Marvin Gaye's isolated vocals for 'What's Going On?' are incredible

15 July 2021, 12:00

Marvin Gaye was one of the most talented soul singers of all time
Marvin Gaye was one of the most talented soul singers of all time. Picture: Alamy

By Naomi Bartram

This clip of Marvin Gaye singing 'What's Going On?' without a backing track is spine tingling.

Marvin Gaye was one of the most talented soul singers of all time, with huge hits like 'It Takes Two', 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' and 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine'.

As one of the main stars behind the creation of the Motown sound of the 1960s, he certainly earned his nickname as the Prince of Soul.

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And now an unearthed video has revealed the true extent of his talent, as he can be heard singing a cappella to his hit ‘What's Going On’.

Without the backing track, Gaye’s stunning voice can be heard in all its glory.

The song was originally co-written by Renaldo 'Obie' Benson, Al Cleveland and Marvin Gaye, and was the title track of his album What's Going On? Back in 1971.

The inspiration behind the track actually came to Four Tops member Obie Benson when he was in San Francisco in 1969.

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During an anti-war protest, now known as 'Bloody Thursday', Benson witnessed extreme violence and police brutality.

Benson originally pitched the song to the Four Tops, but they weren’t interested, and then played it to Joan Baez who also passed.

But when he brought it to Gaye, he loved it and said it would be perfect for the Motown vocal quartet he was producing.

What's Going On was originally co-written by Renaldo 'Obie' Benson
What's Going On was originally co-written by Renaldo 'Obie' Benson. Picture: Alamy

But Benson wanted Marvin to sing it himself, previously revealing: “I finally put it to him like this: ‘I’ll give you a percentage of the tune if you sing it, but if you do it on anybody else you can’t have none of it.’”

Benson later said Gaye "added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story than a song…"

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“We measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it."

Despite being one of Gaye’s biggest hits, record executive Berry Gordy hated it.

Marvin Gaye died in 1984
Marvin Gaye died in 1984. Picture: Alamy

He originally turned down Gaye's request to release it, saying it was "the worst thing I ever heard in my life".

Not backing down, Gaye then refused to record anything else unless the song was released and ended up doing it without Gordy’s knowledge.

It ended up selling over two million copies and stayed at number one for five weeks on the Billboard R&B charts.

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Gordy later explained: "My reason for pushing back on Marvin wasn't to stop the single, just to determine whether or not this was another one of his wild ideas.

"Motown was about music for all people—white and black, blue and green, cops and the robbers. I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone. This was a big risk for his image.”