Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Angelic voices, #2: Marvin Gaye sings "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Marvin Gaye is widely considered one of the greatest male soul singers of all-time, in an elite class with Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Al Green. In a career that spanned three decades, Gaye generated 37 top-40 singles and one of the best concept albums ever recorded, and earned induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

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."

Gaye's demons followed him into the new decade despite the career renewal he had with the success of "Sexual Healing" in 1982. In the summer of 1983, as Gaye was deep in the throes of drug addiction and the attendant psychoses, he performed the national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game. 

Despite his considerable personal baggage, Gaye delivered the goods with a divine reading that culminated in the audience clappingas if in a gospel churchthen 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. 

**Click here for Angelic voices, #1:  Ella sings "Summertime"

 here for Angelic voices, #3:  Janis Joplin sings "Cry, Baby"

and  here for "There must me something in the water:  
the magic of Muscle Shoals"  


  1. Love it! Thanks for sharing.

  2. dan, you the man! you made my day, or I should say Mr. Gaye did.

  3. Wow, this is beautiful Dan. I'm listening to the 1979 version as I type this. Thanks for sharing on Independence Day!

  4. Great choice for celebrating the 4th. Thanks Dan. I enjoy your blog.

  5. I'm Larry Carter Center and Marvin Gaye has always been the most soulful voice I know, more than his words and well produced iconic tracks, his voice leads the everyman in us all, he's inspired me to sing my own NATIONAL ANTHEM as my own, not bombs bursting in air but my home Marvin Gaye's home our ALL home of the brave 843-926-1750 @LarryAccomplish @Larry Carter Center For Congress 2014