Here, My Dear
The context: Beginning with the landmark What's Going On in 1971, Marvin Gaye created some of the richest, silkiest, and most personal music of his career during the '70s. As he roamed freely between enlightened social consciousness and raw sexuality on albums such as Let's Get It On, Trouble Man, and I Want You, his artistic peaks contrasted with the valleys of his personal life. Years of drugs and extramarital sex finally brought about the end of his marriage to Anna Gordy Gaye (sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy) in 1975. A condition of the divorce settlement stipulated that Gaye pay a portion of the royalties and advance for his next record to his ex-wife. Initially tempted to purposely make a bad album, Gaye instead decided instead to air the couple's dirty laundry on record.
The greatness: Like Gaye's other '70s albums, Here, My Dear is a concept record. But while Let's Get It On and I Want You deal with a universal theme (namely, the joys of doin' it), Here, My Dear is as specific as can be, documenting in painstaking detail (with the emphasis on pain) the rise and fall of Gaye's marriage. (Anna considered filing a $5 million invasion-of-privacy lawsuit when it was released.) Gaye doesn't bother masking his bottomless anger—"Do you remember all the bullshit, baby?" he fumes in "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You." There's also a song simply titled "Anger," in case anybody misses the point. But Here, My Dear is really about Gaye's self-pity, and the struggle to fight off personal demons through (often lush) music makes the album a tough yet fascinating listen.
Defining song: "He transformed rage into beauty, the chaos of life rearranged into the order of art," writes Gaye biographer David Ritz in the album's liner notes. Lyrically, "Is That Enough" is overloaded with bile, with complaints about attorney fees and judges who say his ex-wife "got to keep livin' the way she 'customed to." Musically, it's a languid, mournful slow jam floating on a cloud of Gaye's creamy multi-tracked vocals. There's no better example of Gaye transcending musically what he can't personally.