April 2, 2013

You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist whose catalogue is as universally beloved as Marvin Gaye’s. From his immortal duets with Tammi Terrell, to the smooth, meditative song cycle of What’s Going On, to his arsenal of beloved slow jams, Marvin’s tunes are more than pop music – they’re an indelible part of our culture. In honor of what would have been his 74th birthday, here he is performing “Distant Lover” at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival. It is, in my mind, the definitive documented performance of one of his greatest songs. It is as close to perfect as music has any right to be. His vocals are strong, clear, and impassioned. His band is almost too tight. Marvin was a consummate showman, but despite the sequined jacket and the choreographed dancing, there is nothing stagey about this performance – he’s channeling something powerful and genuine and personal. When he drops to his knees during the song’s climax, it doesn’t feel calculated. The look he gives his band and the audience at the song’s conclusion is that of a dude who’s just given up a little piece of himself for his audience. We remain grateful.

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