Marvin Gaye will forever hold a place in our hearts for his unique blend of the spiritual and the carnal in his music. Even though this high priest of soul is known for his numerous hits, Gaye was experiencing a rough patch in his career in the late 1970’s. His 1977 album “Here My Dear” was a commercial flop and Gaye was living in Europe, stuck in an emotional funk.
David Ritz, a writer who actually loved Gaye’s album (he compared it to jazz greats Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus), flew out to Belgium to interview the reclusive singer. According to Ritz, when he stepped into Gaye’s apartment, it was littered with sadomasochistic magazines and other types of twisted pornography. Ritz suggested that Gaye needed “sexual healing.” Ritz shares:
“While we were talking, there was this reggae kind of beat playing in the background, that Marvin was trying to write the lyrics – to find a story for the song. I told him the song could be about pleasure, a positive thing, not dark and twisted. He said he liked the idea and asked me to write a little poem about it.”
Ritz wrote his sexual ditty on a napkin and Gaye started to sing the words along with the track. Gaye would go on to record the track with keyboardist Odell Brown, who composed the original track. “Sexual Healing” was released in September 1982 and stayed in the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot Black Singles chart and landed two Grammy wins ( Best R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Instrumental Performance) the following year.
Of course, with success comes controversy. Ritz would go on to sue Gaye for $5 million for songwriter credit and though Gaye did thank Ritz in his liner notes, the case was eventually thrown out due to insufficient evidence.
WATCH: Marvin Gaye performs “Sexual Healing” at 1983 Grammy Awards
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