Wednesday, September 3, 2014
TMFW 52 - Marvin Gaye's Alimony "Concept Album"
In 1963, Marvin Gaye married Anna Gordy. Gaye was just 24 years old; Gordy, the sister of Motown Records founder Barry Gordy, Jr., was 41. The two had a son, Marvin III, in 1966. But by 1973, the couple filed for legal separation, and in 1975 Gordy filed for divorce.
By all accounts, the proceedings were messy. Gaye was accused of infidelity, and it was not hard to prove. As it turns out, the singer of such hits as "Let's Get it On" and "Sexual Healing" was living at the time of Gordy's divorce filing with Janis Hunter, a woman who was 17 years younger than him (that's a 34 year spread between his two ladies!). Gaye had met Hunter in 1973 when she was just 17 years old and he was 34; he wrote and started performing his over-the-top love song "Jan" while on tour in 1974 and still married to Anna. In September of that year - still while Gaye was married - Hunter gave birth to the couple's first child. At the time of the divorce filing, Hunter was just 19 but she was already pregnant with she and Gaye's second child. He was a classy dude.
Gaye's life during the divorce proceedings was marked by drug use, profligate spending, and reckless behavior. By the time of the divorce settlement, Gaye was well in debt to the IRS and had virtually no money. But he was still a big star - three of his last four albums at that point were top 10 records and each of the three were #1 on the R&B charts - so his lawyer worked out a deal. Gaye gave Gordy his full advance on royalties from his next record (about $300,000), and he promised that he would pay an additional $300,000 from the future sales of the album. Anything above that was his; anything below became a debt that Gaye would have to repay some other way.
Though it is a matter of debate whether Gaye purposely tanked the record - given that he was required to pay the second $300K no matter what that would have been a pretty stupid thing to do - it is beyond dispute that the finished product bombed. Referring to the fact that the royalties were Gordy's, Gaye titled the record Here, My Dear. The cover of the double album folded out, and featured a large illustration of a Monopoly-type game called "JUDGMENT." In the illustration, a man's hand holds out a record (presumably the Here, My Dear album). On his side of the board are a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a piano. On the other side of the board are a house, a car, jewelry, and furniture. The illustration - a not-so-subtle statement that Gordy had taken everything from him but his music - was a good indication of what was on the record. Featuring songs like "You Can Leave, But it's Going to Cost You," "Anger," and 3 (!) versions of "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You," the album was 4 sides of emotional songs about his divorce (and one 8-minute track called "A Funky Space Reincarnation" that imagines he and Anna "getting down on the moon" "light years" in the future).
When the album was panned by critics and the music-buying public, Gaye stopped promoting it and his record label followed suit. The record peaked at #26, and it never recouped even the advance. As a result, Gaye owed Gordy the remaining $300K. He still owed it when he died in 1984.
History has been kinder to Here, My Dear than initial audiences were. The album is now considered by many to be an underrated gem. Rolling Stone has named it (twice) to its "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list, and the record was re-released as a special expanded edition in 2007. You can listen to it on Spotify here or on Rdio here.
BONUS FACT: As Gaye admitted late in his life, despite a public "pregnancy" of Anna Gordy's, Marvin III was not the couple's child. Gaye was the father, but the child's mother was Denise Gordy, Anna's niece. She was just 16 when the child was conceived.
BONUS FACT 2: One of Gaye's first hits was The Marvelettes' 1962 song "Beachwood 4-5789." Gaye co-wrote the song and played drums on the record.
BONUS FACT 3: For a terrific cover of Let's Get it On, check out Jack Black in High Fidelity.
BONUS FACT 4: The venerable Snopes has a great writeup of the Here, My Dear story, from which much of today's story was drawn. Inexplicably though, Snopes confirms 90% of the facts and then marks it "false" anyway.