, the song that was released as a single, is a slow Fifties-progression-based soul number with a pleasant electric organ tone, but no special hooks that could ensure commercial success — a very typical filler piece, so much so that it makes sense to suspect a cunning plan here, with Gordy deliberately setting a trap for his young protegé: lure him in with a false feeling of artistic independence, set him up so that both his first single and his first LP are miserable flops, then do whatever you want with the disappointed, psychologically damaged young fellow.

Okay, maybe nothing quite so diabolical, but the objective fact is that, for most of the rest of the decade, Marvin was made into a relatively obedient indentured servant of the label — admittedly, with some fine results — and that few people these days have a fond place in their hearts for those Soulful Moods; at the very least, it is unlikely that anybody will turn to his take on ʽLove For Saleʼ as one of the definitive takes. That said, for anybody who is actually in love with Marvin Gaye's voice (I, personally, prefer Sam Cooke when it comes to pure overtone matters), this album will be a great experience — after all, the Great American Songbook material does give your vocal cords far ampler freedom than some of the rigid, hook-based pop structures, and Marvin does go for plenty of tenor-to-falsetto gymnastics over the short course of the LP.

General verdict: Formative, unexceptional, but reasonably listenable.


  1. A "general verdict" now? Can paired decimal and hex ratings be far off?

    1. Is that a reference to John Mcferrin's reviews?