Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were a match made in heaven, not romantically, but vocally. Although, their lives were far from harmonious, this record is prior to their eventful downfalls. If it was not for Terrell’s unfortunate death, she would have become one of Motown’s, and the late 1960’s, biggest stars.
Gaye and Terrell released United in 1967. This was their first duet album together to be followed by two more, one of which Terrell was suffering from her ailing brain tumor. Gaye had previously released two duet albums with Kim Weston.
This album covers the terrain of 1960’s Motown. In my opinion it is the best example of what Berry Gordy was trying to accomplish. This album perfectly mixes pop and soul, even throwing in some salsa to spice it up. I find the invention and workings of Motown to not only be musically legendary, but historically. I’m not having any new revelation, but it truly brought African American artist’s to the forefront of the pop charts. The behind the scene stories may not always be pretty, but there is a lot for Motown to be thanked for.
The album opens with the classic “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” This version shows the chemistry between both singers. One would think they were in love, and in a since they could have been, but to my knowledge, it was always a friendship. Their vocals were distinctly different, yet seemed as one. They were like two ribbons wrapped around each other. You could see each’s color, but there was only one structure.
Terrell’s vocals really sore on this album. At times I felt Marvin’s were a little more distant, not in feeling, but just the mixing of the album. I found her vocals especially special on “You Got What it Takes.” They are so sassy, so soulful, yet so universal.
“If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” is one of the nicest love songs. This was one of the album’s major hits as well. The salsa spice is given during “Somthin’ Stupid.” It is also the perfect example of how their voices were ribbons. Every word of the song is sung in unison with each other.
I personally enjoy “Two Can Have a Party.” The song simply explains how just a couple can be a party. There’s no need to go and meet up with others, as long as you are with the other. I love the jive of “Little Ole Girl and Little Ole Boy.” Terrell’s vocals sound sultry in this tune, yet they still capture innocence. This song was co-written by Etta James.
The only sad song on this whole album is entitled “Sad Wedding.” The songs composition puts great use to the wedding march, and of course Gaye and Terrell’s voices sore in this gospel element. A true gem on this otherwise happy record.
In the end, this record gives me hope. Once you read the stories of the artists and their deaths, you will get the same sense. Terrell died just three short years after this album was released. She went through many surgeries for her brain tumor, until she eventually slipped into a coma and passed away. I was once watching a documentary on her, and it said she stayed positive all the way through. She was ready to take back that mic. Marvin was tragically shot by his father after a family disagreement, but his story is one of resilience. One that overcame many obstacles to make the legendary music that he did.
Throughout the whole album there is imagery in the weather, the sun, stars, and heavy terrain (high mountains, low valleys, etc.). That explains their appeal and vocals. They were so large, yet so versatile that they are for everybody. There ain’t no river wide enough, yet there is a river long enough for everyone to jump on a boat and enjoy this diamond of Motown glory.
If only music shows were still like this….