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Monday, April 30, 2018

Marvin Gaye (w. Tammi Terrell): Easy

EASY (1969) (w. Tammi Terrell)

1) Good Lovin' Ain't Easy To Come By; 2) California Soul; 3) Love Woke Me Up This Morning; 4) This Poor Heart Of Mine; 5) I'm Your Puppet; 6) The Onion Song; 7) What You Gave Me; 8) Baby I Need Your Loving; 9) I Can't Believe You Love Me; 10) How You Gonna Keep It; 11) More, More, More; 12) Satisfied Feelin'.

General verdict: Fake, but effortlessly enjoyable, songs of fake, but perversely believable, happiness.

There is only one point that ever gets discussed about Easy, the third and last of Marvin's duet albums with Tammi Terrell — namely, whether Tammi Terrell is even present on the album her­self. According to Marvin himself, and this opinion is taken to be the default one, she is not, except for two tracks (ʽI Can't Believe You Love Meʼ and ʽMore, More, Moreʼ) that were originally recorded by Tammi solo and later got Marvin overdubbed on them. Everything else, he claims, was really performed by Valerie Simpson, then released by Motown as part of a typically seedy cash-raising scheme. Surprisingly, Simpson herself has refuted that claim, saying that she did indeed sing with Marvin in the studio as a fill-in, but that later the parts were redone with the real Tammi at the helm.

It is more likely, of course, that Simpson was simply trying to cover up traces of the «crime» (who on Earth would willingly admit to having been an accomplice in a cheap fraud?), but it is also interesting that the crime was at all made possible — because, although I am no voice expert, I frankly cannot tell the difference between Tammi and Valerie, if that is indeed Valerie on 10 out of 12 tracks: if that is her, she is doing one hell of an impersonation. I would guess, perhaps, that by late 1969 the real Tammi would be too worn out to sound that ecstatic and passionate on tracks like ʽGood Lovin' Ain't Easyʼ, but it's not as if everybody in the vicinity were perfectly informed of her condition at the time.

Other than this odd ethical conflict, the main problem of Easy is that, once again, this is really a case of a couple solid singles surrounded by needlessly recycled material. ʽGood Lovin' Ain't Easyʼ is clearly a highlight, though its build-up of lover passion is nowhere near the epic quality of ʽAin't No Mountain High Enoughʼ: the song merely turns into another competition — which of the two lovers can get more excited in spilling out his/her passion — and by now, such competi­tions had become routine for Marvin and Tammi anyway. The second single, ʽWhat You Gave Meʼ, is more vaudevillian in nature, with Marvin and Tammi-Valerie's vocals smoothly blending in with the upbeat keyboards and brass, and without a clear hook in sight. Nevertheless, it is still much better than the silly ʽOnion Songʼ — a possibly sincere, but misguided attempt by Ashford & Simpson to introduce a bit of «social value» to the proceedings and saddle the duo with a Sesame Street-level ditty about righting wrongs and informing everybody that love is the answer. It's not a worthless mission, but there is something not right about choosing the exact same stylistics for it as one would choose for a quirky love duet.

The rest is largely expendable: ʽBaby I Need Your Lovingʼ is a remake of the old Four Tops hit, for instance, and ʽCalifornia Soulʼ had already been recorded thrice, with the most notable and the most natural version belonging to The 5th Dimension, a band that pretty much symbolized «California soul» with everything it did anyway. So you will probably spend most of your time wondering if that is Tammi or Valerie, and whether you should feel guilty or not if it is Valerie. One thing is clear enough: Marvin felt seriously guilty, and no matter how exalted he tries to sound on all these songs, recording of the album significantly contributed to his depression. As must have, probably, seeing the shiny happy faces on the album cover and the title — Easy was quite a cruelly ironic word in light of the overall situation. If anything, it should make one feel fairly un-easy, being able to carelessly enjoy these happy songs of passion and devotion while knowing the grim reality behind them.

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