Song Lyric Sunday — What’s Going On

For this week’s Song Lyric Sunday, Jim Adams has given us the theme of Motown songs. I have chosen the iconic song, “What’s Going On” from Marvin Gaye.

“What’s Going On” was written by three Motown hitmakers: songwriter Al Cleveland, Four Tops member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and singer Marvin Gaye, who added lyrics and worked on the arrangement. Gaye wanted the Originals to record the song, but Benson and Cleveland prevailed upon Gaye to do it himself.

The song was released in 1971 on the Motown subsidiary Tamla. It was inspired by a police brutality incident witnessed by Benson as well as by the stories Gaye’s brother Frankie told him when he came back from the Vietnam War. The song marked Gaye’s departure from the Motown Sound towards more personal material.

This was one of the first Motown songs to make a powerful political statement. Stevie Wonder and the Temptations were also recording more serious and challenging material, which was a radical departure from the Motown hits of the ’60s. The song had a tremendous impact because listeners weren’t used to hearing social commentary from Gaye. As Jackson Browne said in a 2008 interview with Rolling Stone: “No one was expecting a protest song from him. But it was a moment in time when people were willing to hear it from anybody, if it was heartfelt. And who better than the person who has talked to you about love and desire?”

Gaye wrote this when he could no longer take refuge in his love songs. His marriage to Anna Gordy was in shambles, his duet partner and friend Tammi Terrell collapsed into his arms during a concert and died in 1970, drug use was pervading the inner city culture, and Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy were all gunned down.

“What’s Going On” was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 1972 including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s), but failed to win in any of the categories. It was ranked at number 4 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of all Time in 2004 and 2010.

Here are the lyrics to “What’s Going On.”

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, yeah

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, oh, oh, oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Yeah, what's going on
Ah, what's going on

(In the mean time)
Right on, baby
Right on babe
Right on babe

Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we're wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply 'cause our hair is long?
Oh, you know we've got to find a way
Bring some understanding here today
Oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
C'mon talk to me
So you can see
What's going on
Yeah, what's going on
Tell me what's going on
I'll tell you what's going on
Ooh ooh ooh ooh
Right on baby
Right on, right on

Right on baby

Right on baby, c'mon, right on

12 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday — What’s Going On

  1. newepicauthor November 27, 2022 / 7:41 am

    This is not a protest song, it is a love song, about understanding and the desire to know what’s going on. Great choice Fandango.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lou Carreras November 27, 2022 / 8:20 am

    The song still resonates today, because none of the issues have been resolved.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. willowdot21 November 27, 2022 / 9:46 am

    Seventh heaven, this prompt keeps on giving. Love your choice 💜🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nope, Not Pam November 27, 2022 / 11:03 am

    You can’t get much better than this one 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango November 27, 2022 / 12:40 pm

      It is a great song that, sadly, is still applicable 50 years later.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. jilldennison November 27, 2022 / 11:28 pm

    OH!!! Oh, oh oh! I love this one, love Marvin Gaye! You have made my night!!! My scowl of 3 minutes ago has been replaced with a BIG smile! Thank you, Fandango!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fandango November 28, 2022 / 11:37 am

      Thanks, Christine. His death was a huge loss.


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