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  • Kerry D. Krauss

What's Going On

While touring North America in 1969, Four Tops member, Obie Benson witnessed an act of police brutality directed at anti-war protesters in Berkeley, California. He spoke openly about the incident during the remainder of the tour. One of the people Benson spoke with on that tour was Al Cleveland. He wrote the lyrics and the kernel of a song. According to Benson, the Four Tops refused to record the song because it was a ‘protest’ song and not a part of their style. Benson said, “No man, it's a love song, about love and understanding. I'm not protesting. I want to know what's going on.” Benson, then gave the song, to Marvin Gaye. Gaye rewrote some lyrics, added melody, and gave the song a rawer mood, and “What’s Going On” became a timeless hit.

I offer the lyrics as a love song. I’ve taken out some of the “Oh”s and “Eh”s because they look very clunky in written form. If you have 3:53, take the time to listen to Marvin Gaye’s version. It drips with sincerity and muted intensity. Don’t let the sick beat trick you, the song packs a punch, especially for these days.

Mother, mother

There's too many of you crying

Brother, brother, brother

There's far too many of you dying

You know we've got to find a way

To bring some lovin' here today.

Father, father

We don't need to escalate

You see, war is not the answer

For only love can conquer hate

You know we've got to find a way

To bring some lovin' here today.

Picket lines and picket signs

Don't punish me with brutality

Talk to me, so you can see

Oh, what's going on

What's going on

Yeah, what's going on

Ah, what's going on

In the mean time

Right on, baby

Right on brother

Right on babe

Mother, mother, everybody thinks we're wrong

Oh, but who are they to judge us

Simply 'cause our hair is long

Oh, you know we've got to find a way

To bring some understanding here today.

Picket lines and picket signs

Don't punish me with brutality

C'mon talk to me

So you can see

What's going on

Yeah, what's going on

Tell me what's going on

I'll tell you what's going on.

Songwriters: Alfred W Cleveland / Marvin P Gaye / Renaldo Benson

What's Going On lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

So, what’s going on? What’s going on with you? What’s going on with us? What’s going on with humanity? C'mon talk to me. So we can see what's going on.

To the families that hurt, I love you.

To the communities that band together, I need you.

To the human family, I hope for you.

Please be safe.

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