Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
The first time I listened to Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” was in 1995, when Madonna did a cover of it with Massive Attack for her tribute album. I used to listen to this beautifully haunting track about unrequited love on repeat on my Discman. While I didn’t have a clue what unrequited love was—there was no reason I should have; I was 12—the sadness in her voice was as addictive as her dance moves.
Inspired by Dorothy Parker’s short story “A Telephone Call”, the black-and-white video (see below) is also beautifully haunting, with the queen of pop waiting docilely at home, clad in a figure-hugging leopard dress, for her lover to call. The phone does eventually ring but she chooses not to answer, probably because she comes to the painful realisation that her lover shouldn’t play with something he will cherish for life and she should just let go.
I didn’t listen to the original version of “I Want You” until my mid-twenties when I really got into Marvin Gaye—I still listen to him every day; life is sweeter when he’s around. At that time I had recently experienced unrequited love so it particularly resonated with me. The song opens with “I want you the right way”—his lack of repentance for being recklessly in love is familiar territory.
To be a moth that leaps into the flames while other moths tell you not to—that’s what “I Want You” is about. And that’s why it’ll always be my favourite song by Marvin Gaye, he who burned magnificently.
Victoria Ip is a Hong Kong Baptist University graduate (Class of 2005). [Read all entries by Victoria here.]