Let’s Get It On (as made famous by Marvin Gaye)

“Let’s Get It On” is a song and hit single by soul musician Marvin Gaye, released June 15, 1973, on Motown-subsidiary label Tamla Records. The song was recorded on March 22, 1973, at Hitsville West in Los Angeles, California. The song features romantic and sexual lyricism and funk instrumentation by The Funk Brothers. The title track of Gaye’s landmark 1973 album of the same name, it was written by Marvin Gaye and producer Ed Townsend. “Let’s Get It On” became Gaye’s most successful single for Motown and one of his most well-known songs. With the help of the song’s sexually explicit content, “Let’s Get It On” helped give Gaye a reputation as a sex icon during its initial popularity.

Co-written with producer Ed Townsend, “Let’s Get It On” was Gaye’s plea for sexual liberation. When originally conceived by Townsend, who was released from a rehab facility for alcoholism, it was written with a religious theme. Gaye confidante Kenneth Stover changed some of the words around as a political song and Gaye recorded the version as it was written, but Townsend protested that the song wasn’t a politically conscious song but a song dedicated to love and sex.[1] Gaye and Townsend then collaborated on new lyrics and using the original backing tracks as recorded, Gaye transformed the song into an emotional centerpiece. The album version of “Let’s Get It On” features soulful and emotional singing by Gaye that is backed by multi-tracked background vocals, also provided by Gaye, along with the song’s signature, and most notable, funky guitar arrangements. In an article for Rolling Stone magazine, music critic Jon Landau wrote of the song:

“Let’s Get It On” is a classic Motown single, endlessly repeatable and always enjoyable. It begins with three great wah-wah notes that herald the arrival of a vintage Fifties melody. But while the song centers around classically simple chord changes, the arrangement centers around a slightly eccentric rhythm pattern that deepens the song’s power while covering it with a contemporary veneer. Above all, it has Marvin Gaye’s best singing at its center, fine background voices on the side, and a long, moody fade-out that challenges you not to play the cut again.[2]

— Jon Landau
The song was reprised on the fourth track of Let’s Get It On as “Keep Gettin’ It On”, which was a sequel and continuation of the original. The recording of the title track also inspired Gaye to revive previous recordings from his earlier 1970 sessions at the Hitsville U.S.A. Studio, which would consist of the rest of the album’s material.

In 2001, when the album Let’s Get It On was reissued by Motown as a two-disc deluxe edition release, the original demo that Gaye had recorded with lyrics by Kenneth Stover was included. It has a running time of 5:12.

During the time of the recording of the song and its subsequent album of the same name, Marvin had befriended the family of jazz guitarist Slim Gaillard and had become smitten with Gaillard’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Janis Hunter. A widely reported story has been told that Hunter was in the studio when Gaye recorded the song at the recording booth. Gaye and Hunter were said to be smitten with each other and, within months, Gaye and Hunter began dating. Hunter would become Gaye’s live-in lover by 1974. Their relationship would produce two children and a 1977 marriage.[3]

“Let’s Get It On” became, and remains to this day, one of Gaye’s most successful singles, as it reached #1 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart on September 8, 1973.[4] The single remained at #1 for two weeks, while also remaining at the top of the Billboard Soul Singles chart for eight weeks.[5] In its first week at the top of the chart, “Let’s Get It On” replaced “Brother Louie” by Stories, and was replaced by “Delta Dawn” by Helen Reddy; it later replaced “Delta Dawn” and was finally knocked off the top of the chart by Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band”. The single stayed inside the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 for 13 weeks, 10 of those weeks inside the top five. Billboard ranked it as the No. 4 song for 1973.[6]

The song became the biggest selling Motown release in the United States at the time, selling over two-million copies within the first six weeks of following its release. “Let’s Get It On” also became the second best-selling single of 1973, only surpassed in sales by Tony Orlando & Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”. At the time, the single was Motown’s largest-selling recording ever, selling over three-million copies between 1973 and 1975.[7] The single has gone on to sell over 1 million copies, and, on June 25, 2007, was certified platinum in sales by the RIAA.[8]

A bluegrass version of the song was later recorded by Shannon Lawson on his 2002 album Chase the Sun.[9] “Let’s Get It On” was given a remix in 2004, when producers mixed Gaye’s vocals with a different musical production labeled as “stepper’s music”. Released in 2005 as a single, “Let’s Get it On (The Producers Mix)” returned the song to the Billboard R&B charts, thirty years after its original release. The re-released version of “Let’s Get It On” was certified as a gold single with sales in excess of 500,000 copies in 2005 by the RIAA. In 2004, the song was ranked number 167 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time;[10] in a revised 2012 list, the song was ranked at number 168.[11] In 2008, “Let’s Get It On” was ranked #32 on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 All-Time Top Songs list.[4]

The song appeared in a 2005 TV commercial for the Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. [12]

It has appeared in ads for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.