There’s something about black musicians; especially those from the 70s. It’s as if their songs and music are sermons; instructional, spiritual guidance for the traversal and enjoyment of life. With Motown stripping away centuries of oppression, these pent-up feelings suddenly found an outlet. Be it Stevie Wonder, Maurice White or Marvin Gaye, when we listen to their seminal albums, their finest opuses, it’s as if we are looking straight into their soul. And of course that’s the whole point: they have a story to tell, and they want us to hear it. Be it war, politics, God or, in the case of Let’s Get It On: pure, unbridled, shameless love.
The album begins with a beat, not a bang. The title track is a slow, seedy-pleady, seductive introduction designed to reel you into Marvin’s world, his vision (I did say it was sermon-like!) It’s as if we’ve been on the outside for all these years — outside in the chaste, teeth-chatteringly cold, sexless world — and now, finally, with a deep, lustful sigh of relief we’re being invited to the party. If you thought the first track was seductive, the second, Please Stay, is pure, lip-dribble/wibble pillow talk. Please Stay feels like a slowed-down, muddied Motown classic; gone are the trite, treble sounds of Motown drums and vocals. In their stead, a sexy, repetitive, bassy rhythm illustrates Gaye’s soulful sexuality.
Let’s Get It On tells a story, from lust to love making; young, wide-eyed and sappy (If I Should Die Tonight) through to the unrequited (Distant Lover). The album is about love and every blissful emotion that true love entails. There are hints of hedonism, both in the title track and the Keep Gettin’ It On intermission — but unlike other sex music that followed, Let’s Get It On somehow remains pure, religious, spiritual.
If there’s one problem with this album it’s that it doesn’t let you climax. The dewy sweat, the shudders, the belaboured breathing — it’s all there, spread thickly, generously, beautifully layered strings and saxophones teasing at your ears throughout; but it’s just that: teasing. Gaye holds you in a dreamy euphoric state, unable to finish, to turn off. The end of the album is a climax of sorts, but not a happy one. It feels as if Marvin Gaye had both religious and sexual epiphanies in the creation of this album, the last two tracks finally bringing him — and us — back down to earth. You Sure Love To Ball, the most daring song on the album and whose whispered whimpers and moans inspired both Michael Jackson and Prince, is ultimately a sad song about desperation going unanswered, unrequited. Just To Keep You Satisfied, the most poignant track and fitting, though not explosive, climax feels like a eulogy. It feels as if the entire album is dedicated to the love and loss of a very special woman. Whether he is singing this album to her, or as a warning to all prospective lovers out there, we’ll never know.
Let’s Get It On is the pinnacle of Marvin Gaye’s vast body of work. Many would cite the more important significance of What’s Going On? — but they would be wrong, misguided. What we have, with Let’s Get It On, is a monumental and risque release that heralds a new musical epoch and champions a genre of music: the steamily sensual quiet storm of slow-jam. Smashing the watershed of the popular music and Motown juggernauts, Gaye brings us music to make love to. Politics might be the global media’s raison d’être — and certainly why What’s Going On? received more critical attention — but when it comes to our heart, our passion and satisfaction; when it comes to the things that really matter… Let’s Get It On pulls all the right strings and leaves us very much yearning, throbbing, lusting for more.
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Now you need to listen to it. Fortunately it’s very cheap (about $7!)