"Marvin could sing the Lord's Prayer and it would have sexual overtones," confirmed singer Ed Townshend in the liner notes of 1973's Let's Get It On.
Following the blowout success of his 1971 What's Going On album, Gaye was a superstar at his label, having scored a new contract that guaranteed the singer more financial freedom and creative control. At home, however, Gaye's marriage to Anna Gordy - sister of Motown's Berry Gordy - was going down the drain, with accusations of adultery and abuse stemming from both sides.
Despite such turbulence, Gaye was ready to get on with his life. He invited former doo-wop singer Ed Townsend to the studio after hearing a soulful tune Townsend had conceived during his stint in rehab and recovery from alcoholism. They then joined heads to rework the lyrics for a more romantic song.
But Gaye really dialed up the heat when he stepped into the recording booth to lay down master vocals for the track - largely thanks to the presence of Townshend's friend Barbara Hunter and her daughter, Janis, who had tagged along. Despite the age difference between Gaye and Janis (who would later become his second wife), the two immediately hit it off and Gaye put his serenade skills on full display.
The name of the resulting sensuous track became the title track of Gaye's 13th studio LP Let's Get It On. Released in July 1973, the single "Let's Get It On" launched to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the longest-running No. 1 tune of the year in America, setting the scene for the release of the album.
For the rest of his LP, Gaye continued to showcase his preoccupation with love and sex with songs like "Just to Keep You Satisfied" and "You Sure Love to Ball," filled floor-to-ceiling with all-consuming musical climaxes and tenderly sweet lyrics. Motown took the album and promoted it towards a younger audience by booking advertising space for it in National Lampoon and the college edition of Time.
Released in August 1973, Let’s Get It On LP shipped gold, and debuted at No.28, by far the highest new entry of the week. In the US, it went platinum within three weeks, and went on to spend a week at No. 2, thwarted from the top spot only by The Rolling Stones' Goat Head Soup. Outperforming the No.6 peak of What’s Going On, the bedroom soul standard also accumulated eight weeks more than its predecessor on the Billboard album chart, with a 61-week reign.