Prior to the album “What’s Going On”, Marvin Gaye came out with albums and singles that were commercial and what the record company thought that the people wanted to hear. “What’s Going On” is a political and social album that was very different than what he had come out with before. One of the influences for the album would be his brother, Frankie. Frankie served three years in Vietnam and just like most vets, he was haunted by what he had seen. Frankie was also having trouble getting respect and finding a job. When Frankie did find a job it would be as a dishwasher or as a doorman. Which is what helped fuel Marvin Gaye to make the song “What’s Going On”. Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops is who originally came up with the song idea and told it to Marvin Gaye. Benson came up with the idea when he was on a tour stop in San Francisco and he saw a protest happening and Benson says that he saw the police beating on the protesters and asked himself
“What is happening here? One question leads to another. Why are they sending kids so far away from their families overseas? Why are they attacking their own children in the streets here?”
Benson tried to present the idea to The Four Tops but they were not interested so he ended up presenting it to Marvin Gaye and he decided to make the song. When Berry Gordy heard the album he refused to release it. Gordy called it “the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life”. Which made Marvin Gaye come up with an ultimatum that until Berry Gordy and his Quality Control cabal came to their senses and released What’s Going On, the singer would record nothing more for the company. So it ended up getting released and became a hit. “What’s Going On” is different from other Motown records because of it’s lyrical content. The record was essentially a protest album when other Motown records were usually about love or something of that nature. What also made the album different would be all of the musicians it used to make the album. “They must have had 75 producers, at least 150 songwriters, and God only knows how many artists” said David Van DePitte who was an arranger for the album. “What’s Going On” gives me a great impression. The album was innovative for it’s time and I appreciate that.