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May 21

Marvin Gaye

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Gaye was also No. 6 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1971: Soul Man
Marvin Gaye releases What’s Going On
In the 1950s and 60s, the silky tenor voice of Marvin Gaye moved easily from the pop stylings of “Ain’t That Peculiar” to the lush duet with Tammi Terrell “You’re All I Need to Get By.” But in 1971, Gaye released an album that showcased a new level of artistry and depth. What’s Going On was a concept album filled with songs that tackled the problems of the day: the Vietnam War, racism, environmental damage, unemployment, poverty, and other complex issues.

The album marked a groundbreaking achievement in recording history as Gaye’s phenomenal voice with its three-octave range coupled with difficult social and political issues. What’s more, with this album Gaye resisted Motown’s standard process of separating songwriters, singers, and producers on a project.

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