Recorded in 1972, this largely unreleased “lost” album is a fascinating glimpse into what one of the great 20th-century artists strategically allowed the culture to see.
Morally right-on, emotionally vulnerable, and still musically avant-garde, Marvin Gaye’s previously unreleased 1972 album You’re the Man is the timeless sound of a combustible rhythm and blues. Just from the title track’s first few seconds of wah-wah guitar, the album beams us directly into the heart of what a Jet magazine writer in 1972 once called “the new Black sound”—that rising tide of politically urgent, progressive Top 40 soul music like the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers,” the Staples Singers’ “This World,” the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack extravaganza “Freddie’s Dead.”
Here’s the thing: You’re the Man is still the New Black Sound of today. It’s no less pressing and cutting-edge than Donald Glover’s racial satire “This is America” and it’s no less warmly interior or black community-minded than Solange’s proggy When I Get Home. Gaye’s 1972 anti-Nixon clapbacks on You’re the Man —such as “demagogues and admitted minority haters should never be president”—could just as easily apply to the ghastly failings of today’s crooked Trump administration.
In the 1970s, Gaye emerged as a seer, digging for deep grooves in the effort to realize an all-inclusive, democratic world that still seems beyond our reach. Troubled by imperial war, hypocritical governments, exclusionary racial policies, and looming ecological disasters, Marvin Gaye was the musician-as-dissident, striving for liberation that he himself never personally managed to achieve during his lifetime. Along the way, he demonstrated immense range. Within the course of a single album, Gaye could come off as conscious, pensive, concerned, driven, committed, topical, tough, sexy, urbane, hypnotic, tortured, troubled, hip, religious, defiant, disillusioned, high-flying, defiant, blunted, and compassionate.