What has always charmed and endeared me to music is its distinctive ability to exceed its domain. It’s a robust art that has the power and the scale to make a wide array of expression: passionate or piercing, political or philosophical, to name a few. One of the greatest soul singers and songwriters of our time, Marvin Gaye, embraced that power with verve.
While it’s widely posited that What’s Going On is his greatest work, I lean toward Let’s Get It On, a seductive philosophical statement from Gaye on the complicated relationship of love and sex, as being Marvin Gaye’s magnum opus. That’s not to diminish the former—it’s an equally powerful piece of statement-art—but the latter makes a memorable testimonial on the complexity of the spiritual/physical pairing of human relationships that, at the time of its release, was unprecedented.
We’ve all heard the title track. The distinct, funky and evocative “crying” of a yearning guitar has long been parodied in popular culture as a cue of mostly comical, sexual behavior to follow. It’s understandable. But the song’s reputation is an early and temporary diversion for what the entire album envelops: an earnest expression of vibrant desire and passion.
Gaye focused much of his artistic material on the concept of idyllic love: brotherly, platonic, political and societal. But Marvin Gaye was explicitly respectful of corporal, sexual love, and was an advocate for freely expressing sexuality as a matchless, beautiful facet of the human experience to be openly embraced and celebrated. Taken from the liner notes of the album, Gaye wrote: “I contend that SEX IS SEX and LOVE IS LOVE. When combined, they work well together, if two people are of about the same mind.”
Gaye honored sex with piousness rather than bawdiness. Viewed through a Gayean lens, sex, an experience shared between two consenting, synergetic participants, is a transcending, expressive moment of true, binding love—the sacrament of passionate and devout lovers. Let’s Get It On stands as something personal, too. A sort of rebellion of Gaye, tearing down the walls of the idea and view of sex as something ribald that was pressed upon him in his upbringing.
Let’s Get It On turns 43 this year—almost as old as Gaye was when he was fatally shot by his father, a Pentecostal minister, at the age of 44. It, like much of Gaye’s work, remains today a relevant affirmation of the power—physically and spiritually—of love.