Commentary: Inner City Blues – An American Standard? (in 2013)

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Marvin Gaye

I remember when the song “Inner City Blues” first came out.

Of course I was a teenager then. I remember it being quite controversial, because of it’s title, it’s vibe and it’s subject matter.

In fact we all remember the famous story of how when Marvin Gaye completed the “What’s Going On” LP, that Berry Gordy refused to release it into the marketplace, because it was so different. He ordered Marvin Gaye back into the studio to record “something he could release.” But he did so with the promise that he would release the title cut “What’s Going On” as a single to see how it did. Of course the rest is history.

“What’s Going On” became a hit single and the album itself has become legendary.

Looking back I suspect that one of the biggest objections that Berry Gordy would have had about the album was the inclusion of the song “Inner City Blues.” This was one tough song. It’s a jazz cut, and it’s lyrical content is an extreme departure from “the sound of young America.” It’s what some might describe as “an angry Black man,” discussing topics that are far removed from what teenaged consumers would supposedly be interested in.

However the song “Inner City Blues” ended up being #1 on the R&B Charts for 12 weeks and eventually reached #9 on the Pop charts in 1971.

In 1972 “Inner City Blues” was “covered” by Grover Washington Jr and reached #42 on the R&B charts. And of course it has been covered many times since.

Grover Washington, Jr. (1972)
Sarah Vaughan (A Time In My Life from 1972)
The Chi-Lites (A Lonely Man from 1972)
The Impressions (Times Have Changed from 1972)
Reuben Wilson (Sweet Life from 1972)
Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express (Closer To It from 1973)
Gil Scott-Heron (1981)
Sly Dunbar with Robbie Shakespeare (Sly-Go-Ville from 1982)
Working Week (Working Nights from 1985)
Joe Cocker (1986)
Nona Gaye (Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye from 1994)
Angela Winbush (Angela Winbush from 1994)
The Chi-Lites (1995)
Ideal (Original Gangstas (soundtrack) from 1996)
Maceo Parker (1998)
Mayfield Four (Fallout from 1998)
Carla Cook (It’s All About Love from 1999)
Peter Mulvey Ten Thousand Mornings from 2002)
James Last (Inner City Blues from 2003)
John Mayer (As/Is from 2004)
Sevendust (Seasons from 2003 & Best of (Chapter One 1997-2004)from
2005)
Marc Broussard (S.O.S.: Save Our Soul from 2007)
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour (Fruit from 2009)

 

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