It’s time to talk about Marvin Gaye – the award-winning, hit-making Prince of Motown.

There’s no doubt that this man and his music played a key role in shaping the sound of Motown music in the 60s. From the beginning of his career to its premature end, Marvin Gaye’s singing and songwriting eventually earned him the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award - but we’ll get to that…

Christmas Party, 1960!

His upbringing was pretty rocky, with a physically abusive father who would’ve driven him to the edge if it hadn’t been for his mother who continued to support his musical endeavours. After some time experimenting with different groups, and working as an in-house session player, Gaye eventually found himself performing at Motown president Berry Gordy’s house for a Christmas party, 1960. It’s safe to say that Gordy was impressed as he signed him to sister label Tamla immediately.

It was from 1962 that his songwriting really began to take off. His first solo hit was “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” which was released in September of that year and managed to reach number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as number 8 on the R&B chart. Following that was “Hitch Hike” and “Pride and Joy” too – his fist top 10 single!

Big Time Collaborations

Marvin Gaye soon began collaborating with other huge names in the Motown crew. Think big names like Diana Ross and Tammi Terrell! The series of duets that he wrote with Tammi Terrell were particularly successful, and included giant hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Gaye’s most streamed tune on Spotify), “Your Precious Love”, “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”.

But his first single that reached the number 1 spot was “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. Who wouldn’t recognise that iconic keyboard introduction?! Without a doubt this song is considered one of the staples of the Motown era and we absolutely love it. So much so, that we had to include it in the Rockschool Keys syllabus at Grade 3. We wanted everyone to have the chance to play that famous riff!

What's Going On

Another tune that we just have to talk about is “What’s Going On”. Marvin wrote this after witnessing an act of police brutality and was desperate to release the song. Berry Gordy was very reluctant to release it for fear that it was “too political” and would jeopardise his crossover audience. Gaye was not satisfied with this at all, and decided to go on strike and not record or release a single song until “What’s Going On” was released. Gaye knew his worth. As soon as the song came out it went straight to the number 1 spot on the R&B chart, and number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 too!

“What’s Going On” led to an album of the same name, as well as the Let’s Get It On album too. Both were supremely successful. 1982 saw Marvin Gaye’s first ever Grammy wins with the song “Sexual Healing”, an undisputed tune of the 80s!

However, in 1984, Gaye was shot dead by his own father after an argument at the young age of 44. This legend was unquestionably taken too soon.

We hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at the wonderful career of Marvin Gaye. He joins the Keys Grade 3 syllabus alongside some other huge names including Rihanna, Coldplay and Adele, so be sure to read about them too.