Writer(s): Marvin Gaye, David Ritz, Odell Brown (see lyrics here)
First Charted: October 16, 1982
Peak: 3 US, 5 CB, 7 GR, 6 RR, 34 AC, 110 RB, 4 UK, 12 CN, 4 AU, 4 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 2.5 US, 0.65 UK, 3.2 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 1.0 radio, 190.5 video, 307.72 streaming
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About the Song:
Marvin Gaye’s life was at a crossroads in 1982. He was coming off a second divorce, owed money to the IRS, was fighting depression, and dealing with a cocaine addiction. He’d also jumped ship from Motown, his label for more than two decades, after they released his In Our Lifetime album without his approval. He’d signed a lucrative recording contract with CBS Records, but was suffering from writer’s block. Gaye’s biographer, David Ritz, visited him while he was in exile in Brussels. After seeing the singer’s pornographic magazine collection and the shape Gaye was in, Ritz suggested Gaye needed sexual healing. SJ
The story has been disputed by some. Marvin’s brother, Frankie, says Ritz didn’t actually use that phrase, that Marvin came up with it. In 2012, Gordon Banks, another musician who worked on the song, told The Atlantic that Gaye and Ritz had actually been discussing Gaye’s intrigue with Amsterdam’s red light district. WK Ritz was eventually given a songwriting credit after suing Gaye for $15 million, although the case was dropped in 1983 because of insufficient evidence. WK
In any event, the phrase sparked something in Gaye. He’d been listening to a reggae-style beat which Odell Brown, one of his sidemen, had created. They’d recorded an instrumental in October 1981 WK and now Gaye he had a lyrical concept to go with it. Thanks to the“simply structured, gently erotic” RY song, Gaye’s career was “properly revived” RY when both it and parent album Midnight Love reached the top 10 on the Billboard charts. The song “typifies everything about Marvin Gaye’s music – soulful, smooth and sensuous, with a slight hint of sadness.” LW It was Columbia Records’ biggest hit of the decade. LW
Sadly, Gaye’s “undeniably grooving ode to getting down” TB would also be Gaye’s last taste of such widespread success and acclaim. On April 1, 1984, Gaye was staying at his parents’ house. He intervened in a fight between his parents and his father, with whom he’d always had a strained relationship, fatally shot him. Gaye died a day shy of his 45th birthday.
First posted 12/4/2021; last updated 11/23/2022.