Before Frank Ocean, Trey Songz and Cee-Lo; before R. Kelly, Maxwell and Usher, and before Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and Al Green, there was Marvin Gaye. Sure, there were soulful balladeers before and with him (think Smokey, Otis and Stevie; Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway).
But for a lot of music fans, Marvin was the man. There’s plenty of audio covering his career, from Motown in 1963 (first hit: “Hitch Hike”) to just before he was killed, by his own father, in 1984. Video? That’s another matter. Back then, there was little television exposure for pop artists. The occasional spot on a variety show or Bandstand; later, a Shindig or a Hullaballoo. Gaye dutifully lip-syncs his hits on those and other shows. But he was not a happy to be there. As he told me in 1972, for Rolling Stone: “I got a thing; a psychological hangup about performing live. I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy performing.”
So here he is, just a few years later, on his first European tour, performing in Amsterdam. He should have been petrified. But no. Either he was a great actor or managed to transcend his stage fright and actually enjoyed himself. Whatever it was, he was in fine shape and voice this night in 1976. What he had to overcome was his outfit, a garish, green-striped white jacket over a silky yellow shirt and Emerald green satin pants. Boy my boy!
He started slow, with a couple of unfamiliar tunes, after promising to do all his hits. Backed by a full orchestra, he does come close, although he bunches most of his Motown hits into medleys. The crowd really comes alive when he gets into What’s Going On, his greatest musical triumph. With help from backup singer Florence Lyles, he pays tribute to Tammi Terrell and others who paired with him for hits like “It Takes Two,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Missing are such chartbusters as “Trouble Man,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” and “I’ll Be Doggone.” But he grabs the audience with “Let’s Get it On,” taking off his high volume jacket and earning the gratitude of a grateful North Holland. He dances a little; he raises his arms in triumph; he shouts, at the end, “Marvin Gaye loves you!”