The dawn of 1968 was a dark time for Marvin Gaye. Over the previous six years, Gaye’s inexorable rise from struggling singer and bit-part session drummer on tracks by bigger Motown guns such as Martha and the Vandellas and The Miracles to the undisputed prince of soul had been exponential with the steamrolling forward momentum of his record company. Hits such as ‘Can I Get A Witness’, ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’ and ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’ had cemented his status as Motown’s premier solo artist, while a string of duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and, most notably, Tammi Terrell did little harm to his image as an effortlessly smooth and charming ladies’ man.
His union with Terrell was one of the most potent partnerships in pop during 1967. Although rumours of an affair between the married singers were always denied, their recordings crackle with an intensity that suggests that only heroic restraint prevented them from being lovers. On the evening of October 14 at a homecoming ball in Hampton, Virginia, however, tragedy struck.
Terrell, who had been complaining of headaches before the show, collapsed into Gaye’s arms during the pair’s signature song, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, and was later diagnosed with a brain tumour. The duo never performed together again and Terrell died two and a half years later. She was only 24.
Stricken with depression and bored with the machinations of the business, Gaye, a notoriously fragile and temperamental amalgamation of macho aggrandisement and tortured spirituality, toyed with giving up music. A year later he had his first No.1.