Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

Marvin Gaye wrote and recorded ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ on his 1971 album What’s Going On and it charted #4 in the USMarvin Gaye wrote this song about the environment and how we have an obligation to care for the Earth, many years before global warming became a hot topic.  This is his plea to everyone to hear mother nature’s desperate cries that it needs to be healed and a prayer to God to allow his message to reach their hearts.  Gaye got away from love ballads and explored deeper social themes, which at first didn’t sit well with Motown boss Berry Gordy, who thought these songs wouldn’t be marketable.  The song is a warning, to us, about direction that we are heading in, and although Mother Earth is forgiving our world may not be around for much longer.  The really sad part is that this song is over fifty years old, and it seems like we still haven’t learned from it, as we are making the same mistakes.

Marvin’s change in songwriting style can be traced back to a traumatic event that occurred on March 16, 1970, when Tammi Terrell, the singer’s longtime collaborator, died as the result of a brain tumor on her 25th birthday.  Her death sent shock waves through the deeply spiritual Gaye, who refused to tour for several years afterward, retreating from the limelight to examine his thoughts and feelings.  Tammi Terrell was one of the most popular singers of Motown’s early hit factory in the 1960s, and she is known for the duets she sang with close friend Marvin Gaye.  She had been involved in abusive relationships with James Brown and The Temptations lead singer David Ruffin.  On October 14, 1967, while performing ‘Your Precious Love’ with Marvin Gaye, she collapsed into his arms onstage.  Doctors diagnosed a malignant tumor on the right side of her brain, and she underwent brain surgery in early 1968.

Marvin felt that the days of clear, blue skies would become far and few between as we keep on consuming fossil fuel and belch the black smoke out into our atmosphere.  Marvin reminisces on the days of simple pleasures like seeing clear blue skies.  Marvin was ahead of his time knowing that pollution or poison as he refers to it in our skies, effects on the climate and weather and this didn’t become a serious issue till much later.  Marvin was mad at the human race for continuing to allow this to degrade our environment at an exponential rate and he thought that our values needed to be changed before things got worse.  Reports were released about Mercury getting into the blood of almost all fish, with the larger fish having absorbed all the mercury of the fish they’ve eaten.  The mercury thermometer was invented back around 1748 and it was in use everywhere, because it gave an accurate measurement of temperature, but most of the mercury emissions entered the oceans from power plants.  Many people still have mercury amalgam fillings in their teeth and it is still legal to buy mercury.  It wasn’t until 1991 that the use of mercury in paint was phased out in the US.  The mercury thermometer is going extinct and being replaced with the digital thermometer.  Mercury poisoning is particularly toxic in dolphins, which are regularly slaughtered and consumed by countries around the world, especially Japan.

Marvin mentioned radiation being underground and, in the sky, and this made him sad because animals were dying as a result of atomic bomb testing which continued for at least another 20 years.  The Soviet Union’s last nuclear test took place on October 24, 1990, the United Kingdom’s on November 26, 1991 and the United States’ last one took place on September 23, 1992.  France and China conducted their last tests in January and July 1996 respectively, before signing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.  The last statement that Marvin makes in this song is about the land being overcrowded.  The song ends asking this poignant question, personifying the planet as a living being reaching its breaking point because of “abuse” suffered at the hands of man.

Woah, ah, mercy, mercy me
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows
From the north and south and east

Woah mercy, mercy me, yeah
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury

Oh Jesus, yeah, mercy, mercy me, ah
Ah, things ain’t what they used to be (ain’t what they used to be)
Radiation underground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying

Hey, mercy, mercy me, oh
Hey, things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land?
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Oh, na, na, na
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Hey, ooh, woo

Written for Thursday Inspiration #142 I’ll Take You There where the prompt word is mercy.

9 thoughts on “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

  1. You’re right, sadly the theme is still relevant today as it was then. I have seen some things get better in my lifetime, environmentally, for instance our lakes and rivers are generally cleaner here. Acid rain isn’t a big issue anymore and in the Great Lakes area animals that eat fish like loons, cormorants, Ospreys and eagles are making a big comeback. But for every success, there are a lot of failures . I think Earth Day should be an actual holiday (if biz objects, combine Veterans Day and Memorial Day into one holiday like they do in Canada) and public figures should encourage us all to do something for Planet Earth that day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The environment is an important topic today, but years ago we knew about climate change, and nobody wanted to do anything about it. You are right that some things have improved, as we are recycling stuff now, which wasn’t done in the past, but we need to do much more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. very true. You’re right about the recycling… it’s encouraging though we still need to do a lot more with that, more public blue bins like we have garbage cans in parking lots and parks and so on.

        Liked by 1 person

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