Bandbox Unboxed Vol. 20 – Marvin Gaye
Prepare your turntable for some heavy rotation bangers vinyl fans, ’cause Bandbox record club is in town, and they’re out to bring the record store to your own front door.
Groove is in the Bandbox
If you’re wondering what the big deal is, Team Bandbox is offering a truly tailor made vinyl club experience every month by letting you fill your box with artists and albums that fit your own personal tastes. As their slogan goes, it’s pretty much like having the record store delivered to your front door every month. Bandbox is currently boasting a record store style variety of artists including Joy Division/New Order, Wilco, The Cure, and Mr. David Bowie. And just so you know – they’ve got a slew of shiny exclusive color pressings currently in stock, including glorious new pressings of Death Cab For Cutie’s indie classic Plans, and Waxhatchee’s 2020 instant classic Saint Cloud.
Having it your way is the key to their coveted box. With the choice of a single album from an artist you love, and a fresh edition of Bandbox’s artist-specific fan zine showing up every single month, the B-Box service has effectively made it possible to do some good ole fashioned bin-diving from the comfort and safety of your very own home. And you can now dig their vinyl+zine treasures for a super reasonable $29 a month.
Did I mention Bandbox even offers FREE SHIPPING for members? Well they do. And it’s sort of just the icing on the vinyl box cake.
If you’re wondering which Bandbox artist and album I chose for my March box, well, I went with an immortal classic from arguably the greatest soul singer that ever lived, Mr. Marvin Gaye.
But before we go further, you should know Bandbox’s have it your way format is specifically designed to ease the nerves of folks wary of the record club scene. Just so you know, you can still choose to be surprised by Team Bandbox every month if surprises happen to be your bag. But if you remain suspect of that whole show, Bandbox will actually let you integrate your Discogs account to ensure they never send you something you already have in your collection.
And if you’re really, really suspect, you can pump the brakes on your subscription at any time by pressing “pause” plain and simple. It’s unlikely you’ll want to “pause” anything once you’ve signed up and experienced BandBox for yourself. Just know that your Bandbox experience will be every bit as amazing as you make it.
Let the Great World Spin
Look people, you either got very excited that Marvin Gaye was getting the Bandbox treatment this month or you didn’t. And if you didn’t I can only assume you hate music and therefore have no business 1) reading an unboxing about Marvin Gaye’s politically-fueled 1971 masterpiece What’s Going On , or 2) offering any sort of opinion on the artist/album whatsoever. But for those who did get as excited as I did by the prospect of a Marving Gay box, please know Bandbox more than did the artist justice. Let’s check it out.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
As most Marvin Gaye die hards likely know, prior to the release of What’s Going On in the Spring of ’71, words like “incisive” and “socially conscious” were not ones fans typically attributed to the singer-songwriter-producer. That’s largely because Gaye had spent the bulk of the decade prior cranking out albums comprised mostly of honeyed soul anthems, pop standards, and lovelorn duets – and scoring a string of hits that helped put him and his label Motown Records at the top of the soul music scene of the 1960s.
Obvious pop sensibilities aside, there had been teases of a different sort of soul man buried among the chart-toppers in Marvin Gaye’s pre-What’s Going On oeuvre, with 1970’s gem “Abraham, Martin, & John” in particular alluding to an artist with far more than love songs on his mind. That song made its premiere on That’s The Way Love Is (the album directly preceding What’s Going On) and perhaps more than anyone might’ve realized signaled a dramatic shift in Gaye’s sound.
In fact, the song portended a shift away from dew-eyed soul balladry into the realm of politically-charged explorations of the black experience in America, whose stark themes helped inform the most incisive, and socially conscious lyrics Gaye ever laid to tape. Those themes also fueled arguably the greatest collection of songs the artist ever released in a single album, with What’s Going On standing as not just one of the most overtly political albums of the era, but also one of the funkiest.
Interestingly enough, What’s Going On almost never happened, with Gaye’s struggles to convince Motown big boss Berry Gordy to let him record and release the songs – a struggle that infamously led Gaye to boycott releasing any new music until the title track from What’s Going On hit the market. Once it was out there, “What’s Going On” went straight to #1 on the R&B charts, pressing Gordy’s hand by all but ensuring it would be full of Benjamins once Gaye’s new songs were out there.
That’s just what happened when What’s Going On was released, with the album becoming the best-selling of Marvin Gaye’s career, proving the country and the world were indeed ready to start asking serious questions about the state of society. Born of Gaye’s singular sense of lyricism and orchestration, those songs indeed explored such challenging subject matter as drug addiction, inner city conflict, poverty, and the ongoing war in Vietnam.
That What’s Going On still manages to feel like another set of solid gold soul standards from one of the genre’s most prominent artists while doing so is as strong a testament to Gaye’s song-craft. Likewise, What’s Going On is regarded as a monumental achievement in socially-conscious soul to this day. Of the songs within, well, there’s not a miss in the bunch, with roughly half the tracks on the album – “What’s Going On,” “What’s Happening Brother,” “Flyin High in the Friendly Sky,” “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” “Right On,” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” – worthy of mention among greatest soul recordings of all-time. And as collected here, they make it easy enough to proclaim What’s Going On the greatest soul album ever produced.
A Cardboard Box for Sharing Music
You might’ve noticed that prior photo defining a bandbox as: “a cardboard box, typically rectangular, for sharing music.” That’s exactly what every single Bandbox is. They’re also a chance for super fans of this artist or that to delve deep into the inner workings of their favorite music makers. Team Bandbox takes you deeper than most every month with their very own artist-centric fan zine featuring interviews, album breakdowns, killer photos of the featured musician. And Bandbox zine #33 takes a look into the life and work of an artist who’s legacy will never truly fade from the music game. Here’s a glimpse at what’s inside.
Now, if you’re wondering about the wax, this pressing of What’s Going On comes on standard black, because an album this thematically heavy and immaculately realized simply doesn’t need any fancy color variations.
And you better believe it’ll still bring some seriously woke soul vibes to any deck on planet Earth.
It’s the Bandbox You Want, and the Bandbox You Need
Vinyl is here to stay, friends. And if you’re one of the many who’ve found themselves fervently swept up in the madness, you’re already aware there’s a million and one ways to get your hands on some sweet, sweet wax. While I’d always encourage you to shop first at your local record store, subscription vinyl clubs really are an excellent way to help fill in/round out your growing collection.
The great thing about Bandbox is that they ultimately leave the choices up to you. So if you’re looking to snag a copy of your fave group’s most popular album, you can do that. But if you’re looking to move beyond the hits and dig deep into said artist’s back catalogue (and yes, there are many other Marvin Gaye albums to choose from in case you’re looking to snag a fresh copy of Let’s Get It On or one of his other many masterworks) you can obviously do that as well. So climb aboard the Bandbox train and get spinning today!
A huge THANKS to the folks at Bandbox for sponsoring this subscription. If you like what you’ve seen here, you can head over to the Bandbox website and sign up to have a sexy new Bandbox delivered to your own front door every single month. While you’re there, feel free to check out their podcast and merch section too! And be sure to check back soon to see what goodies I dig from the the Bandbox bins in April!