There have been many great breakup albums over the years. Most are not specifically related to the end of a relationship, but sound good when the lights are off and you’re sitting alone in your apartment with a bottle of Jack (see: White Ladder by David Gray). However, occasionally you’ll hear an album by an artist reeling from a breakup who has decided to put all his or her energies into documenting the end of a relationship and it’s aftermath. Examples of that would be Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love and Beck’s Sea Change.
…And then there’s Marvin Gaye’s 1979 masterpiece Here, My Dear, an album that will leave you slack-jawed at it’s beauty as much as it will leave you scratching your head at it’s weirdness.
A little backstory for you. Marvin’s first wife was Anna Gordy, the sister of Motown Records’ founder Berry. Their marriage ended acrimoniously in 1976, at which point Marvin was already dating the woman who would go on to be Mrs. Gaye #2, Janis Hunter. As part of the divorce settlement, Marvin was asked to record an album and donate a significant portion of the royalties to his soon-to-be ex-wife.
I’m pretty sure Anna Gordy expected nothing like Here, which is essentially a musical document of their courtship, marriage and breakup. As such, it is one of the most lyrically forthright (and disturbing), honest albums ever recorded. Musically, it’s the equal of any album released by Marvin that decade (and if you’re reading this, I’m sure that you’re aware of how highly What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On figure in the lineup of classic albums).
It’s disturbing to hear Marvin’s heavy inhaling and exhaling during the funky yet tortured “Anger”, even more so to hear him hear him ask “what I don’t understand/is if you loved me/how come you turned me in to the police?” in the jazzy suite “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You?”. In between, Marvin grumbles about having to pay his ex’s attorney fees and not being allowed to see his child. He shouts out the year of the couple’s marriage and divorce in the middle of one song like a deranged carnival barker. He then dedicates a love song to Anna, practically howling her name with a mixture of desire and disappointment. By the album’s end, he’s “Falling In Love Again”, but after hearing him audibly go insane over the course of the album, you wonder if he’s just fooling himself, and if you know anything about Marvin’s tragic end less than six years after this album was recorded, you’ve gotta imagine that he probably was.
Here, My Dear gets the deluxe two-disc tribute treatment from the folks at Hip-O Records tomorrow (1/15), with alternate takes and a second disc which assigns contemporary producers like Prince Paul and ?uestlove to the songs on this album. This album was excellent enough that I will be purchasing it for the THIRD time. Whether you’re a Marvin fan, an aficionado of soul music or someone who just loves artists that are unafraid to be honest in their work, I advise you to do the same.
Here’s a Youtube clip of “Anger”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything with Marvin singing anything live from the album, so this will have to do: