Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing (1982)
“Sexual Healing” is a song recorded by American singer Marvin Gaye from his album Midnight Love (1982). It was his first single since his exit from his long-term record label Motown earlier in the year, following the release of the In Our Lifetime (1981) album the previous year. It is listed at number 233 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
In the winter of 1981, Marvin Gaye had relocated to Ostend, Belgium, following the end of a European tour amid problems with the Internal Revenue Service and the end of his second marriage. Struggling with depression and cocaine addiction, Gaye had agreed to move to Ostend on the advice of longtime resident Freddy Cousaert. While in Ostend, Gaye began to curb his drug use and recover from his depression, partaking in Ostend’s beaches. Gaye also began cutting ties with his longtime recording label, Motown, following the release of In Our Lifetime, an album he did not consider finished. He declared that he would never record with Motown again, and accused it of betraying his creativity.
While still with Motown, Gaye had received offers from labels such as I.R.S. Records, Arista Records and Elektra Records; afterwards, he sought to make a deal with CBS Records after they offered him a contract. CBS agreed to sign him and help clear his financial debt, and spent a year negotiating. In the meantime, Gaye needed spending money, so Cousaert set him up with a month-long England tour between June 13 and July 1, 1981. The tour was called “A Heavy Love Affair Tour 1981”, named after his song “Heavy Love Affair”, from In Our Lifetime. After returning to Belgium that July, Gaye performed two shows at Ostend’s Casino Kursaal on July 3 and 4, 1981. The tour’s commercial and critical success further renewed Gaye’s musical confidence.
A music video for “Sexual Healing” was shot, depicting Gaye singing in a smoky nightclub with four female dancers behind him. Interspersed were amusing scenes of Gaye getting a physical exam from a sexy female doctor, admiring her in the process. The doctor was professional and aloof at first, but soon succumbs to Gaye’s admiration after taking an elixir from her medicine cabinet called “Midnight Love Potion”. At the end of his nightclub performance, Gaye takes off in a limousine with the sexy doctor for a night on the town.
In his review of Midnight Love for Rolling Stone, Dave Marsh described “Sexual Healing” as a track that was “sort of a polemic for the power of rampant humping.” Blender described it as “the plaintively blue-balled model for basically every slow jam” since its release. An AllMusic reviewer stated Gaye had “concocted a pioneering percussive sound that was balladic in taste but stimulating in feel.” In its end-year lists of 1982, Rolling Stone, NME and The Village Voice listed it as one of the “songs of the year” with the latter two ranking it at number two. People described it as “America’s hottest pop-culture turn-on” since Olivia Newton-John’s single “Physical”.
“Sexual Healing” won several music industry awards. At the 1983 Grammy Awards, the song won Gaye two Grammys, including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental Performance. Gaye’s performance of the song later made it into the compilation album, Grammy’s Greatest Moments Volume I, in 1994. The American Music Awards recognized the track for Favorite Soul/R&B Single. “Sexual Healing” sold over two million units in its standard 45 RPM single format and was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The digital sales of “Sexual Healing” reached 500,000 downloads and was certified as a Gold single in 2005. Also issued as a mastertone, this format was certified Platinum in 2007.
“Sexual Healing” reached number one on Billboard’s Hot R&B Singles chart, staying at the top spot for ten weeks. The success was similar on the Hot 100 where it peaked at number three. This peak at number three made Gaye the second artist in the history of the Hot 100 chart (after Aretha Franklin) to have a hit song peak at each position from one to ten on the chart. The song also was a success on Billboard’s other component charts, reaching number 12 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart and number 34 on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart. The song reached number one on Canada’s RPM chart.
It also peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart and Australia’s Kent Music Report. On Belgium’s Ultratop 50 chart, the song reached number two. It also reached number one on New Zealand’s RIANZ chart, where it stayed at the top spot for six weeks. It reached number three on the Dutch Top 40 in the Netherlands and also reached number seven on the Irish Singles Chart in Ireland. In other countries such as Germany’s Media Control Charts, Switzerland’s Swedish Singles Chart and Italy’s Italian Singles Chart, success in those countries were modest, reaching number 23, 17 and 37 respectively in those countries’ charts, ultimately selling over four million records worldwide.