MARVIN GAYE-TROUBLE MAN-VINYL EDITION.
MARVIN GAYE-TROUBLE MAN-VINYL EDITION.
When What’s Going On was released on 20th May 1971, it 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. 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.
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 led Poor Abbey Walsh. It has a real pensive, heartbreakingly sad sound. Like Cleo’s Apartment, it’s one of the highlights of Trouble Man and is understated with Marvin adding sensual harmonies against a wistful piano. It’s Marvin Gaye at his best, on his only soundtrack album, Trouble. Without doubt, Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man album was much better than the film itself.
Anyone whose managed to sit through John D.F. Black’s Trouble Man will be familiar with the thirteen tracks. Like many Blaxploitation movies, the soundtracks are far better than the original movie. That’s the case here. Trouble Man features in Harry Medved and Randy Dreyfuss’ The 50 Worst Films of All Time. The best thing about the film was Marvin’s music.
That’s the case from the opening bars of Main Theme From Trouble Man to the closing notes of There Goes Mr. “T”, it becomes apparent that Marvin Gaye written and produced one of the best scores to a Blaxploitation movie. Jazz, soul and funk are fused over thirteen tracks. These tracks are variously atmospheric, moody, broody, dramatic, sensual and action-packed. Once you’ve heard Trouble Man, you can’t resist reaching over and turning the vinyl over and once again, revisit the subtleties, secrets and nuances of the music again.
So Commercial Marketing’s forthcoming reissue of Trouble Man on vinyl on 27th May 2016 will be a welcome one. Trouble Man is a must-have for fans of Marvin Gaye and Blaxploitation music. It’s part of an extended reissue of Marvin Gaye’s seventies album on vinyl that covers the period between 1971 and 1978.
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. The second album in this period was Trouble Man, which has been nicely mastered, and sounds better than the Hippo CD version released in 2013. This vinyl version is the one for purists to buy. Indeed, Trouble Man is something of a hidden gem in Marvin Gaye’s back-catalogue.
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. Trouble Man also is also proof that Marvin Gaye, like Isaac Hayes, could’ve enjoyed a career composing movie soundtracks.
Sadly, 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.
MARVIN GAYE-TROUBLE MAN.