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Music

The Marvin Gaye deep-cut John Lennon used to promote peace

@TylerGolsen

During the late 1960s, John Lennon was on a crusade to bring messages of peace to the rest of the world. Along with his wife Yoko Ono, Lennon engaged in a number of stunts and atypical events, including his famous Bed-Ins, giving interviews inside a bag, and even declaring his own theoretical country, Nutopia. Despite his efforts, Lennon was disappointed in the lack of support he had from his fellow musicians.

“Yeah, just name the people that are active in peace, and we’ll get in touch with them, because we’re looking for them,” Lennon said in 1969. “And if a musician uses his talent to sing that, that’ll do. It doesn’t have to be dedicated like we are — that kind of fanaticism. It can be on the local housewife level.”

Lennon called on everyday people to contribute to the movement as well. “Just show your colours locally,” he said. “You don’t have to have a whole press ballyhoo to do it. Just do it locally.” When it came to cultural representation, Lennon extended his net to just about any song he could find, including a surprisingly deep cut from Motown superstars Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

“I mean, the thing is, I believe in all the songs going on, whether … whatever motive they put ’em out for,” he said. “And at the moment in Britain, there’s ‘The Onion Song’ from … the American one with Marvin Gaye and somebody else [Tammi Terrell].” 

‘The Onion Song’ wasn’t exactly the most eloquent song about universal harmony – the gist is that the world is an onion, and if we tear it apart, we’ll all end up crying. Of course, the song has that classic Motown thump and pairs up the irresistible chemistry between Gaye and Terrell, but that wasn’t enough to elevate ‘The Onion Song’ into something more than a strange oddity.

In fact, the song’s major legacy comes from the fact that it may or may not actually be Terrell singing the track. Terrell was suffering from a brain tumour during the recording of the pair’s Easy album, leading songwriter and backup singer Valerie Simpson, later of the duo Ashford and Simpson, to record the basic vocals in Terrell’s place. Whether those vocals were ultimately overdubbed by Terrell, as Simpson claims, or the album wound up using Simpson’s vocals, as Gaye claimed, it became a moot point when Terrell passed away just six months after the record’s release.

Check out ‘The Onion Song’ down below.