In retrospect, 1984 should have been Marvin Gaye's year. After struggling with drug abuse, financial difficulties, and a failing marriage, Gaye began mounting a comeback in 1981. Late that year he began recording Midnight Love, an album that deftly mixed reggae, synth pop, and quiet storm elements with Gaye's astoundingly agile vocals. When its first single, "Sexual Healing," was released in 1982, Gaye quickly regained his commercial power. The song topped the R&B charts and peaked at number three on the pop singles charts. Consequently Midnight Love proved to be Gaye's most successful album, selling over 3.9 copies in the United States alone. His appearance on the 1983 TV special Motown 25 and his unique rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the NBA All-Star game later that year solidified his artistic and commercial renewal. Presumably Gaye would have continued his career resurgence, but his murder on April 1,1984 cut short his remarkable comeback.
Over three decades later, Midnight Love stands as a testament to Gaye's unmatched vocal techniques, namely perfect pitch, impeccable phrasing, and emotion the listener can experience through sound alone. A prime example of his skill is "Turn on Some Music," a spiritual and erotic ode to the power of Gaye's art. The song may seem uncomplicated on the surface--the drums, synthesizer, and horns essentially laying down a subtle groove--but Gaye's performance elevates the track to a blissful level. "Turn on Some Music" is Gaye's personal motto, a tribute to how music nourishes him sexually, physically, and intellectually.
Armed with a Roland TR-808, Jupiter 8, and drum machines, Gaye composed "Turn on Some Music" as a companion to "Sexual Healing." In this case, the prescription involves musical healing. "'Cause music's been my therapy / Taking the pain from all my anatomy," he croons. He compares his lover to this sublime medicine, paying her the ultimate compliment: "And darling your love is just like my music . . . You, you and your music / Are more precious than gold." Chronicling the couple's lovemaking with a clever metaphor--an album--Gaye starts the song by putting "three albums on" and making it clear what happens on side B. "I love you baby / I'm strong enough to last," he declares. As the last album plays, "You said wait, let's take a break / Before you play the last side / Are you fit enough to ride," he sings, the seduction complete. "Turn on Some Music" may have been a perfect track for Let's Get It On or I Want You, yet the modern instrumentation places the track squarely in the 1980s.
In addition to the sensual lyrics, "Turn on Some Music" succeeds largely due to Gaye's seemingly effortless delivery. Listen to how he performs his own backing vocals, or how he scats toward the end of the track. He smoothly transitions from the soft tone of the song's beginning to the rougher, louder sound during the height of passion. When he sings "We're gonna make it long, long long," his intense and genuine performance seduces and inflames the audience. In short, "Turn on Some Music" contains some of Gaye's best singing, and demonstrates why he remains the Frank Sinatra of soul. To fully appreciate his skill, listen to the a cappella mix of "Turn on Some Music," which combines the album rendition with an earlier draft, "I've Got My Music."