Many years before global warming became a hot topic, Marvin Gaye wrote this song about the environment and how we have an obligation to care for the Earth. For his What's Going On album (1971), 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 success of the title track proved otherwise, and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" became a #1 R&B hit and soared to #4 on the Billboard Pop chart.
Gaye elaborated on this song and his spiritual quest in a 1976 interview with Sounds, where he said: "I am a student of Don Juan and Carlos Castaneda. I've read many books by many authors. My idea of living is, I would love to become an impeccable warrior, one who has no need for earthly things such as the wine, the women, the clothes and the diamonds, and the fine things to wear. I'd love to develop a distaste for those things and become only interested in knowledge and power that this earth will give us, if we're only willing to put in the time and effort.
I would love to quit show-business and go after that knowledge and that power that the truly gifted sorcerer has. The power's here, it's in the rocks, it's in the air, it's in the animals. There are men of knowledge who could take these forces and elements and cause mysterious things to happen to the body, transform themselves and do many, many marvelous things. I would like to become a man of power, and I would like to use it in a good fashion.
The knowledge that we have is enough to catapult ourselves over the hurdle into super-knowledge, where we become super-beings. But at that point we always destroy ourselves. That will always happen because super-knowledge is only for the chosen few. But the few can be of a greater number, that's why I talk about it. If only we would adhere to certain laws that Mother Nature... THAT'S THE KEY!
We appear to have reached the bottom line. And, just like Bunny says (here he's referring to the Jamaican musician Bunny Wailer), it's in obeying the laws of nature that this wisdom and freedom lies. Those songs aren't written for nothing. A lot of the time, they don't even know it as writers, but they're just forced to put Mother Nature into the picture, like in 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.'"
According to Earl Van Dyke of Motown's house band the Funk Brothers, Berry Gordy did not know what the word "ecology" meant when he heard this song. It had to be explained to him.
Robert Palmer recorded a version of this song combined with Gaye's "I Want You" in 1991. This medley hit #9 in the UK and #16 in the US.
Palmer originally only planned to cover "I Want You." When interviewed for a promotional video for his 1992 Don't Explain tour he stated it was manager at the time who recommended "Mercy, Mercy Me" as it had a similar melody and vocal pitch. Initially Palmer wasn't interested in the song, which deals with the environment, but he later changed his mind and turned the two songs into a medley, using the opening verses from "Mercy, Mercy Me" as a prelude to the "I Want You" part, keeping the same arrangement.
Palmer admitted to being very nervous when he debuted the song on US Television during an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1991, stating in an interview on the show after performing that he hadn't done the song in front of a live audience and found it challenging, but he said he thought it well.
Suggestion credit: Thomas Leonard - Pittsburgh, PA
"Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)" won a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2002, an honor also given to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," – one of his several duets with Tammi Terrell – in 1984, and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" in 1998. The entire What's Going On album was also recognized in 1998 with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
Other artists to record this song include Charles Givings, Aswad, Michael McDonald, and Sarah Jane Morris.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn June 27th 1971, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" by Marvin Gaye entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #70; and on August 15th, 1971 it peaked at #4 (for 2 weeks) and spent 12 weeks on the Top 100... And on August 8th, 1971 it reached #1 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's R&B singles chart... It was the 2nd of 3 straight #1s on the R&B Singles chart; started with "What's Going On" (for 5 weeks), then this one, and finally "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Hollar)" (for 2 weeks), and all three songs were from the 'What's Going On' album... R.I.P. Mr. Gaye (1939 - 1984).