Happy Birthday Let’s Get It On Part 2: “Distant Lover”


“Head Title” — a demo track used for what would later become “Distant Lover” — was a composition Marvin Gaye was tinkering with in November of 1970. You can actually hear Marvin going through this creative process as he works on crafting a lyric for the song in the following video:

At the time of this recording he had just finished the single, “What’s Going On” in September and from the video it is apparent that he was developing material for a new record that would eventually become his magnum opus LP, What’s Going On. Although “Distant Lover” didn’t make the cut, you can hear “What’s Going On” all over it.

Checkout the harmonic structure:

Both tracks are in the key of E major and essentially based on the same I – vi – ii – V (Emaj7, C#m7, F#m7, B7) chord progression over the verse:

What’s Going On (WGO) = Emaj7 – C#m7 – Emaj7 – C#m7 – F#m7 – B13sus4 – B9

Distant Lover (DL) = Emaj9 – C#m7 – F#m7 – B13sus4 – B9

In both cases the dominant (V) or B chord is treated with a suspension-resolution (B13sus4 – B9).

And a prolonged iv (Am9) is used in both tracks over the bridge that leads to an extended variation of the suspension-resolution (B13sus4 – B9) over the dominant.

The bass line is also a nod to the classic WGO bass riff, but modified to DL’s 12/8 ballad feel.

WGO pattern: R-5-6-5-6

WGO Bass Riff

DL pattern (reverses the order of 5 and 6): R-6-5-6-5

DL Bass Riff

Check out the full transcription below and see if you notice any other parallels.

DISTANT LOVER – Transcription (Standard Notation)

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