What's Going On (song)

What's Going On (song)

Infobox Single
Name = What's Going On

Artist = Marvin Gaye
from Album = What's Going On
B-side = "God Is Love"
Released = January 20, 1971
Recorded = June 10, 1970, Hitsville USA (Studio A)
Format= Vinyl record (7" 45 RPM)
Genre = Soul
Length = 3:40
Label = Tamla
T 54201
Writer = Al Cleveland
Renaldo Benson
Marvin Gaye
Producer = Marvin Gaye
Chart position=
*#2 (US Pop Singles)
*#1 (US Black Singles)
Reviews =
Last single= "The End Of Our Road" (1970)
This single= "What's Going On"
Next single= "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
Misc = Extra tracklisting
Album = What's Going On
Type = studio
prev_track =
prev_no =
this_track = "What's Going On"
track_no = 1
next_track = "What's Happening Brother"
next_no = 2

"What's Going On" is a song written by Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Al Cleveland, and Marvin Gaye. It was the title track of Gaye's groundbreaking 1971 Motown album "What's Going On", and it became a hit single that reached #2 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts. A meditation on the troubles and problems of the world, the song proved a timely and relatable release, and it marked Gaye's departure from the pop stylings of 1960s-era Motown towards more personal material. The song topped a Metro Times list of the 100 Greatest Detroit Songs Of All Time [ [http://metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=12036 The 100 greatest Detroit songs ever! (Metro Times Detroit) ] ] , and in 2004, "Rolling Stone" magazine ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time.

The song has been covered by multiple artists, notably Cyndi Lauper, whose version reached #12 on the pop singles charts in 1987.

About the song

Designed with a somber jazz-inspired tone, "What's Going On" addressed the political and social troubles of the world and black-on-black crime in a soulful, introspective way, contrasting to the more dramatic socially conscious records made by Sly & the Family Stone and The Temptations over the previous three years. The song originated from an idea by Four Tops member Renaldo "Obie" Benson, who, witnessing stressful conditions while on tour in Europe, began writing a song to express his feelings. Once back in the United States, Benson and Motown songwriter Al Cleveland prepared an initial rough version of the song, and invited Marvin Gaye as a third collaborator on the song. Gaye, depressed from the death of singing partner Tammi Terrell and strongly considering a retirement from performing, planned to produce "What's Going On" as a single for The Originals, but Benson and Cleveland convinced Gaye to record it himself.

On the finished track, as Gaye musically ponders on the state of the world and the Vietnam war, a party can be heard going on in the background, from which Gaye's voice is purposely detached. The partygoers are portrayed by Detroit Lions players Mel Farr and Lem Barney, whose acquaintances Gaye had made during his failed 1970 tryout with the team.

The song is notable for its heavy use of major seventh and minor seventh chords, a fairly uncommon occurrence in popular music of that era. Also, notably for this record, Marvin Gaye sings both lead and background vocals himself. The process had been used for many years to give parts of a recording extra strength (Motown themselves had used it on such tracks as The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On"), but Gaye took it a step further and sung each of his vocal passes in various harmony parts, creating an ethereal sound that became one of his trademarks.

The song was completed in 1970 before the rest of the album was finished. Motown chief Berry Gordy deemed the record "uncommercial" and initially tried to block its release as a single. He later relented after Gaye threatened to cease recording permanently. "What's Going On" proved to be a substantial commercial hit, paving the way for his forthcoming seminal album release of the same title. "What's Going On" was one of the major hits of 1971 as well as Motown's fast selling single at that point, reaching #2 for three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 for five weeks on the Billboard R&B charts. The single would eventually sell over 2.5 million copies, becoming Gaye's biggest US Pop hit since "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" charted in late 1968. The single version (available on the deluxe version of "What's Going On", the album) differs noticeably from the album version; in particular, there is stronger percussion in the background as well as louder background vocals and noise. Some of Gaye's vocals have also been re-recorded to sound slightly punchier.There is also a false "fade out" that is only on the single version.


* Lead and background vocals by Marvin Gaye
* Additional vocals by Mel Farr and Lem Barney
* Written by Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Al Cleveland, and Marvin Gaye
* Produced by Marvin Gaye
* Instruments by The Funk Brothers

Cyndi Lauper cover

Infobox Single
Name = What's Going On

Cover size =
Border =
Caption =
Artist = Cyndi Lauper
Album = True Colors
A-side =
B-side = "One Track Mind"
Released = 1987
Format = Vinyl (7"), Vinyl (12"), Vinyl (10")
Recorded = 1986
Genre = Pop
Length =
Label = Epic
Writer = Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye, Renaldo Benson
Producer = Cyndi Lauper, Lennie Petze
Audio sample? =
Certification =
Last single = "Change Of Heart"
This single = "What's Going On"
Next single = "Boy Blue"
Misc =

"What's Going On" was the third single released by Cyndi Lauper from her second album "True Colors" in 1987.

"What's Going On" is a cover of Marvin Gaye's classic. On the album version, the song starts off with a series of gunshots in reference to Vietnam; the single release is a remix with an alternate vocal used in the intro. It is the single version that most often appears on compilations. Lauper's "What's Going On" was a modest hit around the world. It even made it to #17 on the U.S. dance chart, thanks to its club remixes by Shep Pettibone.

The video for the song was also popular and aired heavily on MTV. It was nominated for an award at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1987. An extended mix of the song is used in the music video.

Chart performance

12" LP Single

#What's Going On (Club Version) 6:20 (Marvin Gaye; Al Cleveland; Renaldo Benson)
#What's Going On (Long Version) 6:22 (Marvin Gaye; Al Cleveland; Renaldo Benson)
#What's Going On (Instrumental) 6:25 (Marvin Gaye; Al Cleveland; Renaldo Benson)
#One Track Mind 3:39 (Cyndi Lauper; Jeff Bova; Jimmy Bralower; Lennie Petze)

Official versions

#Club Version 6:30
#Instrumental 6:25
#Live Version
#Long Version 6:22
#Special Version 3:51

Artists Against AIDS Worldwide cover

In October 2001, a group of popular recording artists under the name "Artists Against AIDS Worldwide" released an album containing multiple versions of "What's Going On" to benefit AIDS programs in Africa and other impoverished regions. [http://www.hopeforafricanchildren.org/New/Press/pr_103001.html] Jermaine Dupri and Bono produced the radio single version, whose performers included Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, *NSYNC, Destiny's Child, Jennifer Lopez, Gaye's own daughter Nona, and many other popular artists. The album contained that single along with 8 additional remixes. The song was recorded shortly before the September 11, 2001 attacks, and it was decided afterwards that a portion of the song's proceeds would benefit the American Red Cross's September 11th fund, as well as Artists Against AIDS Worldwide.

Artists Against AIDS Worldwide lineup

* Christina Aguilera
* Backstreet Boys
* Mary J. Blige
* Bono
* Sean Combs
* Destiny's Child
* Jermaine Dupri (producer)
* Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit
* Eve
* Nelly Furtado
* Nona Gaye
* Darren Hayes
* Wyclef Jean
* Alicia Keys
* Aaron Lewis of Staind
* Lil Kim
* Jennifer Lopez
* Monica
* Nas
* Ja Rule
* Nelly
* Britney Spears
* Gwen Stefani
* Michael Stipe of R.E.M.
* Usher

Other covers

* Soul singer and keyboardist Donny Hathaway also covered the song on his 1972 "Live" album.
* When U2 toured in the US in the fall of 2001, just one month after 9/11 and in the midst of the 2001 anthrax attacks on the third leg of their Elevation Tour, "What's Going On" was a frequently played number, often appearing towards the end of the setlist.
* In 2003, a cover of "What's Going On" by Chaka Khan with The Funk Brothers won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. The performance was taken from the soundtrack to the 2002 documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown".
* In 2004, progressive rock band A Perfect Circle covered "What's Going On" on their album "eMOTIVe".
* Serbian female singer Bebi Dol, in 2006, covered this song at aconcert and her on her live album.


succession box
before = "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" by The Temptations
title = Billboard's Best Selling Soul Singles number-one single
years = March 27 - April 24, 1971
after = "Never Can Say Goodbye" by The Jackson 5

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