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Top 20 Political Songs: What’s Going On? | Marvin Gaye | 1971

Title track of Gaye’s groundbreaking 1971 Motown album, nearly performed by Joan Baez

"What's Going On?" began life in the imagination of Renaldo "Obie" Benson, the American soul and R&B singer, who was disturbed by the sight of anti-war protesters being arbitrarily arrested. Benson coined some lyrics but was unable to finish them or find a group willing to complete the recording -- at one point, the project was offered to Joan Baez -- but the song was left incomplete.

Then Marvin Gaye came on board. It coincided with a difficult time in Gaye's life: the singer had lost his best friend and performing partner, Tammi Terrell, earlier that year to a brain tumour, and in his grief had stopped performing, determined to switch to a professional sporting career.

Eventually, however, music won him back. While Benson's inspiration had been a chance encounter with strangers, for Gaye it was during a game of golf that he asked "What's going on, man?". The phrase stuck, and work began on the extra lyrics. Leaked to radio stations, the song rose quickly and eventually sold more than 2.5 million copies.

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