Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear--the biggest fuck-you album ever--gets reworked.
As Valentine's Day fast approaches, and couples all over the land plan to get together, whisper sweet nothings into one another's ears and pull out the strawberries and chocolate sauce to get all sticky and sweet, keep in mind things can go from sweet to bitter in a heartbeat.
Maybe it's just the lonely, hating bastard in me, but every year I can't help but wish all the loving couples a hellish Valentine's Day (may you all be struck with STDs) while I stick to my V-Day ritual: staying home listening to the Rolls Royce of love-is-bullshit albums, Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear.
Dear is the most fascinating Marvin Gaye album because of its back-story. Locked at the time in an epic divorce from his first wife Anna, Gaye said he was too broke to give her any more money. The judge ordered that Gaye give the advance and some of the earnings from his next album to his ex.
The judge shouldn't have done that.
With Gaye knowing the money from his new album was gonna line the former Mrs. Gaye's pockets, he conceived a double album full of vindictive, spiteful and yet still soulful ditties. It has to be the biggest, baddest fuck-you (aimed at the judge and her little brother, Motown head Berry Gordy, who had a notoriously contentious relationship with Gaye) I've ever heard an artist give.
After several years of listening to it on old-school vinyl, I was glad to hear that the album, now 30 years old, was released in expanded-edition, two-disc form last month.
While Dear--the last of Gaye's major '70s albums to receive the double-CD treatment--isn't my all-time favorite Gaye recording (that honor goes to I Want You, his 1976, dripping-wet trip to erotic city, which isn't a bad album to play for your beloved on V-Day), it's perhaps his angriest and ballsiest record. It takes a bold dude to play out the agony and drama of his divorce on a two-LP set.
He starts off all sneering on the doo-woppy title track, cooing lines like, "This album is dedicated to you" and "This is what you wanted," probably wearing the widest shit-eating grin behind the mike. Sarcastically titled songs like "Is That Enough" and "You Can Leave, but It's Going to Cost You" have ol' Marv pondering what the hell happened to make this relationship go awry, while the self-explanatory "Anger" reminds him what can happen if he thinks about it for too long.
But it isn't all bile-spewing and payback. "Everybody Needs Love" and "Falling in Love Again" have him contemplating starting over and giving the love thing one last shot. But "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" is still the album's centerpiece, a six-minute free-form purge of the good and the bad, summing up the maelstrom of conflicted emotions he was feeling. Gaye gets so wrapped up in letting out what's inside his head, the title chorus doesn't even kick in until the very end.
The reissue's second disc is "alternative mixes," slight reworkings of the songs by today's big-name producers: Prince Paul, Easy Mo Bee, Leon Ware (who produced I Want You), Salaam Remi. Even our own ?uestlove and James Poyser (known here as the Randy Watson Experience) tweak a song. Since the assignment is to not massively rework a song, many of them go for a bare-bones approach, stripping away as much instrumentation as possible and concentrating mainly on the biggest instrument in Gaye's arsenal: his voice. The results are quaint and respectful.
But DJ Smash makes the most impressive improvement on a Dear song, making "Time to Get It Together" even funkier than the original. (If this version came out back in '78, it would've been the perfect disco hit everyone wanted from Gaye, instead of all this personal shit.)
Back then Dear was considered something of a misfire, dismissed by critics and the record-buying public for being too out-there and self-indulgent. But I can't help but think Dear set off the wave of confessional R&B music that's commonplace today. Where would R. Kelly's career be if Gaye didn't personally, nakedly break it down three decades ago? Here, My Dear may be the wrong album to play during this most romantic of seasons, but it's proof that from pain and suffering comes daring, timeless art.