What’s Going On, released on 20th May 1971, marked the second chapter in Marvin Gaye’s career. For many people, What’s Going On marked the start of Marvin Gaye’s career as a serious artist. Indeed, What’s Going On, was far removed from the poppy soul Marvin Gaye had previously been a purveyor of. Not only did What’s Going On, mark a coming of age as an artist for Marvin Gaye, but was the start of a series of critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums he’d release between 1971 and 1978. During this seven year period, Marvin Gaye released six albums. Three of these albums reached number one in the US R&B Charts, but only What’s Going On was certified gold. Given the quality of these six albums, that’s a remarkable statistic.

The followup to What’s Going On, was Trouble Man, which saw Marvin follow in the footsteps of Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack, in composing the soundtrack to a Blaxploitation movie. To mark the fortieth anniversary of the release of Trouble Man, Hip-O somewhat belatedly, released a luxurious and lovingly compiled double album on 31st January 2013. Disc One features the original album version of Trouble Man, plus nine bonus tracks entitled The T Sessions. On Disc Two of Trouble Man, are the nineteen tracks that comprised the Original Film Score, plus a bonus track, T At The Cross, which, like the nine bonus tracks on Disc One, were mixed by DJ John Morales. So for anyone who is either a fan of Marvin Gaye, or Blaxploitation movies, this should be a must-have? Is that the case though? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the background to Trouble Man.

After the success of 1971s politically charged classic What’s Going On, this had transformed Marvin Gaye’s career. He’d just signed a new contract with Motown imprint Tamla, worth a million dollars. This was the most lucrative recording contract an R&B artist had signed. Just as importantly, Marvin Gaye had won full creative control over his music. No longer had he seek approval from the Motown hierarchy if he wanted to go off piste musically. Without that creative freedom, Marvin have had to seek permission to record the soundtrack to a Blaxploitation movie, like Trouble Man.

By 1972, Blaxploitation movies were becoming hugely popular. Three of Marvin’s musical contemporaries Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack had all composed soundtracks to Blaxploitation movies. Isaac Hayes wrote the score to Shaft, one of the classic films and soundtracks in the Blaxploitation genre. Curtis Mayfield had penned the soundtrack to Super Fly and Bobby Womack wrote the soundtrack to Across 110th Street. Composer Gene Page had contributed the score to Blacula. Throughout the seventies, Blaxploitation movies and similarly, Blaxploitation soundtracks would become hugely popular. Although Blaxploitation movies were released throughout the seventies, many of genre classics were released between 1971 to 1975, including Trouble Man.

Having signed his lucrative new contract with Tamla, Marvin was approached by Motown management about writing the soundtrack to a Blaxploitation movie. Previously, Isaac Hayes, signed to Stax had found commercial success and critical acclaim with his soundtrack to Shaft. Similarly, Curtis Mayfield had composed the soundtrack to Super Fly and released it on his own Curtom label. Following Shaft and Super Fly, Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield won plaudits for their scores. Over at Motown, the label’s management must have cast envious glances. Then Motown won the rights to produce the soundtrack to Trouble Man. This was their chance to get a slice of the lucrative Blaxploitation pie. All they needed was someone to compose the soundtrack. Looking at Motown’s roster circa 1972, Marvin Gaye was the obvious, and some might say, only choice to compose the soundtrack to Trouble Man. With Marvin having signed his new contract, he began work on the soundtrack to Trouble Man.

Trouble Man had been written by John D.F. Black and was directed by Ivan Dixon, with cinematography by Michael Hugo. The cast included Robert Hooks as Mr. T, Paul Winfield as Chalky Price and Paula Kelly as Cleo. However, this was no Blaxploitation classic Marvin was being asked to provide the soundtrack for. Quite the opposite. In Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’ The 50 Worst Films of All Time, Trouble Man has the dubious honor of being one of the fifty flops of filmography. So, it was against that backdrop Marvin began work on Trouble Man.

For Marvin Gaye’s first, and only, film soundtrack, Marvin wrote each of the nineteen songs on the Original Film Score to Trouble Man. Thirteen tracks featured on the original album version of Trouble Man. Whereas previous Blaxploitation soundtracks saw music and dialogue interspersed, Marvin decided to approach Trouble Man in a different way. Instead, he wrote several songs from the main character, Mr. T’s perspective, including “T” Plays It Cool, “T” Stands For Trouble, Don’t Mess With Mr “T,” There Goes Mr, “T” and My Name Is “T.”Five separate version of Trouble Man were recorded, including Main Theme From Trouble Man (2), Trouble Man, Theme From Trouble Man and Main Theme From Trouble Man (1). These five versions of Trouble Man allowed Marvin to demonstrate his versatility as a vocalist. For the alternate version of Trouble Man, Marvin recorded two vocals, one sung falsetto style, the other tenor style. They were the double tracked, the two lead vocals becoming one, when recording took place in Motown’s new Los Angeles studios, following the closure of Motown’s Detroit studios.

At Motown’s Los Angeles studios, Marvin Gaye put out a call to members of the Funk Brothers and Hamilton Bohannon’s band. This included a rhythm section of bassist Wilton Felder, drummer Earl Palmer and guitarists Louis Shelton and Don Peake. Bob Ragland and Larry Mizell played piano, while Gene Page was contracted to provide the strings. Horns came courtesy of saxophonist Trevor Lawrence, Eli Fountain and Marty Montgomery, plus Dale Oehler and James Carmichael. For his part, Marvin played drums, keyboards, piano, synths and took charge of vocals and harmonies. Looking at the booklet that accompanies the newly released version of Trouble Man, disappointingly, many of the personnel that played on the album are listed as “unknown.” Surely, somewhere in Motown’s archives, there must be records of who played on the sessions? Arrangers included Dale Oehler, Jerry Long, James Carmichael and Gene Page. Producing the fusion of soul, jazz and funk that is Trouble Man was Marvin Gaye.

On the release of Trouble Man on 8th December 1972, critics gave the album a favorable reception. Obviously, comparisons were drawn with Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly and Bobby Womack’s Across 110th Street. Composer Gene Page. This was only reasonable, given they were the same genre of music. While Shaft and Super Fly set the bar high, Marvin’s debut soundtrack was perceived as a success. It reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. Trouble Man became Marvin’s second most successful album. Only the title-track Trouble Man was released as a single, reaching number seven in the US Billboard 100 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Sadly, Trouble Man would be Marvin Gaye’s only foray into world of soundtracks. Hip-O recently released Trouble Man as a double album, celebrating Marvin Gaye’s one and only foray into the world of soundtracks. The last time Trouble Man was rereleased was in 1999, so Trouble Man is due a luxurious and lovingly compiled rerelease? However, is the recent release of Trouble Man a must-have for fans of Marvin Gaye, or Blaxploitation movies? That’s what I’ll tell you.

Disc One of Trouble Man features the thirteen tracks that featured on the original 1972 version of Trouble Man. This includes the four versions of Trouble Man, including Main Theme From Trouble Man (2), Trouble Man, Theme From Trouble Man and Main Theme From Trouble Man (1). Of the four versions, the version of Trouble Man was released as a single stands out. Marvin’s vocal is filled with raw emotion, heartfelt and sung in a falsetto style. Then when he gets to the bridge of the song, his vocal becomes a gruff, gospel-tinged growl. The two “theme” versions are instrumentals, featuring Marvin playing synths, that accompany the rasping, blazing saxophones. During the version of Trouble Man that opens the movie, Marvin’s double tracked vocal features him delivering the vocal in tenor and falsetto styles. These two vocals were then combined, to create one of the film and Trouble Man’s highlights. While there are four versions of Trouble Man, four songs were written from Mr T, the main character’s perspective. “T” Plays It Cool, “T” Stands For Trouble, Don’t Mess With Mr “T” and There Goes Mr. “T.” There’s more to Trouble Man than these eight tracks.

Of the other five tracks on the original version of Trouble Man, The Break In (Police Shoot Big) veers between drama and a melancholy, wistful sound. So too does the saxophone lead Poor Abbey Walsh. It has a real pensive, heartbreakingly sad sound. Like Cleo’s Apartment, it’s one of the highlights of Trouble Man. Its understated sees Marvin add sensual harmonies against a wistful piano. However. as an added bonus, Disc One includes The “T” Sessions.

The “T” Sessions includes nine tracks. This includes the Main Theme From Trouble Man (2) with strings added and two takes of Poor Abbey Walsh, an extended version of the single, Trouble Man and a vocal version of Theme From Trouble Man. There’s also unedited and alternate versions of “T” Stands For Trouble and a vocal version of Main Theme From Trouble Man. These nine tracks were mixed by DJ and remixer, John Morales. For fans of Marvin Gaye or Blaxploitation movies, then these nine tracks will be a welcome addition. They allow you hear familiar tracks in a different way.  None of the tracks are better than the versions on the original version of Trouble Man. That’s why they were left on the cutting-room floor. I don’t thing that suddenly people will begin heated debates whether the Main Theme From Trouble Man (2) with strings added is better than the original version, or that 1st Take of Poor Abbey Walsh is better than the original. Personally, the nine tracks are a welcome bonus, which Marvin Gaye completists will cherish. However, what’s on Disc Two of Trouble Man is a bigger bonus for fans of Marvin Gaye or Blaxploitation movies.

On Disc Two of Trouble Man, the real bonus is the Original Film Score from Trouble Man. For fans of Blaxploitation moves, myself included, it’s a case of sit back, relax and let Marvin entertain you. Anyone whose managed to sit through John D.F. Black’s Trouble Man will be familiar with the nineteen tracks. Like many Blaxploitation movies, the soundtracks are far better than the original movie. That’s the case here. While Trouble Man features in Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’ The 50 Worst Films of All Time, Marvin’s music is a Blaxploitation classic. The Original Film Score to Trouble Man, mixed by John Morales, ws three years in the making. His time has been well spent. It  allows you to hear the music without watching the film. From the opening bars of Trouble Man, right through to My Name Is “T/End Credits, what you hear is one of the best scores to a BLaxploitation movie. Among the highlights of Trouble Man’s Original Film Score are “T” Plays It Cool, Bowling Alley Parking Lot, Closing Jimmy’s, Car Ride Looking For Pete and My Name Is “T.” Jazz, soul and funk are fused over nineteen tracks. These nineteen tracks are variously atmospheric, moody, broody, dramatic, sensual and action-packed. Only one bonus track, the previously unreleased “T” At The Cross features on Disc Two. It was also mixed by John Morales, who mixed Trouble Man’s Original Film Score. It’s an interesting track, given the title. You wonder what was going through Marvin’s mind at the time? Once you’ve heard the nineteen tracks on Trouble Man’s Original Film Score, you can’t resist reaching over and pressing play again, revelling in the opportunity to revisit the subtleties, secrets and nuances of the music again.

Earlier I wondered whether the recent rerelease of Trouble Man was a must-have for fans of Marvin Gaye and Blaxploitation music. The answer to that is yes. There’s no doubt that. From the moment you unwrap Trouble Man, you realize that this is a luxurious and lovingly compiled double album. You only need to read the sleeve-notes and you realize this was a labor of love. My only gripe is that more effort and research could’ve been made to find out who played on the various sessions. Then when you press play, the sound quality is good, no overloud but clear and well balanced. It allows you to hear the subtleties and nuances of Marvin’s forgotten classic, Trouble Man. Like his 1978 double-album Here, My Dear, Trouble Man is an often overlooked album in Marvin Gaye’s back-catalogue. Both albums contain some of Marvin Gaye’s best music of the seventies. The real bonus when it comes to Trouble Man is the Original Film Score on Disc Two.

While the rerelease of original version of Trouble Man would be a cause for celebration, then the rerelease of the Original Film Score is a cause to rejoice. For John Morales, this was a labor of love. Good as the nine bonus tracks the comprised The “T” Sessions were, they were after all, only outtakes and alternate mixes. There was nothing to rival the thirteen original tracks on the original version of Trouble Man. John could only work with the material he was presented with. He really surpasses himself on Disc Two.

It’s as if this was a project that was deeply personal for him, one that was part of his musical legacy. He mixes the nineteen tracks on Original Film Score and the bonus track “T” On The Cross. Not only is this the icing on the musical cake that is Trouble Man, but the cherry on the top. John should be proud of his efforts and realize that these three years were well spent. It allows the listener to sit down, and enjoy two versions of the album. Granted several tracks on the original version of Trouble Man feature on Original Film Score, but there’s much more to explore and enjoy. By the time you’ve listened to the original version of Trouble Man and the Original Film Score, then you’ll have come to the conclusion that Marvin Gaye, like Isaac Hayes, could’ve enjoyed a career composing movie soundtracks.

Aadly, that wasn’t to be. Trouble Man was his only soundtrack. The followup to Trouble Man, while not a soundtrack, was a stonewall classic, Let’s Get It On. It marked the next chapter in his career, and was the third of six critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums Marvin Gaye released during the seventies. During the period between 1971 and 1978, Marvin Gaye only released one composed one soundtrack, Trouble Man. Mind you, if you’re only going to release one soundtrack, make it one that’s becomes a Blaxploitation classic, like Trouble Man. Standout Tracks: Poor Abbey Walsh, Cleo’s Apartment, Trouble Man and “T” Plays It Cool.





  1. Mel

    Great review… all of them are. I love this edition of this CD. You hit the nail on the head!!! Thank you for all that you do. I enjoy reading your work. Have a wonderful day & keep the music alive!!!

    • Hi Mel,

      Thanks for your comments. Glad you liked the review. The newly released version of Trouble Man really sets the standard for rereleases. Hopefully, other record companies will go to the same lengths as Hip-O Select. I’d like to see further rereleases of Marvin Gaye albums, including the hugely underrated Here, My Dear. Keep reading my blog Mel, as there’s some great stuff coming. Have a great day.


  2. midnightman84

    Reblogged this on The Midnight Man and commented:
    One of the best blaxploitation film soundtracks of all time, right up there with Shaft, Super Fly, Across 110th Street and the Mack and by arguably the most talented artist to emerge from Motown Records.

    • Hi Jamaal,

      Thanks for your comments and the reblog. Troubled Man is definitely one of the best Blaxploitation soundtracks. As you say, it’s up there with Shaft, Superfly and Across 110th Street. Other Blaxploitation soundtracks worth looking out for are Payback, Black Caesar, Truck Turner,Three Tough Guys, Shorty The Pimp and Blacula. There’s dozens of Blaxploitation soundtracks out there. If you see them in a record shop, it’s always worth a look. Sometimes, you can bag a real gem. Happy crate-digging.

      Best Wishes,

  3. midnightman84

    Great review on a legendary album… all of Marvin’s 1970s albums are legendary.

    • Hi Jamaal,

      Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t agree with you more, Marvin Gaye’s 70s albums are legendary. Between 1971s What’s Goin’ On and 1978s Here My Dear, Marvin never put a foot wrong. That’s quite remarkable. If you’ve not got the double-album of Troubled Man, it’s well worth buying. You won’t regret it.

      Best Wishes,

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