In my ongoing effort to stay warm during this cold winter I’m featuring one of the hottest tracks of the 1970’s this week.
If you were around in those days, you know that in the late ’70s disco was all. Everyone, from big-time rock bands like the Rolling Stones and the Eagles to pop stars like the Bee Gees and ABBA, jumped on the bandwagon. The genre also made it’s own stars, producing legends like Donna Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Chic.
Marvin Gaye resisted the lure of the disco beat, but even he got on board eventually. In 1976 Gaye was still an extremely popular artist, but financial problems brought on by a bitter divorce had strained his bank account. At one point he narrowly avoided imprisonment for failing to pay child support. The solution to Gaye’s financial woes came in the form of an offer from European promoter Jeffrey Kruger for Gaye to undertake an extensive tour on the continent. The last time Gaye had toured Europe was in 1967, so there was plenty of pent-up demand for tickets. The tour began in the UK where Gaye had always had a strong fan base.
The early shows went well, drawing big crowds, and great reviews. A show at the London Palladium was recorded for release in the spring of 1977. At the same time, Motown had been pushing Gaye to join the disco craze, but he didn’t have much use for the genre, saying it lacked substance, and adding that he would never record disco music. Besides, he was working on an album called Here, My Dear which would chronicle his disastrous first marriage, and it was anything but disco.
Gaye held out for months, but eventually eased his way into disco by creating a song that he saw as a parody of the genre. It was originally called “Dancing Lady,” in answer to Johnny Taylor’s “Disco Lady.” In December of 1976, work began on the recording at Gaye’s studio, Marvin’s Room. Motown’s Art Stewart was brought in to produce, and in addition to Gaye (who played percussion, synth bass and keys), the musicians included Fernando Harkness whose sax solo is featured on the second half of the record, guitarist Johnny McGhee (of L.T.D.), percussionist Frankie Beverly, drummer Bugsy Wilcox, and Funk Brother Jack Ashford on tambourine. Gaye’s brother Frankie and his girlfriend Janis Hunter provided background vocals.
Gaye had not forgotten the vocal chatter that characterized his smash “What’s Going On,” and decided to create a somewhat similar atmosphere on the new record, now retitled “Got To Give It Up”. Voices are heard on the record greeting each other and partying. Among those voices are Gaye’s sister Zeola, and Soul Train legend Don Cornelius, who Gaye greets at one point on the record with “Say Don! Hey man, I didn’t know you was in here!”
The record was released in March, 1977, and by June it was atop the Billboard Hot 100. It was also #1 on the R&B, Disco, and Dance charts. The single was included on the Live at the London Palladium album, which reached the Top Ten and sold two million copies.
“Got To Give It Up” was a massively successful record. But what may be even more important is the influence it had on the young Michael Jackson. One listen to Jackson songs like “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” or “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” tells you everything you need to know about the influence of Gaye’s record on Jackson, right down to the use of vocal chatter on the latter single.
“Got To Give It Up” was once again brought to the public’s attention when Robin Thicke cited it as an influence on his 2013 smash “Blurred Lines.” In fact, Gaye’s family and music publisher felt that the influence was a little too strong, and threatened a copyright infringement lawsuit. Thicke preemptively sued them, claiming that the Gaye family and Bridgeport Music were attempting to assert ownership of an entire genre of music. We’ll have to wait and see how all of that turns out. In the meantime, what you do think? Comment below.