Classics: Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Tamla)
A solo artist on his own rights, Marvin Gaye eventually developped the concept of duet albums in the second half of the 60’s. And more than anybody else with Tammi Terrell who’d spent two years as a member of the James Brown’s Revue.
Opening the 1967 ‘United’ album, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ is one of their signature songs. This with ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’ and ‘If The World Were Mine’. With production work courtesy of Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ became Diana Ross‘s first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1970. Eventually resurfacing 11 years after on Salsoul Records. This time under the Inner Life featuring Jocelyn Brown flag with mixing work courtesy of Larry Levan.
‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ stands among Ashford & Simpson‘s biggest classics as a songwriting pair. Meanwhile perfectly recapturing what would be their story as a couple until Nickolas Ashford‘s sad passing back on Aug. 22, 2011.
A WDC native, Marvin Gaye first took to singin’ at his father’s church choir. Eventually learning piano and drums while at school. He progresively broadened his musical interests beyond Gospel to R&B. Froming a group – The D.C. Tones – with some friends of his. After a brief spell in the US Air Force as a basic airman, he joined The Rainbows, along with Don Covay and Billy Stewart. Him and two former Rainbows members forming The Marquees back in 1957. Performing in the D.C. area, they soon began working with Bo Diddley, who got them to sign a deal with Columbia subsidiary OKeh Records. There, they recorded a single – ‘Wyatt Earp’ – whose poor results got them fired soon after.
By 1959, The Marquees auditioned for Harvey Fuqua who got them to team up with him while givin’ birth to The Moonglows. After two singles for Chess Records, Fuqua moved to Detroit, MI where he married Gwen Gordy. Eventually becoming the director of her sister’s label (Anna) before Motown took it over.
Once at Motown, Fuqua brought Marvin to the Motor City as a session drummer. This getting him to collaborate with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
Lookin’ back then, Motown’s mogul Berry Gordy showed some scepticism at the perspective of Marvin recording as a singer. But ‘Let Your Conscience Be My Guide’ became his debut solo release back in 1961. With an album – ‘The Soulful Moods Of Marvin’ – to follow the year after.
Marvin scored his first success that same year with the memorable ‘Stubborn Kinda Of Fella’ featuring Martha & The Vandellas in the backing vocals. A cut which Buffalo Smoke covered 16 years later, givin’ it a Disco feel.
By 1964, Marvin started exploring the duet concept. Successively with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell and Diana Ross. This resulting in gems such as ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Deal’. But also ‘If The World Were Mine’ to name a few.
Just like The Temptations also happened to do, Marvin came to work with producer Norman Whifield back in 1967. This resulting in the recording of the memorable ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. One of Motown’s all-time biggest selling singles. A cut which artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Zapp covered respectively in 1970 and 1981.
In 1970, Tammi Terrell tragically died during one of their shows in Cleveland, OH. This left Marvin in a considerable state of shock. Almost becoming a recluse for some time. By that time his brother, Frankie, returned from Vietnam. His account of this experience added to the social climate in America serving as the spiritual food of the recording of ‘What’s Going On’ in 1971. An album which spanned the classics ‘Inner City Blues’, ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ and its title track.
The year after, Marvin Gaye delivered the soundtrack to Ivan Dixon directed film ‘Trouble Man’. With its title track standing as another timeless masterpiece. This in addition to extra pieces such as ‘T Plays It Cool’ and ‘T Stands For Trouble’. 1973 seeing the release of the ‘Let’s Get It On’ album featuring its memorable title track.
His next studio album – ‘I Want You’ – saw the light back in 1976 with production work by the likes of Leon Ware. Meanwhile ‘Here, My Dear’ followed 2 years after, showcasing Marvin‘s sufferings from his divorce with Anna Gordy. Thus displaying gems such as its title track. But also ‘When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You’ and ‘A Funky Space Reincarnation’ which generated a poor reception at the time. Although, let’s not forget his 1977 ‘Live At London Palladium’ album which, in the interval, got him to warm up the dance floors with the infectious ‘Got To Give It Up’.
His final album for Motown – ‘Once In A Lifetime’ – also met unfavorable reviews. By the time of its release, Marvin had relocated to Ostend, Belgium under the advice of music promoter Freddy Cousaert back then. It was then that Larkin Arnold from CBS Records brought him to sign a new record deal. The latter bringing him to deliver the ‘Midnight Love’ album back in 1982. With its first single – ‘Sexual Healing’ – bringin’ him a Grammy Award.
Following an extra argument, Marvin was tragically shot dead by by his dad on Apr. 01, 1984. His father was arrested, but later walked free, proving he was acting in self-defense. CBS released two further albums by the likes of ‘Dream Of A Lifetime’ and ‘Romantically Yours’ the year after. Meamwhile Motown released ‘Motown Rememnbers Marvin Gaye’ in 1986. Then eventually ‘Vulnerable’ (from old recordings) in 1997.
Motown were certainly not the only ones to remember him. With Mancunians Andy ‘Madhatter’ Holmes and Joseph ‘Josef’ Postell posthumously bringin’ him back to the lead back in 2003. This under the Marvin Gaye Project banner with the vibrant ‘Music Feel The Soul’ featuring Bobby Depasois.