Marvin Gaye's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

11 January 2021, 16:11

Marvin Gaye in 1973
Marvin Gaye in 1973. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Marvin Gaye was one of the greatest singers of all time, who recorded some of the finest ever soul songs in a short period of time.

Taken far too soon, Marvin Gaye's music took on various styles, from uplifting duets to heartbreaking ballads to socially-conscious anthems.

We've taken his 10 very best songs for the ultimate Marvin Gaye introduction:

  1. How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)

    Marvin Gaye “How Sweet It Is” Live At Montreux Jazz Festival 1980 HD

    Written by the famous Holland–Dozier–Holland trio at Motown, this gave Marvin Gaye his biggest hit at the time in 1964.

    The song's title was inspired by one of Jackie Gleason's signature catchphrases: "How Sweet It Is!"

    The love song was later recorded as a famous cover version by James Taylor in 1975.

  2. It Takes Two (with Kim Weston)

    It Takes Two

    Released on Motown's Tamla label in 1966, this duet between Marvin and Kim Weston describes various things in life - such as dreams, love and wishes - being far better with two people instead of one.

    Read more: The tragic story of Marvin Gaye and the untimely death of a soul legend

    In 1990, Rod Stewart and Tina Turner teamed up for a cover version, taking it to number five in the UK.

  3. Abraham, Martin and John

    Abraham, Martin & John

    Originally by Dion, this song was a tribute to four iconic Americans who were assassinated: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

    Marvin Gaye covered the song in 1970, and was one of his first experiments in socially-conscious music, a year before his What's Going On? album. It reached the top 10 in the UK.

  4. You're All I Need To Get By (with Tammi Terrell)

    You're All I Need To Get By

    Written by Ashford & Simpson, this song became one of the few Motown recordings of the 1960s that did not use the familiar "Motown sound". Instead, it had a more soulful and gospel theme.

    The songwriting pair later said how the session was difficult as Terrell was recovering from surgery on the malignant brain tumor that ultimately caused her death less than three years later.

  5. Ain't No Mountain High Enough (with Tammi Terrell)

    Ain't No Mountain High Enough (extra HQ) - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

    Songwriters Ashford & Simpson described this song as their 'golden egg' which got them their first Motown gig.

    Dusty Springfield wanted to record it first, but the duo turned her down so that they could secure Motown, and it landed with Marvin and Tammi Terrell, who scored a big hit with their original in 1967.

    Read more: Tammi Terrell - The tragic life story of a Motown singer and how Marvin Gaye never got over her death

    Three years later, Diana Ross achieved her first solo US number one with a cover version using a different arrangement.

  6. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)

    Marvin Gaye - Mercy Mercy Me (From "Live at Montreux 1980" DVD)

    Taken from his iconic What's Going On? album, this song is one of music's most poignant anthems regarding the environment.

    It was a million-seller, and was later covered by Robert Palmer in 1990 as part of a medley with Gaye's song 'I Want You'.

  7. Let's Get It On

    Marvin Gaye - Let's Get It On

    This was the song that saw Marvin Gaye become a sex symbol for the rest of his life. How could it not?

    The title track of his 1973 album, it became Marvin's biggest hit and one of his singature songs.

    Co-written with Ed Townsend, it was originally conceived as a religious song after Townsend had recently finished rehab, before Gaye transformed it into an emotional plea about love and sexual liberation.

  8. What's Going On?

    Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)

    This song was co-written by Renaldo 'Obie' Benson, Al Cleveland, and Marvin Gaye, and produced by Gaye himself.

    It marked Gaye's departure from the Motown Sound of his previous output, towards more personal material.

    Read more: The Story of... 'What's Going On?'

    It was inspired by the many racial injustices of the 1960s that had spilled over into the 1970s. Gaye asked himself: "'With the world exploding around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?'"

  9. Sexual Healing

    Marvin Gaye - Sexual Healing

    Released in 1982, this was Marvin's first song since his exit from Motown a year earlier. Taken from the Midnight Love album, it was a huge comeback for Marvin and something of a career renaissance.

    Featuring whispers from Harvey Fuqua, the sexually-charged became one of his biggest and best known songs.

  10. I Heard It Through the Grapevine

    Marvin Gaye - Heard It Through The Grapevine (Live at Montreux)

    The Miracles first recorded 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine', and it was first a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips.

    However, it is Marvin Gaye's version from 1968 that became the most iconic, despite the fact that Motown chief Berry Gordy was not convinced it would be a hit at first.

    Read more: Marvin Gaye's isolated vocals from 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine' will give you tingles

    It became a hit for a second time in 1985, after its use in the iconic Levi's advert featuring a certain Nick Kamen at a laundrette.