While I was jotting down thoughts about an introductory chapter for my book, I got to thinking about old Marvin Gaye, and how it could possibly be true that I didn’t own a single one of the many and varied albums he’d released.
To correct this oversight, I downloaded What’s Going On; listening as I typed, I recalled, as a young Top 40 fan, one Sunday evening early in 1983 when the first song from the week’s rundown was Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. Now, as great as Marvin Gaye is, and as neat as this song is, with its occasional falsetto, a drum sound dreamed up by technology, a hi-hat and a snare snapping, a handclap, and a guitar just about making its presence known with a few notes and a bend now and again, it was only number 40, and on its way out. Besides, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the target audience for a song in which the singer declares he is hot just like an oven, and needs some lovin.
I didn’t go out and buy Sexual Healing. I didn’t go out and buy My Love is Waiting, a new entry for Gaye at 35 the same week. In fact I didn’t go out and buy any Marvin Gaye singles. Or albums. I can’t say with any surety whether I even recorded Sexual Healing that Sunday, or whether I just bopped and snapped along with it in childish ignorance. And then, without realising it, 30 years would pass before I bought any Marvin Gaye. He is, I’m sorry to say it, merely a bit-part player in my life. And yet in the intervening years many of the other artists in the chart that week would feature - some regularly, some only occasionally, some sincerely, others mostly ironically, some comically, some despairingly, and some irritatingly, in my life.
I was perfectly happy listening to the cheesy salsa pop of Modern Romance, admiring Shakin’ Stevens’ dance moves and good old time rock n roll tribute act, getting a taste of the exotic with Rio, and a first taste of remixes with the extended version of Our House. Songs like these would set the tone for my formative pop years, during which time Marvin Gaye released nothing much of note. Even if he had, he’d have needed to throw up more attractive titles than God is Love, ‘Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology)’, and ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)’ to catch my eye. It wasn’t until he started selling Levis in 1986 that Gaye started to get interesting, but even then he was fighting a losing battle: in the week that I heard it through the grapevine debuted at number 8, the mighty Falco was number 1, the Spitting Image team entered at 11, and Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer was flying up the charts on the back of its must-see video. Lurking behind all these, Snooker Loopy and Spirit in the Sky were two more new entries that same week.
My pop preferences from that time are not the least bit shaming to me; the fact that I bought What’s Going On over a year ago and yet I can still include Marvin Gaye in the not in my top 500 artists section of this playlist, on the other hand…