Marvin Gaye is rightly evaluated as a crucial chapter in the story of Motown, but the relationship’s peaks weren’t immediate. Marvin had his goals while Barry Gordy and company had theirs, and across his first batch of releases the results only fitfully align with the vocalist’s popular image. The seven 180gm LPs contained in USM’s Marvin Gaye Volume One: 1961-1965 are still very much of interest however, offering a portrait of the soon to be great artist as a confident young man profoundly concerned with classicist pop objectives.
A recurring theme in the history of 20th century Pop finds record labels big small and in between striving purely in the name of profits to mold and modify a developing talent into a contemporary setting. In the process these actions frequently limited, damaged, or even downright quashed creative promise. In such instances the label’s miscalculations were reliably due to the reactive nature of the whole endeavor, the attempts seeking to capitalize on trends in place of shaping organic wrinkles in musical progress.
The seven albums included here complicate the above scenario considerably, detailing Motown as determined to travel a fertile trail as the young and undeniably skilled Gaye sought not to set trends but instead to examine a Pop/Jazz zone a la Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra just as this tradition was on the wane.
Rather trying to strong-arm him into a mode he didn’t wish to inhabit, Motown displayed a tremendous amount of patience with the singer’s ambitions, though this might not be as commendable as it sounds; Gaye was fully capable of pulling-off (if not truly excelling at) the crooner role, making commercial success in this capacity a possibility. Had that transpired, Motown surely would’ve primed the pump until it gushed. On the other hand, none of the non-R&B focused LPs assembled in 1961-1965 charted, and Motown was unambiguously in the business of hits.