Another year over and upon us, and like I’ve done before, highlighting a song that just felt right for this point in time. As has been my habit, or rather since this span of ours reeks of another decade, selected a tune from the late 1960s to christen the new year of 2019. And doing it with a distinct song cover this time around1. The great Marvin Gaye re-interpreting The Isley Brothers’ 1967 recording, That’s the Way Love Is.
Given the artist’s wonderful catalog songs over the decades, a number of them duets with some vibrant female accompaniment2 — Mary Wells. Kim Weston, and of course, Tammi Terrell — this solo doesn’t get the attention it should even though the single was released on more than one album in 1969.
While the Isley’s number decidedly upbeat, even if the lyrics by Norman Whittfield and Barrett Strong more lament-filled, shared wisdom-like for the newly heartbroken, Gaye brought it to a new level. With the guidance of Whittfield, doing double-duty as producer, its slowed tempo took advantage of the singer’s ability to convey emotional wrought through his distinctive delivery. Claiming it as his own.
Gaye’s performance a vocal sermon — the listener undoubtedly envisions sung to a distraught woman (naturally) for all he’s worth — applying a pile of his passionate duet experiences in one empathetic solo meant for unspoken compliment.
The renowned Detroit-based session musicians, The Funk Brothers, also helped refashioning the instrumentation of their earlier Isley work into this expounded recording. Especially with its pining guitar and bass3 in prelude to Gaye’s singular preaching. With the backing of The Andantes (Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow and Louvain Demps), the result turned the once upbeat ditty into a bluesy classic.
The new mix of voice and instrument delivered a “psychedelic soul” rendering for the ages.
Marvin Gaye’s version would peak at #7 on Billboard’s pop singles chart, but reach #2 on the R&B register in October 19694, selling a million copies. The song cover, from his M.P.G. LP, proved so surprisingly successful that Tamla (Motown) added it to his next cover-filled album release, out four months later, and used the song as its album title. Part of which amplified Gaye’s growing disillusion with the label.
The aftermath of which would have an effect in the artist’s growth as a budding songwriter-producer the next decade over5.
Ah, baby, as the bitter tears fall from your eyes Oh, a thousand times you ask yourself why The one guy you love has departed Oh, you're left alone and broken-hearted, ooh Love just comes and it goes How long it's gonna last, say, nobody knows That's the way love is, baby (That's the way love is, sure enough, how it is) Oh, that's the way love is, sugar, that's how it is (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) Oh, that's how it is, my little dalin' I know you're walkin' down a lonesome road And your heart is carryin' a heavy load I know you feel like you ain't got a friend (ain't got a friend) Oh, and your whole world is cavin' in (whole world cavin' in) Oh, but now's the time to be strong (to be strong) You gotta forget him now that he's gone (now that he's gone) And remember That's the way love is, honey (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) That's the way love is, baby, that's how it is (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) Oh, oh, my little darlin' Oh, baby, ooh Oh, listen to me, little darlin' The road of love gets rough sometimes don't let it get the best of you Said, I've been hurt by another so many times So I know just what you're goin' through Oh, you wish that you were never born, you gotta forget him now that he's gone Just remember That's the way love is, baby (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) Oh, that's the way love is, honey (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) That's how it is So wipe away your tears Love is here today and gone tomorrow (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) I-I say all of your joys turn to sorrow (That's the way love is, sure enough how it is) Oh, one day gladness, next day sadness
- Also covered by The Temptations and much later “…for the 1991 Alan Parker film The Commitments.” [Wikipedia] ↩
- Yes, Diana Ross teamed up with Marvin in the ’70s, but it didn’t have the same spark as those earlier duets, especially when compared to Tammi’s supreme pairing (sorry, couldn’t help myself). ↩
- Including the legendary James Jamerson (1959–1972), the uncredited bassist to most of Motown hits in the ’60s and ’70s. ↩
- “The Temptations‘ “I Can’t Get Next To You“” held it from the top spot, and the group “…also covered the song as a B-side of “Psychedelic Shack” and released on their 1969 album Puzzle People.” [Wikipedia] ↩
- 1971’s seminal What’s Going On album. ↩