The Story of... 'Sexual Healing' by Marvin Gaye

15 November 2021, 15:29

He's hot just like an oven, and he needs some lovin'.
He's hot just like an oven, and he needs some lovin'. Picture: SME

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

It's one of the sexiest songs of all time, and quite possibly the sexiest song ever.

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'Sexual Healing' is arguably Marvin Gaye's most beloved song, and it's certainly his most successful.

Besides being a go-to for late-night playlists all over the world, the track also marked a major moment in Marvin Gaye's career.

Read more: Marvin Gaye facts: Motown singer's career, wife, children, parents and death explained

'Sexual Healing' was the first song since his departure from Motown Records, the label he helped become a dominant force throughout the 1960s and 70s, becoming a global icon himself.

I mean, who else could get away with rhyming "oven" and "lovin'"?

So how did the song come about? Here's everything you need to know:

What inspired ‘Sexual Healing’?

Spiralling out of control with drug addiction, suffering from depression, and a messy departure from Motown Records, Marvin was in disarray.

On the recommendation of his friend and local resident Freddy Cousaert, he moved to Ostend, Belgium to recover. After rediscovering his faith and kicking the drugs, he felt well enough to record new material.

Read more: A Marvin Gaye musical biopic with the full backing of Motown is in the works

During early studio sessions for what was going to be 1982 Midnight Love, Gaye was visited in Ostend by writer David Ritz who wanted to write his autobiography.

Ritz saw Marvin's unusually large pornography collection and joked he was in need of some "sexual healing", which as we now know became the track's title and lyrical inspiration.

Who wrote the song?

Marvin performing 'Sexual Healing' live in 1983. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)
Marvin performing 'Sexual Healing' live in 1983. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

Well, supposedly Marvin asked Ritz to help write some lyrics for the song to which he obliged.

Speaking in an interview years later, Ritz said: "As I was writing the lyric, I was trying to capture Marvin's voice and style as a singer. He said, 'That lyric sounds like me.'"

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

Their friendship became fractured however, upon the song's release when Marvin only credited Ritz for the inspiration in the liner notes.

Ritz then sued Gaye, took him to court, and after his passing in 1984 was awarded the songwriting credit.

What’s the song about?

The original single artwork for 'Sexual Healing'.
The original single artwork for 'Sexual Healing'. Picture: SME

Do we have to spell it out for you? *wink wink, nudge nudge*

Read more: The Story of... 'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye had built a reputation for being a 'ladies man' (writing 'Let's Get It On' certainly makes a case for it), but always struggled with the conflict of his religious beliefs and his outwardly sexual persona.

He was the son of a preacher, was himself a devout Protestant Christian, but had his most success with songs that focused on his sexual desire.

How was the song received?

Read more: Marvin Gaye's 10 greatest songs ever, ranked

The song's success renewed Marvin's confidence in writing music after a turbulent few years, receiving rave reviews from all corners of the music press.

It reached a peak position of No.1 in the US and Canada, whilst hitting No.4 here in the UK.

In 1983, 'Sexual Healing' would also see Marvin Gaye win the Grammy Awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental Performance.

The track was later certified platinum in 2005.

How influential is ‘Sexual Healing’?

'Sexual Healing' was one of the earliest mainstream songs to use the Roland TR-808 drum machine, and would go on to become a major influence and mainstay in hip-hop music.

Crooner Michael Bolton also gave 'Sexual Healing' a go, opening up the track to a new audience the following decade of its release.

It was also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and Rolling Stone magazine listed it at No.231 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The song's success spurred on a major tour for Gaye's album Midnight Love, which would sadly be his last after he was murdered by his father in 1984.

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