(May 7, 2020). Motown legend Marvin Gaye originally intended to create a crap album when he recorded the 12 songs that would eventually form Here, My Dear, a collection of mostly break-up tunes dedicated to his ex-wife Anna Gordy Gaye – who is also Motown founder/boss Berry Gordy’s sister – on the occasion of their divorce, which had been finalized almost two years prior to the album’s release in late 1978.
Marvin almost succeeded…on the crap part, that is.
Now, more than four decades later, what was intended as a series of bitter reflections on the strife surrounding Gaye’s marital breakdown – as well as a means to fund his alimony payments to Anna – has turned into a cult classic.
The album, which flopped upon its original release, was Marvin Gaye’s lowest charting album of the 1970s. It has been viewed through a completely different prism in recent years. In 2003, for example, Here, My Dear was listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time (at No. 456), joining the likes of Gaye’s more familiar classic ‘70’s albums What’s Going On (No. 6) and Lets Get It On (No. 165).
But is Here, My Dear REALLY a classic? Or is it just the bizarre musical ramblings of a troubled man whose life had taken several bad turns during the 1970s, many of which were self-inflicted – no doubt the result of the significant personal losses Gaye had endured and the emotional toll they took on him.
Here, My Dear doesn’t quite roll off the tongue with the ease of Gaye’s other ‘70s titles when one is challenged to name either his or Motown’s greatest albums. Fittingly, as far as Motown albums go, there are at least half a dozen other greats from the label that rank higher on the RS500 list, including four of Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘70s albums, although his own marital breakup album, Fulfillingness First Finale, which is far superior to – or at least more accessible than – Here My Dear, is strangely omitted.
Well, the blog thought it would be interesting to commemorate what some consider to be Marvin’s messiest album by having three old guys – all of whom love music and appreciate Marvin Gaye – give their respective spins on Here, My Dear.
These three guys, who connected in a Facebook music group called Album of the Moment (seek it out if you’re so inclined) were all just teenagers – or on the cusp of becoming so – when Here, My Dear was first issued. So the album that likely held little meaning for them in 1978 certainly leaves a different impression upon hearing it in their grayer, balder years.
Now, these three musical old-heads are all in their 50s – a milestone Marvin sadly didn’t live to see after his father gunned him down on the eve of his 45th birthday in 1984. Since the release of Here, My Dear, these three have had a collective 125 years worth of living and loving (and losing love) to develop their own appreciation for what was arguably the Motown Prince’s most personal musical statement.
So here now is each man’s take on Marvin’s ummm, classic album, Here, My Dear:
When twenty-four-year-old Marvin Gaye married Anna Gordy in late 1963, he not only married the boss’s sister, he married a woman that was 17 years his senior. What a dynamic that must have been for him to live with. I am no psychologist but this suggests to me someone with a deep need for security. Considering his deadly relationship with his father and what that must’ve been like growing up with the man in the first place, Marvin’s life calls for a deep psychological examination.
Well that is not me. I am just a humble music lover. I am fascinated by the premise, however. After years of separation the couple takes divorce to an epically contentious level. As part of the agreement, Marvin is ordered to hand over part of the royalties for his next album over to Anna. Driven by mental sadomasochism Marvin makes an album dedicated to his marriage and with the divorce decree in mind he names the album Here, My Dear.
It is no wonder this album is messy and just short of being a train wreck. The fact that it’s a double album only makes it even more so. That description belies how great this album really is. There is a tidal wave of passion coming from Gaye as he surveys the full depth and breadth of the emotional roller coaster he was riding.
In the tradition of a true concept album, it is hard to pick out highlights. The opening title cut is a particularly effective narrative over doo-wop. Whether Marvin is being sincere or sarcastic is open to question. Its sure sounds pretty, though.
In fact, the key is atmosphere. As disjointed as the album is it sounds absolutely luscious. Marvin himself uses nearly every vocal trick he learned in nearly forty years of life, it is noteworthy that he sounds just as convincing in regret and reflection as he did in the past (and future) on getting laid or the human condition.
It was not his original intent, but Marvin created a work of art that while not immediately accessible, provides an increasingly richer level of enjoyment even after listening to it for decades. Of course, it does help if you went through divorce at least once in your life.
Marvin’s remarkable middle-finger/tribute to ex-wife Anna Gordy after an acrimonious divorce, this (double) album’s prospective revenues were supposedly pre-awarded to Gordy herself, and it’s a tribute to the man’s gifts that he could turn such unpleasantries into great art.
The lyrics are often autobiographical, telling their marital tale from meeting to the messy ending, with a bit of a reverie in between. This album can be an uncomfortable listen, feeling, as it occasionally does, like it’s directed at an audience of one. (Additionally, Gaye seems to be shrugging off his own infidelities while casting a lot of the blame for the marital breakdown on Anna herself – who doesn’t have a recording contract to issue her rebuttal. But I don’t know the details, and it’s not my desire to judge anyone.)
Lyrics are personal, rambling, conversational, with occasional narrative details presented without context – almost a stream-of-consciousness. Adding to this occasional schizo feel, Marvin’s voice is often multi-tracked, singing opposing lyrics: conflicting internal thoughts made external. (His singing is captivating, if you need to ask.)
The music is relaxed and grooving, in a variety of 70s soul styles – Sly Stone absraction, Norman Whitfield soundscapes, EW&F cosmic jazz, some Stevie-ish synth murmur. The conga-heavy rhythm section is solid, unruffled – like they’re just keeping their heads down, doing their jobs, trying not to react to the leader’s TMI confessional.
A solo trumpet and tenor saxophone occasionally step up and speak out, intermingling with the voice or taking over entirely. And Gaye handles the multilayered keyboards himself; the new polyphonic synthesizers can handle the sweet orchestrations formerly provided by strings.
We start off slowly, with the title cut, soft-pillow r&b in the “Let’s Get It On” mold. “I guess I’d have to say this album is/Dedicated to you…”, and he murmurs his mission statement. (There’s a great deal of speechifying throughout, alongside the singing. Plus a few ripping soul-shouts.) “Here, my dear”, he formally announces, and we flash back to the beginning.
“I Met A Little Girl” is period-appropriately lush, doo-woppish; except more expansive – Motown’s early pop approach left no vinyl room for the kind of hypnotic extended grooves that encompass much of the album. (14 tracks averaging about 5:05.)
It’s 1976 now, and that initial burst of happiness over already.
“When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” is a key track. Marvin’s remembering happy family picnics as well as bitter arguments, and again blaming
Anna herself, for lying to him as well as to God, “…but I’m not bitter babe”. A solo tenor sax provides additional background commentary to the midtempo number.
This boils over into the tightly coiled Sly funk of “Anger”. “Is That Enough” rides a quasi-psychedelic ‘70s-Miles soundscape, Gaye wondering how much more of his heart and his money this woman can take.
But he doesn’t deny his own bad behaviour; “Time To Get It Together” finds him self-recriminating “My life’s a clock and it’s winding down…blowin’ coke all up my nose, foolin’ ‘round with midnight hoes”. “Everybody Needs Love” gives us some more sweet, sweet slowness. “Pretty birds fly away” Marvin sang at one earlier point, and “Sparrow” finds him rhapsodizing over another bird who needs to fly, and sing; ecstatic flights of free-jazz tenor sax evoke the release.
“Anna’s Song” is a tender tribute (again, with a few potshots) built on subdued synthesized strings, with a mid-song surprise: a lone startling, anguished wail.
A largely instrumental version of “When Did You…” follows, with Marvin cooing wordlessly as the tenor sax steps forward again. In a bit of a escape from the unpleasant realities of life, and in the wake of “Star Wars” (and Meco?), we get “A Funky Space Reincarnation”, Gaye continuing the black-man-in-space tradition as handed down from Sun Ra to Jimi to George Clinton, inhaling the finest Venus smoke and flying beyond Pluto to an interstellar party in the year 2093; amid a Parliament on-the-one vamp is much cosmic jokiness about Miss Birdsong (Cindy?) and magnets, how do they work?
Back to reality, “You Can Leave But It’s Going To Cost You” finds multiple Marvins again lamenting the financial and emotional toll, but facing reality and finding strength in the Lord. He turns the title around, concluding “I’m gone baby, get used to it…”, life will go on, he’s moved on and is already “Falling In Love Again”, and this time he knows it’s for real. “The world’s so great, baby/So love me/As though there was no tomorrow/There is no tomorrow/So let’s have a toast/and whisper/See you later/I love you/I love you, baby/Let’s live, not regret it”
It’s the cheeriest moment on the album, a happy near-ending – but it doesn’t last, as Marvin saves the real ending for a brief final reprise of “When Did…”, as if he knows they’re doomed to screw it up all over again.
No hooks, no choruses, no problem, right?
Well, yes, actually there were problems, lots of them.
By 1978, Marvin Gaye had hit yet another low point in his life and he was clearly experiencing an emotional breakdown right before our ears on Here, My Dear.
And even though, technically speaking, the project qualifies as a concept album, in the sense that most of the songs build on one theme – in this case the broken heart of a broken man – it plays like a series of fragmented laments over his broken marriage to Anna.
But it’s that fragmentation that actually works to the album’s advantage. Whether intentional or not, each track explores the wide range of raw emotions Marvin must have felt after his marriage acrimoniously fell apart. And no amount of polish was gonna mask those emotions. The tears of this clown were on full display for all to see.
From the bittersweet feelings explored in the opening title track as Marvin dealt with the prospect of losing custody of his son while reminiscing about the old days with Anna, to the sorrowful waltz-walk he takes down memory lane on second track “I Met a Little Girl,” the fact that Gaye is all over the map emotionally is what makes Here about as real an album as you’d hear from any artist – especially from a superstar out of Motown’s hit-making assembly-line of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Musically speaking, the album as a whole is of mixed quality. To get the fullest experience, you have to listen on a good set of speakers, especially on the title opening track, “Here My Dear.” The bass drum back-beat on that song plays like an abnormal heartbeat: th-thump, th-thump… th-thump, th-thump – a sound that your smartphone’s speakers aren’t powerful enough to produce on their own.
Two of the album’s best tracks are the third and fourth songs: “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” and “Anger,” respectively.
On “When Did You Stop…,” Marvin makes the best use of his trademark layered-vocal production technique, where his many singing voices – baritone, tenor, falsetto – are all at play, and often simultaneously, courtesy of multi-tracking. At one point he even lets out a surprisingly guttural screech (at the song’s 2:13 mark, when he asks “do you remember all the BULLSHIT, baby!?!”), with the expletive sounding like a cat that’s chewed into one too many electrical cords.
The song’s best virtue is its unrefinement, one that is punctuated by a seemingly wayward saxophone that weaves in and out of the various bars, somehow underscoring Marvin’s confusion about what went wrong in his marriage.
And despite the duality of the song’s title, it’s pretty clear who’s getting the bulk of the blame in “When.” Throughout the song’s various verses (“you’ll never be satisfied,” “you got judgment on your side,” and “you scandalized my name,” “how could you turn me into the police?”), Marvin plays the victim, while seemingly reconciling his own feelings (“I’m not bitter,” “I‘d rather remember some of the joy we had”). It’s not until 45 seconds remain of the song’s 6:17 that he finally gets to the point of it all, when he repeats the song’s title as it fades: “when did you stop loving me…when did I stop loving you?”
Like much of Marvin’s life reportedly was at the time, the album’s tracking was messy, or at least inconsistent, especially during the first four songs in the album’s sequence. For instance, the transition from “Here, My Dear” to “I Met A Little Girl” was abrupt and unexpected, with the first segueing into the next so suddenly you don’t know what hit you.
Conversely, the changeover from “When Did You Stop Loving Me” to “Anger” was less pronounced, with several seconds of silence before “Anger” sneaks up on the listener, sort of the way the emotion itself sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it.
On “Anger” Marvin sings the title repeatedly while he explains the emotion and its harmful effects, which he was clearly experiencing, over an underlying, mid-tempo funk beat. While most of the album is busy pointing the finger at Anna, Gaye’s self introspection on “Anger” is one of the few moments where he looks more inward at what’s raging inside him, giving the album its best moment of clarity.
On fifth track “Is That Enough,” Marvin takes on the divorce head-on, painting Anna as a leach whose goal was to drain him dry in court in order to continue her lavish lifestyle. The Motown great ponders whether he’ll even bother to follow the judge’s orders, questioning “why do I have to pay (my baby’s) attorney’s fees?,” before finally exclaiming “this is a joke!”
On sixth track, “Everybody Needs Love,” Marvin goes back to the same melody used in the opening title song, not even bothering to create new music (although there’s more of a bongo-percussion thing happening on this track). “Everybody Needs Love” reads like a final plea to his ex-wife for affection – whether this is emotional, spiritual or physical is not completely clear. Again, the singer seems perplexed here, as he ultimately wonders – given that everybody (and everything) needs love, including “folks in jail” – why his ex couldn’t understand that he needed love, too.
The best song on the album may very well be “Sparrow,” a tune that gave a brief respite from all of the grief expressed on the album’s first seven tracks. The innocence and beauty represented by the sparrow Gaye sings about here could recall a time in his life when those things were more in abundance, although it’s hard to imagine when that could’ve been given his reportedly troubled upbringing and all of the turmoil he’d endure in his adult life.
Still, “Sparrow” is as beautiful as its title suggests. There’s a literal aspect to it that has Gaye asking the bird to sing to him and tell its story…the troubles it’s in, the places it’s been. A well-placed sax plays throughout (saxophone is used liberally on several of this album’s tracks). A trombone hits a crescendo when Marvin asks the bird at the 3:45 mark, “Did you say, ‘man’s sucking up the land?’” – a clear nod to Gaye’s concern for the environment – a concern he apparently never fully abandoned after first expressing it seven years earlier on the Whats Going On album.
While “Sparrow” showcased Gaye’s compassionate and sensitive side (one not fueled by the anger that his divorce and alimony situation created), the next track, “Anna’s Song,” returned our protagonist to the album’s purpose: to express his dismay over the situation his ex had apparently placed him in.
Musically, “Anna’s Song” is an understated mid-tempo tune – another without any hook or chorus – in which a weird synth plays throughout. The song seems somewhat redundant in its title given that the whole album was essentially Anna’s album. Still it serves to punctuate the agony Marvin expresses throughout the set, especially at the 1:57 mark of this song when he cries her name. At that point, it becomes painfully clear that “Anna’s Song” is not just redundant filler, but an essential part of the album’s mix.
There are a few factors that work against this album’s status as a classic, though: the duplication of the title song’s melody for the sixth track “Everybody Needs Love,” mentioned above, being the first.
A second factor is the three appearances of the song “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.” This includes a not-so-instrumental, six-minute “instrumental” version, in which Gaye’s own multi-tracked vocals are scattered throughout. The third is a 44-second reprise that serves as the album’s outro. It’s clear that Motown’s decision-makers felt this song was good enough to get triple placement on Here, but three appearances is one or two too many.
And then there’s the eleventh track, “A Funky Space Reincarnation,” seemingly the most disconnected song on Here and one that ironically became the album’s first single (and the only one to chart). Inspired by the huge popularity of Star Wars a year earlier, ”Space Reincarnation” was a fantasy trip to some future world where Marvin and (presumably) Anna could escape from their earthly situation and live in wedded bliss somewhere else, free from all this drama.
I recall buying the “Space Reincarnation” single as a twelve-year-old boy, mainly because I was allured by its title. I certainly didn’t understand the fuller context of the song or its parent album at the time of purchase, it just seemed cool to the 12-year-old me that Marvin Gaye was singing about outer space and doing so to a funky beat. Besides, the purchase was true to character – I had spent a lot of my weekly allowances on records back then.
Whatever escapism Marvin found in “Reincarnation” was destroyed on the next track, “You Can Leave, But It’s Going to Cost You,” in which Marvin paints himself as a man who simply wanted his freedom from a marriage that wasn’t working, while portraying Anna as an embittered spouse out to drain him of his riches. The song is brazen – and at times humorous – in that Marvin was already in a relationship with his second wife, Janis Hunter, who’d had two kids with Gaye before the divorce from Anna was finalized. By the time of this album’s release, he was already married to Janis.
Marvin makes reference to Hunter in the lyrics to “You Can Leave,” with the lines: “That young girl is going to cost you. If you want happiness, you got to pay,” sung from Anna’s perspective. And later, from his own: “Her lawyers worked so hard, tryin’ to take my riches…tryin’ to upset my woman.”
It’s that new woman Marvin sings about in the final track, “Falling In Love Again,” a song signaling that – although love has failed him so many times before – he’s ready to give it a shot with Janis.
Ironically, that marriage would also come to an end soon after Here, My Dear was released, with Marvin and Janis separating in 1979 before officially getting divorced two years later.
In summary, Here, My Dear is weird and at times over indulgent, but that doesn’t stop it from being a great concept album. Musically, there may be nothing memorable about it (only “Anger” appears on any of Marvin’s many official compilation sets), but the album’s greatest legacy is its premise – Marvin’s messy divorce – which makes it a true concept album by the strictest of definitions.
Marvin is effective at painting himself as the sympathetic character here, with Anna seemingly getting much of the blame for their breakup. But it was clear that Marvin had his flaws too, which even he acknowledged, or at least revealed, at various times during the album.
The biggest surprise is how his former brother-in-law – and then-boss – Berry Gordy allowed Here, My Dear to be released. Rarely before, if ever, had there been a full album detailing a marital breakdown as pointedly as this one, and a close member of Berry’s family was being dragged in the process. It was a bold move by Marvin to record it, but a brave one by Berry to release it.
Consensus from the three old guys: Here, My Dear is indeed a classic!
Now, did Rolling Stone magazine get it right by including it as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time? At No. 456, it ranks above such legendary soul albums as Earth Wind & Fire’s Thats The Way of The World and Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain.
Even Biggie’s Life After Death ranks lower on the list than Here, My Dear.
That’s the problem with lists like those, they’re highly subjective and their ordinal nature inevitably gives bloggers like me fodder to pick them apart for sport.
In my opinion there’s no way that Here My Dear is greater than those albums by EWF or Funkadelic, but don’t take my word for it, you be the judge.
My sincerest thanks to guest writers RetroDawg Digital and Scott Bloomberg who contributed to this article.
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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