Three New Digital Collections Honor Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’

The new releases mark the 50th anniversary of the classic title track’s release as a single.

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Marvin Gaye WGO Outtake

Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album is celebrated today (22) with three digital collections to honor the depth of the hallowed 1971 release. The new activity marks the 50th anniversary of the appearance of the record’s classic title track as a single. Earlier this week, the state of Michigan declared January 20 “What’s Going On” Day to mark the occasion.

Firstly, several releases relating to What’s Going On have been consolidated into one new digital collection. What’s Going On: Deluxe Edition/50th Anniversary includes the original album as well as 12 bonus tracks featuring each of the LP’s original mono single versions and their B-sides.

Two of these, “God Is Love” and “Sad Tomorrows” are different takes. There’s also an earlier version of “Flying High (In the Friendly Sky)” and the single version of “What’s Going On,” released before the original album, has no “party” intro and a false fade.

This collection also includes the earliest mix of the title track, which was initially made as a reference for Motown’s in-house quality control department before the addition of horns and strings. There’s a dramatic instrumental mix and a “Coffeehouse Mix” by the Grammy-winning engineer Russ Elevado, highlighting the previously-buried acoustic guitar on the track. This was originally available on an exclusive 10” EP for Record Store Day on the album’s 45th anniversary in 2016.

What's Going On (Coffeehouse Mix)

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From that same release comes a “What’s Going On” duet with Motown artist B.J. the Chicago Kid. Other tracks in the set are an early working version of “Symphony,” written by Marvin with Smokey Robinson, in which Marvin repeatedly sings “what’s going on?” while that song was unreleased; and the instrumental “I Love the Ground You Walk On,” recorded during that same waiting period.

What’s Going On: The Detroit Mix, which is also available as a standalone digital release, is the original mix of the album, which was cancelled by Marvin at the last minute to be redone in Los Angeles. The recordings were mixed in April 1971 but remained unreleased until 2001, when they were part of the album’s 30th anniversary 2CD Deluxe Edition. There’s a more relaxed, stripped back and percussive feel to the Detroit Mix, plus unique track segues and some additional lyrics.

UMe has also released Funky Nation: The Detroit Instrumentals, comprising 14 tracks recorded by Gaye in late summer and fall of 1971, after the release of What’s Going On. Opting not to tour in the wake of the album’s success, Gaye recorded these funk and rock jams with a one-time-only band led by Motown’s then-touring drummer Hamilton Bohannon. The line-up also featured 17-year-old Ray Parker, Jr., Melvin Ragin, a.k.a. “Wah Wah Watson” (himself only 20), Leroy Emmanuel of the Fabulous Counts, relatively experienced at 25, on guitars, and Michael Henderson, age 20, on bass. Gaye played keyboards and percussion.

Certain tracks from Funky Nation had been available on previous special releases, most of them were newly issued on the What’s Going On 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition in 2011. They now receive their own individual digital release for the first time.

What’s Going On: Deluxe Edition/50th Anniversary, What’s Going On: The Detroit Mixand Funky Nation: The Detroit Instrumentals are out now.

Listen to the Motown: What’s Going On playlist on Apple Music and Spotify.

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