Behind the Album: ‘Here, My Dear,’ Marvin Gaye’s Extraordinary Portrait of a Marriage Gone Wrong

It’s kind of hard to believe to this day that Here, My Dear, the 1978 double album by Marvin Gaye, even happened. The story is just too wild even for fiction: Music star owes big-time for a divorce, records an album to pay off the debt, and then uses the content on that album to air all the grievances he’s amassed over the years against his ex.

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But Here, My Dear continues to fascinate us as more than just a bizarre story, mainly because the music contained on it is so beautiful and revelatory, while its lyrical content is so stunningly frank. How did this unique record come to pass? Read on for the answers.

A Motown Marriage

Marvin Gaye married Anna Gordy, the sister of his boss Berry Gordy of Motown Records, in 1963. He was 23 and she 41. Gaye, who tended towards laziness, credited his wife with helping motivate him to get him in the studio and achieve new career heights, which included a series of smash singles in the 1960s and groundbreaking albums in the ’70s.

But their union was never smooth. They were legally separated in 1973, which was when Gaye started seeing Janis Hunter, who would become his second wife. In 1975, that legal separation became divorce proceedings, with a judge ruling in Anna’s favor.

The problems were adding up for Gaye. He fell way behind on his alimony payments to his ex. Meanwhile, Berry Gordy was pressing him for a new record. One of his close confidantes, Curtis Shaw, came up with a plan that would satisfy brother and sister all at once.

Album as Alimony

While Anna Gordy was initially seeking $1 million from Gaye, she settled on $600,000, which would come to her in unique fashion. She would receive the approximately $300,000 that Gaye would get as an advance on his next album. And when that album was released, she’d then receive the first $300,000 in royalties.

Gaye’s first instinct was to go into the studio on autopilot and churn out an album with little thought or care. But then he decided the only proper thing to do would be to write about how he had come to this point, i.e. the dissolution of his marriage.

Once he started doing that, he found himself going deeper and deeper into the process, exhuming whatever unresolved feelings were lingering about his ex-wife. The album title (Here, My Dear) was a cheeky reference to what a dutiful husband might say. But the 14 longish songs spread out over four vinyl sides give us a warts-and-all, birds-eye view of what happens when a marriage falls apart.

“Dear” Diary

Had Here, My Dear just been a long diatribe listing the faults of Anna Gordy, it would have been unlistenable. There are definitely sections of the album that pull no punches about her—”Is that Enough” and “You Can Leave, But It’s Going to Cost You” are particular tough. But Gaye also characterizes how his own foibles and inner demons contributed to the breakup.

If anything, the prevailing emotions are anguish and regret about how something so promising had deteriorated. Even when the words might be a bit accusatory, Gaye’s vocals, often laid in multiple tracks atop one another in beguiling fashion, seem to shrug with the senselessness of it all. “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You” is the question that goes tantalizingly unanswered, and that lack of clarification clearly haunts Gaye throughout.

Anna Gordy initially threatened more legal action when she heard Here, My Dear. The album confused critics, and without an inviting single to push it, tanked commercially. The odd epilogue is she and Gaye eventually became good friends again in the years just prior to Gaye’s shocking death in 1984. Maybe they somehow managed to answer the questions that pervade this strange but true album to their satisfaction after all.

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Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

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