The recent release of the posthumous collection You're the Man presents Marvin Gaye at a career crossroads. Coming off the massive critical and commercial success of What's Going On, he again incorporated political commentary on the planned followup to the classic album. The first inkling of the project was "You're the Man," the 1972 single cowritten with frequent collaborator Kenneth Stover. While the song failed to chart as high as previous singles, the track paints a fascinating picture of 1970s political and social turmoil and offers an emotional lead vocal from Gaye.
"You're the Man" exudes a 70s sound from the very start--the wah-wah pedaled guitar introduces Gaye's deceptively smooth vocals. His perfect falsetto may suggest seduction, but the words radiate anger. The drums sit at the front of the mix, furiously pounding, underscoring Gaye's fury. Similar to "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," Gaye expresses cynicism and distrust of politicians. The lyrics first arise from the politician's perspective, stating that "you've been talkin' to the people," the candidate repeating that if voters simply believe the person's words, "we won't be led astray." It's clear, however, that Gaye has grown tired of empty promises. "We don't wanna hear no more lies," he cries, "Don't give us no peace sign / Turn around, rob the people blind." He addresses then-current topics: poverty, unemployment, inflation, and Vietnam. "Don't you understand?" he calls out, stating that if the person somehow has a "master plan," then he is "the man."
As the song continues, Gaye's voice cracks, at times approaching a scream in frustration. Congas punctuate the track as he warns that candidates must hear from protesters. "Because the tables might just turn against you, brother / Said, around election day," he admonishes. At times he breaks into scatting, accented by his trademark "whoos," but the beautiful, lush vocals disguises blunt statements: "Politics and hypocrites / Is turning us all into lunatics," he declares. He stresses that peace and freedom are the issues presidential candidates must address, ending the track by chanting "got the vote for you."
Interestingly, "You're the Man" resists choosing sides, although it addressed the Richard Nixon versus George McGovern election. He seemingly suspects both of them, accusing them of using traditional political tactics to win votes. Like "Inner City Blues," Gaye calls upon listeners to be critical, to be involved and address important issues. He transforms into a reporter, shining a spotlight on societal problems and confronting politicians concerning how they plan to solve them. In other words, instead of directly urging listeners to vote or protest, he advises the candidates to stop lying and listening to the people they serve.
Another longer version of "You're the Man" was also recorded, with lyrics arguing that a woman should become president and mentioning marijuana (presumably decriminalization). This extended edition finally emerged in 2011 as part of the What's Going On Super Deluxe Edition.
While "You're the Man" may bear similarities to "Inner City Blues," its seething anger sets it apart from its predecessor. It lacked the impact of "What's Going On"--it peaked at number 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 but did reach number seven on the R&B charts. However, "You're the Man" provides a snapshot of the turbulent early 1970 and its disillusionment with government--topics that still resonate today.