What confuses people about Marvin Gaye is that, despite “What’s Going On” and despite “Let’s Get It On” and despite “Midnight Love” and ABSOLUTE despite “Here My Dear” Gaye was a singles artist. Even his masterpiece was filled with filler, every album except “Here, My Dear” and including “Midnight Love” had chunks you’ll never hear again. He, like all those early Motown cats, functioned it three minute sound bytes and even if on some of his live albums he funked out to ten minutes, he existed for the soul singer and triumphed so completely it overwhelms his albums. What album can survive “I heard It throught the Grapevine”? “In the groove’ couldn’t. An OK album completely in Grapevine’s shadow. If you take a look at his albums, only six hit the top ten in his lifetime, 20 singles did.
And if you listen to his albums from one end to another you are consistently aware of how despite his gorgeous voice his material could flag so bad and it is the curse of the singles art form which with Motown was a splash of paint on so many top motown bands -for every “Going To A go-go” there was a dozen “Make It Happen”. As Gaye grew into the 60s he became a true artist even though you and I might have thought his artistry had nowehre to go but even at his best he couldn’t sustain an album.
Except for “Here, My Dear”. Written in liu of alimony for Anna (sister of Berry) Gordy and delivered to Motown it was a monumental flop but a disco-art-funk miasma of sound detailing in excrutiating detail the dissolution of his marriage and his immersion into… er, funky space reincarnation. “Funky Space Reincarnation” is a beyond strange dance with a robotic half beat and Gaye speak singing in a disco picking up a girl “Don’t you look like somebody i met a long time ago i know i aint ever met you though oooh you look like ive been knowing you for a thousand years…” the song veers into an extended dance mix with a jazzy sax over an 808 (though maybe a little early for that!!!). It was the single of the album which I can’t grasp at all, I guess Gaye wanted to reach the disco market but the spoken interludes were the kiss of death. Or maybe he didn’t want it to hit big because the entire album is fundamentally wrong as a pop move. Here is the youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcYg3mpewMg
“Funky” isn’t where “Here, My Dear” is at anyway. The heart of the album is the “When Did I Stop Loving You, When Did You Stop Loving Me” and again it should be funk or soul but the jazziness takes the song in another direction: his voice is even higher than its usual key and it trills up there and now all I can hear is the beauty . The song’s progression is not anything like pop, it’s not that block chords groove over drums, instead the melody meanders and back tracks on itself and the chorus becomes the verse and the verse becomes the chorus and the bridge takes over. It is hard to get the song because it is so obusely, almost angrily constructed. As for the lyric? “You say you love me with all your heart. If you ever loved me will all of your heart, you’d never take a million dollars to part.” It’s like you’re listening into a private conversation and it’s none of your business but you can’t stop listening. It’s hard to imagine what Anna Gordy made of this, hard to imagine her half of the conversation. We know she was seventeen years Gaye’s senior and we know he married the bosses sister and apparently the relationship was a long disaster…
The title track is as self-referential as humanly possible. “I guess I’d like to say ‘this album is dedicated to you’, although I may not’ve been so happy, I have conceded…” he sings before warning that there’s a lot of truth in it. The very next song, the prettiest song on the album, “I Met A Little Girl” aches with sadness and bristles with an undercurrent of anger “We thought our love would stand the test of time and as I sing this song right now I wonder today, it you’re a friend of mine”. That is one of the things that makes “Here, My Dear” such a rarity: it is completely real, he keeps on moving between tears and loathing. It’s like tears and loathing in an LA divorce and Gaye is confused and falling fast into cocaine, into new age, into something but he doesn’t know what and it makes “Here, My Dear” a scary album. I love it but I love it the way I might love an abusive father. It is something I love despite myself. “Anna’s Song” is all dubby and echoes and a complete intrusion of her privacy, it’s like putting up naked pictures of your ex-wife on facebook: “This is Anna’s song, Im making love all night long, take a bath in milk, and lay on your satin sheets” It is jazz fusion and almost like smooth jazz but it aint remotely smooth: he jags out at you and spikes you. I bet Anna hated it.
Towards the end he moves closer to disco on “You Can Leave But It’s Gonna Cost You Dearly” all bass and drums with a melodic keybs moving from behind, though the speed is completely off and nobody can dance to it -you can’t imagine anybody in Philly recording it. The song itself is just unreal, it is the side of the nonsense of sexual love and it’s the great pun on “dearly” -nearly as good as the hear my cost you dear ly well dear has never permutated so many times in front of yours eyes. It is a funk work out, druggy, stoney and distrubing but more it is a real achievement in emotional nakedness. Yes. More naked than Lennon on “God,” more naked than… I dunno… I don’t know how you can go that far out and ever come back in again. Song after song Gaye seems to be eating his own insides till he reaches the penultimate moment “Falling In Love Again” and it just doesn’t sound what he is saying; back to the jazz disco, back to the rinky synth and a lyric which can’t really escape from being completely banal: “Forever, So great, baby . So lovely. As though there was no tomorrow. There is no tomorrow. See you later I love you I love you, baby I love you”. Two things come directly to mind here a) His artistry as a lyricist has completely left him here. Why? It has to be intentional, his point has to be the complicated emotions Anna brings up in him are simplified and much less deep with another woman and b) he is not being sincere, he is faking the feelings. The album ends with a reprise of “When Did I Stop Loving You, When Did You Stop Loving Me” Listening to it on a loop it seems like an act of transgression and an act of transcendence simultaneously: a glorious broken sound that you can’t sing to and you can’t dance to and on a certain level you can’t get to the heart of if you’re not damaged yourself.
“Here, My Dear” is unlike anything else Gaye would ever write, or I’ve ever heard by anyone. It reminds me a little of Costello’s “Imperial Bedroom” only Elvis would hide himself in language, with Costello for every “love is always scarperring, or cowering or fawning” there was a “the pretty things of knightsbridge lying for a minister of state”. Costello’s album of divorce was ALL in pidgin’ english but Gaye is direct and therfore has less places to hide. From his earliest recordings all the way to “Sexual healing” he never cut this close to the bone. Gaye was a superstar at the time. Had been for well over a decade. In an act of career suiicide and emotional desperation he struck straight at the heart of pop culture. A great, great album. Get it.
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