To say that Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” album is just about sex would be to belittle a great piece of art. But by the same token, the theme of sexual relationships is unavoidably the central focus of the record. “Let’s Get It On” finds its unique brilliance in the way that it takes what could be portrayed as a shallow subject and gives it a much deeper significance than many other songwriters could successfully accomplish. Far from just being a trashy record to keep handy in the bedroom, Marvin Gaye has given us an album that explores the duality of intimacy; exploring its euphoric beauty as well as its potential for bleak desperation.
“Let’s Get It On” was released in 1973 by Marvin Gaye following the commercial and critical success of his equally masterful “What’s Going On” album. On a couple of occasions Gaye was quoted as stating that he considered “What’s Going On” to be a concept album depicting the social and political turmoil that existed in the Vietnam era. Obviously, the tone and subjects of the songs shifted quite a substantial amount when “Let’s Get It On” was being recorded. But in spite of these differences, one could make the assertion that this album may also be a sort of concept album. Although Gaye hadn’t ever expressed that it followed any sort of narrative design, it could be said that listening to the record sounds as if we’re hearing the story of a romantic tryst unfold before us.
The album begins gracefully with the title track, “Let’s Get It On” and immediately sets the tone for the seven songs that follow. “There’s nothing wrong with me loving you” Gaye sings “and giving yourself to me could never be wrong if the love is true”. Perhaps that’s the key to the entire song. As most people know, it’s often portrayed and even parodied for being an overt song about nothing except sex, but there’s a much deeper meaning to be found here as well. “Let’s Get It On” is a celebratory song about two people surrendering themselves to one another physically, emotionally, and spiritually to take a chance on finding some transcendence in one another. “Do you know the meaning of being sanctified?” is the question he poses to his lover and to his listening audience as the song fades to a close.
If “Let’s Get It On” is the act of sex taking place in a song, then the next three tracks on the album are the inevitable afterglow when things really start to sink in (no pun intended) for the first time. Emotions reach a peak on the third track “If I Should Die Tonight” when the singer proclaims “If I should die tonight, I won’t die blue, because I’ve known you”. Gaye elegantly captures that feeling of newfound romance and the hope of finding some unspeakable elevation in love that no one else has managed to uncover before. “Millions never, and millions never will, baby. They never will” he sings. Maybe in this way, sex can be seen as something akin to a drug; leading one to the heights of euphoric realization and opening one’s eyes to something profound and beautiful. But nothing so blissful can last forever. There’s always the comedown.
The second half of the record is when things start to fall from euphoria to desperation. The songs “Come Get to This” and, to a greater extent, “Distant Lover” are the longing pleas of a man who has lost the love and companionship that he valued so deeply in the preceding passages. “Heaven knows how I’ve longed for you every night, and sometimes I yearn through the day” he admits as “Distant Lover” begins. The pain in Marvin Gaye’s voice in this song in particular is palpable and one cannot help but sympathize with his struggle to find comfort as he reflects on the joy he once felt. “As I reminisce through our joyful summer together, the promises we made of a daily letter” he sings. In what may be the album’s singular climax (again, no pun intended), Gaye lowers his defenses and asks “Lord, I wonder, do you wanna hear me scream?” And as his scars are revealed for all to see, “Please, please, please” he yells “Come back home”.
The close of the album comes on like the end of a romance: swiftly and with a wealth of emotions. As in real life, we are left on our own to take these experiences and learn how to make sense of them. We may become embittered from losing what we once had or we can become empowered by the strength to carry on. “I contend that SEX IS SEX and LOVE IS LOVE” Gaye writes in the liner notes of the album. Perhaps this is the real message here.
Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” is more than a great album. It’s an experience through the riches and poverties of lust, love, and loss. In all likelihood, the public perception of the record will always simply be that it is a bunch of smutty songs about sex, but it’s much more than that. It’s about finding the elusive balance between sex and love. Maybe it’s within this state of balance that the real “meaning of being sanctified” lies. As we each are left to search for this balance, Gaye offers his parting words of the album: “All we can do, is we can both try to be happy”.
My Rating : An obvious 5 out of 5
Highlights : Just listen to the album