When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week the Twilight Singers take on Marvin Gaye’s “Please Stay (Once You Go Away).” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Marvin Gaye’s 12th studio album, Let’s Get It On, is widely regarded as one of the best and most sexually charged pop albums of all time. It was also one of Gaye’s most successful, arriving in 1973 hot on the heels of What’s Going On, a landmark soul collection in its own right. Broadly, each album addressed different topics—politics on the former, sex on the latter—but they shared a few qualities that said as much about Gaye as the times he thrived in. That is, What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On showed Gaye to be a musical visionary who was no longer content working within the confines of the Motown Sound; that Gaye, like John Coltrane before him, partly viewed his most important work through a theological lens (Let’s Get It On, in particular, has been understood by some to be as much a paean to God’s love as A Love Supreme); and that Gaye’s impact reached far beyond music in the latter half of the Vietnam years. His thoughtful, intensely earnest meditations on love and war during the early ’70s saw to that.
The primal nature of Let’s Get It On should not be undersold, however. Whatever Gaye meant to telegraph between the lines of his groundbreaking R&B work will never be more titillating than the sex and sensuality firmly planted on the album’s surface. Yes, Gaye may’ve been trying to exercise a few existential demons wrought by his conflicted, fundamentalist upbringing when he tracked the album, but that conversation is better left to the thought-piece cognoscenti. Indeed, as evidenced in the one-two opening punch of “Let’s Get It On” and “Please Stay (Once You Go Away),” Gaye is primarily fixated on sex and emotional security, the kind that’s so tenuous when a partner tends to obscure his/her desire for anything more than coital transaction. Alas, Gaye was no part-time lover. At least in song.
Despite being altered significantly, “Please Stay” finds a doting caretaker in the Twilight Singers’ Greg Dulli, who, through his work fronting the Afghan Whigs in the ’90s and the Singers and Gutter Twins since, has always been fixated on soul music and sex. He often approaches love from a darker, less optimistic place than Gaye, to be sure, but his reverence for the fairer gender is incontestable. The dude loves women.