The meaning of Marvin Gaye’s “What is Going On” isn’t always clear. He uses his own established credibility to reinforce his message of love and peace. His sarcastic language plays on society’s preconceptions about war and the role it plays in our lives. He also refers to the Vietnam War as a “groovy party.”
“What’s Going On” was first released in 1971. Marvin Gaye was a leader of the Motown group, and the album showcased his voice and dealt with issues of the time. His brother had returned from the Vietnam War, and Gaye penned the lyrics with his frazzled brother in mind. Nevertheless, the lyrics have meaning for modern day audiences. Listed below are a few of the most notable lyrics from the album Whotimes.
The era in which the song was released was one of war and tragedy. Gaye and his brother talked about war and death, and about soldiers, the government, and racism. The song references the Vietnam War and the many young black men who fought in the war. Thankfully, the war was relatively short-lived, with helicopters and medicine saving many lives. In this context, the lyrics are especially meaningful for people who are afraid to join the military or have friends who are currently serving.
When the song first appeared, Mowtown Records resisted releasing it. But this didn’t stop Marvin from releasing it. He had threatened to leave the label if they didn’t approve it, and they eventually relented. The song’s lyrical meaning is a testament to the struggles and triumphs of black men. If you’re looking for a song with a deeper meaning, check out this Marvin Gaye classic Starsfact.