Turning 30: Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”

In 1982, after a dramatic exit from Motown—the label that made his legendary career- Marvin Gaye sauntered back onto the scene with a new single, “Sexual Healing”. Short on pretense and slick metaphor, “Sexual Healing” was a bold, in-your-face testament from a lover, imploring not only to get it on for the sake of getting it on, but getting it on to fix what’s been going wrong. 

In 1982, Marvin Gaye was rebounding from a lot that had gone wrong. From a failing marriage and separation from his second wife and their three children, to a debilitating drug habit that had nearly ruined his career, he was led back to the music, declaring loudly that he was not down for the count. “Sexual Healing” was the first from his new album Midnight Love.  Marvin’s new home, Columbia Records, released the album in September of 1982, not prepared for it to shoot to #1 on the R&B charts less than a month later. By the next year, he had won three Grammy Awards for the song along with an American Music Award.

There are countless stories of how the song “Sexual Healing” came to be. On Wikipedia, you can read about how a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine sparked the song’s name when remarking that Marvin Gaye needed “sexual healing” after seeing countless pornographic comic books littering Marvin’s hotel floor. Other stories suggest that Marvin came up with the title himself. Whatever the story, the energy of the song is unmistakably all Marvin. “Sexual Healing” is Marvin Gaye in his element—emoting raw sexuality, playful charm and soulful banter. Through this song, we caught one of our last glimpses of the soul crooner who has influenced more than one generation with his unparalleled gifts. As “Sexual Healing” celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, we reflect on the distinct memory of Marvin Gaye and understand that through song, his legacy is undeniable.

-Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman

Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a music writer based in Maryland. Visit her on KhadijahOnline.com.

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