Album Review: Marvin Gaye - You're The Man

It’s being touted as a ‘lost’ album—recorded and then subsequently scrapped in 1972, and one of the things that will help put Marvin Gaye’s You’re The Man into perspective is to have a better understanding of the man himself and the compelling backstory behind the album’s creation and eventual abandonment—a backstory that has possibly eclipsed the music found within the record, which, nearly 50 years later, is now seeing the light of day.

The easy answer about why You’re The Man was shelved is to say that it, and Gaye’s way of thinking at the time, was not in line with that of Motown Records head Berry Gordy. The titular track itself, released as a stand alone single in 1972, is, as you can guess, extremely political—a scathing decree against Richard Nixon and his administration.

The rest of You’re The Man is, however, not nearly as politically slanted, which comes as a surprise.

You’re The Man was to arrive following the unprecedented success of What’s Going On?, released just the year prior—a relatively concise, extraordinarily self-referential cycle of songs, Gaye would repeat that very format in 1973 with his lusty Let’s Get it On, and again a few years later with the equally as sexually charged I Want You.

As timeless and iconic as What’s Going On? became in the years following its release, it’s titular track, as well as the rest of the record itself, was, at the time of its creation, a difficult sell for Gordy, and the rest of the Motown staff. They wanted what was commonly referred to as that ‘baby, baby’ music that Gaye and other R&B artists who rose to success in the 1960s were known for—not a politically and socially conscious, anti-Vietnam War collection of songs that segued one right into the other.

The release of You’re The Man, now, in 2019, coincided with what would have been Gaye’s 80th birthday, and its arrival as a sprawling 17 track collection, spread across two vinyl records, asks a lot of questions of its listeners—not the music so much, but the idea of the album itself: like, why now?

Why not have put this out in 2009 for what would have been Gaye’s 70th birthday instead? Or, why put this out at all—why not leave this idea in an archive somewhere?

The release of this album now, after all this time, leaves one wondering what kind of music would Marvin Gaye had been making into the later portion of the 80s and possibly beyond if he had not been shot and killed by his father in 1984—would he still have been putting out new music into the 1990s, as he entered into his 50s?

Would he have eventually put together some kind of ‘greatest hits’ stadium tour when he was pushing 60?

The biggest question that lingers when thinking about the release of You’re The Man in the year 2019 is—is this the album that Gaye would have wanted people to hear?

It’s the question that comes with any posthumous release—the artist isn’t here to make the decision on their own, so some suit at the record label—Motown has long been a part of the ‘Universal Music Group’—makes that decision for them.

The You’re The Man we have been given today is not the same album that Gaye would have put together, and it’s tough to know where the album ‘proper’ ends and the tacked on bonus material begins.

It’s a lengthy album, complete with two different versions of its titular track—I hesitate to say that it’s an album of diminishing returns; however, it is not as politically profound or as interesting of a listen as one may have hoped given what came before it, what followed, and the lore that has surrounded it for all these years.

And that makes it not so much a chore to listen to, but as it unfolds, You’re The Man becomes a confusing record that lacks the cohesion Gaye was very capable of.


As You’re The Man unfolds, it almost instantly begins moving away from the heavy political message of its titular and opening track, but it takes Gaye a few songs before he steps away completely from social consciousness. He laments the state of the world over the top of strong, driving funk on “The World is Rated X,” attempting to spread the idea of peace between people across the world as opposed to the ‘sin and corruption’ that he sees.

Originally included on a 1995 Marvin Gaye anthology, then later within the John Travolta vehicle Phenomena, “Piece of Clay” is one of the most soulful and memorable songs featured on this release; it burns slowly, but powerfully, built around a church organ and rollicking piano, and it opens with an incredibly uncharacteristic burst of sustained guitar feedback, bent by a wah pedal. It’s opening line, too, is surprising, as well as foreboding—“Father, stop criticizing your son.”

In the press materials for You’re The Man, it notes that 15 of the 17 tracks included on the album had never before been released on vinyl—an apparent selling point for the Marvin Gaye completest; however, that does not mean that is all previously unreleased material. As the album continues, even a small amount of internet research into each song will reveal many of them were included on a deluxe CD reissue of Let’s Get it On from 2001—the last truly socially conscious song, “Where Are We Going?” is among those. Dressed up in an infectious rhythm and melody, Gaye, again, reflects on the state of affairs he was witnessing at the time: “With all that’s going on—where are we getting?” he asks in the song’s refrain.

“I’m Gonna Give You Respect” is one of the last songs that is still interesting to listen to prior to You’re The Man losing its direction and energy—a smooth, R&B shuffle, it’s complete with backup singers saying “Sugar, sugar now,” and is punctuated by blasts from a horn section.

Because You’re The Man deals with so much previously released, archival material, producer Salaam Remi has remixed three tracks within its latter half—while one of them, “Symphony,” finds itself in the handful of other tracks that are on the insipid side, Remi does his best to recreate that touch of dreamy, gauzy reverb Gaye had previously drenched What’s Going On? with, on “My Last Chance,” and the sweeping grandeur of “I’d Give My Life For You.”

Outside of the inclusion of the additional, shorter, and drastically different in its arrangement take of the titular track, the final highlight from You’re The Man is one of two holiday songs tacked on near the end—“I Want to Come Home For Christmas,” much like “You’re The Man” itself, has a tumultuous history with Motown.

Gaye had recorded the song in 1972 and fought with the label to get it released as a single. The label, at the time, won, and the song wouldn’t be released until it was included on a lengthy boxed set in 1990. Motown would later included as a bonus track on a holiday themed compilation—a devastating and gorgeous song with a poignant message, while it was recorded during the same time period as a bulk of this material, it feels rather out of place in the album’s track list.


Given the current political climate of the United States in 2019, much has been made of the eerie similarities found within the lyrics of “You’re The Man.” Written two years prior the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency, Gaye’s lyrics are blunt—on the song’s more relaxed (and less slithering and funky) ‘alternate version,’ which appears near the conclusion of this set, he unflinchingly states, “Demagogues and admitted minority haters should never be President,” which is, of course, the kind of thing you may have found yourself saying in the wake of the 2016 election.

And in both versions of the song, Gaye is surprisingly forwardly thinking by saying, “Maybe what this country needs is a lady for president,” which is, again, the kind of thing you may have found yourself saying in the wake of the 2016 election.

By all accounts, Marvin Gaye was a complicated, contradictory man, as countless others involved within the arts tend to be. He may have recorded a song titled “I’m Gonna Give You Respect,” but he was also had a long history with domestic violence against both Anna Gordy Gaye and Janis Gaye.

He may have declared that a woman should be president, but his ‘woke’ way of thinking had its limits—also included within the You’re The Man collection is the most cringe worthy of the bunch, “Woman of The World,” which based on its lyrical content alone, should have been left out of the album’s final sequence. “Oh woman—liberated lady of today,” it begins innocently enough, before the song moves into its second stanza—“Hey freedom—emancipation’s what you found/Legislation put me down/What happened to yesterday?

Then, later, “Chauvinism’s day is done, now there isn’t anyone for you to look up to—your own your own.”

Releasing You’re The Man now, after nearly 50 years after Gaye scrapped the album completely, isn’t going to damage his legacy within the history of contemporary popular music. And aside from what could only be looked at as a slight rejuvenation in interest in his body of work, it is not the kind of release that is going to help his legacy much, either. The intended audience for something like this, more likely, already has all of this material in other forms—and save for a few highlights, as well as the importance of the title track itself, which was already included in the ephemeral material to the 40th anniversary reissue of What’s Going On?, You’re The Man, in 2019, arrives as a confusing, mostly inessential listen.

While What’s Going On?, in its dissection of environmental concerns, the Vietnam War, and police brutality, among other things, may have asked more questions than provided answers, it did, by the end, leave listeners with a small glimmer of hope. In a surprising contest, there is little, if anything at all, the listener feels by the time You’re The Man reaches its unceremonious conclusion—a borderline soulless album from a soulful voice.

You're The Man is out now as a digital download via Universal Music Group. The 2XLP is now, already, out of print, and a second pressing is in the works; a CD version of the album is due out on April 26th.