You're the Man
Originally recorded in 1972, You’re The Man is an album best enjoyed in context. It was supposed to be the follow-up to Marvin Gaye’s seminal What’s Going On, but underperformance of the title track ahead of the album’s scheduled release, coupled with disagreements the singer is said to have had with the label about the project’s direction, led to the entire thing being shelved, leaving most of the songs to subsequently trickle out as bonus cuts packaged with reissues, compilations, and box sets. The 2019 official release of You’re The Man, then, is a time capsule—a portrait of an artist at the top of his game, but also one torn between the socially conscious anthems of What’s Going On and the superman lover he’d embody on 1973’s Let’s Get It On.
“You’re The Man” is heavy as an opener (a shorter alternate version appears later in the album). On the nearly six-minute epic, Gaye pleads with presidential candidates for the 1972 election to address the concerns of the Black community at large, citing specifically desegregation busing, inflation, and unemployment. Empowered by the success of What’s Going On, Gaye intended to continue using his platform to speak to the country’s ills, and to the plight of his people directly, on songs like “The World Is Rated X,” “I’m Going Home,” and a silky-smooth rendition of Donald Byrd’s “Where Are We Going?” On “I Want to Come Home for Christmas,” he sings from the perspective of a military POW pining for his family.
The album is hardly all protest music, though. Marvin swerves toward self-reflection with the heart-wrenching gospel-inspired ballad “Piece of Clay,” and then also in the our-love-is-stronger-than-gossip ode “I’m Gonna Give You Respect.” The balance to his social commentary comes through love songs like “My Last Chance” and “I’d Give My Life for You” (appearing here in Salaam Remi-produced incarnations), as well as the particularly upbeat “You Are That Special One.” In addition to the reworkings of Remi—the producer best known for his work with Nas and Amy Winehouse—the project includes what are billed as “alternate mixes,” delivering new versions of songs diehards may already be familiar with. There are likewise writing and production contributions from heroes of the era Willie Hutch, Hal Davis, and Gene Page, among others. With its many moods and intentions, You’re The Man plays as more of a compilation than a proper album, and yet it is a wholly worthwhile entry in the catalog of an American music legend.