Marvin Gaye’s album, What’s Going On, has been called one of the great soul music records of all time. The album was showcased at a 1972 concert at the Kennedy Center in Marvin’s hometown of Washington DC. Last Thursday, the Kennedy Center commemorated that performance with a concert. They also gave one musician the original recording of the song "What's Going On," to re-imagine it in a modern context. That musician was Youth Radio's Brandon McFarland. He spoke with KALW's Ben Trefny about his remix of the song.
BEN TREFNY: What does Marvin Gaye's “What's Going On” mean to you personally?
BRANDON MACFARLAND: It means a few things. Marvin Gaye is one of my idols, being a producer songwriter myself, we're both preachers’ kids. We both have a spiritual connection with writing and viewing the world so that was my initial connection with Marvin and his music but it wasn't until I got the music and was able to separate the pieces that I really began to connect with all of the work that Marvin did to put in to make the record.
TREFNY: As a producer, when you look at the “What's Going On” album what do you see is the genius of that has helped it last for 40 years?
MACFARLAND: The simplicity in the message and the music. When I separated these tracks I found out that Marvin had played piano on “What's Going On” and he literally played one note for most of the song and that was a real eye opener for me because when you listen to the song mixed down in its true form you sound so lush and think everybody's super trained and think everything's super polished but it's not. It's real simple and bare bones but together it's beautiful music.
BEN TREFNY: So Brandon, what does the young people you talk with feel about social issues today?
BRANDON MACFARLAND: I wanted to put the music aside, and talk with Oakland youth about what was concerning them and I wanted to put my journalist hat on and get some good reactions from some kids about what's concerning them today.
TREFNY: All right, lets take a listen to some of the sound you gathered from the interviews.