♫ What’s Going On ♫ (Redux)

Last time I posted this, in May 2020, I said it fit the times we were living in.  Since then, a lot has happened, and the song STILL fits the times perfectly.  The question then becomes … will there ever be a time when we will listen to this song and say, “Wow, I’m glad things have changed since then!”?  I have begun to doubt it.  Still, we can take some pleasure from Marvin Gaye for he knocks this one out of the park!


There’s a lot of history to this song … more than I can cover in a brief blurb here.  The inspiration for the song came from Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Four Tops, after he and the group’s tour bus arrived at Berkeley on May 15, 1969. While there, Benson witnessed police brutality and violence in the city’s People’s Park during a protest held by anti-war activists in what was hailed later as “Bloody Thursday”.

Upset by what he had seen, he discussed what he witnessed to friend and songwriter Al Cleveland, who in turn wrote and composed a song to reflect Benson’s concerns. Benson wanted to give the song to his group but the other Four Tops turned down the request, saying it was a protest song.

“I said ‘no man, it’s a love song, about love and understanding. I’m not protesting, I want to know what’s going on.'”

In 1970, Benson presented the untitled song to Marvin Gaye, who added a new melody and revised the song to his liking, adding in his own lyrics. Benson later said Gaye tweaked and enriched the song, “added some things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem like a story than a song… we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.”

Motown founder Berry Gordy was against Gaye doing the song, saying …

“Motown was about music for all people—white and black, blue and green, cops and the robbers. I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone. This was a big risk for his image.”

By some accounts there was a bitter quarrel between Gaye and Gordy over the song, but Gordy denies it.

Two bits of trivia about Marvin Gaye that I did not know until tonight:

  • He was married to Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna, from 1963 until their divorce in 1977
  • Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father on 01 April 1984, after breaking up a fight between his parents.  Gaye was one day shy of his 45th birthday.  His father was given a suspended sentence and probation.

And now … What’s Going On …

What’s Going On
Marvin Gaye

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on

In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on brother
Right on babe

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply ’cause our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today
Oh oh oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
C’mon talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you what’s going on, ooh ooo ooo ooo
Right on baby
Right on baby

Songwriters: Alfred W Cleveland / Marvin P Gaye / Renaldo Benson
What’s Going On lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

15 thoughts on “♫ What’s Going On ♫ (Redux)

  1. This song is still very much relevant in these times as the time this song came out. I was born in 1960. I was pretty much sheltered from my patents from the news. Up to this date and time I am fully aware of went on back then. War, racism, hate, Since then, times really has not changed that much. Makes me sad. Seems like the violence is escalating and getting worse. Like how animals are not being cared for as we should be. They are abused in horrific ways. Our planet is being destroyed by war, fossil fuels, deforestation, again remvoving critters homes., Human not so beings are killing each other in random shootings, school shootings. Makes me sad and makes me wonder myself “”What’s going on?”,

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was born about a decade before you, and I remember we thought at the time that the 60s were a time of change, of enlightenment. I continued to think so for quite some time, until the past decade when racism and other forms of bigotry have run rampant once again. Yes, these are stressful and sad times, times when far too many people turn to violence and hatred seeking the solutions to their problems. I’ve come to wonder if we will ever learn.

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  2. A brilliant song that defined a generation, Marvin Gaye wakes ppl up to what’s goin’ on. 25 years later and 4 non blondes deliver same poignant message for the nineties!
    Give it a listen, u might like it 🙂

    ♪Twenty-five years and my life is still
    Trying to get up that great big hill of hope
    For a destination
    I realized quickly when I knew I should
    That the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
    For whatever that means
    And so I cry sometimes
    When I’m lying in bed just to get it all out
    What’s in my head
    And I, I am feeling a little peculiar
    And so I wake in the morning
    And I step outside
    And I take a deep breath and I get real high
    And I scream from the top of my lungs
    “What’s going on?”
    ……
    And I try, oh my God do I try
    I try all the time, in this institution
    And I pray, oh my God do I pray
    I pray every single day
    For a revolution♪

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dang! This song mad me cry. And believe me it takes a lot. People are screaming on the top of their lungs telling everyone that something is very wrong. Something needs to get fixed and soon or lest we will become like Mars. All dust no air to breath….. dead. What’s going on? Would be cool to have a hybred Woodstock version called Woodstock Redux Time for a Change. Need to do something ….. 😓

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  3. Pingback: ♫ What’s Going On ♫ (Redux) — Filosofa’s Word | Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News

        • I just checked and I played it last year, and you told me about the 11-minute CCR one, which I listened to and liked! ‘Tis a great song!

          Sigh. You’re so right and I HATE the gun culture in this country! More guns than people, all owned by about 1/3 of the population. In just the past year, numerous states have cut their regulations such that now in some states you don’t even have to have a license or register your gun! Here in da hood, we have at least one shooting per year, sometimes more. And that’s just in this apartment complex. Citywide, there are never less than 2 or 3 per day. Sigh.

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  4. Jill, one of the best parts of the documentary “The Making of Motown” is the additive instrumentation created by Marvin Gaye as he wrote this song. It is true genius in action as he builds the music to create this hustle-n-bustle sound effect that permeates the song. Keith

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