“Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye was sort of a master of putting out songs, like this one, that were overtly sexual yet at the same time not necessarily NSFW. After all, these lyrics speak to what we may term as a fundamental understanding amongst the human race, that being the healing properties of sex.

And even though the vocalist may commence “Sexual Healing” by more or less sounding like your run-of-the-mill aroused dude, by the time the second verse rolls around we see that there’s more to the story than that. Verily, Marvin is dealing with some type of harrowing depression, where his “emotional stability is leaving” him. But instead of doing anything drastic or wallowing in pity, he decides to call up his significant other. For Gaye, being an adult and all, was well aware of the fact that some good sex is a viable form of stress relief. 

And such a concept is reiterated in the bridge and to a lesser degree the third verse. In other words, the singer is not only entreating the vocalist to put it on him in name of sexual gratification. Rather he is dealing with certain ailments, both physical and mental, that he is convinced such activity will expeditiously rectify.

But of course, in the grand scheme of this track, that sentiment sorta gets lost behind the vocalist presenting himself as an aroused dog in general. So this is one of those songs that a listener really needs to pay attention to the verses, as opposed to being captivated by the chorus or vocal delivery, to understand what’s going on. And what is transpiring, most fundamentally put, is that the singer is dealing with health issues on top of more general amorous urges, all of which can be solved via “sexual healing”.

Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" Lyrics

A Very Successful Song

Even though the late Marvin Gaye (1939-1984) dropped some songs, such as those featured on his What’s Going On album, that are based on more important subject matters, “Sexual Healing” can be deemed his signature hit. 

Perhaps if he wasn’t murdered at the age of 44, the Prince of Soul would have gotten around to dropping some deeper singles after “Sexual Healing”. But as it stands, the album this track is derived from, 1982’s Midnight Love, proved to be his last.

Marvin Gaye had been nominated for quite a few Grammys in his lifetime. Moreover, he was the posthumous recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. But he only actually won two while he was alive, both in 1982 for the following awards:

  • Best R&B Instrumental Performance 
  • Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male

Interesting to note is that the above awards went to “Sexual Healing”. Well actually the former went to the instrumental version of this track, which is featured on the B-side of the vocal rendition. And yes, Gaye did in fact play most of the instruments therein. 

Indeed a lesser known fact about the Prince of Motown is that he actually began his music career as a drummer and could also play about a dozen more instruments.

When was “Sexual Healing” released?

It was released on 30 September 1982.

Even though Gaye is primarily associated with Motown Records, this track was rather put out by Columbia (with the demo resulting in Gaye receiving a three-album contract under the latter). During the early-1980s, Marvin decided that he did not want to work for Motown anymore. So “Midnight Love” was actually the first album (and only during his lifetime) he came out with that was not released by Motown, which was also known as Tamla Records.

Writing Credits for “Sexual Healing”

Gaye actually wrote this song while living in Belgium, more specifically the coastal city of Ostend. And he decided to chill out in that part of Europe for a while in the name of recuperating from some issues he was plagued with stateside, such as drug addiction, divorce and even the taxman.

That said, the officially credited writers of this song are Gaye and jazzman Odell Brown (1940-2011). And Gaye also produced the track.

Song Authorship Issues

There is a slight confusion in relation to the writing credits for this classic. The confusion involves a third party named David Ritz. Ritz in the very least was involved in the conceptualization of “Sexual Healing”. Ritz, a prominent music journalist also went on to write a biography about Marvin Gaye, who he was very much personally familiar with.

David Ritz was publicly acknowledged by Gaye for his contribution but was not given official songwriting credit. This whole scenario not only resulted in Ritz suing Gaye but also the dissolution of their friendship. Reportedly, the two parties ultimately settled the matter in the aftermath of Gaye’s death. 

And according to these reports, Ritz was granted songwriting credit, royalties, etc. However, it should be noted that he is not officially listed as a co-writer on many publications. And it is for that reason we did not mention him in that regard above.

Ritz contributed to “Sexual Healing” by coming up with the title. He is also said to have come up with the general premise upon which the song is based. And all this happened during a conversation he was having with Gaye.

The said conversation centered on Gaye’s addiction to sex-related content on the media. So the reason David told Marvin that the latter needed “sexual healing” was because he felt that Gaye’s constant viewing of such content wasn’t the best and needed to hook up with an actual woman.

More Facts about “Sexual Healing”

“Sexual Healing” is considered one of the finest sex songs ever created, as verified by Rolling Stone, who placed it in the top half of their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list in 2003

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also acknowledged this as being amongst the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll”. 

Additionally, as implied by the Grammy victories, this track was a pretty big hit when it came out also. For instance, it topped Canada Top Singles as well as Billboard’s US Hot Black Singles listing.

Also, it made it onto the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart.

Additionally, this track has achieved platinum certification in the US and Denmark. And let’s not forget the plethora of musicians who have sampled it throughout the decades. Some of these names include:

  • Big Daddy Kane in 1989
  • Lana Del Rey in 2012 
  • DMX  in 2021

There are also a number of artists who have covered this song outright. Thus far the most successful of the lot was a short-lived crew from Chicago called Max-a-Million, whose rendition came out in 1995. 

Also to note, Kygo dropped a version officially featuring a posthumous Marvin Gaye in 2015 which proved to be a moderate hit. And to note, Michal Bolton covered this piece in 1998, with his version experiencing a little bit of chart success also.

Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing"

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