Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)

Marvin Gaye, 1971

This song was released in 1971 on Marvin Gaye's concept album What's Going On?, which focuses on challenges facing Black Americans. What environmental issues from the early 1970s does Gaye raise in his lyrics?

How did these issues disproportionately affect communities of color?

The song does not conclude in a musically conventional sense. What is the significance of the musical breakdown that concludes the song?

How has the environmental movement changed since the early 1970s? What has been achieved? What work is left undone? What new challenges have arisen? Do today's challenges continue to disproportionately impact communities of color?

"Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)" performed by Marvin Gaye on What's Going On. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Marvin Gaye, visit his official website.

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Mercy Mercy Me
"Mercy, Mercy Me" single cover.

When Marvin Gaye released the concept album What's Going On in 1971, it was hailed as innovative and praised for articulating challenges facing Black Americans. It included songs about poverty, discrimination, politics, drug abuse, and, in "Mercy, Mercy Me," the environment.

The song features a laid-back groove, Gaye's smooth vocals, and a saxophone solo, all of which were typical of R&B at the time and thus conventionally associated with light, enjoyable lyrics. But Gaye's lyrics provide a vivid description of environmental crisis, creating an uneasy juxtaposition of typically cheery sounds with a pessimistic message, a disturbingly effective technique that leads to the dissonant breakdown of the music at the end of the song.

For more on Marvin Gaye, see "What's Going On."