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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mercy Mercy Me Things Ain't What They Used To Be

First things first, I would like to take the time to wish everybody here a happy Earth Day.  I certainly hope that everybody reading this does at least one thing that will help us preserve our planet so that we can continue to enjoy it for hundreds of years.  Whether you dry your clothes outside on a clothesline, carpooling, or simply wearing an extra sweater on a really cool day, every little bit helps.

I’ve turned this blog entry green for today in the spirit of Earth Day, and this year, Earth Day happens to fall on a Sunday.  So, today’s Sunday Jukebox entry will feature a song that is appropriate for today.

Before I get into that though, I thought I’d talk a bit about the artist who sang the featured song for today.

When I say the name Marvin Gaye, what words would you use to best describe him?

Some of you will likely say the word “Motown”.  This is very much true.  Marvin Gaye was signed to Motown Records by Berry Gordy in the early 1960s, but the way that his joining the record label varies depending on the source of the information.  Some believe that Gordy heard Gaye singing at a Detroit club and signed him on the spot.  Others believe the theory that Gaye had invited himself to the Motown Christmas party inside the Hitsville USA studios and played an impromptu performance of “Mr. Sandman” on the piano inside the studio.  Regardless of what the real story is, Gaye found himself signed to Motown Records in early 1961.  Through his near 20-year association with the company, Gaye sang dozens of hits, including "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", "What's Going On", and "Let's Get It On".

TRIVIA:  Marvin Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr.  Shortly before releasing his first single with Motown in May 1961, he added the extra “E” on the end of his last name.  There were many reasons behind why the name change was made, but it was widely believed that he had done it to appear more professional, and to distance himself from his father, Marvin Gay Sr, a minister.

Some might associate Marvin Gaye with the name Tammi Terrell.  Tammi Terrell probably helped Marvin Gaye achieve one of his biggest hits by singing a duet with him back in 1967.  The song was “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, and it managed to climb into the Top 20 (though a cover version by Diana Ross would hit #1 in the fall of 1970).  Still, the chemistry between Terrell and Gaye was strong enough for the duet to record other songs together.  Some of their other hits included “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, and “You’re All I Need To Get By”.  Despite the fact that both liked working together, and had a rumoured relationship, both Gaye and Terrell insisted that their relationship was more like siblings than lovers.  They remained close until Terrell passed away in 1970, and Gaye revealed that he would never record another duet with another female singer since...a promise that he managed to keep.

Besides, at the time the duo recorded together, Terrell had a boyfriend, and Gaye was married to Anna Gordy, the sister of Berry Gordy.

But Gaye’s marriage to Gordy didn’t last.  Anna Gordy was eighteen years older than Gaye, and there were allegations of infidelity on both sides of the marriage.  The marriage disintegrated in 1975 when Gordy filed for divorce after Gaye got involved with Janis Hunter. 

TRIVIA:  Gaye was cash-strapped during the divorce proceedings due to extravagant spending and a cocaine habit, making it impossible to pay for alimony and child support.  So, when his attorney came up with the idea for Gaye to record an album where half the profits went to Anna Gordy, Gaye agreed to the terms.  The name of the album?  “Here, My Dear”.

By 1981, Gaye had become disillusioned with Motown Records, and after the company released the album “In Our Lifetime” before Gaye could put the finishing touches on the record, he left the company, signing himself to CBS Records the following year.

By 1983, Gaye was well on his way to making himself a success on a second label.  “Sexual Healing” was released in late 1982 and it became a Top 5 hit in the United States, and a #1 smash in Canada in early 1983.  But Gaye’s drug addiction soon began rearing its ugly head once more, and soon he was living at his parents home in Los Angeles, hiding from the groupies and drug dealers he owed money to.  Tensions between Gaye and his father escalated, and these tensions would lead up to a terrible end for Marvin Gaye.

On April 1, 1984, Marvin got into a terrible argument with his father which resulted in Marvin’s father pulling out a handgun (ironically enough the same gun that was given to him as a gift by Marvin) and shot him.  Gaye died at the scene, just one day before his 45th birthday.  Marvin’s father wasn’t charged with first-degree murder, as it was revealed that Marvin had physically beaten him just before the shooting happened, but he was charged with voluntary manslaughter, and sentenced to five years probation.

It was certainly a bizarre end for one of Motown’s greatest singers.

Despite his personal demons, Marvin Gaye’s music still lives on, and he has been awarded several posthumous honours, including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and him being awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame three years later, in 1990.

And of course, there’s his extensive catalog of hit singles spanning nearly twenty-five years. 

I had wanted to do a spotlight on Marvin Gaye for a while now, but it was difficult just choosing one song to feature in the Sunday Jukebox spotlight.  But with today being Earth Day, the choice really became crystal clear.

ARTIST:  Marvin Gaye
SONG:  Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
ALBUM:  What’s Going On
DATE RELEASED:  June 10, 1971

This was the second single release from the “What’s Going On” album, and appropriately enough, the song was released a little over a year since the first Earth Day celebrations.

The song was described as being a poignant anthem of environmentalism, and Gaye really peppered the song with lyrics detailing a world that was quickly decaying.

Where did all the blue sky go?  Fish full of mercury?  Oil wasted on the oceans and upon the sea?  Radiation in the ground and in the sky?  Not exactly lyrics that would warm the cockles of your heart, are they?

That was the point though.  The song wasn’t meant to make you feel good.  It was meant as a way to get people to see just how much damage was being done to our world each and every day by carelessness, greed, or just plain ignorance.

Let’s look at the lyric “oil wasted on the oceans and upon the sea”.  I can recall two major oil spills in my lifetime that were newsworthy.  There was the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill off the shores of Alaska, which devastated marine ecosystems for years to come.  But even that was nothing compared to the April 20, 2010 oil spill that began with the explosion of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.  For nearly three months, oil billowed out of the busted pipeline, and caused extensive damage to ecosystems, as well as the fishing and tourism industries, and the event also cast a ton of negative publicity for the BP company, which was responsible for the drilling project at the time of the spill.

These two oil spills caused so much harm to the environment.  And that’s not counting all the lesser oil spills that have occurred in between those two spills.  It’s a really scary thought.  I can’t even imagine someone bursting into my house and coating it in gallons of crude oil.  Imagine how those poor fish felt.

I can remember a time in which I used to go swimming at a nearby beach in my hometown.  At that time, the beach was loaded with people, and everyone enjoyed swimming in the river.  Those were great times.  Lately though, the beach that I enjoyed in my childhood seems as if it is closed more than open.  Seems the water isn’t quite as safe to swim in as it once was these days.  I don’t have children yet, but it makes me a bit sad to know that a place I loved as a little boy might not be safe to play for any children that I might have. 

I think that’s why I like this Marvin Gaye song.  It really makes you think about what we’re doing to our planet.  Unless we find another planet out there in outer space that can sustain human life (which will likely not happen for a while given that the space program is in limbo in the United States right now), this is the only planet we’ve got.  Doesn’t it make sense to want to take care of it now?

That’s exactly what Earth Day is all about.  Reflecting on the condition of our planet, and coming up with ways in which we can take care of it.  Here are some ways in which you can make a difference this Earth Day;

-      Remember the 3 R’s.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

-      Plant a tree.

-      Carpool, or use methods of transportation that are non-pollutant.

-      Buy products with less packaging.

-      Take shorter showers and turn off the water when brushing your teeth.

-      Pick up trash in a community park.

-      Turn off any lights or appliances that you aren’t using.

-      Dispose of any excess chemicals in safe ways by reading the labels on the package carefully.

-      Compost your food scraps.

And those are just a FEW suggestions.  For more tips, just click on . There’s tons more to choose from. 

Seriously, just check out these tips and do at least one of them.  Every little bit helps.  And if more people do these things, the better chance we have to make our planet more like a paradise and less like Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me.


  1. That was insightful. I actually didn't know a lot of that about Marvin Gaye. Happy Earth Day!

  2. Thank you! And, a happy Earth Day right back at you! Some of the things I knew about Marvin Gaye, but there's a lot that surprised me as well.