Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1967)

And speaking of duets ... I've been wrestling for weeks now over which Marvin Gaye song to include here. There were so many, and he was such a gifted, though tormented, soul. The obvious choice is What's Going On, which is anthemic and for the ages, but something keeps calling me back to Ain't No Mountain High Enough.

And I know the reason for it. In any video you see of Marvin singing this Nick Ashford-Valerie Simpson classic with his beloved Tammi Terrell, you see a man who was, at least for those moments, the personification of happy. I remember seeing this video on a Motown retrospective and being overwhelmed by the joy emanating out of these two doomed people. What came through couldn't be faked. See it again in this video.

So in this instance, context might not be the deciding factor for me. At the time it was released, no one was the wiser; it was just a great love song with a killer beat served up by the Funk Brothers' Uriel Jones, sung, seemingly effortlessly, by two of Motown's many uber-talented artists.

It's only when you know that Tammi collapsed in Marvin's arms during a performance later this same year, never to perform again and dying of a brain tumor in 1970 at the age of 24 ... and that Marvin was so heartbroken he didn't perform live again for several years ... and that Marvin himself, though he would go on to further greatness after his 20-year Motown contract ended and he went out on his own, would die violently at the age of 44 ... it's only when you know all of these things that this song becomes more precious.

Compounding the tragedy is that Marvin's death was at the hands of his father, a Pentecostal preacher who as much as anyone was the catalyst for Marvin's career - at the age of 5, he sang at one of his father's religious meetings where everyone present knew this was a prodigy through whom a spiritual force flowed that would take him places.

Although the exact nature of Marvin and Tammi's relationship has never been completely established and was purported by some to be entirely platonic, regardless, they had a singular alchemy that transformed a simple Motown song into incandescence.


cornbread hell said...

beautiful song. sad life stories...

hope the snow storm missed you.

Chris Thompson said...

Marvin Gaye is one of the finest of all times. I am saddened every time I hear his name, but uplifted every time I hear his music. Thanks for the links.

Linda G said...

This was one of the best songs ever. Ever!

Chris said it well...saddened but uplifted.

KO said...

Hello Wendy! I like what you've done here.