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‘Inner City Blues’: Marvin Gaye Completes A Social Commentary Trinity

On October 9, 1971, ‘Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),’ the latest 45 from Marvin’s immortal ‘What’s Going On’ album, bowed on the US pop and R&B charts.

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Inner City Blues - Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye was in full cry in 1971. Seized with a new passion to create music of deep lyrical meaning, and to sing about the issues affecting a troubled world, he perfected the art of doing that in the context of a huge-selling album and singles from it.

The album, of course, was What’s Going On, and on October 9, the latest 45 from it, Marvin’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” took its bow on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Best Selling Soul Singles chart. He’s pictured above, before he grew his beard, on the cover of the French single release of the haunting track.

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The What’s Going On album had been released in May, four months after the title track had signalled Gaye’s dramatic new change of direction. That single was an R&B No.1 for five weeks that spent three weeks at No.2 on the pop survey. Then early July brought the second single, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” a two-week R&B champion and pop No.4.

“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” completed a remarkable trinity. It climbed to the R&B summit for a two-week run that meant Gaye had spent nine weeks atop the soul chart with three singles from What’s Going On. As it climbed to No.9 on the pop side, it also gave him three Top 10 crossover singles. The album itself reached No.6 pop and ruled the R&B waves for no fewer than nine weeks, in a 53-week chart shelf life.

Overcoming the company doubts

Strange to think, then, that Motown boss Berry Gordy didn’t exactly embrace Gaye’s new direction, and was distinctly wary of the “What’s Going On” single in particular. Until Gaye’s audience showed that they were with him all the way, that is, and that they loved his new role as a soulful social commentator.

“Inner City Blues” went on to attract covers by Grover Washington Jr., Sarah Vaughan, vocal stylists like the Impressions and the Chi-Lites, rock singers such as Joe Cocker and John Mayer, and even a James Last makeover.

“Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” is on What’s Going On, which can be bought here.

Follow the official Marvin Gaye Best Of playlist.

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