Marvin Gaye was different from many of his Motown label contemporaries. His songs did not have the slickness of such artists as The Supremes, The Temptations, or The Four Tops. Rather, he brought a grittiness, realism, and street sense to his songs, which was rare for that label.
Marvin Gaye also resisted having the label control his career. He refused to have his sound prepackaged, which may have hurt him commercially for a time, but it ultimately allowed him to retain artistic integrity and finally gain mass commercial acceptance.
Live At The London Palladium finds Gaye at the height of his career. It remains not only his best live document but one of the superior concert releases of the era. It gives a good indication of just how charismatic and vocally talented Marvin Gaye was at this point in his life.
His series of performances at the London Palladium provide a good retrospective of his career. The interaction with the audience and his reflections upon the songs were left intact and serve to create an intimate experience for the listener.
The two back-to-back songs on side one of the original release, “Come Get To This” and “Let’s Get It On,” are some of the best nine minutes of live material available. “Come Get To This” was originally an up-tempo do-wop type number, but here Gaye takes it in more of a slow blues direction. “Let’s Get It On” is a sexually explicit song and was a huge hit for him. Some artists would sing about sex, but Marvin Gaye exuded sex appeal and this song and performance help to make him an icon.
Three long medleys, varying in length from nine to eleven minutes, dominate sides two and three of the release.
“Medley I” consists of ten songs. It’s nice to here him perform so many of his early hits, but I would have enjoyed more than just a taste. “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was one of the best single releases of all time and I want more than just a minute of it.
“Medley II” is better in that it consists of only four songs. Tracks such as “Inner City Blues” and “What’s Goin’ On” are filled out and still leave room for some improvisation.
“Medley III” finds him sharing the stage with Florence Lyles as he presents five of his most famous duets. His best known partner, Tammi Terrell, died of a brain cancer in 1970, and it was years before he would perform their songs again. This is a different Marvin Gaye, and it finds him relating to a partner on stage.
The original release was a double vinyl album. The concert material only covered three sides. It was to his credit that he did not try to compress the material onto a single disc. Instead, the fourth side is taken up by the eleven minute funk jam, “Got To Give It Up.” The improvisation and energy make this a wonderful bonus and a glimpse of a musical genius in action.
Live At The London Palladium a fitting tribute to a legendary artist who has been gone for a quarter of a century. Marvin Gaye may not have been able to moonwalk or have had intricate choreography, but what he was able to do was sing better that than just about any rhythm & blues artist of his time. That legacy is presented intact on this classic concert album.