Marvin Gaye's What's Going On & the Wah-Wah Pedal

This week, Jim and Greg look back on Marvin Gaye's classic album What's Going On. They discuss the tracks, cultural climate and overarching themes of the 1971 album, many of which are more relevant than ever today. They'll also discuss the wah-wah pedal, the device responsible for that distinctive sound that became a building block for psychedelic rock, funk, and even reggae.

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classic album dissection

Marvin Gaye What's Going On

In 1971, Marvin Gaye released his iconic album What's Going On, one that is beloved by many critics and fans alike. This album marked a huge departure for Gaye, as most of his catalogue at the time had mostly consisted of love ballads and upbeat tracks. On What's Going On, Gaye wrote, and sang, about polarizing and controversial topics at the time, like racism, the environment and drugs, themes that today seem more relevant than ever. He also wrote about his personal struggles, such as difficulties within his marriage and the heartbreaking death of his duet partner and close friend Tammi Terrell. Along with the powerful lyrical messages he delivered, the sonic elements of the record are just as impactful. Marvin Gaye enlisted talented musicians such as The Funk Brothers and also the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to create a magnificent blend of sounds that could evoke emotion from a brick wall.

Greg and Jim explain what was going on in the country at the time of the album's creation and release, and talk about what Gaye was dealing with personally. They'll also chat with NFL Hall of Fame member and retired Detroit Lion Lem Barney about his experience working on the title track which led him to receive a gold record.


Instrumental: Wah-Wah Pedal

Wah-Wah It's time for the next installment of our Instrumental series, where we trace the history of an iconic piece of musical gear. Next up: the wah-wah pedal. The wah has a distinctive sound that became a building block for psychedelic rock, funk, and even reggae – but its creation back in the mid 1960s was the product of a technological glitch. Daniel Escauriza and Shelby Pollard of Chicago Music Exchange join us to break down the history of the wah and unpack the science behind the pedal and demonstrate what it adds sonically to iconic riffs.

Jim and Greg explore how legendary musicians from Eric Clapton and Earl Hooker to Melvin“Wah-Wah”Ragin and Mikey Chung used the pedal. They ultimately note that, despite getting a bad rap for being gimmicky, the wah-wah pedal plays a critical role in a number of genres of music.

Featured Songs

  1. Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), What's Going On, Tamla, 1971
  2. Isaac Hayes, Theme From Shaft, Shaft, Enterprise, 1971
  3. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On, What's Going On, Tamla, 1971
  4. Marvin Gaye, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You, Tamla, 1964
  5. Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, You're All I Need, Tamla, 1968
  6. Gladys Knight & the Pips, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Everybody Needs Love, Soul, 1967
  7. Marvin Gaye, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, In the Groove, Tamla, 1968
  8. Marvin Gaye, Abraham, Martin & John, That's the Way Love Is, Tamla, 1970
  9. Curtis Mayfield, (Don‘t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We're All Going To Go, Curtis, Curtom, 1970
  10. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On - Rhythm ‘N’ Strings Mix/The Foundation, What's Going On (Deluxe Edition), Tamla, 2001
  11. Marvin Gaye, What's Happening Brother, What's Going On, Tamla, 1971
  12. The Supremes, Come See About Me, Where Did Our Love Go, Motown, 1964
  13. Marvin Gaye, Flyin' High (In The Friendly Sky), What's Going On, Tamla, 1971
  14. Marvin Gaye, Save The Children, What's Going On, Tamla, 1971
  15. Marvin Gaye, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), What's Going On, Tamla, 1971
  16. Stevie Wonder, You Haven‘t Done Nothin’, Fulfillingness' First Finale, Tamla, 1974
  17. Rose Royce, Car Wash, The Stud, Ronco, 1978
  18. Marvin Gaye, Let's Get It On, Let's Get It On, Tamla, 1973
  19. Cream, Tales of Brave Ulysses, Disraeli Gears, Reaction, 1967
  20. Chet Atkins, Boo Boo Stick Beat, Boo Boo Stick Beat (single), RCA, 1959
  21. King Curtis, Mr. Bojangles (Live), Live at the Fillmore West, ATCO, 1971
  22. The Beach Boys, Good Vibrations, Good Vibrations (single), Capitol, 1966
  23. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Electric Ladyland, Track, 1968
  24. Blind Faith, Presence of the Lord, Blind Faith, Polydor, 1969
  25. Earl Hooker, Sweet Black Angel, Sweet Black Angel, Blue Thumb, 1969
  26. The Temptations, Cloud Nine, Cloud Nine, Gordy, 1969
  27. The Temptations, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, All Directions, Gordy, 1972
  28. Curtis Mayfield, (Don‘t Worry) If There’s Hell Below We're All Going to Go, Curtis, Curtom, 1970
  29. Bob Marley & the Wailers, Exodus, Exodus, Island, 1977
  30. Bunny Lee, Blood Sweat and Dunza Dub, King of Dub, Clocktower, 1975
  31. Miles Davis, Black Satin, On the Corner, Columbia, 1972
  32. The Stooges, Little Doll, The Stooges, Elektra, 1969
  33. Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Tell Me Something Good, Rags to Rufus, ABC, 1974
  34. Michel'le, No More Lies, Michel'le, Ruthless, 1989
  35. Craig Finn, Carmen Isn't Coming In Today, I Need A New War, Partisan, 2019
  36. AC/DC, Back In Black, Back In Black, Albert, 1980
  37. The Replacements, Answering Machine, Let It Be, Twin/Tone, 1984
  38. Neil Young, Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black), Rust Never Sleeps, Reprise, 1979