The classic feel-good song, “Let’s Get It On” has Marvin Gaye singing openly of love and sensuality, breaking away from his origins in soul music. Of course, the track also sealed Gaye’s reputation as we know it, a sex symbol from the 70s. While it’s easy enough to see Gaye as a sex icon, “Let’s Get It On” has a bit more depth to it than we give it credit for.
“Let’s Get It On” was co-written by Gaye and Ed Townsend and released in 1973 as the lead single of Gaye’s thirteenth studio album of the same name. Following “What’s Going On”, the shift from the socially-conscious artist to the sex icon must have been a bit of a shock to his audience. However, Gaye made it work well for him. Gaye spoke about how his inspiration for “Let’s Get It On” came to be through finding out more about his own sexuality:
“Oh, I think my approach to sensuality and sexuality is that of a subtle exhibitionist. I can’t deal with the raw fact. I’d rather be teased by a woman before I get it. That’s the French way: you make a person think you are going to do something but never do it until you are ready. I kind of borrowed that from the French.”
Besides Gaye’s own exploration into his sexuality, another often reported story about the inspiration behind the song was Gaye’s relationship with Janis Hunter – whom he married in 1977. Hunter had apparently accompanied Gaye in the studio during the recording of the album and the two were said to be deeply in love at the time.
Coming five years after “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Let’s Get It On” was Gaye’s second #1 hit. The track topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot Soul Singles charts in 1973. “Let’s Get It On” is also featured on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the fourth Gaye song on the list. Bearing testimony to the track’s commercial success, it is Platinum certified by the RIAA for selling over a million copies in the US, while also being Platinum certified by the BPI in the UK.
Listen to “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye “Let’s Get It On” Lyrics Review and Song Meaning
Most of the younger generation’s introduction to Gaye – unless they’re actually into oldies – was probably through the Charlie Puth song “Marvin Gaye” featuring Meghan Trainor. That song begins with “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on” referring to sex in a very cute, bubblegum pop way. And if one didn’t try to explore beyond, that’s all they would know about both Gaye and “Let’s Get It On”. But for anyone who actually wanted to learn more and listened to the original, it doesn’t take long to realize that the modern reference is kind of misleading. That doesn’t mean that the original track is not about sex – but it also has a lot more meaning than the sexy lyrics that are just the surface.
“I’ve been really trying, baby
Trying to hold back this feeling for so long”
The song as a whole sounds like a man teasing a woman, a prolonged foreplay if you’d look at it that way. The language of the song is highly suggestive, sounding more like a come-on. The tune starts off with an expression of yearning and an invitation of a man longing to have sex with a woman. Gaye’s vocals certainly convey that in the most sexual way possible. Perfected by being a soul singer, Gaye’s voice is well-suited to deliver the sexual tension – which he does with gusto. But if we look at “Let’s Get It On” alongside Gaye’s own life, we can uncover a hidden layer of meaning.
Gaye grew up as a Christian minister’s son, and he was meant to follow in his father’s footsteps. So for Gaye to become a singer, and a popular one at that meant he had to break away from years of brutality at his father’s hand, who physically and psychologically punished Gaye for even the smallest mistake. Gaye saying that he’s been trying and having these kinds of feelings for so long takes on additional meaning when looked at in this context. For Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” might have been about discovering his sexuality and exploring what he likes, away from his father’s shadow.
“Let’s get it on, ow baby
Let’s get it on, let’s love, baby”
The chorus is really catchy, one of those that gets stuck in your head and is easy to sing along to. But besides being catchy, the chorus also gives a bit of Gaye’s philosophy. For him sex and love were not two things, they were the same. It is clear as day in the chorus that Gaye was not just looking for a sexual connection but also for love, the physical leading to the spiritual. So as crude as referring to sex as ‘getting it on,’ for Gaye, it seems to have been something more than just the physical act of intercourse.
“There’s nothing wrong with me loving you, baby, no, no
And giving yourself to me can never be wrong”
In the second verse, Gaye delves deeper into his take on love and sex. He claims that everyone has feelings and the potential to love. And so as long as that sex is between consenting adults, it is something to be respected and cherished. This view was extremely progressive in the 70s when sex was not something that many dared to explore so openly. But to Gaye who spent his childhood and much of his teenage years suppressing his sexuality from the eyes of his father, it must have been obvious. For him, denial of sex must have been equal to denying a part of his own self. That’s why “Let’s Get It On” is much more than a mere sex song – it’s also about emancipation, breaking away, and truly knowing the joy of being alive.
“Come on, baby, hey, let your love come out
If you believe in love”
In this verse, Gaye looks at sex as a way toward physical and spiritual freedom. That’s why he reiterates the point of consent, claiming that he’s not “gonna push” the woman to do something that she doesn’t like. But he also says that it’s pointless to beat around the bush. This again conveys a sense of sex-positivity, that sex is similar to any other function of living. So it’s a waste of time to deny these base urges and better to just get on with it and celebrate the act of sex. For Gaye, sex was just the way through which love was expressed and so it was better to love in the open than to hide it all away. It might have been a bit exhibitionist, but in truth what Gaye wanted was everyone to love without any shame.
“You don’t have to worry that it’s wrong
If the spirit moves you”
Here it is evident that for Gaye sex went beyond the physical to the spiritual. This might have been his justification for enjoying sex as much as he did, something that appealed to his deeply religious upbringing. But it also conveys his struggle, of finally being able to love without feeling that it was something ‘wrong’ as he was led to believe.
With this kind of interpretation “Let’s Get It On” becomes much more than a song about sex. It’s more of sexual awakening, a turning point in both Gaye’s life and his career. Taking the song off its context, makes it sound like come on or an invitation to sex.
While the track might be celebrated as a masterpiece of sexual innuendo, it would be a great disservice to Gaye to view it just as a sex song – taking its trappings off reveals a very personal experience. This is probably why “Let’s Get It On” is a hit both then and now, it’s a song that celebrates sex without shame, remaining unique and one-of-a-kind.
What are your fond memories of this song? Let us know in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.