Top 12 Marvin Gaye Songs

Marvin Gaye was as revolutionary and as great a musical talent as any figure in modern history, deserving a spot right next to Elvis Presley or the Beatles as one of music's all-time icons. Starting off as a session player for Motown, Marvin Gaye went on to be one of Barry Gordy's most reliable and profitable assets with a string of hits both in duets and solo ventures. Examining the Marvin Gaye songs through the years will find an ever-changing sound and focus-- from the innocently romantic to the outwardly political to the unashamedly sexual. Listed below is twelve of the best Marvin Gaye songs of all time, each an uncontested classic in the realm of R&B and music in general.

12. "Trouble Man"

In between Marvin's two most iconic albums What's Going On and Let's Get It On came the soundtrack for Trouble Man, a blaxploitation film about a private eye in Los Angeles. While the film itself is largely forgettable, the soundtrack was written, produced, and performed entirely by Gaye himself, a first for the amazing artist. The title track is a quiet telling of the main character, Mr. T (no, not that one) and his mentality. The song is so prolific that it's included in Captain America's pop culture things he has to catch up on in Captain America: the Winter Soldier alongside Star Wars and Nirvana.

11. "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby"

This 1969 classic didn't start out as a song for Marvin but was first recorded by fellow label mates the Temptations in 1966 and released in 1967. However, two years later, Marvin gave his version to the world and created the definitive version of the song. "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" ended up becoming his second biggest hit of the sixties, only eclipsed by "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." A song about how the singer can't do anything but opine on his lover, the song is a catchy and lovely standard in Marvin's discography.

10. "How Sweet It Is"

This 1964 song is the earliest song on this list and a testament to both Motown's classic sound and Marvin's appeal as a vocalist. The song came out just three years after his debut on the iconic label and became his biggest hit up to that point. While later efforts would blow it out of the water, "How Sweet It Is" still remains an absolute classic R&B pop standard. The song has since been covered by everyone from James Taylor to the Grateful Dead but it remains Marvin's song.

9. "It Takes Two"

Tammi Terrell was Marvin's go to musical counterpart in the early years (and her presence will definitely be felt later on in this list) but she wasn't the only duet partner Marvin ever had. For "It Takes Two," Marvin was accompanied by Kim Weston whose back and forth vocals on the track really push the song's message of how having a partner is always better. The track stands as a classic example of the great soul duets that Motown was known for and how great Marvin was even in the early years.

8. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler"

In 1971, after years of producing classic Motown ballads, Marvin had hit a bit of a funk. He had been reeling from the death of Tammi Terrell by cancer, issues with the IRS, a growing cocaine addiction, and a feeling that his success as an artist was through his subservience to Barry Gordy and the Motown Machine. Compounded upon this was a changing world where inequality, division, and civil unrest was bubbling to the surface of America. Inspired by all this pain, Marvin created his magnum opus What's Going On, a politically charged concept album on the state of the world around him. Among the gems on the album was "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" which talked about financial disenfranchisement and the economic inequality that plagued cities like Detroit. The song still holds relevance today as people talk about the income gap in America and the powerful's lack of interest in doing anything about it.

7. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"

Though Marvin was not the first to perform this song (that distinction goes to Gladys Knight) and would not be the last (everyone from Smokey Robinson to the California Raisins have managed to get their crack at this song), it was Gaye that truly took this song and made it his own. The song is a famous tale of someone who learns through rumor that their lover is soon to leave them for another. The song was so well received that Motown retroactively renamed the album after it. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" holds the great distinction of being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, one of four Marvin Gaye songs (the rest of which will appear later in this list.)

6. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
As part of Marvin's beloved masterpiece What's Going On, this song is a clear and brazen lamentation of the pollution in the environment that slowly became a hot topic in the 70's. Gaye's lyrics mourn the blue skies of yesterday and cries over the oil filled oceans. The song also brings to task the US government's use of chemicals during the Vietnam War. All this melancholic environmentalism is laid over a serenely dissonant melody of xylophone plinks and saxophone croons. As environmental concerns still plague the world of today, Gaye's ode to the skies and oceans hold relevance to this day and holds a special place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

5. "You're All I Need To Get By"

Before it was a Method Man and Mary J. Blige, "You're All I Need To Get By" has a hauntingly beautiful testament to true love by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Gaye and Terrell put their all vocally in this ballad. The heart and soul of this song is the great platonic bond between the two friends and musical partners. Recorded in 1968, Tammi had been diagnosed with brain cancer at the time and passed away tragically two years later. During the funeral, Marvin gave a heartfelt eulogy to his beloved friend with this song playing in the background.

4. "Got To Give It Up"

Released in the late 70's as part of a live album, this disco-era song is full of groove and funk. The song is a fast paced and dance heavy tale of a wallflower losing his inhibitions on the dance floor as he tries to impress a girl. "Got To Give It Up"'s snare heavy masterpiece influenced dance music going forward from Michael Jackson's early solo efforts to Robin Thicke who managed to get himself into a legal quagmire by essentially ripping this song off.

3. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"

Easily the highlight of Gaye's early career and the best of his duets, the song is a joyful declaration of love and loyalty. Equal parts emotional and fun, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is the quintessential Motown song of the 60's, featured in everything from Remember the Titans to Guardians of the Galaxy. From a memetically beloved introduction to the highest of highs, this song holds a well deserved slot in the Grammy Hall of Fame. Marvin never had a better duet partner than Tammi Terrell and their collaborations were never more special than this song.

2. "What's Going On"

While What's Going On's entire listing is Marvin Gaye's magnum opus, it's the title track that stands head and shoulders above the rest. A melancholic introspective on the state of the country, the song serves as an arresting time capsule of the Nixon years. Speaking on the social unrest perpetuated by the Vietnam War and civil injustice, Marvin spoke to a world falling apart around him. The song was equal parts timely and timeless, so effective that U2's Bono even used it as a charity song with multiple artists in the wake of 9/11. "What's Going On?" represents the peak of Marvin Gaye's political period and is well deserving of its slot among the best of Marvin Gaye songs.

1. "Let's Get It On"

As much as one might not want to acknowledge that the very best of the best Marvin Gaye songs is basically about trying to get laid, to do otherwise would be ultimately disingenuous. Off the heels of Gaye's politically conscious period, "Let's Get It On" is a proudly amorous ode to seduction. From the wah-wah introduction into the smoothly rhythmic pace, this Grammy Hall of Fame inducted song manages to be iconically erotic without slipping into being sleezy. The song has been used time and again in TV and film as the official song of seduction. Only an artist like Marvin could copyright the theme song to the most human action in history.