What's Going On is the eleventh studio album by American soul singer, songwriter, and producer Marvin Gaye. It was released on May 21, 1971, by the Motown Records subsidiary label Tamla. Recorded between 1970 and 1971 in sessions at Hitsville U.S.A., Golden World, and United Sound Studios in Detroit, and at The Sound Factory in West Hollywood, California, it was Gaye's first album to credit him as a producer and to credit Motown's in-house studio band, the session musicians known as the Funk Brothers.
What's Going On is a concept album with most of its songs segueing into the next and has been categorized as a song cycle. The narrative established by the songs is told from the point of view of a Vietnam veteran returning to his home country to witness hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye's introspective lyrics explore themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with promoting awareness of ecological issues before the public outcry over them had become prominent.
The album was an immediate commercial and critical success, and came to be viewed by music historians as a classic of 1970s soul. In 2001, a deluxe edition of the album was released, featuring a recording of Gaye's May 1972 concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Broad-ranging surveys of critics, musicians, and the general public have shown that What's Going On is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and a landmark recording in popular music. In 2020, it was ranked number one on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Released on May 21, 1971, What's Going On became Gaye's first album to reach the Billboard Top LPs top ten, peaking at number six, and staying on the chart for over a year, selling over two million copies, within twelve months after its release, becoming Motown's and Gaye's best-selling album to that date until he released Let's Get It On in 1973. It also became Gaye's second number-one album on Billboard's Soul LPs chart, where it stayed for nine weeks as well as staying inside the Billboard Soul LPs chart for a record breaking 58 weeks throughout 1971 and 1972. The title track, which had been released in January 1971 as the lead single to promote the album, sold over 200,000 copies within its first week and eventually two-and-a-half-million units by the end of the year. It spent several weeks at number-two on the Billboard Hot 100 behind Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World", and spent five weeks at number one on the Soul Singles chart between March 27 and April 24, 1971.
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
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