Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Deluxe Edition)


ROLLING STONE: ‘F*CK IT, LET’S NOT NAME WHAT’S GOING ON THE GREATEST ALBUM EVER’                   Editors Choose Mediocre Television Lp For Top Spot Just To Piss People Off

(New York) — The latest Rolling Stone “100 Greatest Albums” poll was set to feature Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic What’s Going On in pole position, but a last-minute, arbitrary change-of-heart lead editors to instead select Adventure, the disappointing sophomore release from New York new wave band Television, just to annoy its readership.

Saying that list issues were “basically a bullsh*t way to pad out a magazine anyway”, Rolling Stone‘s editor-in-chief, Jann Wenner recalled, “We were like, ‘F*ck it. What’s Going On always get picked, let’s choose something random and really piss people off.”

And yet, in order to fulfil the promise of the wilful, infuriating decision, the music bi-weekly couldn’t simply substitute Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, Horses or any other record in the accepted canon, never mind inevitable muso favorites like Sister Lovers or Liege & Lief. But nor did the editors wish to settle on an obvious stinker and tip their hand.

Said Senior Editor Ben Fong-Torres, “Once we decided against a properly good ‘classic rock’ album, I was up for nominating Under Wraps [by Shaun Cassidy] or maybe Milli Vanilli’s The Remix Album or, indeed, anything by Billy Joel as the best ever record but I was persuaded that choosing such utter crap would be too obvious.”

Rolling Stone staff then wondered about selecting a poor record by a well-regarded group. They were spoiled for choice: Islands by The Band, The Beach Boys Love You, Down In the Groove by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, Tin Machine II, the post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground album Squeeze, etc., etc. “Yeah, that list goes on and on and on,” said Wenner, shaking his head. “But there again, it felt like we were trying too hard and it’d backfire.”

Eventually, writers and editors alike felt that a mediocre record by a relatively (but not too) obscure or critically lauded cult artist would suit best as it might confound readers into thinking that perhaps they’d misjudged the given Lp. “When [editor] Jenny [Eliscu] used the word ‘mediocre’,” beamed Fong-Torres, “we knew the way forward.” The short list of middling albums included the Byrds’ Byrdmaniax, Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of SecretsPointing And Shouting by Mott the Hoople, Give ‘Em Enough Rope by The Clash, The Envoy by Warren Zevon, the Replacements’ All Shook Down and Talking Heads’ Naked. “I’m sure these records have their supporters, but no-one should confuse them with a top 100 greatest, yet alone number one best album ever,” explained Wenner. “Still, we thought there would be just enough doubt in people’s minds to think that maybe they did belong there.”

The ultimate choice of a weak 1978 Television album was seen by Wenner as a masterstroke. “Perfect choice–many music fans have heard of the band, but never actually heard them. And even if they have, chances are they’ve only heard Marquee Moon and could be fooled into thinking Adventure‘s brilliant.”

“Wait till they get it home!” he laughed. “It really is a pale imitation of the debut.”

Wenner said he hopes Rolling Stone‘s next issue, featuring the Top 100 Prog Rock Bassists of All-Time, will stimulate as much debate.
MarvinEditor’s note: Obviously, not a vinyl edition of WGO, but I was so stoked about this £1 Cancer Research find that I decided to post anyway. I haven’t broken the rules for a while and the tree of democracy must be nourished with the blood of tyrants periodically. Prior to this purchase, believe or don’t, I only had a really shitty looking What’s Going On/Let’s Get It On CD two-fer.

Published in: on February 14, 2013 at 9:53 am  Comments (8)  

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  1. i don’t know if this is a coinidence or that you’ve posted this in the wake of the beeb’s album-fest session that was on last week?

    i watched the danny baker’s “pop” and “r&b” debates (obviously didn’t bother with the “rock” one as i knew it would get orgasmic over those i love to hate i.e. floyd, hendrix, dylan et al), and also “when albums ruled the world” (or whatever that doc was called) with some interest, but perhaps the most relevant thing about it all was that someone pointed out that once you put on one side of an album it was long enough for you to indulge in your favourite recreational drug without having to get up and change it over!

    personally, although i appreciate the visual and touchy-feely allure of the album (having spent many a saturday salivating over them in record shops in my youth), i have never been a big fan of that format, as a: in my opinion most of them have at least some filler that i wouldn’t want to listen to, and b: they have been programmed by someone else – not me! for that reason i soon got into the habit of borrowing albums off others and taping the songs i liked off them in the order i wanted to listen to them. happily the mp3 format now makes even that method seem crude playlisting in comparison now – i just wish i could have had that facility 30 years ago!

    regarding the album featured here – i only liked a couple of things off it myself, the title track (although i prefer harvey mason’s instrumental cover of it) and “right on”, but i wasn’t bothered about the rest of it – i seem to recall when hearing it for the first time that “what’s happening brother” was practically “what’s going on” part 2, which i thought was a bit of a con!

    if anyone’s interested, then to my recollection the only (non-compilation) albums i can think of that i’ve been willing to listen to all the way through (in the past if not now – and even then i would change the order given the choice) are:

    crosby stills and nash – eponymous debut
    joni mitchell – the hissing of summer lawns (but you can keep the burandi track)
    steely dan – aja
    kraftwerk – the man machine
    steely dan – gaucho
    kraftwerk – computer world
    donald fagen – the nightfly
    talking heads – remain in light
    fashion – fabrique
    the blue nile – tinseltown in the rain
    tears for fears – the big chair
    bryan ferry – boys and girls
    david sylvian – gone to earth
    the blue nile – hats
    tears for fears – the seeds of love

    • Wot? No Level 42? 😉

      This is a more interesting list than one usually finds, i.e. none of the usual suspects, you are obviously in thrall to studio perfectionism; even so, I can’t say I agree with a single choice! 🙂

      Though it’s a sensible measure of how much you like a record to say you can listen to it all the way through, albums that fall into that category for me, aren’t necessarily my favorite records or, put another way, the most personally meaningful Lps in my collection.

      As for Danny Baker, I started to watch one of the shows on BBC IPlayer and couldn’t stomach the shopworn, undercooked critical nabobism.

      Regarding What’s Going On, yes, What’s Happening is pretty much a retread of the title track, that’s still no bad thing. And what, you don’t like Mercy Mercy Me, Flying High, Inner City Blues, etc.?! Unbelievable.

  2. oh, forgot to mention the first two kings of convenience albums…

  3. Why would anybody want to give this away? Except of course they may have acquired a nice and minty vinyl copy I suppose.

    • That’s what I wondered as well. Maybe it was an unwanted gift–though you’d have to have poor taste not to want it.

  4. although i am still a big fan of their work (and no, i don’t feel any shame in making that statement), even level 42 albums had the odd duffer on them! not that this would probably matter to the average reader of this blog, but if i had to pick one of theirs to listen to all the way through it would be a toss-up between their eponymous debut and “standing in the light”…

    regardless of mine or any other consumer’s opinions, it would be interesting to know if the artists themselves ever believed they were producing a work of consistently high quality when their LP’s were released… or if they knowingly bunged in a couple of tracks they were ambivalent about as they had run out of creative steam and couldn’t oblige to fit the demands of the format (and the record company was leaning on them for product)…

  5. ‘What’s Going On’ is a ubiquitous album. It lives a simultaneous existence as both a populist easy listening favourite and a hipsters ‘cult’ classic. Often owned by even the most casual of music buyers (you know, the type of person that buys about 3 CDs a year from the local supermarket). Such buyers tend to see music as eminently disposable, so I can easily see how it could end up in a Chazza alongside Barry Manilow’s ‘Greatest Hits’ and ‘Abba Gold’.
    As for the ‘Rolling Stone’ list – they can put what they like at number one, no-one in their right mind would take a blind bit of notice anyway! ‘Rolling Stone’, a byword for entrenched, conservative, mediocrity in rock writing for 4 decades and counting….

    • When I was young, my father had bound volumes of Rolling Stone from 1970 to 1975. I spent many a happy hour randomly perusing these. My dad’s over in the UK at the mo’ and he’s agreed in principle to ship them over (with me paying postage). During the 1980s, I had a subscription to RS and the contrast could not be more onerous: How many times do you have to put Don Johnson on the cover? I seem to think they’ve recovered some ground in the intervening years.

      Agreed about WGO as one of the ultimate crossover Lps, able to be enjoyed by the neophyte and snob.

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