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Ruby Amanfu's Five Essential Marvin Gaye Songs

Ruby Amanfu (photo courtesy of Press Here, PR)

Ruby Amanfu (photo courtesy of Press Here, PR)


Music fans who caught Ruby Amanfu's transcendent set at the 2016 Newport Folk Festival discovered what her collaborators Jack White and Beyoncé already knew: this Nashville singer is the real deal. Born in Ghana and raised in Tennessee, Amanfu has deftly entrenched herself in all genres of American music (yes, that's Amanfu backing Queen Bey on Lemonade's "Don't Hurt Yourself"). Formerly part of the duo Sam & Ruby, Amanfu has toured as a solo artist with Brandi Carlile and Norah Jones too.

Amanfu's 2015 album Standing Still further revealed her skill as an artful interpreter of covers from Carlile, Bob Dylan, and Irma Thomas. It's a gift she shares with Marvin Gaye, our FUV Essentials artist, who illuminated the work of songwriters like Ashford and Simpson, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder, especially in the early years of his career.

We asked Amanfu if she'd select five of her favorite Marvin Gaye songs and tell us why they're so meaningful to her. Maybe she'll be inspired to cover Gaye on her next album?

Ruby Amanfu's Five Essential Marvin Gaye Songs:

"What's Going On," What's Going On (1971)
The quintessential activist's song—and really, a song for anyone who refuses to sit silently by when innocent lives are being lost every day. The sentiment is just as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1971 and it's just as relevant as when other songwriters spoke about it decades before. There are and will always be a group of citizens who won't overlook the truth about things being messed up in the system. Marvin Gaye never shied away from the responsibility of using his art as a platform to challenge ways of thinking. I admire him and his collaborators Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Al Cleveland so much for that.

"If This World Were Mine," United (1967)
I heard Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn sing this song first before knowing it was Marvin Gaye's song. There's nothing fancy about this one. Nothing complicated. I have always pictured a pair of lovestruck children walking through a field of flowers, and I've imagined that this is what they might say to each other if they were describing their innocent love. The lyrics aren't complex, but it says everything you need to say, and simply, about how it feels when you want to give the world to someone you love.

"Mercy Mercy Me," What's Going On (1971)
Here's another song where Marvin Gaye took the opportunity to turn a microphone into a podium—this time speaking about our polluted land, rivers, and skies, and how human beings have destroyed so much of what was created to bring us visceral pleasure. A lot of people miss the message when they first hear this song and they think it's a song to get up and dance to. It's about our responsibility as human beings to the earth. How many songwriters do you know who can sing a lyric quoting "fish full of mercury," and still get people's heads bobbing? How many, truly? I count only Marvin.

"Let's Get It On," Let's Get It On (1973)
This one is for the grown folks only! This is definitely one of two songs that I think secured Marvin Gaye a spot in the Hottie Hall of Fame. It made him a sex symbol (along with "Sexual Healing"), to say the least. He upholds so much confidence in this song instead of coming off as a desperate. As a matter of fact, he's just saying, that he believes that love can and should be expressed physically—and to not be afraid of admitting that fact. There's not more that needs to be explained after that. We hear ya, Marvin!

Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home), That Stubborn Kinda Fellow (1962)
Talk about a fellow who knows his limitations and who admits them directly instead of pretending to be someone that he is not. In this song, Marvin Gaye says quite bluntly that he's not going to be the guy who wants a committed relationship. Hey, you have to respect a guy like that who says it up front. I can't tell you the number of men who pursued me who tried to manipulate me into getting what they wanted. I feel sorry for those men because I had this song in the back of my mind the whole time and I saw them coming from a mile away. So take your hat and move on, fellas!

- Ruby Amanfu
August 2016

Read more of FUV's Five Essentials.