When Marvin Gaye hit the Billboard Hot 100 on 30 October 1982, he couldn’t have known he had a future million-seller on his hands. But then, within 18 months, the Motown idol had passed away, and his name would not appear on another pop chart single in the US for nearly 30 years. On that 1982 date, American pop audiences began their love affair with ‘Sexual Healing.’
The song, Gaye’s first hit for Columbia after the end of his 20-years-plus association with Motown, had entered the R&B chart two weeks before, on its way to an epic ten-week run at No. 1. But if there was any initial hesitancy among pop radio programmers about the raunchy nature of the composition by Gaye and jazz organist Odell Brown, it was soon dispersed.
The song made its first showing on the Hot 100 at No. 78, two places behind another Motown single of the day, Charlene’s collaboration with Stevie Wonder, ‘Used To Be,’ which faded after that early promise and peaked at No. 46. The highest new entry of the week was Supertramp’s ‘It’s Raining Again,’ up at No. 31.
‘Sexual Healing’ was a slow burner, moving up the chart until it spent three weeks at No. 3 in late January and early February 1983. It also topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand and went top five in the UK, Holland and Belgium, the country in which Gaye incongruously based himself for some time in the early 1980s.
‘Healing’ went on to win a Grammy for Best R&B Male Vocal, and its groove was so infectious that the b-side won a Grammy too, for Best R&B Instrumental. It spread around the world, too, inspiring cover versions by such artists as Ben Harper, Max-a-Million and, surely most surprisingly, Kate Bush, whose version featuring Davy Spillane on uilleann pipes was the b-side of her 1994 ‘King Of The Mountain’ single.