VARIOUS ARTISTS / “What’s Going On Mixtape”


We kick off the new year with a mixtape version of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the greatest Soul album of all time. Period. Exclamation marks!!! Social relevancy, artistic achievement, cultural statement—howsoever you want to measure music, What’s Going On is a major achievement.

Although there was no way to improve on the original, I thought it might be interesting to collect various artists doing tracks from the original. Except for the opening instrumental and the short interview with Marvin, all the cover selections are in the order that they appeared on the original. In a some cases there are multiple versions of the same song.

Below is the playlist, with a brief identifier for artists you might not know or recognize.

I send this one out to Mtume, his wife Beth, and their new daughter Anna, who was born on December 26, 2008.

PLUS, as a special bonus, we have a write up about the mixtape by Mtume ya Salaam.

That’s all I got to say, except: Enjoy!

—Kalamu ya Salaam




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1. “Inner City Blues / What's Going On”  - CTI Allstars featuring Grover Washington - CTI Summer Jazz At The Hollywood Bowl (out of print)


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2. “Marvin Gaye Interview”  (excerpt from  “W.A.R.”) - DJ Trus’me – Working Nights

DJ Trus’me is an independent DJ and mixtape master from Manchester, England.


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3. “What's Going On” - Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition)
All of the Marvin Gaye tracks are the live versions included on the Deluxe Edition.


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4. “Qual é - What's Going On” - Sandra de Sa - Traduz Os Sucessos da Motown
Sandra de Sa is major Brazilian vocalist whom I first learned about in the eighties on a visit to Bahia.


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5. "What's Happening Brother" - Keb' Mo' - Peace....Back By Popular Demand
Keb’ Mo’ is a major contemporary blues artist. We’ve featured him before (here).


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6. "Flyin High (In The Friendly Sky)" - Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition)
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7. "Flyin' High (In The Friendly Sky)" - Dirty Dozen Brass Band - What's Going On
A New Orleans band who was the first to modernize traditional New Orleans street music.



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8. Save The Children - Marlena Shaw - Live At Montreux
A striking vocalist whom we’ve featured before (here, here and here).


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9. "God Is Love" (Featuring Ivan Neville) - Dirty Dozen Brass Band - What's Going On
Ivan Neville is the son of Aaron Neville of the mighty, mighty Neville Brothers.


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10. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" - Boyz II Men - Motown A Journey Through Hitsville USA


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11. Right On - Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition)


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12. "Wholy Holy" - Aretha Franklin - Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings



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13. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" - Nona Gaye - Inner City Blues - The Music Of Marvin Gaye
Nona Gaye is the daughter of Marvin Gaye.



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14. "Inner City Blues (Featuring Guru)" - Dirty Dozen Brass Band - What's Going On



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15. "Inner City Blues" - Gil Scott-Heron – Reflections



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16. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" - Angela Winbush - Angela Winbush
Vocalist Angela Winbush was an artist happening in the nineties, she also was married to Ronald Isley.


          What’s Going On?            

I hope a lot of y’all are out there listening and downloading this week because this is the best mix Kalamu’s done thus far. The consistency of vibe and the quality of the musicianship from track to track is really amazing. I’m also really impressed by the range of artists. This is definitely a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

On their own, some of these tracks would elicit nothing from me except maybe a yawn (Grover Washington and Boyz II Men, for example), but given their placement in the mix, it works. The entire presentation begins to feel like a dialogue, like a back-and-forth between various generations, communities and artists.

We get the gritty, street commentary; we get the cleaner, more middle-class styles; we get some international voices in there; we get some heavy-handed, serious presentations; and we get some funny, light touches. There’s gospel, blues, jazz, soul and hip-hop. I love that so many different types of people get their say somewhere or the other in this mix. And given that Marvin’s original recording is well over thirty years old, this mix and the quality of the music in it, is also a beautiful example of the timelessness of music.

I’m not going to talk much about these tunes track-by-track (because, as I said, I think the mix is much better than a close look at each individual track would seem to indicate) but I do want to say a little more about the source material, about the What’s Going On album itself. Kalamu will have to correct me on this if I’m getting the history wrong, but as far as I know, What’s Going On was the first R&B/soul LP structured to make a single, cohesive statement. If you’ve only heard the hit singles (“Mercy Mercy Me,” “Inner City Blues,” the title track), you really should check out the album. It’s a mind-blower.

One reason Kalamu’s mix is so good is that he manages to recreate the original suite-like feel of the What’s Going On LP even though the mix cycles through numerous artists and numerous styles of music. The original album grabs you from the beginning and just doesn’t let go. Each song segues smoothly into the next—it’s meant to be heard in one sitting. It’s a persuasion piece. It’s Marvin making his best case to us all that we should be more concerned, more cognizant and more involved in what’s going on with each other and our planet.
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I also want to talk a little about how Marvin created and conceived the original album. The album has such an expansive theme (what’s going wrong with our world and the people living in it) that one imagines Marvin up late at night thinking over various political, social and economic issues, trying to narrow them down into individual themes for each song. It actually didn’t work that way. Oddly enough, the seed for what would become What’s Going On can be found in the song that makes the least explicit statement of them all—“What’s Happening, Brother.”

That song is Marvin documenting an actual conversation (or conversations) between he and his little brother Frankie after Frankie returned from the Vietnam war. Until that time, Marvin had built a career singing pop songs. But Frankie’s accounts of his experiences and Marvin’s realization of how alienating
war is not just for the individual but for societies as a whole, eventually drove Marvin to abandon (at least temporarily) his quest to be ‘the black Frank Sinatra’ and instead record something that would adequately address the issues and concerns he had following those conversations with his little brother.

After Marvin made up his mind to really ask ‘what’s going on,’ the music began to pour out. He teamed up with some of the musicians from the Motown inner circle—cats who he’d been working with for years—and together they began sketching out the melodies, rhythms and harmonies that would eventually become one of the most influential LPs ever recorded by anyone.

The real genius of Marvin’s album, however, is although he came up with the idea because of a conversation with his brother, he barely ever mentions the personal. This album isn’t about Marvin. It’s about all of us. And even when Marvin does focus on the personal (as in “What’s Happening, Brother” or “Flying High”) he does so in a way that feels universal.

To use “What’s Happening, Brother” as an example, we ALL have had brothers or sisters or friends who’ve been away for extended periods of time (whether at war or in jail or simply having relocated) and on their return, they ask questions of such disarming simplicity (“Do they still get down where we used to
go and dance?”) that you’re simply thrown for a loop. You’re thinking, “How could Frankie not know the cops raided that place and shut it down last summer?”…or something like that.

Those types of conversations have the power to slow you down, make you reflective. Maybe even change your life. Your brother, sister, friend is asking you about the latest dances and meanwhile you’re still thinking about an incidental comment they made—“Man, I just don’t understand what’s going on across this land.” No matter how many weeks pass, you can’t shake those words. You keep wondering if it’s worth it, if anything is being accomplished—either now or ever—by ripping someone out of their lives and sending them off to shoot at other young men who are basically in the same damn situation.

If, as the days and months pass, the thoughts don’t go away, what do you do? If you’re Marvin, you write about it. You sing about it. And you do it so damn well, that almost forty years later, cats are coming up with entire hour-long mixes made up of tributes to your original recordings. And it all sounds just as meaningful thirty-eight years down the line as it did all that time ago when Frankie first asked, “What’s going on? What’s the deal, my brother?”

—Mtume ya Salaam






This entry was posted on Monday, January 5th, 2009 at 6:32 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “VARIOUS ARTISTS / “What’s Going On Mixtape””

Q Says:
January 5th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

Thanks for this. No one can match Marvin. However, Gil’s interpretation/narration/poetry break was excellent. It’s almost a different song. BoyzIIMen, Nona, and Dirty Dozen are good standouts too.

Nilim Says:
January 9th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Oh, ya’ll, I haven’t even read the post or heard all the music yet, but I HAD to stop to say the What’s Going On Mixtape is off the chain, off the hook, out of sight, the bomb . . . you get the point!!!


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