On this day in music history: March 27, 1971 - “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks, also peaking at #2 for 3 weeks on the Hot 100 on April 10, 1971. Written by Marvin Gaye, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Al Cleveland, it is the fifth R&B chart topper for the “Prince Of Motown”. The initial inspiration of the song comes from Renaldo “Obie” Benson of The Four Tops, after witnessing police viciously beating up anti-war student protesters at People’s Park in Berkeley, CA (while the group are in town for a concert appearance). When he gets back home to Detroit, Benson tells his friend, songwriter Al Cleveland about the incident. The two begin writing the song together with the intention of having The Four Tops record it. When the other group members don’t care for the song, Benson shows it Marvin Gaye. Liking what he hears, Gaye changes the melody and add his own lyrics to the song, drawing upon his own emotional response to the violence sparked by the anti-war protests, and his own disdain for the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. A point that is brought closer to home by his younger brother Frankie, who had served three tours of duty in Vietnam. Once Gaye is finished writing, the basic track is recorded on June 10, 1970 with members of The Funk Brothers, including bassist James Jamerson, who is pulled out of a jam session at a local club to play on the session. At the time, Jamerson is so drunk that he can’t sit on a stool to play. He actually records his bass part while lying on his back on the studio floor. Another overdub session takes place in September with Detroit Lions players Lem Barney and Mel Farr singing background vocals and add to the “party atmosphere” on the track. When Motown hears the finished song, they initially refuse to release it, feeling that it is “uncommercial”. They eventually relent when Gaye refuses to record anymore new material until it released. Issued on January 17, 1971, “What’s Going On” is a massive smash, selling over a million copies in its first week of release (moving over two and half million copies in the US by the time it drops off the chart), becoming the fastest selling single in Motown’s history to that date.