Where do you go after completing a career-defining project?

It was a question that was claimed to be bothering Marvin Gaye before he recorded his 1973 album Let’s Get It On.

The initial publication came two years after his masterwork, What’s Going On, and is celebrating its 50th anniversary with another deluxe version out on Friday.

That album not only broadened the horizons of soul music with its poignant socio-political lyricism and game-changing production, which presented songs as a suite rather than a collection of individual tracks, but it also soundtracked a troubled era in US society at odds with itself over the Vietnam War.

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More than commercial success, What’s Going On’s eventual success gave Gaye complete artistic authority over future Motown projects, a label infamous for setting its own tune.

This would have been great for the production of his next work, as long as he had anything to say, which Gaye was doubtful about in 1972 due to writer’s block.

Clarity emerged when the decision was made to concentrate on the internal rather than the external.

Whereas What’s Going On is his American state of the union address, Let’s Get It On is Gaye’s 31-minute exploration of the interior politics of love, faith, and many forms of human connection.

Some of these threads come together in the album’s title track.

The original words are reported to be more spiritual before taking on a sexual turn, accompanied by a magnificent orchestral arrangement, delicate guitars, and slightly off kilter percussion.

The original sentiments, however, remain.

Among the beautiful wordplay, Gaye still seeks a deeper union, with lyrics like “We’re all sensitive people with so much to give,” which are anchored in honesty, “Ain’t gonna push, won’t push you.”

This is emphasized further in the second song on the album, Please Stay (Once You Go Away), a melodramatic horn-soaked ballad typical of Motown, in which a vulnerable Gaye begs his girlfriend to give it another chance.

If I Should Die Tonight emphasizes the vitality of the songwriting. The lyrics are a parting love letter and eulogy, sparse but full of unexpected vocal twists.

“If I die tonight, though it seems far too soon, I won’t die blue because I’ve known you,” Gaye says before asking us if we lived a life well spent.

“How many eyes witnessed their dream?” How many arms have kept their dream alive? How many hearts have truly felt their world come to a halt?”

We can see Gaye’s struggle for creative control here.

Whereas previous career smashes Stubborn Kind of Fellow and It Takes Two were lovable but cookie-cutter depictions of love and heartbreak, If I Should Die Tonight removes the rose-colored glasses to reflect on love as it often is, open-ended, messy, and unpredictable.

Gaye, on the other hand, did not totally abandon his previous sound.

The warm weather Come on over to With its enthusiastic melodic hooks, bobbing basslines, and breezy strings, this is a throwback to his 1960s commercial era.

The CD concludes with the seductive ambiance of You Sure Love to Ball and Just to Keep You Satisfied, following a bravura live version of Distant Lover.

The latter orchestral ballad contemplates the emotional cost of living an unrestrained life.

Gaye realizes that the deep link he desires cannot be kept solely through sexual contact after quitting an emotionally abusive relationship.

So he bids her goodnight with the dim hope that “maybe we’ll meet later on.”

Let’s Get It On’s legacy lives on 50 years later.

Let’s Get It On pushed the auditory and lyrical frontiers of popular music, although lacking the gravitas of What’s Going On, which is deservedly considered as one of the best albums of all time.

Let’s Get It On can even be linked to a run of extremely successful albums in the following decades, such as Madonna’s Erotica (1992) and SZA’s star-making 2022 album SOS.

Gaye’s unrestrained vision of relationships also encouraged future R&B musicians, such as D’Angelo’s Voodoo (2000) and Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (1996), to make thought-provoking albums about the body and mind.

Fans, prospective artists, and producers will have a lot to dive into and savor with the new edition of Let’s Get It On, which includes a new Dolby Atmos mix and 18 previously unreleased tracks from the original recording sessions.


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