The very essence of Marvin Gaye as the sensualist.
Daryl Easlea 2009-08-26
Marvin Gaye’s second major work of the 70s is also one of his most famous. Let’s Get It On, eight sensual songs about the act of love, has, for many listeners, come to define Gaye’s popular persona as soul music’s premier love man.
Let’s Get It On appeared after a period of doubt and anxiety about where his career was going following the critical and commercial success of 1971’s What’s Going On, an album full of his eco-cosmic concerns. A dalliance with out-and-out political protest faltered, and after his jazzy Trouble Man soundtrack, Gaye returned to the studio. Besotted with his new young girlfriend Janis Hunter, he let his emotions run riot and created a work that was to update the 60s heartthrob role he’d so unwillingly played at Motown.
Like his later Sexual Healing, this album’s title track – his biggest US hit of all – is the very essence of Marvin Gaye as the sensualist, ruminating on his basic desire for pleasure. However, his spirituality is never far away, and the act of love is turned into something sacred, culminating in his rasp to feel sanctified on its fade out.
Gaye is in supreme command of his material. His voice is as sweet as ever and, on Distant Lover, he revisits his doo-wop vocal group roots, creating a unique mood. Even on the most explicit of the sex songs, You Sure Love to Ball, there is depth and sincerity. But this is, of course, so much more than an album about simple lust. The rapture is undermined by the last track, the fatalistic Just to Keep You Satisfied, written about his stormy marriage to Anna Gordy. You get a sense, no matter how breath-taken you are in the heat of the moment, that all the optimism and joy could go awry.
Let’s Get It On is an iconic, rapturous work, but one very much laced with Gaye’s doubt and uncertainty. That said, many will be too busy basking in the glorious mood that the album creates to notice any dissent whatsoever.