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Monday, February 12, 2018

Marvin Gaye: How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You


1) You're A Wonderful One; 2) How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You); 3) Try It Baby; 4) Baby Don't You Do It; 5) Need Your Lovin'; 6) One Of These Days; 7) No Good Without You; 8) Stepping Closer To Your Heart; 9) Need Somebody; 10) Me And My Lonely Room; 11) Now That You've Won Me; 12) Forever.

General verdict: Some terrific singles, surrounded by respectable almost-not-filler. Down with adult standards, long live teen pop!

With all those easy-listening LPs that Motown allowed Marvin to make, it is almost possible to forget the steady line of minor and major hit singles that the man was churning out for the label. It took almost three years for Motown to come to its senses and put out Gaye's second «proper» R&B album — one that collected all those singles in one place. Not that it is hard to understand the logic behind this strategy: 7" singles with teen-oriented music for poor teens vs. LPs with adult-oriented music for well-to-do adults. But what are you going to do when well-to-do adults just cannot be interested in yet another set of passable takes on old standards? You change your strategy — and see it work: How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You became Marvin's very first album to make the tiniest blip on the charts (peaking at #128, but at #4 on the R&B charts).

The track sequencing pulls no punches: the first four tracks are squarely the four Marvin Gaye singles from 1964, in the exact same chronological order, if not necessarily in the order of their respective awesomeness. ʽYou're A Wonderful Oneʼ was somewhat shamelessly credited to Holland-Dozier-Holland, even if its base melody is directly copied from Chuck Berry's ʽMemphis, Tennesseeʼ; however, the standard trick of pairing Marvin's ecstatic vocals with playfully sexy girl backups works as fine as always — in this case, it is The Supremes supporting the idea that "you're a wonderful one" on an aerobics-worthy slice of teen pop. Somewhat more original (or, at least, less recognizable as a direct rip-off) is the title track — slower, more soulful, with lots of help from The Funk Brothers and The Andantes, and unforgettable because of its sloganeering chorus: just tweak the lyrics a bit, and the whole "how sweet it is to be loved by you" thing could be a ready-made church anthem.

Berry Gordy's ʽTry It Babyʼ (this time, with male backup vocals from The Temptations), in com­parison, is a not particularly exciting blues ballad (its most unusual moment comes in the form of a trumpet solo by Maurice Davis — not the most common thing you encounter on a pop single); but the real breakthrough comes with ʽBaby Don't You Do Itʼ, one of the first Marvin Gaye songs that totally blew the minds of young British teenagers — from The Who to Small Faces to, even­tually, even The Band, everybody was covering it, and for a very good reason: it was arguably the most «tribalistic» song released on Motown to that date. Its groove is based on the standard Bo Diddley beat, somewhat smoothed out for pop consumption but still heavy on the loud drums, angry, choppy guitar chords, and syncopation a-plenty. On top of this, Marvin is singing about dejection, desperation, and suicide, going all-out crazy with negative emotions — which, let's face it, is far more appealing to the rebellious teen than gushing all over the place with romantic sentiment. I personally confess that I far prefer the 1971 cover by The Who, with Leslie West on additional guitar — just because all four members of the band perfectly understood all the poten­tial of the respective instrumental parts, and made good on that; on the other hand, The Who's version does not have those delightful hoo-hooing backup harmonies from The Andantes (and it is a good thing that it does not, because they would sound cheesy against the increased heaviness of the track), and we are not going to make a disservice to either Marvin or Roger by comparing their respective vocal strengths and weaknesses.

As good as the singles are, though, the LP is well worth owning in full, because some of the LP-only tracks are quite interesting on their own. Mickey Stevenson's ʽNo Good Without Youʼ has a certain dark moodiness around it, enough to be spotted by the short-lived British band The Birds (Ronnie Wood's musical birthplace) and turned into a classic «nugget». Another Stevenson track, ʽNeed Somebodyʼ (a collaboration with Ivy Hunter), has an oddly distinctive «electro-acoustic» guitar lick that sounds like the prototype of a ringtone or a PC speaker blip in an arcade game — the song in general is pretty standard, but the guitar part really sounds like nothing else recorded at the time, though, allegedly, that does not have much to do with Marvin Gaye's persona. On the other hand, such tracks as ʽMe And My Lonely Roomʼ and ʽNow That You've Won Meʼ are com­pletely made by Marvin's persona: with this kind of material, he is free from any adult-oriented conventions and can allow himself to go mentally unstable, like, well, a normal human being.

There are still a few concessions to easy-listening every now and then, and the closing track, in my opinion, is highly unsatisfactory: ʽForeverʼ is built according to the already obsolete Fifties doo-wop model, which may have still been somewhat operational in, say, 1962, but in 1964-65 seems completely out of place next to far more exciting models. But then again, I am not saying that the LP as a whole is a flawless masterpiece — rather, as a whole it is a qualitative improve­ment on the filler-padded Stubborn Kinda' Fellow, let alone Marvin's cheerless string of Broad­way records, and a generally healthy musical environment surrounding his big single successes.


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  2. Have you heard the mid-sixties Who version of BDYDI, George? I found it some time ago on Who's Missing or another odds collection. Maximum R&B for sure.

    1. The 1964 acetate recording from Odds & Sods?

  3. This is probably one of the best Motown albums of 1965. Of course, only the Supremes' More Hits competes. the Miracles' Going to a Go-Go, the Four Tops' Second Album and Martha and the Vandellas' Dance Party are all too front loaded, the Temptations' two albums at the time were too filler-ish, and the Supremes' three other albums were tributes and cash-ins. Still, it's an impressive feat when the label never really gave half a damn about LPs.