Song: “Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)”
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Album: What’s Going On (1971)
While Marvin Gaye’s soulful legacy can be traced back to short and sweet Motown hits with Tammi Terrell (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “You’re All I Need To Get By”) or other snappy, mid-’60s radio classics (“I Heard It Through the Grapevine”), his true debut as a conceptual R&B artist occurred with the release of the 1971 LP, What’s Going On–a 9-track compilation of dreamy soul tracks woven in vibrant, socially-conscious form.
Besides its relevancy for racial discourse and Vietnam War-heavy ponderance, the album remains iconic for its spiritual immersion and softly-crooned plea for human harmony. It was prescribed for the ears of the weary, but peaceful–and its smooth, flowing musicality was a unifying factor for anyone looking to vent their frustrations, whether R&B/Soul fans or not.
“Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)” is Gaye’s temporarily druggy descent between the album’s open-eyed, participatory title track and a grieving snap back to reality (“Save The Children”, “Mercy Me (The Ecology)”). The 4-minute daze, flecked with light chimes and distant, ethereal ‘oohs’ and ‘ah’s, pauses for depressant-like relief from the prior mentioned social and environmental crises–while Gaye sings, “And I ain’t seen nothing but trouble baby, nobody really understands, no, no/ And I go to the place where the good feeling awaits me, self destruction’s in my hand”. In drowned-out, sluggish vocals, Gaye blames the need for numbing on the turmoil around him.
What’s Going On remains a tranquil, prophetic R&B masterpiece handcrafted in a gloomy, turbulent context–an unstable period of war and racial conflict in America. 44 years later, Gaye’s rich melodies haunt the ears with every smoky-voiced intonation, and his peaceful words sink deeply– neither close to expiration.