Enjoying it so far? Anyone reading so far?
Anyway, we had the Allman Brothers, then the Dubliners. And now something a little different:
[General Trigger Warning for comments on the YouTube videos, read at your own risk]
"Got To Give It Up" – Marvin Gaye – live, Montreux 1980.
One day some years ago now, one of my dearest friends in the entire cosmos said "You gotta listen to this!" and sent me the studio version of this song. I was hooked like a fish on a reel. My first instinct is not usually towards disco music. I like some of it very much but the bad stuff is really bad and a lot of it feels very mechanical/clinical to me and I need to feel my music.
It is not unreasonable though, to assume that disco in Marvin Gaye's hands is not going to be bad… and it isn't. I love the twelve minute version. I love walking home to it because there are few songs that I end up walking so fast and yet still have a swing in my hips and a dancey step to my gait. You should see me waiting to cross the road when this is on: there I am on a busy London street bouncing like a child. When this is on the iPod I'm not walking through Central London at rush hour, I'm grooving down the line on Soul Train.
In fact, I was going to post Marvin's appearance on Soul Train to perform this as today's video, but it's miming – though it's cool when he joins the crowd dancing.
But I posted the live version because it's a bit more interesting. For a start, I love and want that jacket. I know it's not a musical thing, but I do. I find it both amusing and sad that he needs several introductions before he comes out. And I love that sparkly waistcoat. I would wear those both myself.
Anyway, what I love about the live version is that it's looser, funkier than the studio version, which has a touch of the clinical disco about it – much as I love it. Also, Gaye had such a way of moving on stage. It's not quite dancing and it's almost awkward in comparison to the slick choreography we get these days, but he's into the music… and that's what's so gorgeous.
The song itself isn't strictly disco and the lyrics rather poke fun at disco – the protagonist is a wallflower who can't bring himself to dance until the power of the music gets him and he gets his funk on. And while it's a bit of a mockery, isn't that exactly what great dancing music is about? I love how it's 'disco' but it's funky as hell and I do defy anyone to listen to this and not move. Right now I'm sat in my armchair under a duvet (tis cold!) with my computer on my lap… and my feet are rocking in time to the music. My head is going from side to side and I'm almost typing in time. I defy anyone to listen to this and stay still…
A long time ago I saw a documentary where Marvin was referred to as 'The Black Frank Sinatra'. I think it might've been one of those VH1 Behind the Music type things. While I see the point whoever-it-was was making, I disagree. Marvin Gaye was Marvin Gaye. You don't need to qualify it more than that, not to me. Perhaps it's white bourgeois privilege talking, but Marvin Gaye wasn't the Someone Else of anything. I don't say this to devalue or ignore his race or anything, but to call him "the Black xxxxxx" to me, is to imply he's only good in a black context and that's simply not true. Marvin Gaye was the only Marvin Gaye and that's more, much more, than good enough for me.
In 2006 I visited Detroit, MI. I really like the city generally but the touristy highpoint was being in the Motown Historical Museum, stood under the echo chamber and being asked to sing a bit to demonstrate it. My friends and I were surrounded by late-middle-aged black American tourists (I can't remember where they were from) who were die-hard Motown fans. I stood under the echo chamber which Marvin himself had used and prayed my voice would not give out. I managed a few phrases from "Dancing In The Street" before my nerve gave out, but I will never, ever forget the sound of my own voice bouncing back at me with that unmistakable Motown vocal echo. One day I want to go back and try again – and do better. Or record, better still 😉
People who are supremely talented are always fantastic to observe at work. Marvin was one of those people. I won't say that every song he ever recorded was fantastic. Of the well known ones, I really don't like "Let's Get It On" as a song, although that might partly be because it's been so devalued over the years… but on his day, he was one of the golden gods. There's so much I could've picked for this… I think he'll show up again on this 100 Things Challenge.
To quote the song itself: "let's dance, let's shout, get funky what it's all about!"