Now 40 years after its release, the power of Marvin Gaye’s 1982 hit “Sexual Healing” is palpable and remains one of Gaye’s most recognizable songs.
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Released on Gaye’s 17th and final album Midnight Love, “Sexual Healing” reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot R&B Singles chart, where it remained for 10 weeks, earning Gaye two Grammys for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental Performance.
Porn and “Sexual Healing”
The son of a preacher, Gaye was a devout Protestant Christian, and often struggled with his religious values but found most of his success with songs focusing on sexual desire. When writer and friend David Ritz noticed Gaye had a large collection of pornography, he told the singer that he needed some “Sexual Healing.” Gaye asked him to write a few words, which were used as lyrics in the song. “As I was writing the lyric, I was trying to capture Marvin’s voice and style as a singer,” said Ritz. “He said ‘that lyric sounds like me.'” Of the meaning of the song, Ritz added, “The lyric seemed to fit into his philosophical musings and his personal, emotional needs, so he could sing about it with complete honesty.”
Ritz said he wrote the song lyrics as a poem and was done within 30 minutes. “I wrote most of the lyrics, including all of the verses and the chorus lyric, and Marvin wrote the melody and the bridge lyric,” said Ritz. “Marvin immediately loved the song, and he thought it would be a hit. He said, ‘This is what I’ve been looking for.’”
In 1981 Marvin Gaye retreated to the coastal town of Ghent, Belgium, for some much-needed relaxation and to remove himself from ongoing IRS issues and the end of his second marriage as he was struggling with an addiction to cocaine and depression. There for 18 months is where Gaye completed “Sexual Healing,” along with Ritz, who he had initially invited out to help him write his biography, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye.
A known ladies’ man, who wrote many sexualized songs (a la “Let’s Get it On”) “Sexual Healing” came naturally to Gaye, with a pretty straight-forward message:
When I get that feeling
I want sexual healing
Sexual healing, oh baby
Makes me feel so fine
Helps to relieve my mind
Sexual healing baby, is good for me
Sexual healing is something that’s good for me
Whenever blue teardrops are fallin’
And my emotional stability is leaving me
There is something I can do
I can get on the telephone and call you up, baby
And honey I know you’ll be there to relieve me
The love you give to me will free me
If you don’t know the thing you’re dealing
Oh I can tell you, darling, that it’s sexual healing
“Sexual Healing” was the first single Gaye released with CBS Records after parting ways with Motown Records after 20 years following royalty disputes and his divorce from Motown founder Berry Gordy’s sister.
Ritz was never given writing credit for the song, only thanked in the liner notes, which caused a rift in his friendship with Gaye. He later sued for credit and won the case after Gaye’s death in 1984. The writing credits now include Ritz, Gaye, and Gaye’s keyboardist Odell Brown, who also contributed to the song.
After Midnight Love
When Gaye returned to the U.S. to support Midnight Love, he began using drugs again and began to deteriorate mentally. By late 1983, Gaye had moved in with his parents Marvin Gay, Sr., and Alberta in their Los Angeles home and was killed by his father after an argument on April 1, 1984, one day before his 45th birthday.
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns