What's Going On was R&B's first concept album, a suite of seamlessly connected songs tackling everything from police brutality to heroin addiction, inner-city poverty, and the dire state of the environment. When Marvin Gaye first proposed the project, inspired by a song brought to him by Four Tops member Obie Benson, Gordy told him it was career suicide. But when the title track came out, it was an instant smash, and Gordy immediately asked for more. Gaye channeled everything that was weighing on his mind, Terrell's tragic death from a brain tumor, his brother Frankie's harrowing experiences in Vietnam, the struggles of the civil-rights movement, all into a sobering yet healing treatise on troubled times.
In the season one finale of the Amazon Original podcast, "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums", we take an in-depth look at What's Going On, which took the top spot on Rolling Stone's newly updated 500 Greatest Albums list. In the episode you'll hear archival interviews with Marvin Gaye, where he delves into his evolving mindset at the time. You'll also hear reflections on the record from Marvin's collaborator and confidant Smokey Robinson; esteemed singer Aaron Neville, Gaye's contemporary and longtime admirer; his biographer David Ritz; and even his beloved sister Zeola Gaye. Later in the episode, host Brittany Spanos leads a roundtable discussion on the history and still-vital legacy of What's Going On featuring legendary music journalist Nelson George, who interviewed Gaye during his lifetime; singer Devon Gilfillian, who recently covered What's Going On in full on his own new album; and director Spike Lee, who wove the songs of What's Going On throughout Da Five Bloods, his acclaimed 2020 film about a group of black veterans returning to Vietnam in the present day.