VARIOUS ARTISTS / “What’s Going On Mixtape #2”
What’s Going On like you’ve never heard it before. Deeper. More varied (one song is not even in English). Everything from folk song to jazz, DJ samples & remixes to concert performances. Curtis Mayfield wrote and the Staples sang “let’s do it again!” And I took that to heart. Hence, there is a real reason this Mixtape is “#2.” Back on January 5, 2009 I posted a 16-song re-visioning of the legendary album. At the time I thought I had exhausted what could be done as a major Mixtape statement. Marvin wrote the shit out of What’s Going On. Melodic phrases are introduced and reshaped throughout the suite, some songs have sections in different tempo, harmonic elements are refigured throughout. The arc of the music progresses from questions to observations to statements of defiance and rage. “Inner City Blues” in particular articulates strong anti-establishment emotions. Plus, it was aimed directly at and referenced the black experience in the United States. There was nothing else like it. Who could have predicted that this vision informed by both social awareness and critical analysis would become one of the most popular R&B albums? Certainly not label owner Berry Gordy who hated the record when he first heard it. Gordy thought What's going On would damage Motown’s reputation, and initially refused to release the music. But other than Stevie Wonder’s three or four album run, What’s Going On stands alone as a Motown product (and, some argue, that Stevie’s music would have been inconceivable if What’s Going On had not opened the door and prepared the way for progressive Motown music). While the suites may have been apprehensive, the streets eagerly embraced What’s Going On. The music asked the questions and made the observations that were consistent with our lives and reflective of our emotional responses to the times. I distinctly remember when it came out, not the exact date (May 21, 1971) but hearing it when it first dropped on the radio in New Orleans. I was standing in the little front shop area of Edwards Shoe Store on Melpomene Avenue—a little later part of Melpomene would be renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. and working first in a back room and then in an apartment upstairs in the back, we would refer to the shoe shop building as the little house on the prairie. That was where the offices of the Black Collegian Magazine were located. Anyway, my specific memory is Dave at one of the shoe machines and me coming in the door and “What’s Happening Brother” was playing on the radio. At first I thought it was the title song. It sounded similar but the words were different and… Marvin’s vision was instant connection for us, and when we got the album it didn’t take even one complete listen to recognize that this was a major work, a suite, a sort of R&B symphony. This was the early seventies, we thought we could do anything. Everything. If we could imagine it, we could do it. Make it real. The music was both the result of and the inspiration for this optimistic mindset that the majority of young, black minds carried with us as we murdered the restrictions of the past and grew organic gardens of innovation and self-determination. I say “murdered” because our goal was nothing less than the total eradication of oppression and all that went with and resulted from America’s racist social policies. Many people (to use a Toni Morrison word) disremember (sort of forget on purpose) that not only was there social upheaval during this period, there was actual warfare going on in cities across America. If you want to know what it was like to live during those years, dig our music from back then. The boldness. The beauty. The loud, proud, self-aware blackness and how we translated that into a myriad of hip sounds. There was no one single thing—it was not a dogmatic era. Everyone and everything was trying to get free, as free as possible, and remember, we believed everything was possible. Everything was literally everything! I liked the BoL Mixtape we did a year and eight months or so ago, but this #2 is really the shit. Just hit the play button (do I have to tell you to download the Mixtape?), lay back and find yourself warp-sped into another reality, a parallel universe of sonic beauty. Most of this stuff is commercially available. It’s like you could go to the store and buy all the ingredients you need to build a space ship but some expertise in assembly is required. I’ve saved you about half a decade of engineering school. I must give major kudos to Marvin Gaye. I’m not going to get into an argument about is What’s Going On the best album of all time. I tell you what though, the music doesn’t sound dated. The lyrics don’t sound trite or irrelevant to what we’re dealing with today. Sending boys off to die. Can’t pay taxes. Oil on the water. Flying high without leaving the ground. What’s still going on! I always wanted Marvin to make a follow-up but now I realize: we’re not finished dealing with this one. What’s Going On continues to go on. And that’s both a blessing and a curse. Beautiful music for fucked up times. Beautiful music to bless us and inspire us to move past all the bullshit in our lives. —Kalamu ya Salaam What’s Going On #2 Mixtape Playlist 01 “What's Going On” - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) - Marvin Gaye 02 “W.A.R.” - Working Nights – Trus’me 03 “Qual é” - Traduz Os Sucessos da Motown - Sandra de Sa 04 “What's Going On” - Midnight - Till Brönner 05 “What's Going On” - Portfolio - Richie Havens 06 “What's Happening Brother” - Peace....Back By Popular Demand - Keb' Mo' 07 “Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)” - What's Going On - Everette Harp 08 “Flyin High (In The Friendly Sky)” - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) - Marvin Gaye 09 “Save The Children” - Live At Montreux - Marlena Shaw 10 “Save The Children” - Save The Children - Various Artists/Marvin Gaye 11 “God Is Love” (Featuring Ivan Neville) - What's Going On - Dirty Dozen Brass Band 12 “God Is Love&Mercy Mercy Me” - Inner City Blues – Various Artists/Sounds Of Blackness 13 “Mercy Mercy Me” - Finally My Time - D'Atra Hicks 14 “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” - Hot Lips - Stephanie Renee 15 “Right On” - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) - Marvin Gaye 16 “Wholy Holy” (1-13-1972 Version) - Amazing Grace: The Complete Recording - Aretha Franklin 17 “Wholy Holy” - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) - Marvin Gaye 18 “Inner City Blues” - Inner City Blues – Various Artists/Nona Gaye 19 “Inner City Blues” - Buck Jump - Dirty Dozen Brass Band 20 “Inner City Blues” - Songs To Remember - Smoma 21 “Inner City Blues” - Reﬂections - Gil Scott-Heron 22 “Inner City Blues” (Featuring Guru) - What's Going On - Dirty Dozen Brass Band 23 “Inner City Blues” - What's Going On (Deluxe Edition) - Marvin Gaye
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