Yes, hip-hop is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But 2023 also marks the golden anniversary for one of R&B’s most seminal albums, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.
Let’s Get It On, the pioneering erotic and emotional follow-up to Gaye’s game-changing 1971 album What’s Going On, is now the centerpiece of a digitally revised 50th anniversary package. Released this week (Aug. 25) by Motown/UMe, Let’s Get It On: Deluxe Edition boasts 33 bonus tracks, 18 of which are previously unreleased and include songs from a lost session by jazz icon Herbie Hancock. The new package replaces a deluxe edition of the album first issued in 2001.
Rush-released as the lead single even before the album was completed, title track “Let’s Get It On” became a No. 1 R&B and pop hit. The album’s subsequent classics included “Distant Lover” and “You Sure Love to Ball,” as well as “Come Get to This” and “Just to Keep You Satisfied.” The eight-track album spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B albums chart, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004.
However, also captured sonically on Let’s Get It On: Deluxe Edition is Gaye’s fascinating, long-gestating journey that birthed the original August 1973 album. Beyond releasing that album, 1973 was an important year for Motown. Founder Berry Gordy’s storied label was also celebrating its first full year in Los Angeles after relocating from Detroit. And that celebration resulted in a host of other album releases. That 1973 bumper crop included The Temptations’ Masterpiece, Eddie Kendrick’s eponymous third album, Diana Ross’ Touch Me in the Morning, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and Smokey Robinson’s solo debut, Smokey.
At that point in time, an experimental Gaye was busy following wherever his creative muse led him. During six months of recording sessions, he was working with collaborators such as artist/songwriter/producer Ed Townsend, arrangers Rene Hall and David Van DePitte and top-notch musicians such as guitarist Melvin “Wah Wah” Ragin and bassists Wilton Felder and James Jameson, in addition to Hancock. It’s the unused music from these sessions — unheard mixes, intriguing instrumental tracks, unreleased versions of ballad recordings — that richly enhance the deluxe edition. They also spotlight Gaye’s versatility both musically and vocally at a time when he was in the throes of a broken marriage and a new romance while grappling with the issue of spirituality versus the flesh.
“Two of the greatest things that happened at Motown was when Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye produced their own music,” said Smokey Robinson during a special Grammy Museum event earlier this week (Aug. 23) commemorating the 50th anniversary of Let’s. Moderated by UMe vp of A&R Harry Weinger, the panel of special guests included songwriter/producer Jimmy Jam and Gaye biographer David Ritz (Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye). Among those in the audience: Gaye’s children Marvin III and Nona.
In outlining Gaye’s mindset in 1973, Ritz referenced a line from the album’s title track: “We’re all sensitive people with so much to give.” As Ritz explained, “Marvin was a beautiful soul, extremely charming and funny, a complicated man, always deep. [With this album], he was thrilled because he was able to express another part of his personality. He took the chaos in his life and harmonized it, taking disparate elements and weaving them together. He knew it was a heavy and autobiographical work. But it was one that people loved.”
Weinger also premiered several tracks from the deluxe edition, including “The Shadow of Your Smile” (“Marvin wanted to be the Black Sinatra; he could sing anything,” said Robinson) and the instrumental “Perfection” with Hancock on piano and Gaye writing/producing. Drawing “ahhs” from the audience was remix guru John Morales’ stripped-down mix of “Just to Keep You Satisfied” that exquisitely showcases Gaye’s searing vocals.
“Listening to this sounds like music in heaven to me,” said Jam of Let’s Get It On. “It’s a brilliant and sublime album with very powerful messages. With Marvin, the deeper you dig the better it gets.”
According to Motown/UMe, the original Let’s Get It On will also be available in Dolby ATMOS in honor of its 50th anniversary. Also in the works: Motown/UMe will premiere new video content for select tracks and an e-commerce-only colored vinyl edition of the original album.