Marvin Gaye’s Music for the Environment

*as published in April 2021

When he released his album What’s Going On in 1971, Marvin Gaye was coming from a painful hiatus of almost a year, traumatized and saddened by the tragic death of his stage partner, Tammi Terrell (who fainted on stage, in his arms, a victim of a brain tumor). In addition to the title track, the single Mercy Mercy Me (Ecology Song) was a milestone in his career, making the singer one of the first R&B artists to address environmental issues in his songs.

The fans were surprised. Marvin was known for his love songs and was suddenly talking about Peace and the Environment, topics that were not associated with R&B. In fact, subjects that 50 years ago were not associated with culture in general. In Mercy Mercy Me, Marvin warns of the consequences of pollution, greed, and advancing industrialization on Earth, to which, in prayer, he asks forgiveness for the abuses. After all, the expression “mercy me” is a more informal way of saying “God Have Mercy on Me”, which is used when there is a lot of fear of what might happen.

According to the singer, after Tammi’s death, he reevaluated the concepts he would like to pass on in his compositions and became more interested in “touching the soul” of listeners than just singing about romantic fantasies. “I wanted them to look at what was happening in the world,” he said at the time.

With the creation of Earth Day, which since 1970 has always been remembered on April 22, Marvin felt it was time to step up. And he composed one of his most beautiful and popular songs. “[Jesus] is the source of Light and with Him, there is no fear of death. When we fail to follow their example and turn to exploitation and greed, we destroy ourselves. That’s what I sing about on Mercy Mercy Me,” he said.

The lyrics talk about air pollution, radiation, animals dying, and oil spills in the ocean. The move displeased Motown owner, Berry Gordy, who also found What’s Going On too political. He changed his mind when the single became the second most played song of the year, selling millions of copies. The world wanted to hear deeper things yes.

Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) was released as a single on June 10, 1971, and is one of Marvin Gaye‘s most popular classics. Artists like The StrokesRobert Palmer, Michael McDonald, and Boyz II Men have covered it. On Earth Day, it’s the ideal soundtrack for all playlists.

Here we have something for you folks, we hope
You enjoy it as we enter our social section, thank you

Woah, ah, mercy, mercy me
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east

Woah mercy, mercy me, yeah
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury

Oh Jesus, yeah, mercy, mercy me, ah
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Radiation underground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

Hey, mercy, mercy me, oh
Hey, things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Oh, na, na, na
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Hey, ooh, woo

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