On March 16th, 1976, Marvin Gaye released I Want You, an erotic masterpiece, that reaped the appreciation and recognition it was due decades later.
The last studio album Marvin Gaye had released was the fabulous Let’s Get It On in August 1973, which was followed by a duet album with Diana Ross, Diana & Marvin in October of that same year. Let’s Get It On‘s success was huge (over 4 million copies sold in two years) and the demand for concerts kept on rising and rising. So, Marvin Gaye went out on tour again for the first time in four years. In 1974 and the beginning of 1975 Gaye played shows which were highly successful. The tour’s opening night, January 4th, 1974, was recorded and released in June 1974 under the title Marvin Gaye Live!.
With the proceeds of Let’s Get It On, the tour and a renewed contract with Motown, Gaye was able to afford his very own home studio.
But Gaye had some trouble with coming up with decent material for the successor to Let’s Get It On. Motown boss Berry Gordy had heard some recordings made by Leon Ware, who was writing with Arthur “T-Boy” Ross (brother to Diana Ross), and recommended Ware to get in contact with Gaye.
The next album would be heavily influenced by eroticism, more explicit than on the sensual Let’s Get It On, on which Gaye had freed himself from the burdens of his strict Christian education and the guilt he felt regarding sex. He had found a new way to deal with lust and spirituality:
I can’t see anything wrong with sex between consenting anybodies. I think we make far too much of it. After all, one’s genitals are just one important part of the magnificent human body … I contend that SEX IS SEX and LOVE IS LOVE. When combined, they work well together, if two people are of about the same mind. But they are really two discrete needs and should be treated as such. Time and space will not permit me to expound further, especially in the area of the psyche. I don’t believe in overly moralistic philosophies. Have your sex, it can be exciting, if you’re lucky. I hope the music that I present here makes you lucky.
Marvin Gaye, Let’s Get It On liner-notes
I Want You
The cooperation with Leon Ware resulted in the release of I Want You on March 16th, 1976, Marvin Gaye’s fourteenth studio album. It was released on the Motown subsidiary Tamla.
The majority of the songs were concocted by Leon Ware, but Marvin Gaye felt closely connected to the songs, which he regarded as autobiographical. The marriage of Gaye and Anna Gordy had reached the closing stages and Gaye was in the middle of a relationship with Janis Hunter, whom he had met in 1973 when she was just 17 years old.
The album is a romantic and, arguably even more so, erotic tribute to Hunter, who was present during many of the recording sessions, while Gaye sang his explicit lyrics directly at her.
The album was recorded at Gaye’s Marvin’s Room Studio and at Motown Recording Studios in 1975 and early 1976. Gaye was (once again) responsible for the beautiful vocals, including the background choirs, which were woven into an impressive and organic piece of art. Where What’s Going On was a soul album, Let’s Get It On introduced funk, I Want You introduced a disco feel and, a milestone indeed, the synthesizer.
After Gaye had come into contact with artist Eddie Barnes, he was so impressed he immediately bought eight of his paintings. One of them was called The Sugar Shack, which Barnes had painted in 1971. Gaye adored it and asked Barnes for permission to use the painting as the cover to his upcoming album, I Want You. Barnes adapted the painting introducing some links to the actual album.
The painting ended up on the front cover of the album. It shows a shack filled with dancing black people. The swirly lines, extension of limbs, varying perspectives and use of color, that were typical for Barnes, perfectly reflected the ‘feel’ of the album. Just like the album, the painting is rhythmical and sweltering.
Even though I Want You‘s success was decidedly less than the preceding studio album Let’s Get It On, it still sold very well. The press were muted in their response to the album. The disco feel was not appreciated, the (unwritten) desire for a What’s Going On part 2, wasn’t met again. Instead reporters got an extremely honest, sincere and impudent look at Marvin Gaye’s erotic side. Women’s moaning, unique at the time, was clearly audible on the album. Marvin Gaye addressed “giving head” (oral sex) and the desire seeped through the album’s vinyl grooves. Many felt like a voyeur in Gaye’s bed room.
Exemplary for the press’s take on I Want You was the June 3rd, 1976, review in Rolling Stone magazine:
I Want You
By Vince Aletti
With Barry White on the wane, Marvin Gaye seems determined to take over as soul’s master philosopher in the bedroom, a position that requires little but an affectation of constant, rather jaded horniness. The pose has already been established in Let’s Get It On (1973), on which Gaye was hot, tender, aggressive, soothing and casually raunchy – the modern lover with all his contradictions.
I Want You continues in the same vein but with only the faintest traces of the robust passion that shot through and sustained the earlier album. The urgency of the lyrics,
I’m gonna be stroking you
In and out
Up and down
I love to hear you make those sounds
, Gaye sings on “Feel All My Love Inside” drains away, undermined by the laid-back passivity of the vocals and a production (by Leon Ware) too pleasant, low-keyed and subtle for its own good. As pillow talk this is entirely too limp, and in spite of the presence on several tracks of a woman’s delighted sighs and moans (such a common effect these days that one is surprised not to find a background orgasm credit), the action here isn’t much more than attractive but unenthusiastic foreplay. Gaye pleads and cajoles – “Baby please let me do it to you” – but too often he ends up sounding like a little boy whining for candy.
All of this might have been more acceptable – or less disappointing – from a lesser performer than Gaye, but after a landmark album like What’s Goin’ On one expects something with a little more substance and spirit. But there’s no fire here, only a well-concealed pilot light.
Rolling Stone, June 3rd, 1976
So, what did Leon Ware and Marvin Gaye think about it all? How did they look back on it later? Leon Ware:
People like me and Marvin were bringing to the forefront a love that is natural. It is not prefabricated. It is not nasty. That’s why I can tell my granddaughter [about this music] without being ashamed and having her think that her grandfather is a dirty old man.
Leon Ware, 2009
What’s my take on the album then? It wasn’t one of my favorites, until I bought the deluxe version in 2003. After listening to it again the musicality stood out, the beautiful production, the explicit yet subtle lyrics and vocals were stunning. It has clearly been of great influence on D’Angelo’s Voodoo, but was also lauded by artists like Robert Palmer, EPMD, Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Maxwell and Sade, and producer Todd Rundgren.
The eroticism and sexual innuendo never fail to impress and don’t feel forced at all. The album has an intimate atmosphere that ignites admiration about the sincerity and honesty. I Want You truly comes highly recommended!
Three singles were culled from the album, all released in 1976.
- I Want You
- After The Dance
- Since I Had You
All songs written by Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware, unless stated otherwise.
- I Want You (Vocal) *
- Come Live with Me Angel #
- After the Dance (Instrumental)
- Feel All My Love Inside
- I Wanna Be Where You Are *
- I Want You (Intro Jam) *
- All the Way Around *
- Since I Had You
- Soon I’ll Be Loving You Again ^
- I Want You (Jam) *
- After the Dance (Vocal)
* Written by Arthur “T-Boy” Ross and Leon Ware
# Written by Jacqueline Hilliard and Leon Ware
^ Written by Marvin Gaye, Arthur “T-Boy” Ross and Leon Ware
In 2003 I Want You was re-released as an expanded edition, which consisted of the original album and alternate takes and mixes of the I Want You material.
- Marvin Gaye – vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes and synthesizer
- Chuck Rainey, Henry Davis, Ron Brown, Wilton Felder – bass
- Bobbye Hall Porter, Eddie “Bongo” Brown – bongos, congas
- James Gadson – drums
- Jerry Peters, John Barnes, Sonny Burke, Marvin Gaye – piano, Fender Rhodes
- David T. Walker, Dennis Coffey, Jay Graydon, Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson, Ray Parker Jr. – guitar
- Gary Coleman, Jack Arnold – percussion
As is often the case with misunderstood masterpieces, I Want You was truly valued for its genius decades later. Nowadays I Want You is regarded as a highly influential album and a precursor to the what disco would become a few years later. And, it has undoubtedly been a major influence on the neo-soul movement.
And what about Leon Ware, who was working on an album of his own when Berry Gordy hooked him up with Marvin Gaye? Ware went to work on a new album that was released in August 1976: Musical Massage. The album picked things up where I Want You left them, but the album was neglected and sadly bombed. It took a while for this album to be recognized for its beauty as well.
What do you think of Marvin Gaye’s I Want You? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Marvin Gaye changes direction: I Want You. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Marvin Gaye live in London 1976 image:pitchfork.com
Marvin Gaye & Leon Ware image:discogs.com
Marvin Gaye – I Want You image:udiscovermusic.com
Marvin Gaye – I Want You – Billboard image:pinterest.com
Marvin Gaye – I Want You – Ad images:ebay.com
Leon Ware – Musical Massage image:spotify.com