And that's not all. Though Jimi Hendrix may have recorded the most mind-blowing version of "The Star Spangled Banner," Marvin Gaye's contributions to the national anthem canon were substantial.
In 1968, not yet 30, Gaye had already produced a big string of hits for Motown: "Hitch Hike,""Pride and Joy," "Baby Don't You Do It" (later covered by The Band in "The Last Waltz"), "Ain't That Peculiar," and his first number one, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." On October 6 of that year, Gaye sang the national anthem at the World Series. Though better than most, this version is pretty conservative, like Gaye's clean cut, suit-and-tie appearance. It doesn't reflect the range and power of his voice.
Marvin Gaye's work changed dramatically after 1968. In 1971, Gaye broke the Motown hit-machine mold with his magnum opus, "What's Going On," a concept album which contained lyrics about urban poverty, the environment, and the Vietnam War.
Two years later, Gaye came out with "Let's Get It On"; the title track was his second chart-topper. (Jack Black would later slay this song at the end of "High Fidelity").
Gaye's distance from his early pop continued to grow with 1978's "Here, My Dear," a double album detailing the problems in his failed marriage, so titled because half the royalties from the release went to his ex. The following year, while battling cocaine addiction, Gaye did the national anthem at a heavyweight boxing match between Larry Holmes and Ernie Shavers.
In contrast to his 1968 rendition, Gaye loosened up this time around. He sported a big collar and a wide tie and crooned with falsetto, more inflection, and a stirring vibrato to close. In Howard Cosell's words, "that man can sing."
Despite his considerable personal baggage, Gaye delivered the goods with a divine reading that culminated in the audience clapping—as if in a gospel church—then bursting into an enthusiastic ovation. For all the tragedy of his violent death less than a year later, Gaye went out on top in his last public appearance.