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"You're the Man" is a song composed by singer Marvin Gaye and songwriter Kenneth Stover and released on the Motown subsidiary, Tamla, in the summer of 1972. Composed primarily on the basis of the 1972 presidential election, the song was supposedly the first release from Gaye's next album, You're the Man, but the song's modest success forced Gaye to shelve the album in protest.

"You're the Man"
Single by Marvin Gaye
Format7-inch, 45rpm[1]
Recorded1972, Hitsville West, Hollywood, California
T 54221F
Songwriter(s)Marvin Gaye, Kenneth Stover
Producer(s)Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye singles chronology
"Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"
"You're the Man"
"Trouble Man"




In 1972, Gaye's success with the socially conscious album What's Going On helped in pressuring Motown to give the musician more creative autonomous control of his music, leading to a $1 million deal being offered by Motown, which made him for a time, the most lucrative R&B artist ever. Gaye responded by putting himself constantly in the studio working on a multitude of projects. One of the projects was another album focusing on social matters and further into politics, which was only hinted at in What's Going On.

Gaye and his band, which consisted of members of Hamilton Bohannon's group, went into the studio in the spring of 1972 to record a song inspired by the political election of the year. Gaye, who was being hounded by the government for failure to pay back taxes, felt that the government wasn't looking out for people's best interests and upon the election, also felt that no politician would help to ease any difficulty concerning US citizens.


"You're the Man" was basically a demanding song in which Gaye was calling out to potential candidates, much prominently George McGovern, asking them if they really have a plan to "right all the wrongs" of the past administration and bring about change. At the same breath, however, Gaye berates the political system with the line, "politics and hypocrites is turning us all into lunatics".

Gaye then mockingly shouts the potential candidate out as they're the person to run for, saying to them constantly, "you're the man". Gaye himself years later would admit that he didn't trust the government or the political system. The song was composed under the direction of funk music, a genre Gaye started to flirt with on What's Going On, particularly with the song, "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", basing off the melody and harmony off that song on "You're the Man", producing two versions of the same style.

Like in "Inner City Blues", Gaye performs with multi-tracked vocals, with his falsetto providing the lead while his tenor provided the background vocals in three distinct ranges. A third version of this song, later issued on the deluxe edition issue of Let's Get It On, has Gaye singing in tenor as the lead, and offered up an opinion that "maybe we should have a lady president", probably a reaction from the news of Shirley Chisholm running for president that year. In the final minutes of the song, Gaye not only offers the running candidate about fighting not only for peace but also the decriminalization of marijuana, asking "what about marijuana" before saying "what about peace/peace in the land?"


Gaye would say later that his view on politics ran against the views of Motown CEO Berry Gordy and that they would have "semi-violent disagreements". Gordy's response to "You're the Man" was to not promote the song, fearing a backlash against a portion of Motown's conservative fan base. Gaye in turn felt that Motown hadn't totally gotten behind the record, and as a result, shelved the rest of the album, which included compositions such as "Woman of the World", "Where Are We Going", "Piece of Clay" and "The World Is Rated X".

The reaction from R&B audiences was more swift than pop audiences, reaching the top ten on the former, eventually peaking at #7 while pop audiences that received the record, pushed it up to #50 before it dropped, probably due to demand from Motown's Quality Control to drop the song from its playlist, fearing backlash. Gaye would work on more unfinished projects throughout 1972 before releasing the Trouble Man soundtrack and the following year, focused on sexuality with Let's Get It On abandoning his earlier social messages.

Rap act Digable Planets recorded the tribute song, "Marvin, You're the Man", based off this song, for the 1994 tribute album, Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye.


In the years since his death, Motown has issued "You're the Man" on several compilations. For decades, the original monophonic single and the 1974 Marvin Gaye Anthology were the only available versions. Some compilations, such as 1995's The Best of Marvin Gaye and 2001's The Very Best of Marvin Gaye include a version of this, sourced from the original 45 but with the two parts edited back together to create a single 5:47 track.

The 2001 Deluxe Edition of Let's Get It On included two further contemporaneous versions. The so-called Alternate Version 1 (7:24) is a radically remixed version of the same take as the single version, with many different instrumental and vocal overdubs and lasting about a minute and a half longer. The so-called Alternate Version 2 (4:44) is a different take with quite different instrumentation and arrangement, and somewhat different lyrics.

The full album was released by Motown on March 29, 2019.

Chart performanceEdit

Chart (1972) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 50
U.S. Hot Selling Soul Singles 7


  1. ^ "Marvin Gaye - You're The Man (Parts 1 & 2) (Vinyl) At Discogs". Retrieved July 16, 2012.

External linksEdit